How to Reuse an Old Computer for Growing Plants

New Uses for Old Computers -

Created from nature, reclaimed by nature. 'Tis the life of a computer. Once built to be the latest and greatest, but now just a pile in the dump. After all, what's taken from mother nature must return someday, right? Well, for most of us, the idea of thousands of old computer towers mucking up landscapes and accumulating in masses throughout landfills is a concerning thought. But what else are you to do with your old PC? While generally thought to be a limited uni-tasking technology, it just so happens that there are actually hundreds of uses for old computers! With the goal of keeping at least a few more PCs away from the dump, this article will discuss one old computer reuse technique that keeps nature near and dear. Learn how to reuse an old computer tower to grow a micro garden!

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PC Grow Box with three Bell Peppers.
PC Grow Box with three Bell Peppers.

Basic Materials -

  • Old Computer Tower
  • Flathead & Philips Screwdriver
  • Light Fixture (Described in depth a little later)

Optional Additional Materials -

  • Mylar sheeting. (Increases reflectivity and availability of usable light.)
  • Reflective Tape. (Used to compliment Mylar sheeting and to "light proof" the tower.)
  • 12V Cell Phone Charger. (Splice onto the existing computer fan to create airflow and constant circulation.)

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Preparing PC for Growing Plants -

When it comes to preparing your PC for growing plants, it's all about computer destruction! Okay, so it's not total destruction, but you will be gutting out all the internals of your computer tower. Here's how to prep your miniature grow box:

Open PC Grow Box.
Open PC Grow Box.
  1. Using your screwdrivers, unscrew the computer tower covers to access the internals. Once you're in, begin removing as much of the internals as possible. You can recycle the internal components or scrap them for metal value.
  2. Now that you're down to a bare frame, tape over any large areas where the CD/DVD/Floppy drives used to fit through the frame. While you're at it, tape and cover any large holes on the backside of the computer tower as well. The goal is to let as little light out as possible.
  3. Depending on the components and style of your computer tower, you might have to do some minor handy work to tidy up the appearance of your computer box. To keep an authentic computer feel, face plates of CD drives may need to be glued or attached with wire to the front computer cover.
  4. Reassemble all but the one side cover that allows for access to the inside of the tower. The focus now shifts to creating a plant friendly environment.

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Creating a Growing Environment -

At this point, you could just choose to pop in a small light fixture and use your box as the perfect seed starter, but what if you want more? It's possible too not only turn your computer tower into a great seed starter, but also an outlet for plant growth of all stages. Here's some factors that you'll want to calculate into your computer grow box plans:

15w CFL Bulb.
15w CFL Bulb.

CFL Grow Lights - The most feasible and inexpensive lighting option for PC boxes is Compact Fluorescent Lighting or CFLs. These can be purchased at most chain stores and normally are sold in sets for $15 or less. They come in both 6500K and 2700K spectrums to match the appropriate stage of plant growth.

Below - You'll find a rough conceptual design of a PC grow box and how air circulates through it. The dynamics of a basic light trap can also be observed.

PC Grow Box Design
PC Grow Box Design
  • Light - The type and wattage of the light you choose to use in your grow box will be the single most telling factor of what else will be required (or not required) of you to add to your PC grow box. Although sizes of towers vary, in such a small space it's recommended not to exceed a light system with 150watts. Light fixtures in the range of 50-150watts will require that the computer fan be setup or even upgraded to provide proper air circulation.
  • Air Circulation - If you're light setup is 50watts or less, you should be just fine with the passive circulation that already exists. If you plant to grow larger plants under more intense lighting, utilization of the computer fan will be essential. Mount the fan at the top back so that it is constantly pushing hot air out of the box. Removing hot air will pull in cooler air with passive circulation. In order to get your computer fan up and working, you'll need to splice on a cord with a wall outlet and compatible voltage. Old cell phone chargers normally splice and power computer fans great. To avoid damage or serious harm, always be sure to match up voltage numbers on both fan and charger.
  • Efficiency and Light Proofing - Here's where you can really get technical. Those who wish to increase the overall available light inside their PC grow box should highly consider light proofing and installing Mylar sheeting on every surface inside. Reflective Mylar sheeting can be purchased at hydroponic stores or online and is used to greatly enhance light reflectivity. Reflecting over 90 percent of usable light, Mylar is the superior choice for maximizing available light for plants. As for light proofing, if you can see light from outside of the sealed grow box, you've got some taping to care for. A combination of homemade light traps and reflective tape can be used to eliminate and patch up any escaping light.

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PC Grow Box Example -

Since the building process of a PC Grow Box is a highly variable process and normally custom to each gardener, step by step instructions for a complete design seem rather pointless. Instead, it seems much more reasonable to show you an example. Here you can gauge the possibilities by checking out the specifics of my own computer grow box:

Front and Inside of Computer Grow Box. ©Joe Macho
Front and Inside of Computer Grow Box. ©Joe Macho
  • Dimensions - 19 Inches Tall x 16.5 Inches Wide x 7.25 Inches Deep
  • Lighting - The fixture seen throughout the pictures is a modified 10 gallon aquarium light. The light setup has the capabilities to run 50watts total. Right now, I'm running two 23watt Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (6500K), for a 46 watt total.
  • Fan Circulation - Yes. The original computer fan located in the tower was mounted to the top corner and spliced with a cell phone charger. Air circulation is adequate and noise from the fan is minimal. Temperatures keep within 70-75° at all times.
  • Function & Plants Grown - Seed starting is the number one use for this PC box. With its own 'micro climate', the computer box consistently shows higher success rates for seed germination. When needed, the box also serves as a quarantine area, or as in the picture at the top of the page, a warm safe haven for temperature finicky peppers.
  • Additional Features - Reflective Mylar was placed on the inside walls. Since this particular computer tower is on the small side, shortened light traps were fitted for the intake and fan exhaust.

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Sounds Great. Now, What Can I Grow in My PC Grow Box?

Even with the largest of computer towers, the available space will not be able to sustain the full growth of large vegetable crops. Don't get down too fast though, as computer grow boxes make for perfect seed germinating areas and even full blown micro herb gardens. Overall, the possibilities are endless, so long as you make it happen! Thank you for reading my article on how to reuse an old computer for growing plants. Hopefully, you'll be inspired to create a tiny green room from your old hunk of junk!

Gardening in small spaces? Be sure to glance at these great hubs -

. . . or have a look at all my vegetable gardening guides!

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Comments 8 comments

Thrifty Lady profile image

Thrifty Lady 4 years ago

I'm not sure that I'm adventurous enough to try this out myself, but I thought this was a very interesting article and formatted very well. Great way to "be green".


phoenix2327 profile image

phoenix2327 4 years ago from United Kingdom

This is incredible. Such a clever use of an old computer and inspired recycling.

Voted up, useful and interesting.


Jennifer Stone profile image

Jennifer Stone 4 years ago from the Riverbank, England

Brilliant! Not only useful but it looks great to boot! May try it one day, I'll have to bookmark this as my "how to" guide. :-) Voted up, useful, interesting, and shared!


unknown spy profile image

unknown spy 4 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

Interesting! Thumbs UP for you!


snowdrops profile image

snowdrops 4 years ago from The Second Star to the Right

Very wonderful! Love it!


mariacolomy profile image

mariacolomy 4 years ago from Nashville, TN

Brilliant!


Cassy 2 years ago

Would you want the fan pushing air in or out of the tower?


Joe Macho profile image

Joe Macho 2 years ago from Colorado Author

You would want the air pushing out of the tower, allowing passive air to flow through intake holes.

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