Indoor Garden Experiment - Winter 2016-17

David Trammel's picture

As I mentioned, I'm going to try and preserve my pepper plants over the winter with the intention to grow them bigger and stronger in the Spring.

Well that was the original plan, lol.

Its grown a bit...

This is a corner of my unused living room. I was just planning on two overhead lights, but once I got all the planters done and plants into them, three shelves was very crowded. I want to seed start and grow some spinach as well this Winter, so I went ahead and purchased a third fixture.

To see the tutorial on how to make the self watering planters I'm using click this thread "Self Watering Planters"

Yes, that's a sleeping bag covering the window.

After I put a layer of plastic on like most do, I then hang a cheap $10 WalMart sleeping bag over it as a thermal barrier.

I also picked up a small warming mat at the Grow store where I bought the lights. You can see the seed starter I picked up on close out at WalMart to the far left of the picture. I got 5 of the 72 cell starter kits for a dollar a piece.

I have an old mable topped corner table I put it on, just to be safe. Its the first warming mat I've used with seed starts, and while it is just barely warm to the touch, it mists the seed starter lid very nicely with moisture.

Right now I have eleven 5 gallon planters and twelve 2 gallon ones. (The two gallon are the smaller ones.)

Cost on them was about $25 each on the 5 gallon, and $20 on the 2 gallon, when you figure in potting soil. I didn't add anything for the plants, since everything but the lettuce I already had growing. Add $5 or so for two 6 packs for the lettuce, which was 6 Romaine plants and a Gourmet mix.

If you look from left to right, here's what I have growing.

- Seed Starter with 12 cells planted with Spinach.

- They will be planted in the four 2 gallon planters on the white shelving next to it. They are filled with dirt but not watered yet.

- On that same shelf, I have one of the floppy gourmet lettuces and the new Purslane plant recently picked up. It has white flowers so I'm keeping it a bit separated from my older one, which is blue flowers.

The seed starter is way too big for just 12 cells, but I'll use it more in the Spring.

My single black pearl pepper is in the corner.

I trimmed it back a bit. I am hoping this will really bush out for me.

I did trim some of the peppers pretty hard.

The one on the left is the same type as the other, only it was one single very tall stem, looking like it wanted to flower. If you've grown lettuce, you know once it does, it bolts and the flavor suffers badly on the leaves. Not sure if it did that because of a few days of colder weather last month, being outside at the nursery. I have enough peppers and lettuce that I can afford to experiment, and see if a harsh cut back brings better results. We will see.

The longer side of three shelves has my peppers and most of the lettuce. The Romaine is acting like it wants to flower and bolt too, so they may be in for some pruning this week.

I repotted my oldest plant, a nice Spider plant into a new larger pot, and as you can Purslane plant is huge!!!

I got it into a new container and it clumped up a bit, I expect the branches will relax given a few days. I've started including a good portion of its stems into my weekly salad. It does have a particular taste, a bit tart, and very crunchy. I look forward to including it in my diet.

See this thread on Purslane

True to the advertising, the smaller pot to the left has 4 smaller purslane plants that I found growing in one of my pepper plant basket. I think its the one that was under the main basket. Grows like a weed lol.


Cost Breakdown: I would have put everything in the basement, so that any water wouldn't be a problem but the only electrical is a single ceiling bulb, with one outlet in the fixture.

The lights are made by a company called VitaPlant, and are 4 feet long, using four 54 watt fluorescent bulbs, for a total of 214 watts per fixture or 642 watts total. Each cost $140 ($160 with tax). They have a 5 year guarantee (1 year on the bulbs).

I did some back of the envelope math on the cost. My latest electric bill has me using 243 kilowatts (kWh) during September with a cost of $37. Works out to about 15 cents a kWh. I have them on a pair of timers coming on at 5am to 7pm, or about 14 hours, for a total cost of $1.35US for about 9 kWh a day.

Now this might be a problem during Winter depending on the solar electric system and its output. Something that is often very low then. I'll have to keep this in mind when thinking of how much output I will need.

David Trammel's picture

My three planters of Romaine lettuce are death...

I suspect that they got over watered. The 2 gallon containers seem to stay moist at the surface more than the 5 gallon ones. That may mean that the lower portions are very water saturated. Plants need oxygen in the dirt around their roots as well as water. Too much water and they can't get that oxygen.

Also too much water can cause root rot where mold and other pests can cause damage.

I'm going to back off a bit on the watering but also start adding some hydrogen peroxide to the water by pouring a few table spoons down the tube once I've topped off the reservoir. What I've read is that the hydrogen peroxide, with its extra oxygen atom, releases that into the ground around the roots.

Not a complete loss, I have twelve seed starters set with spinach seeds and can replant once they sprout.

The two containers of a broad leaf lettuce are doing well. The exotic lettuce in one container has gotten a tiny bloom on the bigger plant. The smaller one I had pruned back very severely, but the bare steam is putting out some good new leaf growth.

