Growing edible plants indoors, on shelves, with LED lights, means you need space, but how much space is enough? Microgreens are easy because you can stack them them on top of one another but what if you’re growing baby kale, or arugula at home? Well, we wanted to find out.
Growing plants take up space, and space is a major issue when considering growing greens in an urban apartment environment. So how do you go about allocating as much room as you can for your indoor greens farm without making too much of an impact on your living square footage?
That was one of the questions we sought to explore with our first grow shelf. We started off with a number of brainstorming ideas. Julia, undeniably my better half had the awesome idea of suspended farms. Lifted below the feeling by a pulley system. I want to build these for us, but they would be impractical for the average apartment farmer.
We finally settled on an approach that looked at how we can best use a wall without cutting too much into the livable area sq footage to create a growing area for the apartment.
A few weeks prior we also picked up a handful of 9in x 13in in aluminum baking pans that we wanted to run growing experiments in, so decided that this would be our min width from the wall. Our grow shelf would take up 9in of space from the wall.
We also wanted to start quick and simple without having to sacrifice much time to make it pretty at this point. We want to see what works and what doesn’t as a grow area and how much yield we can expect before iterating on designs.
To grow the plants we’re using (9in x 13in x 2.5in) aluminum trays we got for $4 at Home Depot. We’re lining the bottom with a coconut fiber mat to grab excess water from coconut coir substrate. Arugula and Kale will need more than 2 – 2.5 in of substrate to grow to maturity, but we’re putting these constraints in purposefully. Apartments will always be sub-optimal conditions, so what can we realistically expect is the idea here
Shelves will need LEDs attached to their bottoms in order to help the plants grow. We got the LEDs from amazon for $12.99, and a power adapter for $9.99. The wood was an additional $35 – 40 at Lowes in Brooklyn. Total cost around ~$60 for a grow shelf isn’t half bad.
We also took into account the Click & Grow that lives in our grow area and built a space for it as well. Our goal with the shelf however was – save space, maximize grow area. Don’t make the shelves movable.
We came up with this design, also available as a draw.io XML file. The whole set up took about 4 hours to cut/saw the wood into the right pieces, and put it together, and should take not more than 2 hours if you get the wood pre cut. It’s held together with nails, meaning it’s quick and dirty, and not very sturdy, however we never intended to be a sturdy piece of furniture, just a quick inexpensive, experiment hack.
To connect the LED strip, we started from the 3rd shelf from the bottom (of a total of 5), and ran the strip along the bottom of each C board, then up the side and around again. The glue on the strip isn’t the greatest, so we had to jury rig the strip with a bit of string to hold it in place. The 16.4 ft / 5m strip is just enough to light three shelves if you double the strip on each shelf like we did. When connecting the strip make sure the power connector sits at the back and over one of the C boards so that its weight when connected doesnt pull the LED strip off. At this point, you can tighten two pieces of jute or string in an X like in the diagram to the back of the shelf for added stability. And that’s it you’re done.