Friday, January 28, 2011

Read This Before You Buy Grow Lights

As you may recall, I started Master Gardener training this January through the University of Wisconsin Extension. I'm learning so much each week. For example, did you know that poinsettia leaves are NOT poisonous? Our fantastic instructor, UW-EX Consumer Horticulture Agent Sharon Morrissey, said one of her professors in college demonstrated this fact by consuming poinsettia leaves in front of his students. I also learned that those who grow seedlings indoors need not invest in fancy "grow lights," which frequently cost two or three times more than other fluorescent lights. In order to grow, plants need "red" and "blue" light – that is, bulbs that emit these kinds of rays (not colored red or blue lights but white lights that are tinged with these parts of the light spectrum). To accomplish this with a two-light ballast, you could use one cool-white bulb, which emits blue-tinged light, and one soft-white bulb, which emits red-tinged light.

As soon as I learned this I went straight to the hardware store and bought a 48", two-bulb shop light ballast for $15 and four 48", T8 bulbs – two cool white and two soft white. Each two pack was about $5. I am going to hang the new light behind my other shop light, under which I'm currently growing lettuce seeds. The first light appears to be working just fine so far, and I've saved a lot of money not purchasing a "real" grow-light system (depending on how elaborate the system they can cost upwards of $100, often far more).

Here's a photo of my basement shop light. Growing underneath are two flats of lettuce atop space-saving mini tables my father-in-law constructed for me. The second shop light will be added after I purchase extra long chains for the ballast so I can bring the bulbs closer to the flats (the chains that came with the shop light are much too short).

By the way, you don't have to wait until early spring to start seeds. I'm growing lettuce in my basement under lights. These "Pablo" lettuce seeds I received courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange and planted on January 15 seem to be doing well!

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