Wired or Wireless?

Electricity replaces the sun, wind, and some natural processes as the dependency for plants to grow indoors.  

Starting a Smart Indoor Garden

The first glaring problem with the typical indoor garden is that extension wires are annoying and a potential safety hazard.  On the other hand, wireless communications can lack the reliability of the wired variant.  Going further, should the system be available to the local network or should it be connected to the Internet?

Since plants do not need Internet access in order to grow then we are potentially creating an additional dependency that the plant doesn’t want. The Internet is useful for providing access to your system, but security is questionable, how much control or data should be available?  A connection to the Internet can become another dependency if the system cannot operate without communication to a cloud-based or otherwise remote server. If something can fail; we should plan for the eventual occurrence of that possibility as best as possible. If a long electrical outage were to occur it would be prudent to have a backup generator, or solar rechargeable battery storage system.  If we can have better reliability with a wired connection, then it makes sense to use a combination of wired and wireless.

Next:  Getting Wired and Wireless

Communication options such as i2c, which is great for communicating with another microcontroller or Raspberry Pi and the many wireless options: WiFi, bluetooth, etc.

  • Remote Control using a RF 315MHz / 433MHz
  • Lightweight Bluetooth ( nRF24L01 )
  • Bluetooth ( HC-05 )
  • WiFi Module ( ESP8266 / CC3000 ) etc.

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Maintaining your Indoor Garden

What needs monitoring?  What needs to be done to make sure plants grow well?

Research your plant’s needs.  Many cool weather plants typically enjoy temperature​s in the day of ​70°-­75°F​, and night ​55°-­60°F​ with a relative-humidity​ of ​40%-­60%​ for most growing plants.  A water and nutrient solution system should have a temperature between ​18­-21°​C (​64­-70°​F).  These factors vary depending on variety, selection, phase of growth that the plants are currently growing, and hardiness, some plants can tolerate stress better than others.

Ongoing Garden Maintenance

  • Keep Environment Clean​: Helps prevent contaminating plants and a clean space is easier to  work in.
  • Check for plants for signs of insufficient light,​ e.g. sparse, spindly foliage or foliage that is being shaded by other plants.  An indicator that the plants are too close to the lights will be signs of​ ​leaf burn ​on foliage closest to the lamp. Check height of lights​ compared to the height of the plant, maintain lamps ​12-­36 inches​ above plants! Rotate or turn plants​ as needed to get uniform growth and check top and underside of leaves​ for likely signs of disease, insects or nutrient deficiency. bugPrune regularly.​  Promptly remove and dispose of any dead, dying or diseased foliage in the growing area​.​ Conduct any necessary shaping, training, or stressing of branches and ensure foliage is properly supported (via string, netting or stakes) optional foliar spraying and apply optional additives, e.g. compost tea.
  • Check Lights are operating properly and timer is correctly programmed for the given phase of growth and electrical connections/plugs to make sure they are connected properly and not in danger coming into contact with water.
  • Air Circulation and Ventilation​: Proper circulation will prevent dead zones of bad and/or cold  air at lower levels and hot layers of air near the ceiling. Ventilation and oscillating fans are covering all foliage, especially those closest to the lamp.
  • Check Ambient Temperature and Relative-Humidity;  Check walls and ceilings regularly for mold or  condensation.
  • Check roots​/medium at various points for signs of disease, rotting or molding materials,  insects or over/under watering.

hydroponics systems: image08

  • Check nutrient solution temperature.
  • Check for plumbing leaks​; pooling in trays/channels/pots.
  • Check drainage​ and/or feed outlets (drippers) are not being blocked by roots.
  • Check pumps and timers​ to ensure they’re working properly. Ensure nutrient schedule  appropriate for the current phase of growth.
  • Check pH​: Ideal pH for ​most​ plants is between ​5.5​ and ​6.5
  • Check/adjust ​Electrical ​­​Conductivity.​  Add top­-up water​ as needed. (​Use EC meter to measure the strength/concentration of the nutrient solution to keep adequate concentration level.)  ​Discard and replace old nutrient​ every 7-­​14 days.​


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Digging Deeper into Indoor Gardening

What do plants actually require in order to grow well?

It is important for context and it is important for every human to understand what it takes to grow plants, even if the future doesn’t allow for outdoor cultivation.  At a minimum this is my effort to prevent future generations from suffering the fate of a World without plants as proposed by Mike Judge in his movie “Idiocracy” where people no longer understand why plants wouldn’t want to live on a beverage containing “electrolytes.”

Regardless of which method you choose:  soil, hydroponic, or an aquaponics system, none will be able to compensate for poor growing conditions such as improper temperature, inadequate light, or pest problems.  Indoor grown plants have the same general requirements for good growth as field-grown plants. The major difference is the method by which the plants are supported and how the inorganic elements necessary for growth and development are supplied.

Let’s start out by discussing what it takes, at a minimum, to grow plants indoors and then look at ways to improve, scale in size, and automate the mundane.


