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There aren’t many things which can give you quite as much satisfaction as harvesting and consuming an herb which you have grown yourself. Millions of people grow their own basil, mint, oregano and many other varieties, because it’s very easy and extremely rewarding. Some people can make fresh salads which would make even the most committed meat-lover’s mouth water, purely with ingredients fresh from the garden or from indoor growing pots. But one particular herb, not destined for salads or soups, surely is everyone’s favorite, and I’m sure you know which one I’m talking about.
Quite a few people are hesitant of beginning a personal garden, thinking that it’s akin to having a full-time job at home. Others assume that an efficient home garden is a seasonal venture, which can’t just be started somewhere in the year. But both of these groups of people would be wrong, because there are a range of techniques for indoor gardening available which can on the one hand cut the time that is necessary to produce a good yield to a fraction of what it would be when exclusively growing outdoors, and on the other hand enable you to keep your garden running virtually throughout the whole year. If the idea of having fresh herb on hand at all times, at minimal cost and effort, appeals to you, then you should really consider beginning a little garden of your own.
But the obvious benefits of good yields are not the only reason why starting a garden should be something you should consider. Once you get into these gardening activities, you will realize that it is something that can really connect you with the earth, with the soil, with the living plants around you. The spiritual growth you will achieve by becoming a gardener might not sound like a primary reason to plant those seeds now, but I can guarantee you that it can and will become part of who you are and that you will grow to love your plants in ways that may be unimaginable right now.
The first step in your journey to become a master gardener is selecting the genetics of the plant the seeds of which you are about to sow into the soil. It’s extremely important that you do a bit of research here and choose seeds that will thrive in your climate and have the characteristics you want concerning such important factors as growth, potency, flavor and resistance to fungi and other pests. Having an experienced gardener to help you and get advice from can be enormously useful in making your gardening adventure a success, but if this isn’t possible for you, look to the Internet for as much help as you can.
Indica/Sativa hybrids tend to be best suited for growing indoors, and they also deliver what for most people tends to be described as the most enjoyable high. Indica is somewhat of a “downer”, giving you a couch-locking, heavy stone, and can be recognized by its wide, rounded leaves, while Sativas, with their narrow leaves which resemble fingers, need a lot of light and flower quite late, meaning that they are harder to grow indoors. A hybrid can combine the great high of a Sativa with the better growing conditions of an Indica. Hybrids also combine the outward appearance of both, having leaves which are a mixture of the two types described above.
After you’ve chosen the kind of plant you want to grow, it’s time to select the seeds. Do not plant any seeds which look white and small, as these are almost certainly not mature enough to be planted yet. Instead, use seeds which display a color which ranges from light grey to dark brown.
Every home gardener will be constantly confronted with the dilemma of having to weigh expected yield against energy requirements and a great solution to this problem is to use outside light during the flowering phase, and artificial indoor light during the germination and vegetative growth phases. Using this strategy as opposed to continuous indoor growth will cut your energy requirements in half by making use of the natural cycle of light and darkness outside.
Building your own little greenhouse can be a somewhat daunting task at first, but using materials such as Filon fibreglass or PVC sheets can greatly reduce this difficulty and will give the greenhouse an innocent appearance to outside observers (by using these materials you can easily disguise your protected garden as a small tool shed). You could also easily use some metal or plywood to build the greenhouse and make a roof out of PVC, fibreglass, plastic or PVC. This should protect your plants from prying eyes while still giving them the light they need (as long as the strains you’ve chosen don’t have very high light requirements). Additionally, this kind of greenhouse will also keep out unwanted animals and enable you to put a lock on your investment. Finally, this method will also allow you to plant your herb directly into the soil, avoiding the unfortunately all-too-common problem of root-bound plants.
During winter, you can use some indoor space to spring up some new seedlings or cuttings which will eventually be planted outdoors during the spring, to take advantage of the outside sunlight. By doing this, you can get at least three outdoors or greenhouse harvests every year. If you have even more space available so you can constantly starting the new seedlings indoors and flowering second harvest plants outside, it will be possible to harvest every sixty days, even in winter!
