Cultivating an indoor garden is surprisingly easy these days, even if your studio apartment is only slightly bigger than a shoe box. And with a bit of resourcefulness and some minor MacGyvering, you can grow fresh produce year-round without sacrificing precious closet-space.
Plants in a Box
First, you're going to need a suitable grow space for your micro-farm — something that will give your plants room to grow without taking up your living room. A clothing box is ideal, providing sufficient floor and air space for your plants as well as featuring a sturdy crossbar to hold your lighting apparatus as well as a fold-down front wall for easy access. These run anywhere from $US30 to $US70 or more online depending on size and construction. Pick up a double-walled box if you can, the added structural stability will come in handy once you start cutting holes for ventilation.
Let There Be Light
Next, line the inner walls of your grow-box with reflective mylar film (aluminium foil will also work in a pinch). This will help augment the the light produced by your bulbs by minimising shadowing and ensuring all your plants receive sufficient illumination regardless of relative height. And since your cultivatable space is both limited and constructed from flammable material, traditional High Pressure Sodium or Metal Halide grow lights — even modest wattage setups — are right out. They're also prohibitively expensive to operate for most urban farmers and a bit of overkill for an application this small.
Instead, shop around for a compact, power-conserving LED array. These lighting fixtures don't require a bulky ballast, produce a fraction of the heat and consume a fraction of the power of conventional lights. LED's can run hundreds of dollars depending on the wattage and wavelengths of light they produce. Look for a 120W (600W equivalent) or smaller that produces light within both the 660nm peak (for vegetative growth) and 460nm peak (for flowering) at the very least.
Cool as Cucumbers
With all that excess light bouncing around in your grow box, the ambient temperature in there will be far hotter than the rest of the room. To keep your vegetables from cooking themselves, you'll want to install a pair of ventilation ports — one at the base of the box to blow cool air in and another at the top of the rear panel to suck hot air out. Remember, you're only dealing with a cubic metre or so of airspace stick with the lightest-duty inline canister fans you can find. The ventilation holes you cut should be sized to fit the fans, though if they prove too heavy for the cardboard to support alone, hook the fan up to a bit of dryer vent ducting and attach that to your ports instead.
Stick with Soil
If this is your first go-round in the urban gardening rodeo, stick with a soil-based medium and general use garden fertiliser — hydroponic systems are far more expensive to install than a bucket of dirt, require a magnitude more attention to use effectively, and incur higher operating costs on account of the specialised nutrient formulas they employ. Whether you install a single communal planting bed or rely on individual pots, be sure to install a rubber mat in the bottom of the box to keep the cardboard floor from rotting out.
Since environmental changes are amplified within the limited space of the grow box, you're going to need to keep a close eye on your plants' health to keep them happy. But rather constantly peering in to inspect a manual temperature/humidity gauge, install a Wi-Fi plant sensor in there and get regular updates pushed to your mobile device instead. Once you've stabilised the grow box's relative humidity and temperature, it's simply a matter of watering and feeding your charges until they're ready to harvest.