So too has one of the pepper plants I did the same to.

I will keep everyone updated thru the Winter.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Ah, the future of living rooms-- a room for living things...and food for the living.

As soon as I saw that window cover I knew I was going to ask what it is. ;) I just got one more layer for my north-facing living room window, bringing it to 5 layers, some of them mere whisps of fabric, some of them thicker. It will be dark in there.

Personally, I am not neat enough to have an uncovered wood floor beneath plants that I will need to water. I always spill, no matter how I promise myself to be careful. But with you self waterers that will be one problem knocked way down?

I think your lights will be sufficient if you can keep them running. I've run regular 40 watt fluorescent bulbs for 15 hours on peppers, both for big plants and seedlings in late winter. Are your bulbs not too far above body temperature on the surface? If so, Itry a combination of lowering until them until actually touch the pepper's leaves, and raising some of the lower plants to be as close as possbible to the bulbs. Remember the peppers do fine outdoors in 100F and higher temps, so touching the bulbs probably will be fine. That is what I've done with peppers. Also, as long as some stems remain green and plump don't give up on them even if they lose all leaves.

The ends of fluorescent bulbs tend to not have the quality output as the centers, so use the middle areas as much as possible.

Spider mites have been a problem on peppers I've brought in. You can brush them off to some extent, but what I really like is to take them to where I can wash them down with water. For me, that means in the basement over the floor drain if the day is too chilly to do it outside, or in the bathub if the plants are upstairs.

Also, on days like today, (beautiful in our city, dtrammel!) force yourself to carry some of those buckets outdoors for real sun. It's a bother, all that in and out, but the plants sure like it.

I really like the shelves you have worked out.

Good luck to you; you're going to do well.

David Trammel's picture

Ah, the future of living rooms-- a room for living things...and food for the living.

I could think of worse rooms to relax in, than a room full of plants, many of them growing food for me. All I'd need then is a good book and some music. (and some beer, lol.)


Those are actually some shelving I bought from Home Depot under their HDX brand. The shelves are 36x24"

5 Shelf Storage Unit

They retail at around $50 or so and have 5 shelves. You don't have to set them up as 5 shelves either. They are very modular. They also have some that are 18" deep.

Funny story, last year I was at the store for something minor and they had these on sale. I had been meaning to get my basement organized. So I bought 3 units, all that would fit in my small SUV. Got home and set them up, quickly filling the shelves with "stuff". Thought "that looks good". Went back, got 3 more. Set them up. Went back, bought the 2 units left, went home dropped them off, then went to another nearby store. Bought 6 more (two trips). I have one solid wall of my huge basement as shelving. No more boxes on the floor.

I set them up as a 5 shelf, then a 4 shelf, then a 5. I have about a foot of head room above the 5th shelf, so the 4s give me a place to put some of my taller things like picture frames.


Personally, I am not neat enough to have an uncovered wood floor beneath plants that I will need to water. I always spill, no matter how I promise myself to be careful. But with you self waterers that will be one problem knocked way down?

Not my first choice but as I said, no electrical outlets in the basement. Next year, they will be downstairs. When I water them, I put a 2 gallon bucket on the bottom shelf under the planter, then any excess drips down there.

I have gone in there for a few hours this week, once I got home from work. Felt very nice. Guess I need the sunlight just like the plants do, considering I'm on third shift. I may put a laptop in there with some music and catch up on my reading this Winter.

The bulbs at center are a bit too hot to touch comfortably, and the units seem to warm the room a bit too. I'll keep an eye and if any of the leaves look a bit tired I'll raise them up.

Haven't seen any mites but I've seen a couple of spiders. I'm always very friendly to my 8 legged totem animal, Grandmother Spider. When I find them in the house, I usually scoop them up with a cup and put them outside in the garden, and now inside to the plants. Hopefully they won't starve (or eat each other, lol).


Also, on days like today, (beautiful in our city, dtrammel!) force yourself to carry some of those buckets outdoors for real sun. It's a bother, all that in and out, but the plants sure like it.

Yes, its supposed to be near 80 degrees today. For the first week of November. That Chinese made up climate change is really useful sometimes....(shakes head). I almost want Trump to win, because it looks like the Anarctic Ice Shelves are really accelarating their melting, and worse case we could see a major even there or in Greenland during the next four years.

I'd love to see how he explains climate change isn't real, when the New York subway system floods do to storm surge, or we lose Miami for a few weeks due to overflowed streets.

I know there are a few more of us Green Wizards here in St Louis. We should have a lunch sometime and chat like the other Tower meetings do. I'm active with the big October sci-fi convention Archon, and may be able to get a lecture included into their programming either this next year or the one after. Depends if I can put together the material for a presentation. I do think that the sci-fi community is a receptive audience for Greer's message. They might not like having to give up their space colonies and warp drive but might still geek over being eco-shamans in a run down world.