The basics of the continuous production and constant harvesting strategy begin with your understanding of the fact that your plant has two cycles of growth. In the early stages of growth, it doesn’t need any darkness and will perform photosynthesis continuously. This means that during the germination and vegetative states, the plant will grow much faster when exposed to continuous light, because photosynthesis doesn’t occur during dark periods (eg when it is outside, the natural light/darkness cycle is less efficient).
When one of your plants reaches a height of around twelve to eighteen inches (30 to 45 centimeters), it can be forced to enter the flowering stage by putting it outside, either in Spring or Autumn. Bear in mind that if you want to induce the flowering stage during Summer, you will have to extend the night artificially in your greenhouse. Basically, when your plant reaches a certain point, and it is put into an environment which has 10 to 13 hours of light and uninterrupted darkness for the rest of the day, it will begin flowering because the plant will “think” that Winter is about to come.
During the flowering phase, your plant will ripen, and after about two months, it should be ready for a harvest. So, when you move a vegetative start outdoors/in your greenhouse in March, it should be ripe for harvest in May. When you move them outside in May, they should be ready in July. And when placing them outside in September, they can be harvested in November. Bear in mind that if you live in an area where home gardeners are actively persecuted by the law, that these searching activities will be concentrated in the natural cycle between September and November. So, by placing your plants outside in the Spring rather than the Fall, you will minimize your chances of getting caught by “the man”.
In order to germinate your seeds, you only need a relatively small space indoors. The vegetative starts will then be put in an outdoors growing area so they will mature in the Spring after the last frosts of the year. For your indoor growing space, you may consider using your basement, your attic, a closet or anything else you may find that works. There are people who use whole rooms for growing, but there is definitely no need to think on such a grand scale from the beginning. It is very important that this area be light-proof. You do not want any suspicious light to be visible from the outside at all times as it will invite questions and maybe even alert the authorities.
As for ventilation, clearly, exhausts at the top of the room to clear the air into the attic or out from the roof of your house, and air vents to bring in air from outside are best, but if your indoor growing space is relatively small, it may be enough to do something as simple as opening your closet doors. A good and cheap investment may be the purchase of some old computer cabinet fans which can be regulated by dimmer switches. Just remember to use a lot of silicon to fasten the fans so your walls won’t emit any noise due to the vibrations of the fans.
To make your space more light-efficient, line your walls with aluminium foil (with the dull side on the outside) or paint the walls in bright white which should reflect the light. The best material for this is actually aluminized mylar (1 millimeter thickness) which shouldn’t be very expensive and can be an excellent investment. Intuitively, you may be tempted to use mirrors for walls, but do not do this, as glass will actually consume the light instead of reflecting it well! The floor of your growing space should be lined with plastic, in order to protect against water spillage. Another absolute must is a voltage interrupt socket. You should make sure that your electrical wiring will definitely be able to handle the energy usage of your lamps. While on the subject of lamps, do not put them on floor level, but rather, on a shelf, to avoid serious headaches due to water spillage.
You can use an additional shelf above your main growing area to clone your cuttings and germinate new seedlings. An extra shelf will of course double your available area and can also be extremely useful to store any fertilizer, bottles or other supplies you may need. Because this will obviously always be a rather warm area, you won’t need a warming pad for germination, saving you money in the process. When using this shelf for flowering, you should use a light-proof curtain to separate it from your main area. Such a light-proof curtain will allow you to have continuous light on the shelf and darkness in the main area. Black vinyl tends to work best, and use Velcro to keep it in place and ties to roll it up.
Lastly, and arguably most importantly, the lights. If you’re just starting the plants inside to then take them out to your greenhouse later, some shop lights should be more than adequate and shouldn’t cost more than about 10 dollars a piece. To encourage plant growth, you’d probably have the most success using one Cool White type and one Warm Light type bulb, which should give you the best spectrum of light possible. The Grow Lux types are, contrary to common opinion, actually not that great, because they emit less light. If you can only find or afford Cool White, then that’s fine. Look to the later chapter on light for more information on the subject.
Building shelf gardens using fluorescent bulbs is certainly not a bad way to go, due to the relative cheapness of the materials involved and the easiness to obtain them. Using the shelf garden strategy, you can place a number of shelves, in rows above one another, with fluorescent lamps on each shelf. At any given point in time, some shelves will have 24 hours of light per day, others will be flowering with 12 hours of light. A third shelf or area can then be used for cloning and seed germination.
