Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Who has less light than me?

My guess is very few of you have as little light in your apartments (or houses) as I do. I live in a studio apartment with one window that looks at a brick wall about 10 feet away. I'm on the 3rd floor of an 11 story building and not much light works its way down to my dim windowsill.

Being a plant-a-holic, I couldn't let lack of light stop me from having an indoor garden. With the help of a very handy friend (thank you Stephen Barnett!) I turned my dauntingly dark windowsill into a plant display. It was surprisingly simple (was that because Stephen did all the drilling?); perhaps a few of you with little or no natural light might give it a try.

1) Screw 2 x 4s into your window frame, giving yourself a sturdy base for the light fixtures.


2) Attach fluorescent fixtures to the wooden frame. I used double tube fixtures on top, but only had enough depth for single tube fixtures along the sides.


3) Tuck the cords up behind the reflectors, run them along the top of the window, and down the side into a power strip. (I needed an extension cord to make everything reach.) Insert bulbs (half cool white and half warm white), then plug the power strip into a timer. Set the timer for approximately 16 hours of ON time and plug the timer into the wall.


4) Hang lucite or plexiglass poles across the window. By using clear poles, you create an open display space, where nothing distracts from the plants themselves.


5) Agonize for hours (or days) over the perfect arrangement for your plants. These are primarily Rhipsalis (although there's one Ceropegia in there). Rhipsalis are epiphytic cacti and very drought tolerant (aka low maintenance). In fact I just got back from a two week vacation and everyone looks just fine!


The truth is these plants probably won't flower in the low intensity of fluorescent lights, but they DO put out new growth. I rotate them every week so each plant has time close to the gro-lights. It just goes to show you that if you really want an indoor garden...nothing can stand in your way.

4 comments:

sarah said...

Looks beautiful! Have you calculated the energy cost? Fluorescent bulbs save money but they're on 16 hours a day. Maybe the plants help insulate a little too?

Ellen Zachos said...

Ok, I've done the math. The average cost of running a system like mine (six 48" tubes, 40 watts each for 16 hours/day) is between $.30 - $.40/day. Of course, your cost will depend on what you pay for electricity; but don't forget, the fluorescent tubes light up the room (in addition to growing your plants) so they're doing two jobs for the price of one!

Ellen Spector Platt said...

While Other Ellen focuses on the plants, she modestly omits her most stunning achievement:transforming cold stone into a living mural. Instead of feeling trapped by this dense structural barrier, a visitor sees only a clever backdrop for her plant display. ESP

Stephen Barnett said...

I completely agree with what Ellen Spector Platt pointed out in her poetic observation stated in her posted comment dated, February 10, 2009 at 9:43 AM.

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