... the palate yearning for fresh vegetables during the long cold winters.
Up here on the northern plains fresh greens during the winter months are expensive. A head of lettuce or a bunch of spinach can cost as much as $3.50 - $4.00, not to mention the 90 mile round trip on icy roads to obtain them. Last autumn I began contemplating our desire for fresh greens during winter months and decided I would try some of my dad's "hippy ingenuity" in an attempt to grow them - while it is yet 30 degrees below zero.
The gardening catalogues advertise grow light systems beginning at about $80.00 and some for more than $1,000.00. I found a less expensive way to set up my indoor winter garden. Here's what I did. You can do it too.
Plastic container with lid ($5.00), a 48" hanging fluorescent light ballast with electrical cord ($18.00), 2 T-8 fluorescent lights - aka grow lights ($12.00), potting soil or other growing medium ($7.00), packing peanuts, rock or other drainage materials (free), vegetable seeds - spinach & lettuce (3.00).
Cup hooks are perfect for holding the light ballast chain.
I chose the top of a large cabinet in our basement to set up my indoor garden. As part of our science experiment we wanted to see if the T-8 grow lights would work on their own or if light from a south or west facing window would also be needed. Our basement den is very dark.
I chose inexpensive storage tubs with lids and used Mr.B's drill to add 5 drain holes.
I like to use packing peanuts for drainage because they are lightweight and are slow to biodegrade. Since our packing peanut supply was low, I also incorporated some 3/4" rock. We filled the storage tub with potting soil.
The storage tub lids make a perfect drainage tray, keeping our cabinet top nice and dry.
A good soak of the planting medium prior to planting the seeds will ensure that seed placement is undisturbed.
Greens, such as lettuce and spinach, do not need lots of spacing between the plants. The tubs I used allows four "rows" spaced only a few inches apart.
After only 4 weeks, SUCCESS! I am confident that next winter we will have plenty of fresh greens gracing our dining table and refreshing our palates.
With only one fluorescent light ballast set up, we have not noticed any increase in our electric bill. I am sure if we had several of these, we would see an increase. Also, greens are cool weather plants, thus, I did not find a need to constantly run the heat in the basement den (year round temp. is about 55 - 65 degrees). We continue to use the den's heating system only when we are actively utilizing that room. I am confident that other cool weather vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and root vegetables, would also thrive under these conditions. Who knows? Maybe next winter we will expand our indoor garden.