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How to Grow Robust Lettuce Indoors with LEDs; Grow Nutrient Packed Kale, Cabbage, Spinach and Romaine Under Grow Lights or the Sun

Growing Lettuce and other Greens Indoors:

Growing lettuce and other greens indoors is fun and easy! One can easily grow greens near a window or under an LED grow light. I grow lettuce every year in my backyard garden and also grow it indoors under my LED grow light, or in a sunny part of my home. My family loves the lettuce and different greens that we grow, and including our own organic produce into meal preparation has been exciting and nutritious. In my experience, lettuce and different greens grow pretty easily, so for growers with little experience, growing leafy greens might be a great way for you to gain growing experience while having fun and improving diet all at the same time. If you don’t have access to an LED grow light but do live in an environment that has sunlight for at least 12 hours a day, then you can set up your grow station right next to a sunny window. I have even used a mobile grow station (think cart on wheels like the ones you might see at Lowes outdoor center), so that I can move my mobile grow station around to the windows that receive the most sun during different times of the day. It has worked out splendidly. My family eats salads all winter long, and you can too! Keep reading to find out more, and Happy Growing!

Location of Grow:

Finding the right location in your home can be helpful, but keep in mind that sunny morning grow spots and sunny afternoon grow spots can be quite different based on your home’s layout, and the location of your home’s windows relevant to the path the sun travels over your home every day. This is why I suggest setting up your grow so that it is mobile. This way, a grower can easily position a grow station near the window with the best sunlight.  Or if preferred, a grower can also utilize a grow light.  I have done both and can recommend trying both if possible. Using my LED grow light was a plus because I can really control the light variable precisely, however, my grow light is in my basement and so my exposure to the growing process is based on visits to my grow room. When I grow upstairs with sunlight, my control might be minimized a little, but my exposure to the grow process is greater.  I like to see my plants grow in the same environment where I spend more of my time. This is why I grow with the LED, and with sunlight when possible.  I get to control different variables, all while enjoying the entire process of growing my own produce indoors.  Using sunlight, versus using a grow light, is totally up to the grower.  Sunlight is free, but using a grow light is a fun process as well.  Try both and decide for yourself!

Growing Green and the Light Schedule Needed:

Lettuce can be a primary go-to when I am growing for my salads.  Planting and growing lettuce is a very fulfilling experience because it grows relatively easily.  I experience success indoors and outdoors when growing lettuce with minimal efforts.  The sunlight outside will be sufficient if you live in an area that gets approximately 12 hours of sunlight a day.  If growing indoors with sunlight, then you might need to move the grow station around a little to make sure you are getting adequate sun exposure for your grow.  I would often move my grow station at least once per day , and sometimes would even move the grow station to three different spots in my house based on the sunlight.  Moving the grow station two times was generally good enough, but if I was feeling highly motivated, I would sometimes move it three times during the day to follow the sun.

When I used a grow light, I turned it on in the early evening and then turned it off in the morning prior to leaving for work.  Excessive heat is not produced with the LED grow light and so added ventilation measures are not needed for this set-up, which is a bonus.  I have my grow light handing from two chains so that I can adjust the height of the grow light as my produce grows.  Early into the grow process, I like to keep the light generally close and once again, since the LEDs do not produce much residual heat, I do not worry about burning the plants.  I try to keep the temperature of my grow room around 75 degrees during the seed germination process.  An ideal growing temperature range for most plants is between 72 and 82 degrees.  Since most lettuce and leafy green varieties are considered cool weather plants, it is okay to be in the lower end of this temperature range.  LED grow lights are designed to integrate a high number of red and blue light emitting diodes which can act as a catalyst for photosynthesis during plants’ vegetative and flowering grow stages.  More specifically, my grow light hangs approximately 24 – 36 inches from my plants’ canopy and this is according to manufacturer specifications.  The actual power draw of the grow light I have been using is approximately 400 watts.  Be sure to review your grow light specifications so that you understand the basics.  Ultimately though, a bit of experimentation will help growers to discover best methods and techniques given your specific grow wants and needs.  Lately, I also started using a reflective metal material to place around my grow set-up to support light reflection to encourage increasingly dense growth.  I have been pleased with the outcomes of this strategy.  Although I use a thin reflective building metal, one could even utilize tin foil wrapped around a sturdy substance like cardboard to position around plants in order to reflect light at more angles.

