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Kelly Rued
Posts: 40
Location: St. Paul, MN, USA
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Hi, all. 

We've been in our new home for almost 5 months now and one of the upcoming projects is creating a seed-starting and winter-growing area in our finished basement (vinyl floor, white walls, low/normal ceiling for 1950s house, negligible natural light from tiny east and west basement windows). I'm looking for creative ideas to make this area as friendly to the plants as possible, given our limitations here (mainly need advice on lighting/temperature, cat proofing, and some kind of wall/barrier that looks good and lets enough light and air through).

Also, we don't just need space for seed pots. We are in USDA hardiness zone 4a on a small urban lot so a few of our potted food trees will come inside for the winter (bay, fig, lemon, and lime for certain). I've seen seed-starting setups with lights on chains over tables but we need to design a space to accommodate those over-wintering potted dwarf trees (pruned no taller than 6' on the floor, and some kind of shelving to maximize space for seedlings and maybe some winter greens.

I was thinking maybe 2 sets of wooden utility shelves with only 2 shelves installed so there are 2 levels with lights above plants, and then lights above space next to those shelves for the potted trees to over-winter.  Not sure how to section off this area from our hell cat while still letting the light and air through (in the past I had bonsai trees including a large ficus that died very undignified deaths after we adopted 2 kittens in 2002 so I know what a determined cat can do to a potted tree).

Are overhead florescent lights on adjustable chain the best choice for an indoor grow area? Do any led lights work? It's kind of chilly in the basement, even compared to the rest of the house (and we are heat-misers in the winter and central A/C fanatics in the summer so it feels like fall weather in here year-round). Should we use a thermometer and local heater to keep the grow area a bit warmer or is the overhead light enough?

On a related note, how important is air circulation. There's no natural ventilation down here (windows are on the highest part of the wall, flush with the ceiling tiles). I've seen people use PC case fans in their setup (on the timers with the lights). Is this useful indoors? I know in a greenhouse the big deal is keeping plants from overheating or sweltering to death but I've no idea if the lights we use indoors could have the same effect.

A bit more info on our feline family member who does not play nice with others (but survives on sheer cuteness alone). She pretty much lives in our finished basement (for the health of the other cat, kids, and our living room couch which she considers her preferred litter box). She has full claws and can get into nearly everything (which she then shreds, pees in, or eats and barfs somewhere that people want to sit or walk with bare feet). Our non-bedroom "adult" space (home office, den, bookshelves, gaming/entertainment) is also down in this finished basement area so 2 of us are down here much of the evening every single day (and the cat has free reign to go from finished side to the unfinished laundry/storage/utility area). That said, this cat is understandably bored and the introduction of anything as exciting and new as indoor plants will no doubt be her favorite new target of attack. She clawed/ate through 2 layers of nested cardboard boxes to find a sealed plastic tub of stale cat food from before our move so I'm pretty sure she's willing to tunnel through/under anything chintzy (she's got a lot of spare time).

Originally we discussed the seed-starting could just hide in the unfinished part of the basement but honestly I think that's a waste of beautiful plants and light (if I'm going to run lights most of the day down here, I'd like them to illuminate the home office area we spend most of our free time in). So now we're considering everything from outdoor fencing/gate to french doors to plexiglass panels or custom sliding screen doors to just section off one end of the room. But we'd hate to build a little area and all of that only to find the plants don't do well in there because we have no experience growing anything in a basement (or because the cat proofing fails).

Any suggestions are appreciated. I like to learn more about eco-friendly ideas even though I'm not morally-motivated in my edible gardening or permaculture interests (just like good fresh produce, and want my garden to be self-sustaining without expensive store-bought inputs). So if there is a best practice for energy efficiency with indoor gardening, we'd love to learn about it (but with the obvious limitation that growing off-season, out-of-proper-climate food indoors is essentially an eco wasteful practice to begin with). If we can minimize negatives while still getting the food we like, that's kind of what we're after.

BTW, these are all sub-irrigated planters we're talking about (not sure if that makes any difference for light/ventilation recommendations).
 
                                
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Well.. I don't really see how a cat would be that big of a problem but I'm quite sure any wall sturdier than cardboard would be cat proof.

I don't think anyone will be able to tell you whether or not you need ventilation/ heating in your basement but you. It depends on too many variables, such as;

-The amount of grow lights
-The power of said grow lights
-The thermal efficiency of your bulbs/ ballasts
-Amount of time that animalia spend in the grow space (Gives off heat and delicious CO2)
-The genus of the seeds you intend to germinate there


For an indoor grow space, I would say that learn from the masters.. Pot growers! You'd be amazed at the awesome designs by some of them. I can tell you that those guys (at least who take it seriously) don't leave anything to chance when it comes to indoor gardening.

Good sources are easy to find online. For example type "international cannagraphic forums" to google and try to find the "Growroom designs & Equipment" -portion. You'll find designs ranging from a couple hundred bucks to tens of thousands spent in one room.

And just so you don't get all scared of all the drugs... The principles for growing ANYTHING are pretty much the same.

(This is not an endorsement to grow pot. Just trying to be helpful.)
 
Len Ovens
pollinator
Posts: 1452
Location: Vancouver Island
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I don't know about where you are but here hydro tells the police about high users that might have a grow op. Oh, I guess you would have one Anyway, I would suggest you find out about any laws in your area for or against what you want to do. Probably keep great records and have an open house policy.

Note two. Once the police find a grow op. they confiscate the house and sell it off. The report of those who have bought such a house is that it is rotten from the excess moisture. So be careful how you set up. Drug growers don't care what happens to the house as they expect to loose it... after earning many times it's value. So that may be just their desire to maximise use of floor area and the desire not to be there when the raid happens.

Anyway, just the two precautions I thought of.
 