Quick review of growing in soil

When we think of home gardening, we typically assume the plants are growing in soil.

Soil makes sense.  Plants in nature grow in soil, some maybe fortunate enough to receive a freshwater stream but most plants use their roots to seek out and locate water and nutrients.  Seasonal sunlight provides the light intensity needed for photosynthesis.  Temperature control is achieved by combining the sunlight with the wind to create a comfortable growing environment, while frequent rains bring the water needed by the plant for both nutrient uptake and respiration.  The plant can rely on signals such as the change in daylight and weather to indicate that it is time to flower.  Pollination occurs from the wind or bees and other insects that enjoy a sweet nectar as reward for their services.  Pest control is handled by the natural order when a predator insect finds, catches, and eats the pests on the plant.

As with most in life, It need not be a binary decision.  We don’t have to create a sterile environment for plants to thrive indoors.  In fact, I prefer to grow with hydroponics indoors and include a compost tea that I make from soil!

Going Soilless



Growing plants indoors without soil is a lot easier than you may think.pothos

If you or a friend have a common houseplant, such as a Pothos or Philodendron, then you can try out hydroponics without anything more than a small jar and tap water.  Using utility scissors, clip off a small 4-6 inch section of the Mother plant that has a few healthy leaves.  Wash and rinse a jar, then fill with clean tap water to about half of the jar. Rinse the clipped portion with tap water and insert it into your jar.  Ideally, you would feed the plant by supplying a small serving of nutrient solution, without it very little growth will occur. Place the jar on a dark shelf where the leaves can hang out into the light.  Within a few weeks, you should see some root growth.

Why not just grow ever plant the same way as the Philodendron?   The plant is hardy and can tolerate most indoor living conditions.  The same plant would grow much faster if we provide it with a more stable comfortable environment and aerate the water with an aquarium air pump.  Additionally, most plants are not as tolerant of the cloning process, removing a clipping and expecting it to grow roots, without an anti fungal to prevent root rot and a rooting hormone to encourage root growth.  Also, that formula is not recommended for plants that produce food.

Plants that produce food require more.

What types of plants grow well indoors?


Leafy greens (lettuces, spinach) herbs:  parsley, cilantro, oregano, thyme, chives, mint), strawberries, tomatoes, cannabis, exotics, etc.  Squashes and the like require a great deal of space as they mature enough to produce fruit.  Onions, carrots, turnips, radishes, and especially, potatoes, require a lot of root growth space.

hydrotonContainer and growing mediums

Clay Pots, grow bags, but mostly, plastic containers and PVC Tubing

Common soilless options:  rockwool, expanded clay pellets, hydro stones, vermiculite, perlite, coco coir, peat moss, sponge

What do you need to setup a complete indoor garden

Equipment needed for lowest-cost method of growing indoors



  • Tent or confined structure
  • Fluorescent Light on an outlet timer.
  • Intake Fan / Exhaust Fan
  • Containers
  • Water / Nutrient Solution
  • Air-pump ( aquarium-style) and tubing


  • Temperature / Humidity Meter
  • EC Meter
  • pH Meter

We need electricity and a way to get water to the grow site.

  • Lights
  • Ventilation
  • Water quality, Oxygen, and Mineral Nutrients


Consider whether you are going to be sharing your living space with the plants?  If so, then you will need an indoor growing tent.  



Important factors to consider include:

  • How much space do you have?
  • What do you want to grow and and how much of it?
  • What is the cost of equipment and how much time do you have to spend maintaining the system?

If you are fortunate enough to have access to a greenhouse, terrarium, or sun porch then you can take advantage of our natural sunlight.  If you’ve not grown in those environments or don’t have one, then you might want to convert an entire garage, basement, or other room? However, before you do that, I highly recommend you start with a small to medium-sized grow tent, which you can then setup inside of a garage, basement, or other room creating a smaller micro-environment.  Even if you plan on scaling to a larger size, then you’ll be glad to have the tent environment so that you can use it primarily for starting seeds.

Plants grow well only within a limited temperature range. Temperatures that are too high or too low will result in abnormal development and reduced production.

  • Warm-season vegetables and most flowers grow best between 60° and 75° or 80° F. 
  • Cool-season vegetables such as lettuce and spinach should be grown between 50° and 70°F.

Think about safety when setting-up your indoor garden.

It is a very good idea to use a GFCI adapter for your AC outlet if it does not already have one. Good quality extension cords can then be attached.  I often use the top of the tent as a place for the electrical cords to meet and connect to an extension. It is important to keep electrical cords a few feet or more off of the floor / ground in the event an overflow or flooding occurs we do not want to create an opportunity for electricity and water to mix.

recommended equipment:

48” x 48” x 80” indoor grow tent

24” x 24” x 48” indoor grow tent

Setup a tent, or closet, or spare-room.

A search on Amazon will result in many options and many sizes.  Whatever size of tent you think you have space for, imagine the tent taking up a little more than that and reconsider.  Trust me, I’ve made this mistake more than once 😉


Next Up:  Maintaining your Indoor Garden

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