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grow lights for veg starting  RSS feed

 
S Usvy
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Location: South NB
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Not sure if this is the right sub, but I'm looking for good growing lights and was hoping for advice. We're in an off-grid house, so energy consumption has to be low. I start a fair number of plants - in the hundreds - in 3'' pots for the most part, and 6'' for squash family plants. I'm currently using the south window, which works ok, in the 'meh' range - peppers seem to do well, but tomatoes and squashes are definitely too leggy.

I'm hoping to build a 2.5' x 5' shelving unit, with probably 5-6 shelves, where I can start plants to my heart's desire. The only catch is the lights. I looked at LED ones (the entire house has led lights), and yikes, they're pricey. Incandescents are out of the question due to energy consumption. Can anyone recommend anything they've had good luck with or heard good things about?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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grow ace

That site might give you some ideas.
Using grow lights works but the bulbs need to be as close to the plant top as you can get them without burning the growing tips.
Most grow lights suck up the electricity, the metal halides and sodium lights even need transformers.
I have had success by using fluorescent bulbs in a simple 2 bulb "shop light" fixture. If you can find one of those that accepts the T-5 bulbs you should be able to keep the current draw pretty low.

another option would be to build your own fixtures from parts, that way you can select the ballast that works best for your needs.
 
Rebecca Norman
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I also live with off-grid electricity, and we like to try to think of non-electric solutions to our needs whenever possible. Is there any chance you could make an attached greenhouse on the south side of the house instead of a grow-light rack inside of the southern window? If you're using it only to start transplants in spring, even if you're far north, 21 March is the equinox with roughly equal day and night lengths, so you might get enough daylight to start your transplants in spring without electric light. If nights are still much too cold in March, you could rig up an additional blanket that you cover the trays with at night when needed.
 
S Usvy
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Location: South NB
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Thank you, Bryant! I'll look for some of those in the next few months.

Rebecca - sorry if it's a stupid question, but how much better is it for the plants to be in a colder environment, with maybe a bit more light, than in the house on the windowsill? The light still has to go through glass (or polycarbon), so presumably the intensity isn't that much higher? Or am I missing something? I loved the idea of taking it all out rather than having it in, just trying to figure out the details.
 
Troy Rhodes
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Most plants like some heat to help with germination.

Once germinated, most plants would do better in a greenhouse than under -any- artificial lights.

I have both, I use both, both are useful tools. But I try to get away from the grow lights asap, and I'm on grid so electrical use is not as big a deal compared to your off grid situation.

And don't think of it as either/or. The greenhouse give better light, but the indoor/lighted setup is great if you have to bring them in for 3 or 4 days of below freezing weather rather than try to heat the g-house.

The greenhouse will typically give much better day length in hours of direct sunlight, compared to a window.

There's no wrong solution here, just various degrees of optimization for what YOU need and want.

 
Andrew Brock
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I've actually done side by side comparison on overcast days and the difference is huge. Even with clouds a greenhouse is superior. Sometimes that's not available in which case I'd recommend t5 led growlights
 
Rebecca Norman
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Andrew Brock wrote:I've actually done side by side comparison on overcast days and the difference is huge. Even with clouds a greenhouse is superior. Sometimes that's not available in which case I'd recommend t5 led growlights


Do you mean even on cloudy days, a greenhouse is superior to an indoor grow-light set-up? (That's what I suspect).

I think sunlight is more difficult to simulate artificially, but heat is pretty generic, so if you can have plants get lots of sunlight, and work on the heat, you might not have to use much PV electricity and might have better plants more easily. Options for heat could include a tank under the trays that you pour warm water into, insulating blankets that you drape over the trays and thermal mass at night, and possibly electric heating mats under the trays that come on only during daylight (PV charging) hours.
 
S Usvy
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Location: South NB
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Thanks so much, everyone! Any input on growing under fluorescent vs LED in terms of plant health?
The LEDs are so friggin expensive. For the lights in our house, we waited for a week when the government offers rebate, and bought a whole bagload
 
Tracy Wandling
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I started my plants in the house as well, but in order to start as many as possible in a small space, I started them in 3/4" seed blocks. That way they take up waaaay less room, and you only have to have light over a small space (I used 2 T5s). Then, when they sprout I potted them up and put them out in the greenhouse. Lots of things need the heat to germinate, but can withstand quite a bit of coolness once they're up. The cold might slow growth a little, but they are happier with the natural light - any legginess disappears quite quickly. And I think the plants are all the stronger for the small amount of 'stress'. Cover them up on cold nights, and they should be fine. Cold frames are great too, if you don't have or don't want a greenhouse.

Happy growing!
 
S Usvy
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Tracy, I'm starting to think about this. I'm picturing some cold frames attached to the house. I generally like starting my seeds in the 3'' cups they'll be staying in until transplanting, but maybe I'll try something new this year - definitely easier to have a smaller space...
 
Tracy Wandling
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Location: Cortes Island, British Columbia. Zone: 8ish Lat: 50; Rainfall: 50" ish; sand and rocks; well water
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Cold frames are great! Especially if you don't get all caught up in doing it fancy. Just use what's around. (I've been eyeing up the piles of old windows at our local Free Store with much covetousness. ) And the other nice thing about starting seeds in the little seed blocks is that you only pot up the ones that germinate. I find it a pain in the butt to fill all those pots, seed them, water them, move them around, and then not have them all germinate. But that's me.

