Sustainable gardening is becoming more and more popular among both hobbyists and commercial growers. Sustainable gardening is the process of growing plants without the use of many outside resources or chemical pesticides.
Not only is sustainable gardening better for the environment, but also, in most cases, sustainable gardening techniques bring forth a higher quality product.
Gardeners growing outdoors can implement various techniques to increase efficiency and sustainability. The first step a grower should take is to go all organic.
To garden organically, the crops must be grown without the use of any petrochemical pesticides and herbicides or inorganic fertilizers that pollute the soil and water.
Organic horticulture techniques also rely on beneficial insects, plant extracts, an assortment of plants, and the application of compost to supply the soil or medium with nutrients.
But what about an indoor horticulturist? Is it possible for him or her to attain a high level of sustainability within an indoor garden?
The answer is yes. Indoor gardeners who wish to have a low environmental impact but still get high-quality results must pay close attention while setting up a growroom to ensure that the products and techniques used are as eco-friendly as possible.
Sustainable Lighting Options for Growers
The horticultural lighting system is the most important component of an indoor garden. Unfortunately, artificial lighting is also what makes sustainability in an indoor garden difficult to achieve. It takes a lot of electricity—which comes from an outside source—to provide the energy needed to grow large, heathy plants.
One significant way an indoor gardener can lessen his or her impact on the environment is to maximize the efficiency of the artificial light source. This can be done by placing the light source as close as possible to the plant canopy without causing damage and by using reflectors and reflective materials to redirect the light energy back toward the plants. The better a grower can utilize his or her current lighting system, the less energy will be wasted.
Another way an indoor grower can increase efficiency and move closer to full sustainability is to invest in a high-efficiency lighting system. High-efficiency lighting systems offer a high ratio of usable light energy in relation to the amount of electricity consumed.
LEDs and induction lighting systems are two types of lighting technologies that offer promise in terms of sustainability due to their low power consumption and relatively high photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) output.
Of course, regardless of the efficiency of the lighting system, there is still the need to pull energy from an outside source.
Since there is no way to get around that requirement, the best option for an indoor grower seeking sustainability is to find a sustainable source of electricity. Solar- and wind-powered generators are becoming more common for home use and many commercial indoor gardeners are investing in these sustainable energy options. (See: Powering Your Grow Room with Solar Technology)
For a hobbyist or indoor grower who cannot install his or her own solar panels or wind farm, it is worth checking in with the local power company to see what kind of sustainable energy options it offers. The customers of many power companies can purchase power from a sustainable source for a slightly higher price per kilowatt hour.
Years ago, I converted my entire indoor garden (and my whole house) to wind energy for an increase of less than two cents per kilowatt hour. Although this increase in cost slightly affected my return on investment, I found using a sustainable power source gave me peace of mind and was well worth the extra cost.
Finally, although this option is still years away from practical use in indoor gardens, the fiber optic lighting systems of the future will allow growers to harness light energy from the sun and channel it into the growing space.
In fact, there are a few companies that have successfully developed solar light collection systems that use fiber optics to deliver sunlight indoors.
Currently, these systems are used in high-rise and office buildings, but they could soon be adapted for indoor horticulture applications. In the future, fiber optic lighting systems may be the most efficient and effective way for an indoor gardener to sustainably deliver light energy to his or her plants.
Water Conservation and Use for Indoor Growers
Although indoor gardens rarely use as much water as an outdoor garden, water use is still a concern when it comes to sustainability. The source of the water, how it is filtered, and how it is processed all need to be taken into consideration.
As with lighting, making the most efficient use of the water source will put an indoor garden on the path to sustainability. Recirculation irrigation systems are an absolute must for indoor growers looking to increase efficiency.
The time of day a grower chooses to water his or her plants can also have a dramatic impact on how much water is used. A great way to efficiently use water and maintain aggressive growth rates is to set up an automated system that waters the plants right before the light cycle begins.
Sustainable Grow Media Options
Although most indoor growers replace the soil or medium after every grow cycle, a sustainable medium would be one that is recyclable or reusable. The more times a growing medium can be used, the more sustainable a garden becomes.
You can also use soil indoors, and one new trend spreading through the organic indoor gardening community is to basically build a raised bed within the indoor garden space. Like outdoors, the raised bed is replenished after every garden cycle with compost or fresh organic ingredients.
Making an organic soil for indoor gardening is similar to building a soil for outdoor use. Compost, coco coir, fish meal, bat guano, fish bone meal, kelp meal, dolomite lime, and glacier rock dust are all commonly used to build up the available nutrients in an organic soil.
Organic Disease and Pest Control
Gardening organically and sustainably is all fine and well until a grower encounters a pest insect or devastating disease. For many indoor growers, this is when organic horticulture is abandoned and the chemical nukes are called in. But don’t throw in the towel! There is not an indoor garden insect or disease that can’t be eliminated with the use of organic and sustainable products.
Isolated plant extracts have come a long way in the past five years and they give indoor growers a safe and effective defense against pest insects and diseases. Garlic, clove, and cayenne pepper extracts work wonders against a variety of pests.
A horticulturist could even grow these plants and make their own homemade insecticides. Another option for indoor growers is to introduce beneficial insects.
Read More: The Best Organic Pest Control Options
It may even be possible for a grower to breed his or her own beneficial insects to keep on hand to use when necessary. Establishing a beneficial insect population in an indoor garden is the most sustainable method for pest insect control.
The Little Things Add Up
Like so many other things in life, it is the little changes that can make a big difference in the sustainability and efficiency of an indoor garden.
Recycling used bulbs, potting containers, and plastic fertilizer bottles is easy to do and makes a huge difference in a garden’s overall environmental impact. Starting an indoor compost bin under the sink in your kitchen is a great way to turn kitchen scraps into fertilizer for your plants.
Automating the lighting and ventilation systems will make these systems run more efficiently, thus reducing wasted electricity. Any small change a grower can make to reduce waste and increase efficiency in the garden can be viewed as being a step closer to sustainability.
In this day and age, it is everyone’s responsibility to reduce his or her own environmental impact by maintaining efficiency and increasing sustainability.
Even the most seemingly small change, like increasing the efficiency of a lighting system, can have a dramatic impact over the course of many years.
Also, increasing efficiency in the garden equates not only to increased sustainability but larger, higher quality harvests. In other words, it pays to become more sustainable.
As for paying more to a power company that provides sustainable energy options, it is up to the grower as to whether he or she sees the value in supporting those sustainable options.
For me, the peace of mind knowing my garden is powered by the sun and wind versus coal is well worth the small difference on the power bill. I also believe that the more customers request their power be provided by sustainable sources, the quicker the power companies will make the switch from coal to wind and solar.
Again, it is ultimately the grower’s choice as to how sustainable he or she wants to make an indoor garden.
With the help of high-efficiency lighting systems, recyclable soils and media, automated irrigation systems, and powerful organic pesticides, indoor horticulturists can achieve a high level of sustainability without compromising results.