Essential Components for Starting an Indoor Garden
The first step to a healthy, vibrant indoor garden is to build a growroom with the hardware required to ensure plants are supplied with the essential elements for growth. Here's a component-by-component guide for new gardeners.
One of the first obstacles facing any new indoor gardener is determining the essential equipment needed to make the garden a success. There is a seemingly endless supply of gadgets available at an indoor gardening retailer that may be intimidating to a new grower.
Fear not. A closer look at some of the hardware options available will give any grower, novice or expert, the ability to prioritize the equipment needed to build an indoor garden. Because an indoor garden is completely separated from the natural elements, it is the responsibility of the gardener to provide all the essential components of photosynthesis while simulating a natural environment.
It is also the responsibility of the horticulturist to supply all the essential elements needed to sustain healthy plant growth. Before we get into the nutritional needs of the plants, first we must examine the essential components needed to stimulate photosynthesis in a growroom.
Choosing the Best Lighting Equipment for a Growroom
All the essential components of an operational indoor garden work synergistically, making it difficult to prioritize the importance of each. However, the lighting equipment is generally considered the most essential component of any indoor garden. The lighting system is literally the driving energy behind the entire photosynthetic process. Without light energy, there is no possibility for plant growth and this makes the lighting equipment the foundation of any indoor garden’s success.
Nowadays there are many different lighting systems to choose from. High-intensity discharge (HID) lighting, which includes metal halides (MH) and high-pressure sodiums (HPS), are still the most popular among indoor horticulturists. However, newer lighting technologies, such as LEDs, sulfur plasma and induction fluorescent lighting, have made huge strides in revolutionizing the indoor horticulture lighting industry.
The newer technologies aim to maximize the amount of usable light energy for plants (PAR) while reducing the overall energy consumed. More and more growers are realizing the benefits of these more efficient lighting technologies and are implementing them into the design of their growrooms. Just be sure to choose a lighting system that is rated for use within an indoor garden or greenhouse and produces a light spectrum tailored to plant growth.
Choosing the Best Ventilation Equipment for a Growroom
Ventilation equipment comes in as a close second to lighting equipment as the most essential component of an indoor garden. Most indoor gardens require some sort of ventilation equipment to maintain atmospheric conditions suitable for plant growth. To maximize production within an indoor garden, it is imperative to maintain the proper humidity and temperature for the particular crop being grown.
For beginner gardeners, a ventilation system can be comprised of little more than an exhaust fan. The exhaust fan would remove excess heat from the room and draw in fresh air as it exhausts.
The two most important functions of a basic ventilation system are to remove excess heat and to bring in fresh air to the plants. If an indoor garden is not artificially supplementing CO2, drawing fresh air into a garden is essential for the photosynthetic process. Without a fresh supply of CO2, the plant’s growth may be hindered.
It is also a good idea to have an oscillating fan in the room to keep the air within the garden circulating. Proper air circulation within an indoor garden will promote stronger stems and create more uniform atmospheric conditions.
Growers in hot climates or with larger lighting systems may be required to add an air conditioner to the ventilation system. Air conditioners, especially today’s mini-split systems, can be an important tool for maintaining the optimal atmospheric conditions within an indoor garden. In most cases, an air conditioner alone is not sufficient to cool and replenish CO2. If this is the case, the grower can set an exhaust fan on a timer to periodically replenish the room with fresh air (CO2).
Any indoor garden with both a functioning lighting and ventilation system will have the basic components for a successful growroom. With the most basic equipment chosen for the room, now it is time for the horticulturist to choose the essential components that are more directly associated with the plants themselves.
Containers or Hydroponic System?
The next essential component is the containers or hydroponic system that will physically house the plants. Soil gardening is a solid choice for beginner growers and only requires planting containers and some high-quality soil to get started. When purchasing planting containers, a grower should keep in mind that the plants will grow quickly and will require transplanting as they grow. Most indoor horticulturists who choose soil as their medium will have multiple sizes of containers to coincide with the different stages of growth their plants will experience.
Growers who choose to grow hydroponically will have to determine the best particular hydroponic system for their given application. There are many ready-made hydroponic systems that make the initial set up of a growroom much easier. In fact, some growers will choose the hydroponic system first and then build the growroom based on the needs and size of the given system. DIY hydroponic growers choose to build their own systems. This has a few advantages, the biggest being the ability to customize the system for the physical space and desired application.
Grow Media Options for Growrooms
Some of the high-tech, fog-type systems and aeroponic systems require only a small amount of grow medium (primarily for the stabilization of the plants). However, almost all hydroponic systems require some sort of medium. The choice of media will be determined by the grower’s preference and the requirements of the particular hydroponic system chosen.
