Thursday, July 14, 2011

Let There Be Light in the BathroomFarm!

The make or break point of the BathroomFarm is adequate artificial light for indoor vegetable growing. Although the bathroom has two large south facing windows the light is still inadequate because the room is also shaded by our carriage house next door and the many trees in the south yard. My first impression of lighting options made me think the project was going to be aborted before it had begun. There were no out of the box options that fit my needs:
  1. The equipment must be inexpensive to acquire. Most commercially available grow lights are designed for use in marijuana growing. In fact most of the lights are actually illustrated doing exactly that. Needless to say the prices of most lights are better suited to the budgets of persons growing crops worth thousands of dollars per pound as opposed to a few dollars per pound.
  2. The lights must be full spectrum. Plants use the wavelengths of light they need which varies depending on the stage of growth they are in. Early in their life, plants need light in the blue range to develop foliage and later want red spectrum light to facilitate fruiting. Most lights are either/or. Because the idea for the BathroomFarm is to have a continuously producing garden, I will need full spectrum all the time and the plants in various stages of their life cycles can get what they need. I am not planting a crop and harvesting the crop. I am planting/harvesting all of the time.
  3. The equipment must be simple. I just want to plug it in and turn it on. No extra this or that stuff like ballasts and inverters just yet. I have enough to learn about growing a garden without becoming an electrical engineer first.
  4. It has to use as little electricity as possible and produce as little heat as possible. The electricity part is a no-brainer because the path to sustainability is NOT through the obscene use of resources especially the natural ones. The heat part is for personal security because law enforcement regularly flies over cities looking for hot spots in buildings which indicate indoor growing rooms. In their narrow minds the only plants grown indoors are the illegal ones. This is especially important in Indiana where citizens have essentially lost the 4th Right and police can break down doors and come on in without warrant or probable cause! This BathroomFarmer is all about drama avoidance!
  5. The lights have to be suitable for vertical growing. They have to focus perfectly on the plants on the wall and not interfere with getting close enough to the wall to tend the crops.
  6. Because this was starting to look a lot like a do-it-myself project, I didn't want to buy any special tools or acquire any special skills to accomplish it.
The Gro-Lux bulbs pictured above (and listed for sale in my BathroomFarmer Shop in the sidebar) were ideal for the project. I was able to acquire all of the materials for about $90! I made this myself with few construction worker skills and no electrical skills. I designed my "floor lamp" which would focus on the wall and be easy to slide out of the way. My landlord took me to Home Depot on Post Road on the Eastside of Indianapolis. I took my June trip in a fossil carbon powered passenger vehicle to a hardware store as opposed to a grocery store. I want to say that my shopping experience was great there, too. A sales associate named Mike C. accompanied me around the store and helped me find exactly everything on the list I made from the Home Depot website. I was treated with a lot of respect and felt like my project deserved good attention even though it is a little unusual!

The first step was the hardest and the most hazardous. I set a 2 x 4 vertically in a bucket of Quikrete to make the base of the lamp. You HAVE to protect your eyes, mouth and nose, and hands when you use this material. I watched videos on the company website to learn how to use it first. I made the lamp inside of my Bathroom. I scooped the mix out of the bag to avoid dust and because I couldn't pick up the 80-pound bag! Going slowly, I mixed a small amount in the big bucket and put the board in. I used the edge of my desk to make sure it was straight. Then, in a small bucket I mixed little batches and filled the big bucket the
rest of the way up. I left it alone overnight and the Quikrete perfectly cured so I could move it. In addition to taking personal safety precautions while using Quikrete, be really really careful about the amount of water you add. The company videos will show you what it looks like when mixed properly. Doing little odd sized batches required making visual decisions! Adding too much water prevents the concrete from setting properly!

I had a Martha Stewart moment and painted the board white with leftover paint I already had. I then decided where to attach clamp lamps to best benefit the arrangement I
was planning for my BathroomFarm. The lamps are not evenly spaced because there are areas on top of the shelving and on the floor which are included in the garden plan. Where I decided to put the clamp lamps was based on covering the surface

area and making use of the 80 degree beam spread AND maximizing the 875 lumens per bulb output. All things considered, that's a LOT for just 20 Watts of energy per bulb and a life of 10,000 hours. There is really good information on the bulb box about intensity of light needed for different plants including vegetables. Studying the space and considering my plans for crops helped me decide how to space my lamps. Farming is a little bit intuitive and BathroomFarming is not different in that respect.

I tipped the board over and supported it on top of a handy space heater to attach the clamp lamps by securely nailing them into position. They clamped on just fine
but I wanted them EXTRA secure to avoid popping off when the lamp is bumped or moved. Those bulbs are too precious to accidentally break. The bulbs themselves have a reflector so the reflector on the clamp lamp is doing nothing other than providing a socket for the bulb. I bought the cheapest solution for the clamp lamp AND took a bulb to the store to make sure it worked before buying. Mike C.
at Home Depot was very cool about it as was the store itself allowing me to bring merchandise I owned inside!

The last step was to thread the cords through the little space between the board and each clamp (for neatness), screw in the bulbs and stand it up. I used one extension cord on each side and plugged them both into a third extension cord and plugged it in. When upright and ON, I could then shift the reflectors around to focus light where it was needed and distribute that light evenly to emulate direct sunshine.

Less than $100. Sweet. EIEIO!

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