When considering the maintenance surrounding your grow room’s lighting, think about what your plants would experience if they were outside. Different plants need a different amount of exposure to lighting in order to thrive. Certain plants, if placed in a semi-shady spot, will not grow correctly. And, all plants crave the consistent, life-giving rays of the sun.
While artificial lighting can succeed in growing a successful indoor garden, there is one main difference between lamps and the sun – the sun never wears out. Lamps do.
And, while you may not notice when your lamps begin weakening, your plants will be able to tell, and they will suffer for it. In order to avoid the side effects of weak lighting, your lamps should be replaced BEFORE they start to dim or weaken.
As different lamps burn at different intensities, when you change them will depend on the lamp type. But, burning lamps for 12 hours every day diminishes the intensity and spectrum of all lamp types. So, lamp replacement should be a part of your regular maintenance schedule.
Below is a schedule, based on the type of lamps you are using:
HPS– 9-10 months
High pressure sodium bulbs are most often used to initiate the budding, flowering and fruiting stages of your garden.
Metal Halide– 6-8 months
Metal Halide bulbs are often favored by gardeners over any other bulb. They have a high spectral distribution and best simulate a bright summer day. These lights come in all spectrums from bulbs that are meant for early vegetative growth, to bulbs that target the flowering cycle.
e-start Metal Halide– 9-10 months
E-start Metal Halide bulbs are gaining popularity. They offer high initial light intensity and consistent output of the EYE HORTILUX spectrum.
While this is a general maintenance schedule, your bulb replacement will depend on the stage of your plants and their growth cycles.
As we have been discussing all the elements you will need for a successful Hydroponic garden, it’s important to remember the rule of limiting factors; even if you have all the right ingredients, if one is off, they will all be useless. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to each aspect of your grow room even the ones that seem like they may not have such a large impact, like lighting.
Though, just like out in nature, your plants will rely heavily on how much light they are receiving and if this amount is off, it won’t matter if they are getting the best nutrients or the perfect amount of water, they simply won’t grow to their full potential.
The amount and type of light your garden gets will determine not only it’s size but also what types of plants you can grow in it. But, the biggest factor to consider when looking into lighting for your garden is size.
The lighting/size breakdown looks likes this:
High Light Plants (tomatoes, peppers): 40 watts per square foot
So, for a typical 4′ x 4′ space containing low light plants, you would need 400 watts of lighting. To grow the high light plants you would need 600 watts of lighting. These numbers will grow as your garden grows.
But, once you decide how much light you need, you then need to decide what type of lighting is best for you and your garden.
Types of Light
Choosing the type of lighting you would like to use is a little more complicated than choosing how much you will need. There are many different types that affect different aspects of your plants. Different lights produce different colors, this spectrum is measured in Degrees Kelvin, and different plants grow better under different spectrum’s.
Flowering plants tend to grow better in the 2700K spectrum while most other plants will do fine in the 6500K spectrum.
Choosing a light is not as simple as going to your closet and grabbing a leftover bulb from your favorite reading lamp. In fact, incandescent lamps, the bulbs used in household lights, have been deemed incredibly inefficient when it comes to growing plants. Instead, it would be wise to turn to Fluorescent Lamps.
Fluorescent Lamps offer:
3-7 times more efficiency than incandescent bulbs
Bulbs in the 6500K range (which are ideal for growing)
Many different styles, shapes and colors
Very little heat production
If you are looking to pack more powerful light into a small space, you can turn to Compact Fluorescent.
Can get as large as 2500 watts
Use less power
Screw into a standard socket and are great for beginners
Are useful for small growers on a budget
Induction Fluorescent are also gaining popularity:
Longer lamp life (to fluorescent) while producing similar light
Infrequent lamp changes
But, the most popular light for serious growers would the High Intensity Discharge Lights:
Closest to natural sunlight
High intensity (for taller plants)
Two types of lamps produce two types of light
The downside to these lamps is how much heat they produce. So, if this is the direction you choose, keep in mind you will have to regulate heat production.
If you’re feeling edgy, LED Lights are the newest up and coming technology in the world of indoor growing. While they are still a new technology, they may save you money on electricity, last longer and provide very specific lighting spectrum’s.
The type of lighting you choose for your plants depends on your garden’s specific needs, but whatever you choose, make sure it is providing the right amount of light, the best intensity and is the best choice the for the types of plants you are growing.