What Types of Nutrients Do I Need in a Growroom?
We have discussed lighting, ventilation and the containers or hydroponic system as essential pieces of hardware for setting up an indoor garden. Just as a growroom requires essential components to operate, the plants themselves require certain essential elements to grow and thrive.
There are many different types and brands of plant nutrients (fertilizers) available at indoor gardening retailers. Frankly, the sheer amount of options can be overwhelming to a beginner indoor horticulturist. Good base fertilizers, generally sold as grow (for the vegetative stage) and bloom (for the flowering stage), are all a beginner really needs to get the plants through a cycle.
A base fertilizer will contain all of the essential elements needed for the photosynthetic process. Many base fertilizers will be specific for either soil or hydroponics. After establishing base nutrition in a garden, the horticulturist can pursue other nutritional supplements that stimulate desired effects from the plants.
Read More: What Grow Medium Is Right For You?
Air Filtration Equipment
Although not as essential as lighting, ventilation, grow media or plant nutrition, air filtration equipment plays a large role in keeping the plants in a garden healthy and the gardener happy. HEPA filters, carbon filters and ozone generators are all examples of air filtration equipment. HEPA filters on the intake ventilation port of an indoor garden will minimize potential pathogens and pest insects.
Carbon filters have the ability to remove unwanted odors, such as fertilizer odors, from a growroom. Carbon filters can be especially important for urban growers who don’t want their apartments or their neighbor’s apartment to smell like fish waste or chemical fertilizers. Ozone generators are also great at eliminating odors and pathogens but should be used with caution as overexposure can be harmful to people and plants.
Monitors and Controllers
Monitors and controllers are not essential parts of a novice’s garden. However, monitors and controllers are certainly essential in maintaining optimal growth in an indoor garden or greenhouse. Temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, light intensity, a nutrient solution’s pH and nutrient concentration (EC or ppm) can all be monitored and controlled by a series of controllers or a single controller. Indoor gardens or greenhouses with automated controllers can more easily provide a consistent environment for the plants. Plants thrive in consistent environments and the use of controllers enables the grower to set the parameters of the garden with the push of a button.
CO2 Supplementation Devices
One of the variables in the equation of photosynthesis is carbon dioxide (CO2). Plants “breathe” CO2 and expel oxygen. One way to heighten a photosynthetic repose of an indoor garden is to increase the amount of available CO2. Carbon dioxide is naturally present in our air at around 400 ppm. By increasing the amount of CO2 in a garden’s atmosphere to 900 ppm, or even 1,500 ppm, a grower can increase the rate of photosynthesis which, in turn, leads to increased growth and larger yields.
It should be noted that CO2 is just one of the variables in the photosynthetic equation and it is affected by other variables in the equation, such as temperature. For the plants to gain all the benefits of the increased levels of CO2, the temperature of the room must also be increased.
This is why growers without automated, dialed-in ventilation systems should forgo CO2 supplementation. However, growers with the ability to maintain consistent atmospheric conditions can benefit greatly from a CO2 supplementation device.
The two most common ways to supplement CO2 in an indoor garden are by way of compressed CO2 tanks or burners. Compressed tanks are nice because they do not add any heat to the growing environment.
However, propane or natural gas CO2 burners are more efficient and generally easier for the grower to maintain. Growers with smaller gardens can experiment with CO2 by using some of the bag or bucket CO2 devices on the market. These devices rely on mycelium—the vegetative part of a fungus—which creates CO2 as a by-product.
Read More: CO2 & Your Crop - Why It's Important and How to Use It
Every growroom starts as a blank canvas. Each indoor garden or greenhouse is different. Because of this, each one will require tweaking and testing to find the optimal parameters.
After the basic hardware is established, a grower can begin the process of tailoring the garden through the implementation of different devices and the experimentation with different atmospheric conditions.
A grower’s geographical location plays as large of a role over the hardware required in the indoor garden as the type of plants he or she plans on growing. It is the responsibility of the horticulturist to fine-tune the garden after the basic needs have been met. Growing healthy, vibrant plants is the goal.
To accomplish this goal, the first step for any indoor gardener is to build a growroom with the essential hardware required and supply the plants with the essential elements for growth.
Read Next: The Best Temperatures for an Indoor Grow Room
Written by Eric Hopper | Writer, Consultant, Product Tester
Eric Hopper’s past experiences within the indoor gardening industry include being a hydroponic retail store manager and owner. Currently, he works as a writer, consultant and product tester for various indoor horticulture companies. His inquisitive nature keeps him busy seeking new technologies and methods that could help maximize a garden’s performance.