All shelves should be about three to four feet (90 to 120 centimeters) apart. The plants will be kept at a manageable height and they will be forced to flower early, which means that less light will be required. A major drawback to this method though, is the fact that you will have to adjust the height of the lamps every day, which can be very time-consuming, and this really is essential if you want to get good results. So, if you want to take a week off from gardening, this can be a big problem indeed, though the problem is primarily confined to those shelves which focus on the vegetative stage, in which your plants will grow at a very fast pace. The lamps should be within two inches (5 centimeters) from the highest point of the plant and should be adjusted to stay within this range as the plants grow. However, if you must take a break from your gardening chores (like, when you go on holiday, for example), just put the lamps high enough, so the plants won’t reach it by the time you get back. However, if the lamps are too far away from the plants, the chance of creating weak, spindly plants will greatly increase, because they will try desperately to reach the lamp, leaving great gaps in between successive nodes of leaves. At the time of harvest, this will unfortunately result in subpar yields from plants which have turned out in this way because the internode length will be much longer than it should be, meaning that there will be greater gaps in between each set of leaves and much fewer branches (and this leads to fewer buds).
By saturating the shelf with light, through the use of a number of fluorescent lights, the fact that your plants won’t have a lot of space won’t result in weakness or brittleness. However, I must repeat that if the lamps aren’t close enough to the tops, they will grow slower. A good middle of the road strategy is to use fluorescents on the top shelf of your growing closet, for those plants that are in the cloning, germinating and seedling phases, and High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) lights in the main areas for the vegetative growth and/or flowering phases. The HPS lamps should be placed in a way that they won’t have to be adjusted, at a high point in the closet or room area, attached to the ceiling or the shelf above it. Ideally, your growing closet should be outfitted with the possibility to add a number of temporary shelves, so the plants on it can easily be placed closer or further away from the lamp.
To use the shelf method, all that is really necessary is a shelf, which should ideally be at least eighteen to twenty four inches (45 – 60 centimeters) wide. The area should be painted white or covered with aluminium foil or aluminized mylar. Space blankets work as well, but, again, do not use any mirrors, as this will cause the light to be soaked up and a lot of the light from your lamps going to waste.
If you have never heard of the term “Sea Of Green”, then trying this shelf method with fluorescent lamps will probably give you an idea of what it entails. Shelf gardening means that a rather large number of plants are grown close together, so the outward appearance will be a forest of green tops on the shelves which have twelve hours of light per day. The next generation is always closeby, in a separated area with constant light and will, when the time is ripe, be placed on the other shelf. See the last chapter for more information on the Sea Of Green method.
When growing plants indoors, you need at the very least 2000 lumens per square foot (21500 lux). Anything under this particular light intensity, and your plants won’t grow at an optimal pace and the internode length will become larger (see above for an explanation of why this is bad). As was mentioned in above paragraphs, the distance between the lamp and the top of the plant is nothing less than critical, making daily adjustments absolutely necessary. As for intensity, aim for something between 2500 and 3000 lumens per square foot (27000-32000 lux). If you decide to enrich the CO2 levels, then more is better.
HID (High Intensity Discharge) lamps are without a doubt the best kind of lamps for almost all indoor gardeners. These come in three distinct varieties: the High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lamp, which has been talked about before, the Mercury Vapor lamp, and Metal Halide lamps (MH lamps are basically more intense Mercury Vapor lamps with an improved spectrum). HPS will emit a yellow kind of light, bordering on orange, and is akin to the some street lamps you may have seen. HPS lamps have the great advantage of being usable for crop growth from the seedling all the way to the harvest stage, making things a lot less complicated for you. Some research has been done on the subject, and the consensus seems to be that crops grown under HPS-light will mature an average of seven days later than similar crops grown under MH light. However, HPS-grown crops will produce a bigger yield.
