Basement garden

WhoDaMan2454November 26, 2012

Hi I am interested in creating a small to medium basement garden. It is a finished basement with one window that is in a closet. The garden will see no sunlight at all, it will be 100% inside my basement at all times. The main things i would like to grow are tomatoes and strawberries, if there are other fruits that can survive probably those also. Some veggies will probably come later. Is this going to be possible? Can I get away without using all sorts of expensive equipment/lights?

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Hi WhoDaMan, i see that it's been a while since you've posted this here. I'm sorry to have to tell you, that you will not be able to grow tomatoes and strawberries with no light. Poor light will make your plant leggy and flimsy. These require full day sun. You will need to invest in bright lighting for tomatoes and strawberries and heat and a fan to make sturdy plants. Plus if you want fruits, you need to hand pollinate the blooms to produce fruits. Insects like bees do that work for us outdoor.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2012 at 2:52PM
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leira(6 MA)

Actually, tomatoes will self-pollinate, so the most that might be needed is to shake the branches a bit...though if you have a fan, even that might not be necessary.

Strawberries, in addition to needing pollination, are sensitive to the length of the day. The reason "June-bearing" strawberries set their fruit in June is because of day length.

I've had great luck doing my seed-starting in the basement, using inexpensive fluorescent shop lights (any kind will do). Bringing plants to maturity under artificial light is another story, however, and you need to get the right light colors in order to encourage blossom and fruit set.

There's a hydroponics shop near me whose owner is trying to grow tomatoes in her shop. The ones she had last year were rather leggy, but she's trying a different system this year, and maybe she'll have more luck. She says that smaller varieties (often ones marked "patio") are a better choice for indoor gardening. If it were me, I would try a variety like "Tiny Tim," which only grows to 12" tall, and is well-suited to containers.

If you really want to try your hand at indoor gardening, I would suggest that you: Start small. Just one or two types of things, and not too many of them. Commit to getting some decent lights. The hydroponics shop owner told me she was trying out a sodium light that cost about $100, used 150 watts, and put out something like 15,000 lumens. I haven't done loads of research on this topic, but I think there are more good, reasonably priced options available now than there were even a few years ago. Surrounding your growing area with good reflectors can seriously increase the "bang for the buck" that your lights give you (you can use something like mylar, but studies show that flat white actually reflects better than pretty much anything else). Avoid flowering fruiting plants on your first round. Try something simpler, like lettuce, or maybe spinach, which can be eaten at any stage of development. I know these might not be quite as exciting as tomatoes or strawberries, but they are much more likely to succeed, and you'll get some experience under your belt before you try the harder stuff. I suspect it might even be possible to grow greens with plain old (cheap, readily available) fluorescents.

Believe me, I have similar dreams to you, to get me through those long Winter months. I actually intended to re-purpose my seed-starting shelf into a greens-growing shelf for the Winter, but I never actually got anything planted. I may plant some things now, since my big seed-starting push won't really happen until March, and I hope to have a cold frame in operation by then.

I've also started to consider extreme dwarf pea varieties, such as "Tom Thumb," which grow to less than a foot tall. I haven't tried this yet, but when the seeds arrive, I think I will.

In any case, don't get discouraged...but I think part of not getting discouraged is to dial back your initial steps to things that have a greater chance of success. Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 8:38AM
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I tried growing lettuce in the basement this year under lights. Unfortunately the lights were placed too far above the pots and the lettuce was very spindly and pale.

If I were to try this again, I would lower the lights to about 6-8 inches above my seedlings and raise them as needed to stay above the greens.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 4:18PM
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