Planting a vegetable garden is a great way to save money on grocery bills, enjoy fresh, healthy, and delicious foods, and reduce your carbon footprint, but across much of the United States, the growing season is short – as little as two months in some parts of the Mountain West. Preserving food can help, but some favorite vegetables, such as salad greens, do not keep well. What’s a gardener to do?
Fortunately, there are a growing number of eco-friendly products designed to extend the growing season by moving food production indoors. Whether you have a studio apartment or a farm of your own, you can now enjoy fresh food year round wherever you live.
One of the most established and popular ways to grow vegetables and herbs indoors is with the use of grow lights. Unfortunately, because grow lights often have to remain on for as much as 12-14 hours per day, they were not considered very eco-friendly for many years. The modern generation of grow lights, however, uses LED lights that use an average of 80% less energy than conventional incandescent, metal halide or high pressure sodium lights, and can last up to ten times longer.
The GlowPanel 45 from Sunshine Systems uses just 28 Watts of power, yet has a comparable output to a 250 Watt HPS bulb. The 5 square foot GlowPanel can be used alone or linked with other panels, so you can power up to 28 GlowPanels with just one outlet.
One of the most innovative new indoor gardening systems is Window Farms. Especially designed for apartment dwellers, Window Farms are based on hydroponics systems, which involve growing plants without soil, to maximize space efficiency and minimize labor. Window Farms use recycled plastic water bottles to grow up to 32 different plants in a 4 foot by 6 foot window! They can grow nearly any type of plant except for certain root vegetables, such as carrots and radishes.
The Window Farms Project offers an online community of window farmers and free instructions for building your own Window Farm, in addition to kits suitable for both homes and schools.
Another creative and space-efficient hack of hydroponics technology is a system called “aquaponics” that combines hydroponics with aquaculture. In traditional hydroponics, gardeners must dissolve plant nutrients in water to fertilize the plants. In traditional aquaponics systems, the water must be filtered or cleaned regularly in order to prevent fish effluent from building up to toxic levels. In aquaponics systems, a symbiotic relationship develops between the fish and the plants. As water circulates between the plants and the growing medium, the plants naturally clean and filter the water, and the fish produce fertilizer for the plants. As a result, aquaponics systems use substantially less water than traditional hydroponics and aquaculture systems, and typically have lower operating costs. They are also highly space efficient, producing high quality fish such as tilapia in addition to vegetables, with little extra space.
Aquaponics systems suitable for both commercial and residential use are available. A good starter kit that can even fit in a small apartment is the Little Tokyo Farm in a Box from Earth Solutions, which
holds a 10 gallon glass fish tank and a 12″ x 20″ planter box.
For gardeners with the space to accommodate it, the ultimate indoor gardening space is a greenhouse of your very own. A unique greenhouse design that may be of special interest to eco-conscious gardeners is the Growing Dome from Growing Spaces. This geodesic dome-shaped greenhouse was designed by gardeners from the weather-plagued Rocky Mountains of Colorado to resist up to 60 pounds of snow per square foot, as well as hail and high winds. The Growing Dome was also designed to reduce energy consumption for heating! An insulated foundation and perimeter, a large water tank for thermal mass, and a solar power geothermal fan are among the features that help cut energy consumption for heating by up to two thirds! Growing Domes are available in eight different sizes, ranging from 110 to 2200 square feet of growing space.