Grow Light Schedule:

Regarding the actual grow light schedule.  Plants need to have time to grow and reach for the light, and they also need adequate time to rest in the dark.  It is important to provide your plants an adequate amount of light and dark hours, similar to what they might receive if planted in the outside garden.   One benefit of utilizing LED grow lights is control.  I can vary the amount of light presented during different stages of grow.  For lettuce and other greens discussed, I focus more on the vegetative stage of growth obviously.  During this stage of growth, I present light from my LED grow light for approximately 16 hours.  Normally, I will turn the light on around dinner time, and then turn the light off the following morning before leaving for work.  My grow room does not have a window to allow other light in, so it is completely dark in the room during the daytime hours when the LED grow light is turned off.  I prefer to run this light schedule so I am home during most of the hours when the light is up and running.  I like to check in on my lighting process from time to time and following this schedule gives me more access and opportunity for observation.  Since I harvest prior to the flowering stage, I do not need to worry about a light schedule for the flowering stage.  I am constantly growing in the vegetative stage of plant development for plants like lettuce and the LEDs provide the type of light most suited for positive growth outcomes.  Keep in mind, plants like lettuce and leafy greens take approximately 70 to 100 days to mature from seed germination through harvest.  This obviously varies a bit based on your seeds of choice.

Some Green Growing Basics:

Starting the Seeds – At times when growing my lettuce indoors, I started the seeds inside of individual growing cells, but eventually realized that I preferred to transfer my lettuce and other greens into small pots.  I use pottery pots, or plastic pots (the type you can pick up at any outdoor grow center).  The pots I often use have about an 8″ diameter and in most cases these have been quite adequate for most of my indoor lettuce growing needs.  Don’t forget to make sure the starting cells and pots have a drainage hole in the bottom to help drain the excess water.  Also, be sure to keep another plastic tray/drainage bin to collect the excess water and prevent a watery mess beneath your grow station.

Potting Soil and Mix – I often mix the potting soil that I purchase with an organic medium made from coconut mix.  Sometimes I will even mix in a bit of soil from my own garden.  I like to use the coconut medium mix with the soil because I believe it helps to create positive water retention which supports a positive grow process.  So as long as you have your seeds, pots, soil, sunlight or LED grow light, and water, you are well on your way to a successful grow.  Also, once you are established in the outside garden as well, composting can be your soil’s best friend.  I highly recommend starting a compost pile in the outside garden.

Greens to Grow:

Some of the more popular types of greens to grow include; Romaine, Leaf lettuce, Spinach, Cabbage, and Kale.  I tend to focus on the darker greens with a bit more color in an effort to grow produce that is nutrient rich.  My favorites are Romaine, Spinach, Cabbage and Kale.  I like to grow all three and mix them in to various salads to diversify the color, taste and texture of my salads.

Romaine Lettuce– Romaine Lettuce has a dark leafy green and is higher in antioxidants.  Romaine is a common salad green and is the typical lettuce found in Caeser salad.

Spinach– Spinach is considered an Asian herb of the goosefoot family and is appreciated for its edible leaves that form in a dense basal rosette.

Cabbage– Cabbage is a leafy plant with a short stem and a dense globular head of green or purple/red leaves.  Cabbage is a term used to refer to any of several brassicas.  Green and red cabbage is most common and my favorite.

Kale– Kale is a hardy cabbage with finely curled leaves that do not form a dense head.  As I type this, I am about to break for dinner that includes a plate of Kale with some corn, peppers, and a bit of cabbage included.  Many of the ingredients are home grown!

If Growing in the Garden:

If you are growing lettuce and leafy greens in the backyard garden, it is most important to make sure that your grow is secure and safe, out of reach for a host of friendly woodland and outdoor creatures that would love to dine on your garden’s produce.  In my backyard garden, I erected a six foot mesh-like fence (can be purchased at most outdoor centers at the large box stores).  I dropped metal and wood posts about every 6 feet around the garden’s perimeter and then used plastic ties or u-shaped nails to hang the mesh fence.  I then used u-shaped garden cloth pins to pin the bottom of the fence into the ground every three feet or so to make sure that little critters couldn’t easily wiggle underneath.  I even let the grass grow several inches around the fencing perimeter’s bottom to further entangle with the mesh fence to add extra resistance so little critters could not easily lift the mesh fence from the ground.  I have had positive outcomes with this perimeter protection.  My backyard garden sits in the midst of 6 acres and adjacent to many acres of woods, so there is no shortage of creatures roaming the area.  My fence set-up has been sufficient, and most certainly necessary.  If you plan on growing outdoors, I suggest you do something similar.  There is nothing worse than working to growing your own organic produce, only to find that all of that hard work only served to feed the local wildlife!

I also suggest building raised beds in which to grow your lettuce and greens.  I built several raised beds a few years ago and have been very happy with the outcomes.  I like the raised bed because it easily holds the soil mixed with other additives, such as peat moss and compost.  The soil mixture is easier to control in the raised bed, and caring for the grow is easier as well.  Since the bed is raised, it is easier on my back since I do not have to get all the way to ground level to tend to the grow.  If you decide to build raised beds for your garden, be sure to utilize untreated wood so as not to taint the soil in your garden through leaching of chemicals from treated wood.  Having a raised bed also cuts back on management of weeds and bugs in the grow area.  And, as I said earlier, composting in the outside garden is a great idea and will definitely result in better soil composition and plan production.  So whether you decide to grow indoors or out, just be sure to grow big or grow home!

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