When adding price to the equation, the kind of HID-lamps that are the most widely available as well as being relatively inexpensive, are the fluorescent and mercury vapor kinds. MV lamps, though, are only about half as efficient as the HPS variety, and have a color spectrum which is not particularly suited for indoor growing. HPS is perfect for flowering due to the relative redness of the light, whereas MH lamps are great for vegetative growth because of its blue spectrum. All in all, while it may be very tempting to purchase the MV-lamps due to them being quite cheap, they are in fact not recommended, and, in the end, might even end up costing you more due to increased electricity usage. In fact, it has been calculated that buying an HPS-lamp, which can cost up to twice as much as an MV-lamp will pay itself back in about a year (based on 500 watts of continuous use) due to improved energy efficiency. On top of this, you should also consider that crops grown under HPS-light will grow faster and produce better yields than those grown under MV, making HPS a much better choice than MV or fluorescent lamps. Mercury Vapor lamps are even less efficient than fluorescent bulbs, and can’t be placed very close to the plant, reducing the amount of light absorption for your plants. I want to make it very clear here that MH, HPS and fluorescent bulbs greatly outperform the MV-variety and that MV-lamps really should not be used for indoor growing.
Another option you should not consider for indoor gardening activities is the halogen arc lamps. These are grossly inefficient and become much too hot to be a good choice, even though their light spectrum is good. Recently though, a new type of HPS-lamp has come on the market, specifically geared towards the use in greenhouses. It is called Son Agro, and the 400 (actually, it’s 430 watt, with an extra 30 watts of blue) watt version is very suitable for indoor growing, giving you the advantages of the MH lamps (early flowering and minimization of internode length) while still getting all the benefits commonly associated with HPS-lamps. Son Agro lamps can result in plants which have the shortest internode length possible and will produce extremely compact, fast-growing crops. The drawback, though, is that their lifespan tends to be about 25 percent shorter than that of regular HPS bulbs.
When faced with the choice between MH-bulbs (the super bulb of 40000 lumens in particular) and the Son Agro HPS, I would say that a quick comparison between the two should give the advantage to Son Agro. Even though Halide lamps emit better blues and will without a doubt be better for vegetative growth, it will simply be a lot less energy-efficient. The initial cost of the Son Agro HPS will probably put off many people from purchasing these at first, but it really is the best of its kind on the market right now. There are also conversion bulbs available for MH-lamps that can convert them to HPS, but I really would not recommend them because of their high cost. Lastly, fluorescent tubes are not bad, cost-efficiency wise, but they will give you a great deal more work (you’ll have to hang a lot of them and constantly adjust them). When mounting your HID-lamp, you should do it horizontally, which will increase the amount of light which will get absorbed by your plant by up to 30 per cent. For small growing operations (by which is meant nine square feet/2 and a half square meters or less) fluorescent bulbs should be sufficient, but you should also consider the 70 watt HPS-lights which can be bought from DIY-stores. Anything larger than that and you’re going to need a lot more light, or buy more of the same ones. Strangely, medium sized HPS-lamps (like the 150 and 250 watt) have almost about the same price tags as the 400 watt models, which is why I’d give you my recommendation that you opt for the larger variety either way. Finally, remember that heat build-up can be a real issue when you’re using High Intensity Discharge lamps, and too much of it will require you to vent your growing area constantly. Additionally, you won’t be able to enrich the CO2-levels because it would exit the area right away because of the constant ventilation.
All in all, lamp choice is a very serious thing, but it’s also somewhat dependent on personal taste, experiences and availability of the different kind of lamps in your local area, so, if your indoor gardening activities are going to amount to anything over very small-scale, then you absolutely must do at least a fair amount of research on the most efficient methods available to you before you decide to start your growing venture. Once you’ve installed the lamps, it’s a real hassle (not too mention very costly!) to change everything again if it turns out that you’ve made some bad decisions, so do take care to consider all your options here and think on the long term.
The Sea of Green method is a theory which states that you can get the best output per day of gardening and dollar of investment, not by growing a few plants for a long time, but, instead, by constantly harvesting a large amount of small plants, which are matured very early, thus getting the fastest bud production possible. In the same space that is required to grow a few plants normally, you can grow several small ones, taking a lot less time to mature, and reducing the downtime in between crops. Using this method, you can start one crop while the other matures, maintaining constant harvesting, all year round.
For seedlings, you should plant four of them per square foot (30 square centimeters). Plants which have progressed beyond the vegetative state should be placed about every square foot, which, for many people, will still sound like way too many. But, in fact, the bottom branches, which won’t get a lot of light using this kind of density are usually in the shade anyway when growing outdoors (because the light will generally come from above), so you won’t lose a lot of the good stuff. The Sea Of Green method was developed after indoor growers realized that indoor plants that are too tall don’t yield enough bud down low to make all that additional time spent growing them to that length worthwhile. However, note that this does not apply if the plant is going to be placed outside at some point in the future, where it would receive enough light near the bottom.
