Can you say humble beginnings?

Okay… I am the first person to admit to not being a really good gardener.  Actually, it could be stated that I know incredibly little about the practical side of gardening.  That being said, it sounded like a fun time to try to take on a container garden project… Okay, yes, I know that I live in Minnesota, and yes, I have noticed that the weather outside is more towards white flakes than warm blue skies.

Have we discussed as of yet my impulsive nature?

I’ll get back to the practical side of “how” I started this project in a moment, but let me start from the “why” side.  As I have stated before, I am on a path to learn some skills that are new to me, and apply them to a micro-farm environment – and I tend to learn best by doing.  Gardening, of all of those things that I am trying, is probably the project that I am most apprehensive about.  I am starting this path from a place of being close to the worst shape physically that I have been in my lifetime as far as general health and fitness.  So, the concept of kneeling on the ground and weeding sounds about as happy as getting my wisdom teeth removed again.  However, growing vegetables is something that I feel called to try and improve my skills with in order to become more self-sufficient in the long run.

I certainly have been around gardening in my lifetime.  In my very young memory, my paternal grandfather had a garden that I always thought of as a mini-farm.  I have many memories of fall being a time when a lot of my relatives got together in their house in Minnetonka and helped get the beans, peas and other vegetables ready for freezing, and we would invariably head home at night with a large quantity of vegetables that he and my grandmother would force us to take.  It has taken until recently for me to really understand that probably his joy in having that large garden was in sharing this harvest with his family.

A part of why I feel the need to start this practice for my own is the desire to refresh that spirit in my life.  I am doing this in some ways to combat my own feeling of dread about the state of mono-culture agriculture in America, but I think I am doing this even more to get back into the cycle of creating something.  Taking part in the creation of something useful for myself and others around me is a core to my emerging mission of my little micro-homestead.

So – to the details…  For the moment, I am starting really small, and trying to design a system that will be inside my home (and at least in some parts STAY inside my home instead of outside transplanting), so I had and have some major issues to overcome.  The main two issues I am trying to get past on a system level are ease of operation and indoor operation, which then includes both space issues and the required light.

On the ease of operation side, I am starting with container gardening for the portability of being able to access and care for the plants.  I read online of the potential re-use of the salad containers that you buy bulk greens, and that appealed to my ideal of recycling/reuse, so I started with one of those that I had punched about 20 – 1/8″  holes with a drill into the bottom for drainage.  Much to my delight, this fits almost exactly into the plastic containers that cat litter is sold in.  This is incredibly gratifying, since our local recycling program won’t accept these buckets, but now I have catch basins and containers for my small gardening projects.  So this salad container is inserted into the top of the litter bucket, and suspends over it to catch any drainage water.

It is my intent to set up a system for drip irrigation in either series for many containers or switch over to a built raised bed for utilizing some type of square foot gardening (with a laughably small amount of feet to work with).  More on that project when I get to it.

On the lighting issue, I turned to the internet, and was amazed by the amount of people that utilize indoor gardening, but also found that, at least from Google results, most of them are not growing edible plants as much as ones that the DEA is interested in.  I am not really worried about concealment as much as healthy plants, but I learned quite a bit about lighting and the light spectrum than I knew before this started.  It turns out that I am really fortunate to live in this era of time, as Compact Florescent Lights (CFLs) that are specifically designed for it provide the right light spectrum that plants can use for photosynthesis and growing.  So, for my design start (which will of need grow into different sized lights), I am starting with a CFL bulb plugged into a shop light.  The bulb, just to be clear, is one that I had to search for at Home Depot to have 5500K light produced – which is a distinction that I will leave for either a different discussion when I learn more or you own research, but in short, it is a light that outputs light in the right “type” to be able to be used by plants for growth.  The standard household use CFL output is around 2700K, which is not enough to mimic sunlight for plant needs.  And shockingly, the cost mathematically for this light setup run 14 hours a day will be under 5 cents a day, which is really amazing to me.

As far as soil, I don’t as yet have a composting setup running, so I am starting with potting soil, a small amount of peat moss, and rabbit fertilizer.  Oh, and as far as what actually is planted, hopefully, radishes will pop out from the seeds I planted.

So – the picture below is my extremely humble beginning to this new world of gardening.  I will post later with hopefully pictures of actual green things if I thought this out well enough.


1st Garden Picture

Categories: Gardening
  1. Jeff F says:

    Sounds like your impulsive nature is getting you into all sorts of fun projects. I look forward to updates on how this project turns out since the idea of maintaining a garden year round is appealing.

    Is it OK to ask if the 5500K bulbs are substantially more expensive than a standard CFL bulb? Cool that Home Depot carries them. And, amazing that they’ll only cost a nickel a day.

    Why did you choose radishes? Do you dig them? Or are they one of the easiest/fastest veggies to grow for your initial attempt at indoor gardening? (probably not a good idea to start with corn or sunflowers)

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Joel says:

    It is certainly keeping me busy, that’s for sure.

    The 5500K bulb was a little more expensive – I think it about $8. I think a longer term solution is going to be getting a more “traditional” long florescent bulb – the type that you see on the ceilings of institutions. Those can be purchased with the same color “temperature” (the 5500K thing), and they not only last a little longer, but they put out more light and I think are cheaper when everything boils out. I wanted to get the project started, and don’t fully know how I am going to set up the permanent situation as to what is the best light fixture for the space. This situation seemed more flexible for the short term.

    As to radishes. Your second guess was more on target, I will admit. They are one of the most forgiving veggies out there – and they should stay relatively small. I want to try tomatoes next, but they take up a little more room height-wise. Also, radishes produce in less than a month, which appeals to my sense of progress. I used seeds I purchased last year, so I was a little nervous if they were going to germinate, but I need not have worried. I already have LOTS of sprouts coming up green. I will probably be posting another update on this project soon with some more in progress pictures.

    As to the 5 cents a day thing, I that is the best that my research and math can come up with, but I think I may get one of the power plugs that meters power usage to confirm this. It almost seems to good to be true, but that is what people with lots more experience at this than I have said.

    Thanks for the interest!

  3. Martha says:

    Hey Joel,
    I want to hook you up with two resources you might find invaluable. First is the resource that exists in Pam and David Lake in Duluth. They both have oodles of earthy type information and David (as you will remember) does residential and commercial energy audits for northern MN – he is a font of alternative and eco-friendly energy information (the scary math kind of stuff) and he’s also into bugology and all things critter-oriented. Another resource I’m going to direct you to is a woman who lives in central WI and found me through our time bank. She’s part of a 1,500 member entrepreneurial group that has lots of information about all kinds of industries including hydroponics, organic gardening, square foot and raised bed gardening, composting, urban gardening, indoor gardening, etc. Their website is and she could hook you up with others. I’d be up for a travel adventure to central WI anytime!

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