cellar garden experiment

I am toying with the idea of trying my hand at aquaponics.  My wife and I were impressed when we flew out to Milwaukee and visited Growing Power earlier this year and saw their systems and how much food they produce on 2 acres.  Soon we are going to have a small, extra bedroom available for my hobby use and I’m wondering if I should try raising some fish, fruit and vegetables in that room.  However, that room gets almost no direct sunlight.  I would need to provide artificial light for the plants.

How much light is needed and how much electricity will that use?  Browsing the web I found lots of information, but nothing that convinced me I’d be successful with a reasonable amount of electricity, so I’ve decided to try a small experiment.  I am going to try raising some pea and tomato plants using only artificial light in my cellar.  That should give me a clear idea of how much light is needed and how much electricity it will take.

I planted Burpee Mammoth Melting Sugar Peas and Burpee Better Boy Hybrid Tomatoes and put them near a window on November 3rd.  The first pea sprouted on November 7th and the first tomato on November 11th.

This past weekend (Nov 17 & 18) I built an artificial greenhouse in the cellar.  It is one foot wide by eight feet long by seven feet tall.  On each narrow end is a fluorescent light with two forty watt, 3350 lumen, 48″ bulbs standing vertically and plugged into a cheap timer set to turn on 14 hours per day.  Each long side has a 6 foot by 8 foot tarp covered on the inside with aluminum foil.  I know it would have made more sense to use mylar, but the tarps and foil were at hand.  One of the tarps is tied in place with ropes, but the other is movable.  The movable one is stapled to a 1×2 board that slides along two rails.  I can easily slide it about 5 feet from the plants so I can get in there and tend them.  Along the bottom of the greenhouse is a row of one foot wide buckets.  I drilled holes in the bottom the buckets and placed them in small plastic trays to catch any water that flows out.  Hanging from the top of the greenhouse are strings for the plants to climb.

Cellar Garden Experiment - Artificial greenhouseThe four pots on the left each have one tomato and one pea.  The four pots on the right each have two tomatoes and four peas.  By using the vertical lights at either end of a line of plants I’m hoping to discover how far from the lights the plants will grow.  By having half the pots densely planted I hope to find out how dense planting affects the health and yield of the plants.  The more densely I can pack the plants, the more food I can get from that tiny bedroom.

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