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My setup

Let’s be clear. I work in the computer field. I spent a LOT of time in front of a computer. And much of what I do is “fix something, run program to see if it’s fixed, wait for program to finish, repeat.” In case you missed the important part there, one large part of my normal day is “wait for it to finish”….while sitting at a keyboard. So on many days, I get lots of time to google topics that interest me…or ones that will at least relieve the boredom of watching little green lines march across a screen.

So I’ve done a lot of research on how to grow plants both inside and out, starting from long before I had any intention of trying it for myself. Several online sites and people have taught me a lot. Some of the most recent include Youtubers such as (in no particular order) Epic Gardening, Self-Sufficient Me, MIGardener, Hoocho, and The Kitchen Garden with Eli and Kate. But I’ve also read nursery websites, gardening e-zine sites, even research university sites. And all this research has led me to my current opinion: given the space & money to adjust your inside environment, you can grow any plant in the world in any zone you want.

It’s all about how much money you want to spend.

Not being rich, this limits my options to what I can afford.

My first cost-saving decision was deciding that there are some plants I just don’t have the money or space to attempt. This doesn’t mean they would be impossible. It just means they would cost more than I would care to put into them.

Allspice, for example, is dioecious, meaning they require both male and female plants. Unlike puppies or kittens, you can’t turn a plant over to check its gender. Which means in order to assure that I got both male and female plants, I would need to buy several– probably at least six or so–and then wait until the plants mature to see if I have at least one of each gender. Allspice won’t start fruiting until it is three years old, which is a long time to wait to see if I got lucky in my choices. And a longer time to wait if I didn’t.

Speaking of a long wait, I have also decided I’m not going to try too hard for pineapples, either. I do have a few seeds and, if they sprout, I will attempt to keep them growing, but to me, the plant just isn’t worth it. It’s not suited to my climate and would require being inside. They occupy a small-tree amount of floor space and takes two years to grow a single fruit. That’s a lot of space and a lot of light for a fruit my family could eat in a single sitting. As much as I enjoy pineapple, I decided it’s just not worth it to me.

That said, I do have a large house rapidly becoming an empty-nest so I have a lot of heated indoor space. But that house is under a lot of trees, so artificial lighting was one of the first essentials on my list. I wanted full-spectrum LED lights — full spectrum for the plants, LED for my power bill. What I found were these from Sunco Lighting. They don’t cost much more to run than a single incandescent bulb, but will grow a plant through all stages from seedling to fruiting. I have two for now, but as I get more plants, I’ll likely need more. People with South-facing windows probably won’t need so many. Though if you plan to grow tropical plants through Northern winters, I do recommend that you get some. Tropical plants need more hours of sunlight than a Northern winter will give them, regardless of which way your windows face. (But don’t leave the lights on all night, because plants need sleep, too!)

Here’s one light over my inside potting shelf. It looks less purple in real life.

My other major expenses were pots and planting medium. Because I’m planting mostly indoors, everything needs a pot. Ideally, clay pots are recommended. But clay pots are both heavy and expensive, so I’m sticking with plastic. To compensate, I bought giant bags of peat, perlite, and vermiculite.

You see, clay pots are recommended because the porosity of the fired clay allows water to evaporate from all sides of the pot instead of just the top. This means that plants are less likely to develop problems from overwatering–which is to say, it’s easier to keep your plants from drowning due to lack of oxygen at their roots. By making an even mixture of peat, perlite and vermiculite, I have a very loose, well-draining soil that should allow plenty of air into the roots. All of my pots have drainage holes–with dishes underneath to protect my floors–and most of my plants seem to like the mixture just fine so far.

There will come a time when some heavy-feeding plants will need more nutrition than peat can provide (perlite and vermiculite are minerals and can trap nutrients, but generally do not provide any by themselves and even peat doesn’t carry a whole lot). For that, I have a vermicompost bin. My kitchen scraps go in, little red wiggler worms get a feast, and they leave behind some lovely dark compost for my plants. Between this and the judicious application of the nutrients I have for my hydroponic system, I hope to keep all of my plants going strong. With luck, I’ll have some sort of passive system going by then to help me manage it–my current plan is for a Dutch bucket system or maybe an auto-wicking system like Hoocho shows here. I love ways to get things done without lots of effort.

Until next time, happy homesteading!

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