When you think about the things a plant needs to survive, there are probably some things that come to mind right away; sun and water being the biggest. You also might consider soil, or at least a suitable place for the roots to grow and get nutrition. But beyond that, you probably haven’t given it much thought. But, those in the Hydroponics business know it’s much more complicated than that.
One of the most important things a proper hydroponics system needs (and one of the most overlooked) to keep its plants healthy is proper air flow. Outside, in their natural environment, the air is never stagnant. It is constantly flowing, changing and is almost always fresh. This environment must be recreated when growing with a hydroponic system. This is especially important if you are growing in a confined area such as a basement.
Simply put, proper air flow in a grow room means that plants can breathe in Co2 and create O2 (oxygen).
Why Is It So Important?
A Clean Stomata = A Healthy Plant
These microscopic pores located on the underside of the leaf regulate the flow of gases in and out of the plant. When they get clogged with dust or pollen it can hurt the plant so it’s important to use sufficient airflow to keep these clean.
Stagnant Air Kills
If there is no fresh air present, your plants will be forced to use all the CO2 from the leaf surface. This dead air will begin to build up and clog the above mentioned stomata, stifling the growth of the plant.
Your plants need water to live. When this life-giving water evaporates, it goes into the air. If this damp air sits still and surrounds the plants, the flow of water through the plant will slow, the leaf will get limp, and the stomata will be stifled.
When all of these problems combine, you will have some very dead plants. In some ways, having proper air flow can be as (or more!) important than water, light or heat.
When considering how to create an ideal hydroponic environment, it’s best to think about how best to echo a plant’s natural environment. Just like certain plants only grow in certain climates, the temperature of your grow room will determine how well your plants grow. There are two temperatures to consider when thinking about the ideal temp for your hydroponic system or environment.
Water is the key element of a hydroponic system. Whether you are growing your plants in water (rather than air, gravel or sand) or simply using water to administer a nutrient solution, the temperature of that water matters.
It has been found that the temp of the water used for growing plants and the water being used to administer the nutrient solution should be the same. To avoid a shock to the plant, both temps should be between 65 and 70 degrees.
When growing in an enclosed area, you’ll need to control the air temp with an artificial heating system. In order for the plants to thrive, photosynthesis needs to occur. This process occurs most productively when the air temperature is around 77 degrees.
Keep in mind, the temperature will also depend on the type of plant you are growing.
Warm climate plants (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cukes, beans, squash, melons, herbs) require a range of 70-80 degrees.
Cool climate plants (broccoli, cabbage, lettuces, endive, peas, spinach, green onions) require a range of 60-70 degrees.
A Delicate Balance-
When the temperature in the room is too high, it can result in a process called “photo-respiration.” This occurs when the plant is forced to close its stomata to prevent excess water loss.
On the flip side, cold leaves will restrict the amount of nutrients they are taking in. The photosynthesis process is also slowed down when the temperature of the air is too cold.
It doesn’t do any good to set one temperature and leave it there. Plants need a fluctuation in temperature that echos the natural temperature change outside. Your plant’s metabolism requires a cooldown at night. For ideal conditions, aim for a ten degree drop at night.
Have you ever stepped off a plane into a tropical environment and all of a sudden felt like you couldn’t breathe? The air is so thick with humidity that you feel you can barely move let alone suck in air through all the water.
Not very pleasant is it? If the humidity level in your grow room is too high, this is how your plants will feel.
We’ve all walked into greenhouses and had this feeling, leading us to believe that high humidity is best for growing plants, but this isn’t necessarily true.
Humidity, the water vapor held in the air, can have a huge effect on how your plants grow, especially when you are using a hydroponic system.
Different levels of humidity are described using specific terms:
• Absolute Humidity
• Specific Humidity
• Relative Humidity
Most hydroponic growers (growing vegetable crops, marijuana, etc.) are safest using Relative Humidity.
Relative Humidity puts the levels in your grow room between fifty and eighty percent.
So, what happens if your room dips out of this range?
Too High: If your humidity levels are too high, your plants can’t breathe properly. Just like us when we step into a high humidity area for the first time. High humidity areas are also primed to produce the molds and fungi that can damage or even kill your plants.
