How to Start an Indoor Garden

By. The Guru

Ever wanted to start your own indoor garden? Just about every day I see and hear people wanting, or already trying, to start their own indoor garden. Unfortunately, many people get started with the wrong advice. It seems that everyone who has ever seen a garden, or has a friend that grows, thinks that they know everything about growing plants. The problem is this can lead you to using the wrong methods and techniques for indoor cultivation – everything from how to set up and build a grow room, and what is acceptable for ventilation and lighting, to what is good to feed your plants. So, if you’re looking at starting an indoor grow room, here are a few basic tips and facts about growing plants indoors.

Let’s start at the beginning, selecting a location to grow and the construction of the grow room at that location. It all depends on what size garden you’re planning, but the same basic rules and guidelines apply to any size room. When selecting a location there a few things you should look out for that are really common mistakes. If you’re signing a new lease, and planning on a grow room with a certain number of lights, then you better make sure that the location can actually handle what you’re planning on doing.
Then you have to ask yourself if you’re going to grow in an open loop room with lots of ventilation? (See Open vs. Closed Loop Grow Rooms article on Windows make great fresh air sources, and by building a simple window box, you can conceal your garden and even make it break-in proof. It’s not just for privacy and security – it’s also for 100% light control, meaning no light leaks in at all during the plant’s dark cycle. Controlling all factors of the grow room and environment is important to a successful garden.

Filtered air from a window or outside air source is usually the best option for ventilation intake. The fresh air is cool and has adequate CO2 in it. A grow room should be exhausted at a minimum of once every five minutes, but for growing heavy fruiting or flowering plants under high intensity discharge lighting (HID), metal halide (MH) or high pressure sodium (HPS), since all produce a lot of heat, you will definitely need to exhaust more than that here in Southern California.

Common sense and physics tells you that if you are using fresh air to cool your garden, you will only be able to match the same ambient temperatures from outside. Often it gets well over 85 – 90 degrees here in Southern California and can be quite warm at night. In the hot season, you should always run your open loop system garden at night – the air is cooler outside and makes it easier to cool the room. The cooler the air, the more efficient it is to thermally cool a source of heat such as an HID Light, or to bring cool fresh air exchange in the room. You can also have air that is too cool in the winter, and options such as pulling air from the house may be just right to keep the room at correct temperatures. Keep a vacuum by having the exhaust fans total CFM be about 20% more than that of the intake and you will create a negative pressure, and more importantly control odors and environment.

So, make sure to check out the location first and confirm that you have adequate options for ventilation. This includes fresh air intake, exhausting the room and exchanging the air, and ventilating or air cooling the lights. You can do this by using an inline fan to push air thru the lights. By sealing your lights, both the edges and around the glass, and pushing the air through the lights, you do not need to filter the air being pushed out of the lights. The rule for cooling is usually about 200-250 CFM of fresh air for each 1000 watt light. The more bends and turns you have in your ducting the less efficient it is. Each 90 degree bend can reduce air flow by as much as 25%, so keep ducting straight and as short as possible. Additional fans can be used if the ducting run is too long for a single fan. If the reflectors are hot when you touch them, then they are not properly cooled. You should be able to touch your reflector and feel minimal heat from it, as the proper air cooled reflector and air flow or CFM will exhaust it out properly. Choosing the right reflector is also a big factor in cooling the lights. If you’re running up to two 1000 watt lights, then one 6” 450 CFM fan is adequate with 6” air cooled reflectors.

The other part is ventilation or exhaust from the room requiring the window as a fresh air source, and the attic as an exhausting location, or simply air in and air out needs to be adequately set up and calculated. In most high performance gardens, exhausting or exchanging the air in the grow room is best when done every 30 seconds to once per minute. The more the better, as heat has less time to build up and CO2 stays at a consistent level. Always filter incoming air and use a charcoal filter to purify and clean any exhausting air. Air flow or CFM of your charcoal filter must match that of your fan. If not, the air is not properly cleaned and odors, pathogens, molds, fungus, and diseases will not be eliminated properly.

By doing a sealed or closed loop room, you don’t need the fresh air intake or exhaust for the room, so those ports are eliminated. Many times it is a good idea to install at least one main exhaust and intake fan controlled by a thermostat in case the AC does fail, then the room will still be able to keep an environment that will not kill the plants. It’s just a back up insurance tip for sealed rooms with AC units. Even in a sealed room, it is usually more efficient to air cool the lights by pushing fresh air from outside thru them. However, if you live in Arizona where it is 110 degrees outside and that is your fresh air source, then an open loop room is not possible and a sealed room with an air conditioner is one of your only options. A sealed or closed loop grow room is always the best choice as it is completely controlled and kept at the temperatures you set and want. For each 1000 watt light, it requires about 4000 British Thermal Units (BTU) of air conditioning.

A true air conditioner is a recalculating unit, meaning it pulls and takes in the air from the same room it’s cooling. This is important for efficiency, odor control, temperature control, and CO2 control for total environmental control by not wasting it and exhausting it right out of the room. Any home or house unit split AC system will work best for a grow room and also is the most efficient. If a whole house AC already exists in the house or building, then chances are it could be re-routed and configured to serve as your AC for the sealed grow room. But the return and AC air into the room must be balanced and correct or it will not work. For those of you that do not have that option and do not want someone at your location installing it, or for any other reasons, there are a couple of good options for AC units that do not require a contractor to install.