Good luck with your project, and keep us posted!
 
S Usvy
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OK, in that case I'll confess to two things -
1) I bloody hate it when seeds don't germinate. So I started germinating them on moist paper towel in a container, then potting them up. It's stupid, takes time, quite a few containers that I have to keep around, and only works for limited numbers of plants (because it's a pain to handle those super fragile sprouts). But that's where I'm at, mainly due to issues with germination - I think we have fungus gnat issues, so if I plant straight in pots, the larvae destroy the seed, whereas a sprout seems to be able to make it.
2) I can never figure out how to knock out plants from those tiny seeding trays without destroying all of their neighbours. How on earth do you repot them?? Is there a sneaky way? I tried it in my first year, and very quickly noped the hell out of that.
 
Devin Lavign
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If your only needing the lights for seedling starts, you don't even need any special grow lights. For seedling starts intensity of light seems to be more important than spectrum, and you would only need the special grow lights if you were growing past the seedling stage. Just regular standard florescent bulbs (the typical 4' shop bulbs) will do the trick until you are able to transplant the seedlings. This gives you a nice cost savings (as well as very easy sourcing) when you don't really need to fork out the high price for the grow specific lighting.

Here is a good article explaining it http://www.gardendesign.com/advice/starting-seeds-under-florescent-lights.html

You can also upgrade from standard florescent to more efficient versions, though this can make the bulbs cost a little bit more and less easy to source, but since your off grid the more efficient bulbs than standard florescent might be the right answer for you. http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/best-grow-lights-indoor-seeds-zmvz14djzsor.aspx

 
S Usvy
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Location: South NB
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Awesome, thanks! One more question - how cold do you get your seedlings get (and yes, it'll vary by type). For example - the wisdom of the internet tells me to not transplant tomatoes outside until nighttime temps are 12C consistently. Well, that would be in early July, and that's just ridiculous. I had mine outside last year when it was 8-9C at night, and they did very well.

But it wouldn't be 8-9C at night in March-May, when I'd be using the coldframe. Even if I put a bunch of bricks inside and cover with a blanket overnight, I can't imagine it staying above 5C. Is my imagination lacking? Or can these little buggers make it through much colder nights and be ok? Obviously, things like broccoli, kale, and onions can handle the cold nights.
 
Nick Kitchener
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Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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Maybe consider something like this?
http://www.dx.com/p/hml-72w-5400lm-300-x-smd-5050-led-rgb-light-strip-w-mini-rgb-amplifier-12v-5-meters-273980#.V1q5RrsrJpg

and then get one of these:
http://www.dx.com/p/44-key-ir-controller-power-supply-controller-rgb-lamp-bar-power-source-black-234934#.V1q5drsrJpg

With the controller, you can adjust the color spectrum to suit the plant, and its growth stage. The led strip can be cut and soldered, which means you can shape the light source to whatever you need.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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This year tried something different. I had brought the book "Epic Tomatoes" by Craig LeHoullier. He uses a dense planting method because he has to plant so many seeds. He puts up to 50 seeds in a 1.5 inch cell of a seed tray in a soilless mix, then covers it with a clear plastic dome or plastic wrap and puts it in a warm place (70-80 deg. /light not necessary yet). I didn't need that many plants so I put 20 in each cell. Did this with tomatoes,peppers and eggplants. I sat the tray on top of the freezer because it stays warm up there and because I had put away my grow lights (T5 cool florescent) and my heat mat last year and I couldn't remember where I put them. Duh.
Anyway, just like the pics in his book and his YouTube video, they emerged with great germination rates. I removed the cover and sat them near the kitchen window and turned them daily so they wouldn't grow in one direction. They grew tall and spindly and I had to mist them with a spray bottle daily to help them shed their seeds.
When I transplanted, because you use a soilless mix, they came apart easily. I transferred mine into plastic drinking cups that I punctured the bottom with an ice pick. These were filled with soilless mix also (his instructions). Lay the seedling on the surface of the mix and push it in with your finger until just the leaves are all you see. Pull the soil in to fix the finger hole. Moves pretty quickly.
I did learn from him that all 3 (tomatoes, peppers and eggplants) will develop roots all along their submerged stems. I knew that about tomatoes.
I did have to keep moving them around, in the sun on the edge of the porch, up tight against the house and even into the house if the nights got too cold. But I hardened them off as quickly as I could.
The tomatoes have been in ground since May 27, the eggplants i finished planting yesterday, some of the peppers are in ground and others still in their cups.
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Tomatoes mulched with clover
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Eggplants just planted, need mulch
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Peppers in cups (Roots!!)
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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P.S. I did find my grow lights and heat mat but it doesn't matter because I am going to be using this method again next year.

 
Troy Rhodes
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Tomatoes can't stand frost very well at all. So, you can't let them go below O centigrade, or 32 far.

But their metabolism almost shuts down below 50 far (10 C). They won't die, but they won't grow, and it negatively influences leaf size and fruit set. Here's a nice accessible article regarding what tomatoes like and need for temps. The article is regarding growing tomatoes in a greenhouse, but the idea is the same.

https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W017.pdf
 
S Usvy
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Location: South NB
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Thanks for all the awesome info! Karen - we meet again - I've never heard of this method, but it sure sounds awesome, especially that I don't have much room for the early stages of plants, but have lots of room for them outside. I'll look into it, and come up with some combination of dense planting, grow lights, and a cold frame.
 
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