Sometimes I think about all of the perfect waves that go un-surfed at night. It is usually around sunset when conditions are amazing and you wish that you could stay out for a few more hours. The best conditions in the world are often missed because one major barrier: light. Sure, I understand that there is a certain romance to limitations, but sometimes I just want to surf! The same is true with growing plants indoors. We live in an insulated almost pest-free environment, yet without the right light conditions it is very difficult to grow edible plants indoors.
One of the main things that we tell our clients is to grow food as close to the kitchen as possible – that way it is easier to access. Using artificial lights, we can actually grow food in the kitchen. We don’t need synthetic fertilisers, chemicals or frankenscience seeds. It’s just normal plants, on a windowsill, with a little bit of extra light. Don’t be afraid.
Our expanding cities mean that natural sunlight, whether direct or indirect, is becoming a scarce commodity. However, artificial lighting is one way to meet the increasing demand for locally and organically grown food without the energy, expense and loss of freshness associated with long-distance transport. Most importantly, it is a way for people to grow food year-round in places where it was previously impossible.
We tend to be sceptical about new technology, but eventually most people come around. Unlike the clunky, hot and expensive-to-operate technologies of old, LED and fluorescent bulbs have made artificial lighting more accessible than every before. It doesn’t have to be a complete replacement for old growing techniques, but it is year another tool.
Types of Light
By far the most economical to buy, but can be inefficient to run. Generic bulbs provide more of the blue spectrum, but you can get ‘full spectrum’ lights or those that specialise in blue and red. The lights stay cool, allowing you to position them close to the plant where they maximise their growing effect on your plants.
More expensive to buy, but more efficient to run. Customised LED lights provide all the wavelengths that plants need and are low heat, meaning you can place them close your plants. The effectiveness of LED light stays stronger over a greater disgrace from the plant than their fluorescent counterparts. The most promising technology yet and widely used in commercial operations.
While virtually all edible plants are sun worshipers and will thrive in bright conditions. Some can get by on less direct light than others.
How Do You Grow Indoors?
Most flat dwellers only have the kitchen space to grow food. Perhaps you have a tiny balcony that has one third taken up by an air-conditioner and the remaining two thirds leaving you with two choices. Either a coffee table and chair blown about by the wind or some young seedlings in a garden bed blown about by the wind.
So let's look indoors.
How you start depends on your level of expertise, or lack of it. You can go and source all the individual components or you can get your hands on an all-in-one indoor growing kit, like this UrbiPod.
We like to use a self-watering pot with potting mix, perlite (for aeration) and some vermiculite (for water retention).
Go get yourself a simple LED panel from a local hydroponics store. It has a bit of a college dorm room vibe, but it’s also charming in a futuristic growing kind of way. LED grow-light heaven. We run the lights on a timer for 6 hours per day.
Try to keep the light about 25cm from foliage, though distance isn’t nearly as important with LEDs as fluorescents. Herbs anyone?
Then shout "GROW YOU GOOD THING!" and maintain your plant baby until you get some harvestable results.