About a month ago, I put out the call to readers to share garden gadgets, and Lloyd Adelphia did just that. He has a great hydroponic system set up in his basement and has been plucking fresh lettuce greens from his own indoor garden while the rest of us are lugging it home from the grocery store.
"Every gardener has the seed catalogs out. For me, the indoor gardening inspiration struck in October when the rabbits got my lettuce again. So, I said 'I'll fix the rabbits and go to the basement,' " Mr. Adelphia said.
That really made me chuckle. All gardeners have been in his boots, going to great lengths to defeat those nibbling little critters. Mr. Adelphia admits that he went a bit overboard at first, but for a cost of less than $20, his system is paying off. "I took some potting soil and two shop lighting fixtures. I used one cool white and one warm white light bulb," he said. He mixed the two bulbs because this has almost the same lighting color spectrum as a grow light and adds no green tinge to his man cave.
"To hang the lights, I used hook screws in the ceiling and wire between the metal holding the ceiling tile up. I used extra chain and the chains that came with the shop lights. By hooking one chain to the ceiling and one to each end of the fixture, I can raise and lower the lights over the plants," he explained.
Mr. Adelphia picked up seeds from a variety of sources such as catalogs and local garden centers. He recommends using lettuce varieties that mature in 45 days.
And for the magic combination to grow lush greens without the sun: "I used Jiff's plastic greenhouse system cups and direct sow-in container. The pellets are about one and half inch by three quarters inch when wet and because you have this small enclosed environment they grow better," he said.
"Carefully remove the pellets. They stay together better because they have a little netting and they don't fall apart when you pot tem. The strength of the plants is better than direct sow."
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Successful salad greens
Mr. Adelphia's salad bowl is full of different types of greens.
"I have used Bibb for limestone, Salad bowl, Buttercrunch, Super Fresh, and am trying a red and green lettuce, Rougette de Montpellier. Great Lakes takes too much time, but is OK. Paris Island Cos after 50 days is only one and a half inches high, [which is] smaller than Great Lakes. I have always grown basil under lights in the winter since it is a staple for me."
Wet and wild
To keep his crop happy, Mr. Adelphia uses lots of water with Schultz liquid fertilizer. As it dries to the touch, hit it with water, about twice a week but you might need more with more mature plants. Pick the bigger leaves and cut them off without affecting the smaller leaves and the plants will grow taller. With basil, the big plants can be topped and it will grow new sprouts.
"I use a six-month potting soil and water almost daily. Lights are on a timer for 16 hours," he said. He keeps his home at about 76 degrees but his basement temperature is a bit cooler at 65 degrees.
Mr. Adelphia said growing a sunless salad is easy, "If you can grow from seed as a gardener, growing lettuce in the basement is no big deal."