Too Low: If your humidity levels are too low, pollination becomes difficult. And, obviously, plants need moisture to survive, so if your levels dip too low, you run the risk of them drying out.
Keep It Level:
To make sure you maintain an Rh level of 50-80% you can use relatively simple and inexpensive tools. Humidifiers are easy to find for reasonable prices and can help restore humidity to your grow room if it’s lacking. If they are too low you can use a fan to keep the air moving and circulating.
The key to proper humidity is keeping levels safely in the middle. Closed off basements may need a ventilation system. Damp basements may need a dehumidifier. The tolls will depend on your environment, so make sure you are monitoring your levels and planning accordingly.
Everything has a learning curve. Spelling, math, riding a bike, and hydroponics. Mistakes will be made whenever we take on a new endeavor but knowing the common mistakes those before you have made can save you both time and money, and, in the case of hydroponics, it can save your plants.
Bigger is NOT (always) better
One glance at your giant plant and you might give yourself a pat on the back. That green monster overflowing from it’s home will surely yield an awesome crop, right? Not necessarily.
The bigger the plant, the more potential problems. When it’s too tall, the top leaves will block the bottom leaves from the light. And, the larger it is, the more energy it spends pumping nutrients to the top and the less energy it spends on flowering and fruiting, depriving you of your harvest.
So, be sure to control your plant’s size for an optimal harvest.
Too Much of a Good Thing:
Ever hear the saying, “Too much of a good thing?” Well, this applies to Hydroponics. Many newbies assume that if something is good for their plant, they should probably use a lot of it. But, almost everything your plants needs, it can also have too much of.
Too much light can burn your plants and too high a temperature can not only harm the plant but also yield a high electricity bill.
Too much water will cause the roots to rot.
Even too much air, or rather, the wrong levels of aeration, can cause more harm than good.
So, everything in moderation, right? Do your research before beginning, find out the proper levels and stick to them.
Using Any Ol’ Plant Food:
Just because it’s called plant “food,” does not mean that it provides the sustenance and nutrients your plants need to survive.
A hydroponic garden differs from a regular garden and therefore has different needs when it comes to fertilizers and nutrients. Get your “food” from a reputable hydroponics supplier rather than a garden store. The wrong supplies aren’t just bad for your garden, they could result in a dead plant.
The Shock Factor
New growers often don’t realize just how fragile plants are, especially during certain transitional growth periods. Moving your plants or changing their environment may cause an unnecessary shock to their system. If you are planning a move, such as from a nursery tray to a grow room, prepare the plants. Slowly expose them to different environments by removing their lids for short periods at a time.
And, be careful during the move. Breaking stems will also shock a plant and shocked plants will stop growing for 5-7 days.
Thinking about making the leap from soil based gardening to a hydroponic system? While it can be difficult to switch from a tried and true method to something that seems almost like a science experiment, there are definitely a number of reasons to take the plunge.
Still on the fence?
Here are a few reasons that might help you jump on in.
In soil gardening, the plant’s root spreads out through the soil, searching for the nutrients and other things it gets from the soil. With hydroponic growing, the roots are submerged in a nutrient rich solution. Everything they need is delivered directly to the root, therefore, no spreading. This mean, they need less room to grow per plant. This makes hydroponics a great solution for those that want to garden but have limited space including those that live in apartments or townhouses with little to no yard.
Grow all Year
Because the plant’s environment is completely controlled by you, you can grow your plants all year long. Use a heater or air to control the temperature and set aside worries of a frost. The water stays at a certain temperature no matter the weather. You are no longer a slave to your environment. This is a huge advantage to those living in inclement weather climates.
Get More, Faster–
Everything the plant needs is delivered directly to the roots- water, oxygen and nutrients. Without the soil, there’s nothing for the plant to compete with- insects, weeds or other things that will deprive them of nutrients. When they have what they need, and nothing they don’t, they flourish.
If there’s no soil, there’s no weeds. There are also limited pests or bacteria. Grow what you set out to grow without worrying about pesky intruders.
No Extra Nonsense–
And, because you don’t have to worry about insects or weeds, there’s no need for weed killer or insect repellent. You can limit what goes onto your plants and be confident in what you are eating after a fruitful harvest.
Ready to join? C’mon on in, the water’s fine!
If you’ve been convinced to try out a hydroponic system, you can find everything you need at HGR Garden Supply.