Saturday, July 9, 2011

BathroomFarm 1.0: Preparation

My BathroomFarm started in November 2010 with an idea about growing a year-round vertical vegetable garden on a wall in my bathroom and has become a project with a life of its own. Since November, it has evolved into a global community with a presence on both Facebook and twitter. You are reading its first blog. There are also Tumblr blogs and a syndicated blog on in the works.

In review, it is not mysterious about why BathroomFarmer is so popular already. Many people are interested in growing their own food for quality and safety reasons. The idea of having fresh vegetables all year long is exciting. Being able to do this at a very low cost is even better!

I am going to briefly review here the major steps in getting to the point of planting my BathroomFarm. Although I read seed catalogs during the winter and was impressed with the infinite variety of specialty seeds for container growing, I decided on using mostly seeds commonly available at the grocery store. I did this because those seeds are available almost everywhere and they can be purchased with food stamps. Until now, vertical gardening has been luxury market priced. I want to make this option possible to anybody with a desire to do it regardless of their income level. For this reason, while planning the garden, I decided to make it mostly from upcycled and salvaged materials. As this project perpetuates in the future, I will add things more costly. For right now, I just want to prove it can be done for very little cash.

During April, I started seeds in toilet paper cores and dollar store dirt and put them on the
plant stand in the back hallway of the house to sprout. This was my only option since the room where the BathroomFarm would be was undergoing renovations because of serious water damage from a house fire several years ago. We had a rather cool and dreary spring. The seedlings did sprout but developed poorly because of lack of sunlight to warm the lead surface. By the time the weather took a turn for the better, the giant ginko tree outside the south windows, shaded the plant stand.

The make or break item for the BathroomFarmer project is the specialty lighting for indoor plant growing. I looked at thousands of options. Most indoor grow lights are designed to be suspended above a horizontal surface and are not appropriate for this project. Even if they were attached to the ceiling on one side and suspended in front of the wall, it would be difficult to approach the wall to tend the crops. Most of the lights are VERY expensive which is not surprising since the most common indoor growing operations are of the marijuana variety. The lighting I need for the BathroomFarm must be so economical, that it pays for itself with savings from food costs. Electrical costs also figured into this decision.

Since the lights are a significant expense, I had a FUNdraising Quality Junk sale to raise money for them to demonstrate that it is possible to accomplish the BathroomFarm even for persons with low income/no income. I sold things that I no longer want to obtain the things I need most. Lucky for me, I live in a neighborhood that does a group sale that 20,000 people come to each year. I want to emphasize that is my personal opportunity and everyone has some sort of opportunity if he truly wants to make a dream real. You have to be creative in your own way.

Assessing my budget after the yard sale, I settled on buying a quantity of these full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs I found on and designing an appropriate fixture for them which I needed to make myself from inexpensive and easy to obtain materials. I have listed these bulbs in the BathroomFarmer shop in the right sidebar. I was also able to acquire enough potting soil for the project from yard sale proceeds. The room was finished in mid-June and I have been moving into it ever since and assessing the situation. I am very fortunate to have a landlord who supports this project and, as a finishing touch to my space mounted parallel 2 x 4s on the wall and screwed a large sheet of particle board onto it! And painted it to match my walls! This gives me an easier to nail surface since the wall is plaster and tile behind it. It also keeps the plants away from the wall in the winter which gets cold because it's an exterior wall in an 1892 house.

Behold, the blank canvas soon to be my BathroomFarm! I will be posting more frequently at this point going forward during the physical build out of the vertical garden. It has taken longer than I had anticipated to actually plant the garden. That did bother me at first, but the indoor grow room is not subject to seasonal growing. My next blog post coming soon is about making the light fixture which I designed myself! It's not pretty, but I believe it will work perfectly for this space.

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