With a grow tent or greenhouse inside your home, you can have homegrown vegetables, fruits and herbs year-round. You don’t have to be a master gardener or spend a fortune, either, as long as you choose your system wisely. Here’s are some tips for making the right choice.
Gardening is an investment. You invest time, effort, money and TLC, seeking a return of beautiful growing things and food for your table. Buying or building a grow tent or indoor greenhouse can boost your investment — and your potential returns — to the next level.
And don’t be scared away by super-expensive and complex grow tent setups.
As with any investment, your return often depends on how much good information you gather before making a choice. For example, Sara Elliott’s article, “What Grow Tent is Right for You?” in Maximum Yield magazine is a good basic guide.
Also check out Elliott’s other Maximum Yield articles on organic gardening and other topics–good stuff and well researched.
We refer to the Eco Garden House shown above as an “indoor greenhouse,” but it could also be called a “grow tent.” Shop carefully, because these terms can be used for a fully automated all-in-one system that includes everything you need to start growing, or a simple enclosure without lights, exhaust fan, water pumps, drainage systems, digital control hub, etc. ]]
Should You Build Your Own Grow Tent or Buy a Complete Integrated System?
One of your first decisions about an indoor grow tent is whether to build your own, piece by piece, or opt for a complete integrated system from one manufacturer.
As you look at your options, keep in mind a grow tent’s purpose: to give you control over your growing environment, which maximizes your yield from a relatively small space. Your system should help you control:
* The spectrum and duration of light your plants receive
* The amount and frequency of water and nutrients
* The temperature and humidity of the air
* The air quality
Building your own system to control these elements can be a complex process. Or not. Search YouTube for home-made grow tents and you’ll see everything from a guy with cardboard, aluminum foil and duct tape to rigs that look like International Space Station innards.
All-in-one Unit Can Reduce Your Learning Curve
An upside of building your own unit is that you can customize it to the type and size of plants you want to grow, and to the space you have available.
One downside of building your own grow tent is the expense of purchasing the components separately — quality components, that is — not the Doctor Duct Tape variety.
In her Maximum Yield article, Elliott acknowledged that building your own grow tent gives you more flexibility, but that purchasing an all-in-one unit has advantages.
“…even an intermediate or advanced grower can benefit from evaluating how different packages are bundled by the experts,” Elliott wrote. “For beginners, a complete tent package can eliminate the stress and guesswork from choosing a grow tent, lighting and other items individually.”
She continued, “As you gain more experience, you may decide to use a specific light arrangement or other upgraded features, but in the beginning, a simple, integrated system will get you up and running fast. Starting out with a bundled package may also help you avoid costly mistakes and plant losses during the learning curve.”
Size: What are you going to grow, and where on your property will you do it?
Start with the types of food plants you want to grow, and look into the container size and height you’ll require for the mature plant. Grow tents come in standard sizes such as 2” x 4”, 4” x 4”, 4” x 6”, 5” x 5”, and bigger.
You’ll find that many models are taller than they are wide. This is important. You need room at the top for light fixtures and other accessories. And if you want any vining plants, like tomatoes, you’ll need enough room for stakes or trellises that are tall enough to yield a good crop.
An advantage of staking and trellising is that you’ll have room underneath for plants that prefer shade and/or don’t need to be too close to the lights as they mature, such as many kinds of herbs, lettuces and other greens.
In choosing a space for your grow tent, keep in mind that a grow tent’s total footprint could exceed the size of the actual plant enclosure.
For example, some units require additional floor space for water and/or drainage tanks, fans, filters, plumbing and other mechanicals.
If you’re planning to use grow lights that pull a lot of electricity, such as high intensity discharge (HID) lamps, be sure to locate your grow tent in a place where you can dedicate an entire electrical circuit to it. Get an electrician’s advice on that if you’re not sure.
For a good basic guide on lighting, read Planet Natural’s blog post, “Let There Be Plant Light.”
A well-functioning grow tent will have vents for regulating temperature and cycling the air. If the room containing your grow tent can’t dissipate that extra heat, you may need to attach ductwork that vents the air to the outside.
Whether you decide to build your own unit or choose a pre-made system, here are 7 key features to compare, based on Elliott’s article, our own observations, and other sources:
1. Frame Strength
According to Elliott, many experts recommend buying a tent with a frame that will hold a significantly higher amount of weight than you think you need.
Some grow tent frames are thin metal or thick PVC pipe. Metal can rust in this humid environment, even if it’s coated, and PVC pipe may not be able to reliably hold lighting fixtures, a filter, the weight of hanging plants, and a strong, multi-layered tent material.
Look for more sturdy plastic material than PVC, and check the manufacturer’s recommended maximum weight.
2. Tent Exterior Material and Opacity
Good grow tents have multi-layered canvas covers that won’t easily be punctured by, say, an enthusiastic gardener with a sharp trowel…and the hiccups. Or a cat looking for a place to sharpen its claws. You get the idea.
Another reason for a sturdy exterior layer with at least one other layer underneath is to block out ambient light.
Most vegetable, fruit, and herb plants require at least four to six hours of complete darkness per day to complete photosynthesis process. Along with an opaque tent covering, your tent should have zipper covers and vent socks to create a complete blackout.
3. Side Lighting
If you choose a grow tent that comes with lighting fixtures, such as full-spectrum, high-output T5 fluorescent bulbs, check for lights that run vertically from the sides or corners as well as horizontally from the top.
Side lighting will help your plants soak in more light from every angle.
4. Reflective Interior Lining
A quality grow tent will have an interior surface, usually mylar, that reflects light back down onto your plants.
5. Zipper Quality
Zippers are physically a small part of your overall setup, but strong zippers are crucial to your growing environment’s integrity. Once a zipper fails, the longevity and effectiveness of your entire tent is compromised.
6. View Ports
Automated lighting, watering, drainage and ventilations systems are fantastic for keeping your plants in a controlled, optimally humid space. You don’t want to unzip the main doors just to quickly check on your plants from time to time.
Look for a tent with view ports with zippered or velcroed covers you can open without disturbing the interior conditions.
When you’re planning a new grow tent, it’s easy to get too excited about it to consider what’s going to happen if and when you need to take it down.
Some setups that you build yourself over time — adding a tank here, a fan there, custom-made racks over there, etc. — can be a brute to take apart, transport, and rebuild. As you compare units, consider how easy it will be to move someday.
If all of these grow tent features seem like too much to process, take it slowly. It will be worth the effort. All year-round, you’ll be able to put delicious homegrown food on your table that didn’t require half a tanker ship full of crude oil to transport.
Elliott also touts the reward of your patience: “When you remove your new grow tent from the box, it may look like a pile of fabric and poles and fittings, but a lot of careful planning went into its development and fabrication.
“From the thread density of the fabric to the design of its light-resistant vents, most grow tents are built with painstaking attention to detail. If you’re looking for a home for your precious plants, a grow tent may not be the great outdoors, but it’s the next best thing.”
Are you ready to grow your garden year-round?