Growing Multiple Indoor Crops in a Single Grow Room
As indoor gardening continues to progress as both a science and art form, it borrows ideas from a variety of sources. To this end, for eco-minded cultivators, the natural world provides an excellent blueprint to mimic for growing indoor crops. There are some interesting ways in which indoor growers can benefit from imitating mother nature. Of these, planting multiple indoor crops in a single grow room is an interesting option. The benefits of this practice primarily have to do with optimizing growing conditions and developing resistance to pathogens.
The process of poly-cropping with indoor crops stands in stark contradiction to most commercial agriculture practices. As we are coming to understand, popular forms of industrial agriculture are inefficient, unnatural, and unsustainable. Moreover, mono-crop fields do not exist in nature. To this end, planting massive swaths of mono-crop fields presents risks to the environment as well as the crops in question. Of these risks, it is well known that planting a singular species of plant in the same area year-after-year will leach the soil of nutrients and stifle food production. In a similar fashion, single-crop fields are far more at risk for the attacks of pathogens than more biodiverse operations.
Permaculture gardening is the concept of using the most natural and suitable plant species for a specific environment in order to grow crops. This forward-looking school of thought has some fascinating implications in modern crop production – including controlled environment agriculture. In a fashion similar to that seen in nature, permaculture gardening seeks to create entire ecosystems by establishing diverse plant species in a garden. According to the website Regenerative, “Permaculture gardening promotes biodiversity. It seeks to maximize the number of productive species of plant within a plot, not only to offer the gardener a diverse and vibrant number of crops to harvest for the kitchen, but also so that the ecosystem itself is strong, with different plants performing different functions so that all can thrive.”
For many, the thought of developing a complex permaculture ecosystem within the artificial environs of the indoors may seem superfluous. Largely because, in a fashion akin to nature, these gardens generally take years to mature into a functioning, symbiotic bio-network. To this end, attempting to power a “forest-like” garden with grow lights may seem like a fool’s errand. However, permaculture practices are already gaining major traction with hobbyist greenhouse growers. Also, LED lighting and the use of supplemental sunlight from windows and skylights are making permaculture more viable with indoor crops. For those inquisitive cultivators interested in permaculture gardening, or simply growing multiple crops in a grow room, here are some points of wisdom to take home:
Optimizing Cultivation Conditions
Planting multiple crops in a grow room affords horticulturists the ability to understand what crops do best in specific artificial environments. It’s important to note, every grow room has unique environmental constraints that affect plant growth. Therefore, through a process of trial and error, growers can optimize their given cultivation environment with plants best suited for the conditions at hand. In time, they can build this collection of plant species into a hearty garden that serves as a healthy food source.
On the flip side, indoor growers also have the rare ability to build an environment around chosen plant species. This notion stands in stark contradiction to outdoor growing, where gardeners are wholly at the mercy of mother nature. As such, the enterprising indoor grower can recreate nearly any cultivation environment on earth! This idea includes producing your favorite crops in a symbiotic, permaculture ecosystem. That being said, have fun with designing your dream garden! If you live in the Northern U.S. or Canada, why not try growing a tropical permaculture garden in the dead of winter?
If you are interested in developing a permaculture garden indoors, it may make take months or years to understand exactly how your ecosystem is coming along. Therefore, be patient and attentive with your garden, in time you can come to understand how the various plant species benefit one another.
Multiple Indoor Crops and Pathogen Resistance
As any experienced cultivator knows, bugs, mold, and disease can put a hinder on any garden operation – both large and small. Simply stated, certain varieties of pathogens prefer certain plant species. To this end, entire crops can be destroyed if they encounter a particular insect species or varieties of mold. To illustrate, it is well known that aphids can abolish a plot of leafy greens in a matter of hours. Similarly, powdery mildew is known to plague strawberry crops in both greenhouses and fields. Yet, it is possible to insulate your crops from the attacks of such pathogens by diversifying the plant species present in your garden.
By planting a variety of crops in a grow room, whether it by simple mix and match or permaculture design, growers create a natural barrier against total infestation. To illustrate, cilantro, dill, and fennel are known as aphid resistant plant species that can even help deter aphids from attacking a garden. As such, planting these species in conjunction with those varietals more vulnerable to aphids can help insulate your garden from potential decimation. Expanding beyond such simple practices and delving into permaculture, a much more sophisticated approach is required in understanding natural plant communities in relationship to pathogen resistance.
As the indoor gardening space continues to evolve with inspiration from mother nature, it will be interesting to see what new developments arise. At this point in time, it can’t be denied that CEA growers are at the forefront of redefining our global food systems through such practices as vertical farming and aquaponics. Within this movement, where artificial cultivation environments are built exclusively to mimic mother nature, its evident that permaculture gardening has its place. Yet, it remains to be seen how such complex biological systems can be utilized more efficiently within the confines of indoor growing. Moving forward, the practice of planting multiple indoor crops in a grow room can at least help insulate gardens from some of the downfalls of mono-crop gardening. Even better, it gives the hardworking grower the ability to harvest a variety of food choices on a regular basis.
This article originally appeared in the November / December 2019 edition of Maximum Yield Magazine.
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