                                
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Len wrote:
I don't know about where you are but here hydro tells the police about high users that might have a grow op. Oh, I guess you would have one Anyway, I would suggest you find out about any laws in your area for or against what you want to do. Probably keep great records and have an open house policy.

Note two. Once the police find a grow op. they confiscate the house and sell it off. The report of those who have bought such a house is that it is rotten from the excess moisture. So be careful how you set up. Drug growers don't care what happens to the house as they expect to loose it... after earning many times it's value. So that may be just their desire to maximise use of floor area and the desire not to be there when the raid happens.

Anyway, just the two precautions I thought of.


I don't much care for your implications sir.. As a matter of fact, I have a small indoor chili/ tomato hydroponic setup in my house. As to how my grow setup could go to the police and tell them tales of "high users" is beyond me.

Can't really understand why you would start talking "precautions", after I explicitly said that I'm not endorsing pot growing.

Reference to pot growers was made solely for the fact that the most innovative and careful indoor setups are usually designed by them (as they probably want to be as stealthy and efficient as possible).
 
Len Ovens
pollinator
Posts: 1452
Location: Vancouver Island
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Samperi wrote:
I don't much care for your implications sir.. As a matter of fact, I have a small indoor chili/ tomato hydroponic setup in my house. As to how my grow setup could go to the police and tell them tales of "high users" is beyond me.

Can't really understand why you would start talking "precautions", after I explicitly said that I'm not endorsing pot growing.



I am not suggesting anything other than you growing tomatos and peppers. Just relating the over zealous law enforcement we have here.... who just recently ripped out some law abiding citizens tomato plants because they could not tell the difference from them and pot.... after their mistake was pointed out to them they left with "no arrests" but no sorry or payment or other help to the older couple who's year supply of tomatos was now gone. I don't endorse pot either... too many people I know have had B&Es so someone could buy a little pot.... (like get a beer already).

I am not suggesting you are a felon... rather just to watch out for a bumbling law agency. (I am not suggesting all law agencies or workers are bumbling either.... but I know we have some here.)
 
Kelly Rued
Posts: 40
Location: St. Paul, MN, USA
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Samperi, great idea about looking up pot growing info (because, yes, I'm sure they really DO put a lot of effort into making their indoor grow areas optimal for plants).  I already found some great info on seed starting without peat but couldn't find any info on setting up an energy-efficient lighting and ventilation area, so just thought I'd ask here. I figure even permies doing food forests must occassionally need to start some tomatoes under lights up north. Maybe not though (again, it is out-of-season and I realize artificial light is not very eco friendly overall).

As for the cat, I thought permies people might have experience keeping wild animals out of outdoor grow spaces and have some fencing recommendations (she's as clever as a raccoon, but probably not as dexterous). At our old home she dug about a 1/2 inch down into the subfloors under carpet below my bedroom door and under the door between the living room and basement stairs (because she didn't like when I shut the door to keep her out). Had to regularly vacuum up the wood shavings and carpet bits... never heard of another cat doing that but she's pretty, uh, active. We didn't want to frame/wall off the grow area permanently but might have to do actual sliding doors as any mesh would maybe invite climbing and eventually result in her getting through (we tried a 4' "extra tall" pet gate in a doorway once but she could do a vertical jump over it so we had to install a wood door in that doorway).  Louvered doors may work for climb-proof ventilation, but wouldn't let light or a view of the plants through to the rest of the room. Mainly, the difference between my problem with this cat and any outdoor cat problems a gardener normally faces is the outdoor cats can and will get bored and move onto something else... my cat is stuck here all day and night and has lots of time to work on a problem (not even going to bore you with all the stories of bizarre things she has chewed or clawed through... but suffice to say we don't keep anything valuable downstairs except office equipment... even furniture is weather-proof lawn furniture because she destroyed our last couch and living room chair, lol). Some people say we should train the cat (ha!), declaw her (I think it's inhumane), or get rid of her (seriously, who ELSE would want this cat??) but we kinda love her so we're stuck designing defensive enclosures for plants. 

Len, that's an awful story about people getting their grow area/tomatoes confiscated or ruined. I find it hard to believe that a cop couldn't tell a pot plant from another (pretty distinctive leaves and smell!). I too have heard that the power company tips police to excessive power consumption that may indicate a pot farm. I am not worried though as I think, once they got in here, it would be hard to mistake potted fruit trees and flats of seedlings or lettuce for pot. Was hoping the right lights would also keep our power consumption minimal while still giving enough for the plants (maybe that's unrealistic?).

Thanks for all suggestions! I have looked up many seed starting and indoor greenhouses and so far none really fit our needs (being in the basement, wanting light/air/view of plants available to the living space by the plants, secure to keep a hell cat (not feral but might as well be) out, and hopefully being as eco friendly as possible (while still growing stuff like lemons and lettuce in a cold MN basement, lol). Once I build my set up, I will have to post it online for anyone else with similar needs. Haven't found any info at all on growing the trees indoors during winter without a big fancy glass-walled greenhouse/sunroom. Guess trees and basements don't mix often... hopefully can find a way though. I don't buy much lemon/lime (mostly juice or zest for cooking, maybe 2 each per month) so would be great to take care of that need at home. Bay leaves I use all the time for soup and stew so it's kind of important if I'm going to really grow 90% of our produce/seasonings at home (plus they're damn expensive, around $5 for a bottle of maybe 30 leaves).
 
Dale Hodgins
gardener
Posts: 6786
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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    I've been involved in grow op cleanup and removal. The most common structural problem I've seen is huge amounts of mold in the basement. Whether a crop is legal or not the most important thing to include is plenty of ventilation. Although you're not growing marijuana you may still want to visit a store which services that crowd. They have all sorts of bells and whistles to prevent moisture problems
 
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