For avid gardeners, assembling an indoor grow tent can be like pulling weeds–it’s a pain, and the job is never quite finished. To keep your green thumb satisfied without losing your cool, avoid these eight common mistakes when setting up an indoor greenhouse or grow area.
Even if you live where winters are frigid, or where you have no green space to hoe and rake, you can deliver fabulous, home-grown herbs and produce to your dinner table year-round. But assembling your own indoor greenhouse can be wickedly complex.
By “greenhouse,” we’re referring to more than the small, inexpensive cabinet-like units or the simple shelves covered in clear plastic you’ll see in a Google image search or gardening store. We’re talking about an enclosed grow space large enough to produce large plants and a significant amount of fresh produce.
Steer clear of these these pitfalls on your path to a thriving greenhouse in your cozy urban apartment or snowbound house:
Mistake #1: Choosing the wrong grow lights
Unlike a basic household light bulb, grow lights mimic various spectra of outdoor sunlight. So, before purchasing your lights, research the growing spectrum each of your plants tend to prefer.
In general, don’t install high wattage lights that emit too much heat. In a confined space, placing high wattage lights too close to plants may ruin their grow cycles.
These high-voltage bulbs burn out quickly and boost your electric bill. The heat also requires you to install an expensive cooling system, with ducts and fans to vent heat from the grow space and your home.
Instead, install a low-voltage, low-heat bulbs. For example, high-output full-spectrum T5 lights are relatively cool, affordable, and easy to replace.
LED lights also work well and last longer, but cost multiple times what a T5 will cost.
Especially for a beginner, you might not want to commit that much to the project up front.
Mistake #2: Adjusting lights internally
Gardeners commonly hang lighting fixtures with a cord or chain attached to each corner of their indoor greenhouse’s frame, and use flimsy clasps to manually adjust the height. That’s a risky and cumbersome setup. And even if it holds, when you go inside to adjust the lights you can spoil the internal climate and jostle the plants.
Instead, install a crank handle on the outside of your unit that allows you to adjust lights, or purchase a greenhouse with a pre-installed exterior crank handle.
Mistake #3: Lighting only from the top of your unit
Plants need the rhythms of natural sunlight to thrive.
Because the sun crosses the sky from horizon to horizon each day, simply raising and lowering a single overhead lamp in your greenhouse won’t provide your plants with the sunlight they need.
Install side lighting so your plants can soak in “sunlight” from multiple angles.
Mistake #4: Using inadequate plastic sheeting and leak-prone watering/drainage systems
Using only a plastic sheet on the floor of your grow area to protect against excess water is risky. This material is prone to leak and cause serious water damage in your home.
A common water system is a fresh-water tank, such as a 55-gallon pickle barrel or rain barrel, and another tank to catch excess gray water–both parked on the outside of the grow tent. If the pipes or fittings to either tank leak or outright fail, you could have major water damage on your hands.
Consider enclosing the water and drainage tanks within the unit, and use plastic trays designed to capture and channel excess water.
Mistake #5: Watering by hand instead of a drip system
A proper drip system waters your plants in measured doses, without generating overflow that drowns your crop.
You’ll need enough watering lines to handle the variety of plants you want to grow, and a pump with enough capacity to keep the water flowing. Also consider a multi-line manifold to better manage the water flow to various sizes and types of plants.
Remember, you’re installing an indoor greenhouse to create a stable environment–don’t throw that away by repeatedly opening and closing the unit to water plants by hand.
Mistake #6: Not automating climate control, lighting and watering
Having electrical systems control your drip systems, lights, fans and thermostat will free your plants from your inconsistent memory, while freeing you to go away for a weekend without disturbing the growing cycle.
Look for greenhouses with an electrical timing system already integrated.
Mistake #7: Installing a weak frame support
For your greenhouse’s frame, choose a material strong enough to bear the weight of your lights, plus any plants you may need to hang (including the weight of the water).
A strong frame support also allows for more components that would benefit your greenhouse: fans, netting, etc.
Choose rust-proof material. In a moist environment, even coated metal can rust, especially at the joints. PVC tubing won’t rust, but it’s probably not strong enough–look for a stronger plastic material.
Mistake #8: Using a low-quality or translucent cover
Like any living thing, your plants need regular sleep cycles. That’s why light from the outside is an indoor greenhouse plant’s enemy.
If you light your plants at night, when electricity is cheaper, your plants need to sleep during the day so your cover must be opaque.
We recommend a three-layer cover (or “shroud”). The outside layer should be a quality material optimal for blocking light, such as densely woven canvas lined with PVC coating for added strength and opacity.
The inside layer should be Mylar, which looks like aluminum foil and reflects light so it hits plants at all angles.
When it’s done right, growing plants indoors brings healthy, fresh produce to your table and beautiful plants into your home year-round. That’s a fitting reward for your research and patience.
Are you ready to grow your garden year-round?
Learn more about the Eco Garden House!