IGS or in San Diego sells a complete line of commercial portable units, and split AC units with cooling fan outside the house and the compressor inside the house, in a sound deadening box that reduces noise from the AC by as much as 75%. They have sizes available from 12,000 BTU’s to 139,000 BTU’s, or 1 ton to 12 ton units. That’s three 1000 watt lights, all the way up to thirty-five 1000 watt lights, with a single AC unit. A sealed room also requires charcoal filters for scrubbing the air and keeping it clean of fungus and pathogens, and also a CO2 control such as the Fuzzy Logic from C.A.P. to keep CO2 levels at adequate and consistent levels. Either CO2 tanks and regulators, or CO2 generators are required for supplying CO2 to the plants in a sealed grow room. In a sealed room you can enhance CO2 levels up to 1500-2000 parts per million (PPM).

By understanding how many intake ports and how many exhaust ports are needed for the garden before getting a location, it can help you choose the best location possible by knowing what to look for. Deciding if you are going to run an open loop or closed loop sealed room makes a big difference as well. You have to make sure you have enough power available to run the lights and the AC unit.

I see and hear stories all the time of people planning to do a certain number of 1000 watt lights, sign a lease and then find out the bad news! They don’t have enough power to run what they planned on! Or that there is no attic or anywhere to exhaust the hot air! Check out your locations to find the best ones and don’t settle for less than what will work for you. Sometimes it takes a little time and effort checking out many different places to rent, lease or buy, but finding the right location can make things much easier for you and much more efficient.

If you can get an understanding of the environment required by the plants, then you can learn how to create that perfect environment. This is probably the most important part of a grow room, the environment. Once you have the environment controlled, the rest is easy if you can follow some simple guidelines and a simple feeding schedule like Canna Nutrients has created for all of their nutrient lines. By following the lighting schedules that many companies offer on their feeding schedules, using the right type and spectrum of lighting, and being a good care taker, anyone can become a good gardener, indoors or outdoors.

Now that you’ve got your room built, and have a separate vegetative room to keep the cycle going, you should put your rooted clones into a medium of your choice. You should also have the clones under T-5 Fluorescent 6500 K bulbs, which are the Daylight Blue growth spectrum bulbs. These are the best bulbs for starting and vegging newly planted clones. The plants may stay under this light until they are 12”-16” tall and ready for flowering, or they can stay here for most of the veg period, and be moved under either 400 watt MH lights with the Daylight Blue 6500 K lighting spectrum. This preps them and beefs them up a little, preparing them for the much stronger and more intense flowering HPS lights. In vegetative growth, it is much better for production to use high quality enhanced spectrum grow bulbs designed for horticulture.

Next you have to choose a growing medium and what kind of system you are going to be using. Decide whether you are going to be growing in hydroponics or soil. Most of the best soils on the market are actually blends of peat moss, perlite, coco coir, bark and many other ingredients that are not actually considered soil, so choose your medium based off of your needs and what you want to do. Either way you will need some type of tray, or ebb n flow tray, to catch the runoff water and for the plants to sit on. It can be as simple as using either soil, a soil less mix, or a true hydroponic inert medium such as rockwool or stone wool.

I suggest starting off simple. Meaning the less moving parts, less high maintenance items and more forgiveness in the system, all make for an easier and more productive grow. People often want to start off with a Deep Water Culture System or an Aeroponics system, all of which create multiple problems and high maintenance, with higher possibilities for problems. So try a simple drip system on a table and run it to waste, meaning no recycling of the nutrient. Choose a medium such as coco, or a soil less mix that holds a bit of water. This way your chances of a good crop on your first grow will be much greater.

When choosing a nutrient don’t just look for the highest N-P-K numbers available! Choose a good quality nutrient with a good reputation. Some top quality nutrients include Canna, Advanced Nutrients, Botanicare, Fox Farm, and several others. You don’t want to be using some low grade quality knock off home and garden nutrient on your highly valuable crop! There’s a big difference in quality of salts in a basic house nutrient and a high pharmaceutical quality salt like that used by Canna. Many of the brands mentioned have nutrient lines for soil, soil less, and hydroponic growing mediums.

So, if you’re thinking of starting an indoor garden just remember these few simple tips. Controlling the environment is the first and most important step after choosing a location. Choose the right nutrients and grow mediums from an innovative and knowledgeable store and you will get great solid advice, saving yourself from making years of mistakes and wasting hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Know what it will cost before you start, so you are prepared and you do it right the first time. The average cost of setting up a single 1000 watt light grow room complete for flowering is about $2000-$3000, and that’s only an open loop room. A sealed room could easily be double that, but could also double your harvest weight by being controlled and supplementing high levels of CO2. Even though it seems expensive and takes a lot of equipment to duplicate Mother Nature’s environment, that is what it takes to run a successful garden with good production. It takes time, knowledge, educating yourself, and the right equipment to become a successful grower.

bringing you that fire! stay tune for more posts.

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