When Ellie and I lived in apartments, I did my best to grow herbs and veggies in containers. Last year, when we were looking for a house, I made sure to find a house with a space for a garden. The house we bought already had an area partitioned off for a vegetable garden and I quickly cleared it out to plant vegetables in. Those vegetables came from the store. I thought it would be too difficult to start seeds last year, move, and then plant them. But that's not how I wanted it to go.
For the past year, I've been planning to build an area of the basement into a growing area. For that year, however, the plants have remained cluttered on the counter in the basement, a counter that could be used for other things. Recently, I put together a solution to move the plants out of the way and clear off the counter. The result is a focused growing area that optimizes the plant growth compared to how things were set up before.
As is the case with everything I do, I made sure to get Ellie's sign off on what I had planned. The basement, nor the house, nor the land are solely mine so she has the same veto power I do on ideas. My plan, as proposed to her, was to clean out space beneath the basement stairs and build a platform to grow my plants on. This way, they would be out of the way of the rest of the basement and we'd utilize an area that had been nearly empty. She approved.
The first step was to see what mess I had gotten myself into. We had only been using a piece of the space for storing the steam cleaner and the shop vac. I had to bring some light under the stairs and clean it up. There was plenty of dust and cobwebs that we had missed in our big basement cleans. I don't really like walking and working where there are cobwebs. They're gross. Once I had a good light under the stairs, I saw it wasn't too bad. The shop vac would make quick work of cleaning it up. Since we hadn't stored much junk under there, it was easy to clean out as well.
The plan for the shelves or bench for the plants would be to have an L-shaped structure around waist high to optimize growing area. Where the stairs started to get too low is where I'd cut the shelves off. The space under the shelves would be used as storage. Luckily for me, the previous homeowner put up some pegboard in this area which Ellie and I will use for storing tools and other growing implements.
For the most part, I had what I needed to build the structure from scraps of wood from previous projects I've done. The legs and the frame of shelves would be built with the extra lengths of 2x4s from the two-person kitchen table build, though I needed to run and get a couple extra for a few bucks. The tops of the shelves would be made from scraps of plywood from the bathroom shower to closet conversion.
Having the materials, I just started assembling a basic structure. I built a frame for the shelves and reinforced it with cross braces because the weight of the plants could easily bend the plywood. To the frame I attached legs, making the height of the shelf roughly two feet tall. I wanted plenty of room for taller plants because I already have some lemon trees I bring in every winter. I drilled and screwed the frame together with the legs. I built the two sections of the L-shaped frame in two pieces so I could easily get them in place and easily attach them to the walls. To attach the frame to the walls, I just screwed them into the nearest studs. Nothing fancy but just enough support to add stability to the shelves.
Once the frame and legs were installed, I cut the plywood shelves to size. I think I had 1/2" plywood on hand. I screwed the plywood to the frame with some 3/4" screws. While I didn't do this right away, I did eventually put a thick coat of Johnson's Paste Wax on the shelves. After watering the plants for the first time and having water come out the bottom of the pots, I realized the shelves wouldn't last long repeatedly being soaked in water. Now the water beads up. I'll periodically reapply the wax.
Once everything was built, it was time to move the plants in. I have to admit, they do seem happier in the new space.
The growing area isn't done, but it's done for now. What I really need to do is improve the lighting system. I currently have two sets of bulbs dangling from the ceiling. Two of the bulbs are oversized CFLs I used in my greenhouse upgrade from a couple years back. They drain energy like no other.
What I want to do is re-purpose the bathroom light fixtures we removed from the upstairs bathroom and mount them in the grow area. These fixtures have spaces for four bulbs each and I'd love to put some LED grow lights in there. They're intended to be wall mounted, but I'm fairly confident I can wire them to be used as plug-in lights. Once I have those, I'll figure out a system to raise and lower them so they're close to the plants as they grow.
My buddy Geoff, over at Four Seasons Gardener, shows me his growing area every time I visit his house. He bought some reflective foil to line the walls to maximize the light. I want to eventually cover the walls of my grow area with a similar product as well. But that's further down the line than the improved grow light situation.
What does your growing situation look like? Any plans to improve it? Leave a comment and let me know!