Thursday, June 27, 2013

Indoor Gardening in the Summer

Many indoor gardeners believe that once you grow indoors, you never go back outside.  Gardening indoors gives you complete control over your environment and conditions - nothing is left up to chance or Mother Nature.  There is always an answer to a negative outdoor condition (air conditioners and heaters, humidifiers and dehumidifiers, backup generators for power loss, etc.), but there's no denying that the conditions outdoors definitely affect what we need to do indoors to create the perfect environment.  Growing indoors in the summer has many challenges, hopefully these tips will help you avoid having to deal with them.

- Air conditioning.  A must.  You cannot have a successful summer growing season indoors in the tri-state area without it.  A lot of the most common fruits, vegetables and herbs require growing temperatures no higher than 80 degrees fahrenheit.  In a CO2 enriched environment plants can take higher temperatures, but it should still never exceed 90 degrees.  Using HID lights, with outdoor temperatures in the 80's, 90's and sometimes 100's, the ideal temperatures are nearly impossible to maintain without air conditioning.  If you already have an air conditioner, make sure it's in proper working order before the summer starts.  You don't want to be taken by surprise on that first hot day and have your plants suffer.  A little late for that last piece of advice now, but it's good to keep in mind for next year.

- Have a hygro-thermometer in each room that records the minimum and maximum temperature and humidity readings.  That way if a piece of equipment is not operating properly and causes a change in your environment, you can catch it as soon as possible even if you're not there when it happens.  Sunleaves makes a great hygro-thermometer that comes with an external sensor, so you can monitor the temperatures in two rooms at once.  Autopilot makes one that measures the temperature, humidity and CO2, and also records the readings every 30 minutes (and stores them for 24 hours), so you know exactly WHEN things changed (which can be very helpful when trying to diagnose a problem).

- During heatwaves, electric companies sometimes reduce voltage to help lessen the strain on their power systems.  When this happens, you're not getting your full power input.  High wattage lights may not get their full "juice" so they will work harder to power up, which can damage the ballasts and/or bulbs.  They can also be damaged when the power jolts back to its full potential, which is one reason why surge protectors are so important.  They're relatively inexpensive when compared to the costs of new ballasts and bulbs.  You may even lose partial power (some of your lights may work while others don't).  If this happens, don't panic.  Wait until the heatwave passes and then test your equipment once voltage is fully restored.  If your equipment still isn't functioning, some of the damage incurred may be covered under warranty.  Bring it in to the shop and we'll take a look at it.
- Water temperature is very important in hydroponic gardening.  The perfect water temperature range is 65-68 degrees.  Low 70's can be ok, but once it climbs above 72-73 you run the risk of harmful bacteria, fungi and pathogens breeding and infecting your root zones.  High water temperatures are the main cause of root rot, and unfortunately sometimes once you get it, there's no getting rid of it.  If you're having a hard time controlling your water temps, seriously think about investing in a water chiller.  They aren't the cheapest pieces of equipment but sometimes they're the only answer in successful hydroponic gardening (especially in the summer).  You can use products like H2O2 or Botanicare's Aqua Shield to help treat your water and prevent disease, just be careful when using H2O2 because it will kill any beneficial bacteria and fungi you may be adding to your nutrient solutions. 

- Air-cool your lights.  By creating a sealed line, where cool air is being pulled from an unused room with an in-line fan, through your lights via ducting, then out of the room (either into another room or directly outside), you can bring down your room temperatures considerably (typically 5-10 degrees).  This will ease the load on your air conditioner and help lower your cooling costs, since fans use less electricity than A/C's.  The sealed line is important because you don't want to waste the cool air from the A/C that you're already putting into your room by exhausting THAT air through the lights, or waste your CO2 if you're using it.

- Most people opt for CO2 enrichment over bringing in fresh air during the summer months, due to the fact that the fresh air you'll be bringing in is probably hotter than the room itself (and CO2 helps plants combat the heat).  However, if you must, (and this goes for all times of the year, not just the summer) make sure to protect your garden by using an intake filter!  Bugs and molds are alive and well outdoors.  The last thing you want to do is bring them in to your sterile environment where they can (and will) thrive.  If you're in the city, don't think you're immune.  They're everywhere.

- If it's an option for you, scale back.  Even when you have the required equipment, running it all can be expensive.  If you go full bore all year long and you don't feel like fighting the heat, cut back.  Use half of your growing space during the height of the summer.  You'll save money on cooling costs and give yourself a little break.  You worked hard on your garden all year, you deserve it!

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