Answer These 3 Big Questions Before You Start Growing Food In Your Home
When I first began exploring hydroponic growing in 2008, I visited my local hydroponic store and purchased a basic, deep water culture system for tomatoes. Like so many people that had walked in that door before me, I went in only being certain of one thing, I wanted to grow tomatoes. I assumed the rest would fall into place.
The staff at All Seasons Garden Centre built me a standard 60L DWC system with a 600 W grow light, and it was well made for what it was. It was designed to support 6 tomato plants. However, reality began to set in when I got home because custom systems like that don’t come with assembly instructions or an operation manual.
It took me a week or so to finally set the entire system up and that included many trips back to All Seasons armed with pictures and questions.
The first big shock was how much light a 600 W high-pressure Sodium light can emit. WoW.
I lived in an apartment and decided to build the system in the dining area beside the kitchen because it was central and the linoleum floors made it easy to take care of the system. It wasn’t long before I had to return to All Seasons to buy a large roll of heavy duty poly to wrap the system and block as much of the light as possible.
Once I got the system running, the little seedlings took off! It was amazing to watch and smell the tomato seedlings start growing and growing. However, it wasn’t long before the tomatoes over grew the system (tomatoes have really aggressive roots that quickly fill the reservoir) and my ability to keep it working correctly. I didn’t get a single tomato, and the amount of work seemed beyond what I wanted to invest at the time. As you can guess, I gave up and packed up the system. I needed something a little less complex that fit my life better.
1 – Choose A Location That Works Well With Your Daily Habits and Your Lifestyle
I learned two important lessons back then that stay with me to this day. The first is that you need to assess all the rooms and spaces in your house to get a clear sense of what you do in those spaces, and how you like those spaces to suit your style and function.
That tomato system was not well suited to be placed in the main areas of my apartment because of how much light it produced. I could have purchased a professional “grow tent” that would’ve isolated the light, but it would have caused a new problem, moving the heat out of the grow tent. Moving heat requires fans and ducts and starts getting involved…that’s not the kind of gardening experience I want in my dining room!
For apartment dwellers who want to grow food, I recommend steering clear of systems designed for fruiting plants, unless you have a clear plan for how to deal with the tremendous light and heat produced from HID lights. This usually means dedicating an entire room to the garden system, which is a big decision in itself.
For those of you with condos or houses, you have more options and more opportunity to finesse where you build your indoor garden. Keep in mind the following factors as you assess your particular house:
- Where is the nearest faucet? Do you need to go up or down stairs? Is there a clear path or is it cluttered with obstacles?
- Where is the nearest drain? Same as above…
- What is the floor covering? Can it get wet? Could it be a tripping hazard? Can it support casters/wheels?
- How much total floor area can you allocate to your indoor garden? You should plan to set aside an area of at least 2 m by 2 m, more if you can.
- How much traffic moves through that room/area? High traffic can be risky and lead to damage or plant stress.
- Is there a door that leads directly outside at that location? Blasts of cold air are not good for your indoor garden and increase the chances of diseases and pests.
- Could your daily activities in that room/area be negatively impacted? How so?
- Will you be able to see your indoor garden easily at that location? Your garden will be different every day. I strongly recommend that beginners observe their indoor garden every day, so make that as easy as possible.
- Is there enough space around your indoor garden to perform daily maintenance?
- Mark off the area with green painters tape, and really start to visualize your indoor garden in that space.
One of the reasons that I decided to specialize in vertical techniques is because they minimize the floor area required to build them, in fact, they are ideally mounted to a wall. That being said, you can easily build a vertical system that is floor-based on a mobile or fixed stand. I prefer mobile designs because of their improved usability and increased accessibility.
Long before your start running your system, you should be really comfortable with where your indoor garden is located. Hydroponic systems are, on the whole, easy to move when they are empty. However, they become awkward to move when they are operational because of the water they use.
In the floor plan pictured below, where would you place an indoor garden?
2 – Choose A Growing System That Suits Your Space and You
That leads me to your choice of growing system. When I opted for that tomato growing system, I didn’t even consider alternatives. I didn’t consider which crops I wanted to grow or whether I would want to grow different kinds of crops throughout the year.
When I walked out of All Seasons with my little tomato factory, I had an excellent system, well-suited for a limited selection of crops that require twice the knowledge to grow and twice the operational expense. It was very difficult to adjust that system to suit my evolving interests and active life.
As you begin to think about where you want your garden to be located, start to think about which plants you want to grow.
While there are many products on the market that can be used to grow plants indoors, I use the ZipGrow System in my home and professional life. ZipGrow Towers are well suited for leafy greens and herbs, which considerably reduces your lighting requirements and operational costs.
The Grow Food Indoors course is built around the ZipGrow technology, and I guarantee that it is hands-down, the best technology for beginners to learn about indoor agriculture. Once you learn how to grow with ZipGrow, you can transfer that knowledge to other techniques, and continue your journey where ever the path takes you.
I think ZipGrow Towers are an ideal educational technology for learning how to grow hydroponically, which you can easily extend to new technologies and new contexts.
Not to sound biased or anything, but the answer to Question #2 is, ZipGrow!
3 – Decide Which Strategy You Use To Assemble And Build Your Indoor Garden
Ok, so you’re ready to start the ball rolling, now what? How do you turn your dream about growing food into an actual system in your home?
In my experience, there are three entry points for first-time growers:
- Sufficient budget – Have a system professionally designed and installed
- Small budget – Purchase a pre-made kit that you assemble and install
- No budget – Attempt to find a DIY solution that you can cobble together
The further down the list you find yourself, the longer it will take to start growing, plus you’ll encounter more hiccups that you have to figure out yourself. When I design and build an indoor growing system, you’ll have seedlings in your system by the end of the day, and the system will be completely operational.
I get it, you’re a lot like me, you’re inspired to learn new things and you love overcoming challenges…so you’ll be tempted to start at option #3.
I can vouch for that path because that’s exactly what I did the first time too! But, take it from me, you will likely get overwhelmed with all the possibilities and options on the market, and you’ll end up choosing whatever is available at the store with the nicest staff. For me that was All Seasons 😉
You’ll drift into option #2 because you’ll want someone with experience to make the decision for you, someone that you trust/hope knows what they’re talking about.
There isn’t anything wrong with that. We all have to start somewhere.
I’m here to say that if you’re new to growing indoors, start with a ZipGrow system. ZipGrow Towers are a relatively new technology, so most hydroponic stores will have little or no information about their efficacy or usability in apartments or houses.
I have no financial connection to Bright Agrotech, my recommendation is based on years of research, trial and error, and real-world experience.
Unlike most other hydroponic techniques on the market, there are very clear instructions available for assembling, installing, operating, and maintaining every aspect of a ZipGrow system.
If you’ve gotten this far, and you’re not growing your own food yet, I can tell you’re intrigued…nonetheless, something is holding you back.
I have another post to share where I’ll present the blueprint I use to help beginners start growing their own food. The blueprint will give you a high-level overview of how I teach indoor gardening, and reveal my process for growing food year round.
Ps. I’ll be putting an introductory webinar together next week to dive deeper into the Grow Food Indoors Blueprint and give people a chance to ask questions. Stay tuned!