Why are so many people considering growing plants indoors? The global warming trend makes gardening more difficult for many. People living in urban areas might not have any garden space available to them. Some people live in areas where the soil is poor and/or there are problems with animals eating their produce before they can pick it. Once the decision is made to grow plants indoors, the set up must be planned and executed. The most important factor in indoor plant growing is the lighting. Plants need a certain kind of light to thrive.
What Size Indoor Growing Space is Needed?
The area devoted to an indoor growing operation depends on the space available and the crop to be grown. Some people have a small apartment in the middle of a big city and just want some salad greens, tomatoes, or another plant. They can get by with a minimal set up such as big flower pots or small multi-level planters available online or in garden stores. One grow light might work.
Others are considering a large indoor growing operation in a commercial building or other whole room space they own or rent. If they are serious about growing crops for sale or other distribution, the containers, watering mechanisms, and lighting options need more serious consideration. The more space devoted to growing an indoor crop, the more grow lights will be needed.
There are formulas available to determine how much space is needed for different volumes of produce, and how much water and lighting will be needed. One source for information on grow lights is agron.io.
Deciding on the Type of Grow Light To Use
Once the plans are in place for the containers, growing medium, type of crop, watering mechanism, and so on, the lighting system must be chosen. There are several types of grow lights, the CMH or ceramic metal halide, the HPS or high-pressure sodium, and the metal halide or MP bulbs are some choices. The difference in initial investment, the lifespan of bulbs, and other factors contribute to the final decision of which grow light to use. Full-spectrum LED lights, fluorescent lamps, and incandescent lamps are other viable choices.
Ceramic Metal Halide
The CMH lights have ceramic arc tubes which are long-lasting and aren’t as prone to early breakdown as other types of lights. These lights can continue to provide light for 24,000 hours or more. They keep 80% of their intensity for approximately 20,000 hours. This is up to three years service before they need to be replaced. In addition to this, they are more efficient in converting electricity into plant-friendly light. This means lower electricity bills and savings over the long run.
This type of light requires a higher initial investment by the grower. But, increased consumer interest and manufacturing technologies have contributed to a falling cost for these lights. Because of the high cost, some growers seat with less expensive lighting choices and then upgrade to CMH lights as they can afford them.
Growers may be willing to pay the higher cost for these lights because they offer a more balanced spectrum of light to offer better growing conditions for plants to convert the light they provide into nutrients. They also offer a better CRI or color rendering index which allows growers a more accurate view of plant colors. This helps them see how the plants are doing by providing true colors to show. The lights keep this color accuracy throughout the life of the bulbs for consistency.
Other advantages of CMH lights are the low heat production and the blocking of dangerous types of UV radiation. The safe UIV-A and UV-B radiation are safe and needed by the plants and are available to the plants. The unsafe UV-C radiation is harmful to the human eye and is blocked by special glass filters. The low heat production is important in small growing rooms where too much heat will damage plants and lowering their ability to produce good yields.
The CMH grow lights are also preferred because they do not interfere with cell phones and other electronics like some lights do. Electromagnetic interference is a problem with some types of grow lights. This interference might be especially problematic for people growing plants in their homes.
High-Intensity Discharge Lamps
The HPS and MP lights are less expensive choices for indoor growing operations. They are two types of high-intensity discharge lamps. They offer similar features but to lesser degrees. Their lifespans are closer to 10,000 hours or less than 1/2 of what it is for CMH lights. They are prone to wasting electricity and will cost more to operate. They work harder to make sufficient light to help plants convert the light into the needed nutrients. They also have different light spectrum balances. MH bulbs will be tipped toward the blue spectrum and HPS bulbs will tip toward red light.
Both of these lights are lower in cost which makes them the choice for people just beginning to grow indoors or with very small growing operations.
Full-spectrum LED lights or light-emitting diodes are a newer type of light for the hydroponic or indoor plant growing industry. They are more efficient using a lot less electricity than many other grow lights. Their lifespan is up to 50,000 hours. They are designed and manufactured to provide the perfect light spectrum for hydroponic growing operations. The main drawback of these lights is the expense of setting up the LED grow light system.
Fluorescent lights are cool running lights that offer a great amount of efficiency. They are 3 to 7 times more efficient than incandescent lights. These lights are readily available at hydroponic supply stores in a wide range of spectrums for different plant crops. They come in different sizes and have a version called CFLs or compact fluorescent lamps that work well for small home growers. One drawback is the fluorescent grow lights do not work well for larger plants because they do not deeply penetrate foliage. To make them work growers use lights at different levels such as above, below, and to the side of plants.
Fewer people rely on incandescent lights because of the better choices of lights on the market now. Incandescent lights are not as efficient in their use of electricity. They also generate large amounts of heat that require more cooling equipment. They also do not provide the optimum spectrum of light for hydroponic plant growing operations. These are the least recommended light form for use as grow lights.
10 Things to Know About Grow Lights
When considering the grow light system to purchase there are 10 things to consider:
- Quality is important. The lights must be built of quality materials, highest industry standards, and best production methods to have the durability a grower needs
- Brand reputation helps with the purchase decision. If there are 15 different choices of similar appearance and cost, go with the company with the best reputation. The company should have a long history, extensive research history, and developmental efforts.
- Since these lights will be operating for 10 to 11 hours every day, choose energy-efficient lights that will not cost as much in electric bills. Check for how many units are the output total and don’t settle for less than 300W.
- Choose a lighting system with the lowest heat output. Low heat generating bulbs last longer and are less likely to damage plants. Money is also saved because less cooling equipment will be needed.
- LED lights have semiconductor chips at their core to convert electricity to the proper light. The chip should be at least 3 watts to provide enough light.
- Different plant crops require different types of light wavelengths during growing stages. Choose the type of lighting that is best for the crops you plan to grow. do a little research before shopping to avoid mistakes.
- Consider the total growing space that will be used because this will determine the number and size of lights that are required. Compare the room size with the lighting area covered by each lamp. One guide is to allow 32 watts for every square foot of growing space for high-light plants and 11 to 18 watts per foot for low-light plants such as lettuce.
- Plants can grow under many types of light, but different kinds of plants grow better under specific types of lights. Full-spectrum LED lights are best for plants for each stage of growth. Choose a light that offers full-spectrum light.
- Choose a grow light system that is flexible and easy to use. The lights should be adjustable for position, wavelength, and intensity
- Make sure the lighting products chosen come with a good warranty and a generous return policy. The lights should last from 3 to 10 years depending on the type and brand. If the warranty is for a shorter time than the promised lifespan, the product may not be of the best quality. The guarantee should cover all the parts of the light, and have a free return shipment policy.
Indoor plant growing is a growing industry that depends on all the components being well-designed and well maintained. The lighting system can be the difference between a good crop and a disappointing crop, so choose the lights wisely.