When several plants are started together in this fashion, they will form what is often referred to as a “green canopy”, which will absorb most, if not all of the light at the very top level of the plants, leaving very little of it to seep through to the lower levels, considering that the plants are very close to one another. The gardener will focus his strategy on the top of the plants and use the limited space and the light that comes from above to the best of his abilities. Also, he will attempt to force the plants to reach maturity in the shortest amount of time as possible. When you are using this method, one of the most common problems you may run into is that your plants may often become rather unstable, due to the combination of the heavy weight of the green canopy and the fact that the bottom and middle parts of the plant will remain relatively underdeveloped due to always being in the shade. In order to help your plants carry this burden, you can use stakes, but, as it might be prohibitively difficult to reach some plants which are installed further back in your growing area, nylon poultry fence or other kind of trellises can perform the same function as well and are much easier to install than stakes.
Many growers will be very tempted to slightly change this strategy and allow their plants to become bigger and bigger, thinking that these will produce higher outputs per plant. And while it is true that the individual plants will in fact produce larger amounts of buds when left to grow to a larger size, it is most of the times much more efficient to stick to smaller plants which mature quicker and can be packed into tinier spaces, especially when you are being confronted by a lack of growing space. The Sea Of Green strategy was developed in the home and safe haven of legal growers, the Netherlands, and it quickly took the growing world by storm, because, where a small room used to be able to support only three or four plants, with the Sea Of Green method, twenty four plants could be placed in this same room, divided over two shelves. These small plants only need about three to four months to go from germination all the way to full maturity, and harvesting can take place all year round, with intervals of around 45 to 60 days, due to there being specific areas devoted to the vegetative and flowering stages.
It’s important to realize that it’s not necessarily the size of the plant, but rather the quality of the product that has the biggest impact. When growing your plants to only half the size you would normally grow them to, you’ll be able to place twice as many plants which will fill your growing area at double the speed, meaning that you’ll have the opportunity to harvest two times for every one time you used to be able to. An essential skill you will have to study is learning how to distinguish the early flowering plants from the late ones, and using only the ones that produce the best quality of buds for further propagation. To get an idea of just how compact and efficient your growing space could be, consider that a single closet of twelve square feet can hold no less than 48 vegetative seedlings on one shelf (at four plants per square foot). With some good planning you can manage to pack an extremely high amount of seedlings in a very small space!
When your plants enter the flowering phase, you should look at one plant per square foot as a good rule of thumb when doing the Sea Of Green method. When you use fewer plants than this, they will take longer to fill up the space, requiring you to pay for more of your electricity usage while you wait, for what will ultimately be about the same amount of output. Using more than one plant per square foot is also not a good idea, because there won’t be enough room for some branching at the top, and your plants will turn out to be more stem than anything else. Some growers might recommend to cut the tops of your plants (topping them), but I would say it’s better to just grow more plants instead, as you just want them to reach maturity as quickly as possible, in the smallest amount of space. On the other hand, I would recommend to “train” the plants with twist-ties, in order to get them to spread out a bit. This technique can result in the plants growing horizontally rather than vertically and can be easily accomplished by wrapping plastic or paper twist ties around the top of the plant, pulling it over until the top is bent 90 to 180 degrees, and then attaching it to the main stem, located lower on your plant. After doing this for about a week, and then taking the twist ties away, the plant should grow to a denser kind of bush, which will fill your growing space even faster. At the same time, it will induce the lower branches to go up towards the light and join the green canopy. Due to the way the plant’s hormones are regulated, you only have to pull the top over to create this effect (the bushier growth) in the whole plant!
Lastly, the harvest should be mostly confined to the top of the plants while the bottom branches should be trimmed, in order to increase the flow of air underneath the canopy. These trimmings are actually perfect for clones and will regenerate after flowering, ensuring even more harvests of your favorite plants in the future. As you can see, the Sea Of Green method is a truly excellent way of making the most out of a limited space, and getting the best yield possible in the smallest amount of time, but it might not be for the beginning gardener who has no experience in growing yet.