Hydroponic Grow Lights in the Far North

by Dave
(Igloo #7 North Pole-Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada)

Jason - coming to you with my problems I feel like your my "shrink". Perhaps you could start a whole new field & call it plant psychology. Anyway "doc", I finally hit some sites that totally discount most claims about the effectiveness of LED's, unless you spend thousands of bucks, & even then I could not find these "pieces of gold" LED's. I have a room 10ft x 10ft. In your opinion, what are the best MH/HPS bulbs/single or dual ballasts/reflectors?

I am going to start my indoor grow with soil, and once mastered I will "pop my cherry" and graduate to a DWC culture. Finally, is it feasible to try 24 hour growing? What problems are there, if any, using chlorinated water? That's all I've ever used on my outdoor garden. Has anyone ever had success growing indoor corn? Thanks - Dave



Answer: Dave- I answer questions from Africa to South America, and from Vietnam and Thailand to India....but it is always you folks up North that keep me on my toes! Your conclusions about the LED lights were the same conclusions shared to me by a frequent visitor and contributor to the site, Kev from the UK. I had pretty much reached this conclusion myself also, but Kev provided a bit of "first hand" knowledge that I had been looking for to either confirm or deny the effectiveness of the LED systems.

In a 10' x 10' room, I suppose there would be room for two 4'x 8' garden areas (kept just a small distance from each wall) and a three foot walkway in between for maintenance. Squeezing anything more into this space would be very difficult, and eliminating a walkway would be a mistake (you never know what is going to go wrong, need replaced, need extra support, etc.).

I almost always illuminate a 4' x 8' garden area with two 600 watt HPS lights, hung stationary and each centered over a 4' x 4' section of the garden. However, the same area can also be illuminated effectively by one 1000 watt HPS grow light on a light mover. This will at least give you an idea of how many pieces of hardware you will require, depending on which way you decide to go with this.

Most lights are pretty similar....I have seen great results with a number of very different reflectors. Mainly, you want a reflector that will actually reflect all of the light and direct it into the garden area. "Special" reflectors that claim significant increases in light to the garden area are really just advertising and marketing. For the most part, all of the special shapes, anodization, polished steel, and aircraft aluminum only produce marginal gains in light intensity....but they will cost you a lot in the pocketbook.

The main feature you want for maximum light output is to use a HPS light instead of a Metal Halide light....they produce significantly more lumens (usable light) per watt. After that, you want a light with a digital ballast. They use less electricity and produce more lumens by controlling the power to your light digitally. Third, you want to use Hortilux light bulbs. They really do produce more light than other bulbs, and are worth the few extra dollars (just my personal experience).

The reason I do not bother with Metal Halide lights is simple....HPS grow lights produce more lumens per watt, plants in the vegetative stage grow well under HPS light, and plants are only in the vegetative stage for a short time compared to the flowering stage. If you decide to try to grow 24 hours a day, choosing your crops will become difficult, and using a Metal Halide grow light could be a consideration at that point.

When it comes to a reflector, I have always liked the rectangular ones. They direct more light downward, and work well over a 4' x 8' sized garden. In reality, as I mentioned before, the particular reflector style will only affect the usable light getting to your plants marginally (especially with my other suggestions in place).

You will want a reflective material on the walls of the grow room. There is a roll of thick plastic sheeting available from many hydroponic suppliers....it is black on one side and white on the other. It is highly reflective, and more affordable than mylar. The sheeting will catch any light leaving your garden (hitting the walls) and direct it back into the garden for the most efficient use of your light. It is yet another reason your choice of reflector is not as critical as the retailers would have you believe.

There are a couple of features you may want to consider when choosing a reflector. Mainly, these features are meant to make cooling your grow room a little easier. However, as far North as you are, you may decide you do not need any of the following features. One of these features is 6 inch vent holes (one in each end of the reflector), designed to allow 6 inch ducting for air cooling your light(s). Another feature is glass in the bottom....which would allow you to separate the air in your grow room from the air being used to cool your grow light(s).

Being in the far North, you may be able to get away without venting the lights at all. If the room does get too hot, you could always allow just a little cool air into the room from the outside. The daily temperature cycle in the grow room is a little bit of a balancing act that you will have to figure out once your lights are up and running.

It is interesting that you are planning to start with soil first, master it, then move to hydroponics. That is exactly what I did over the years. The following is just FYI from my own experience. Soil is more expensive than hydroponics by about 20% (the food is in the soil mix, instead of buying hydroponic nutrients). Soil is much harder to master than hydroponics (even though I was intimidated by it at first and therefore did not even attempt it for several years). Finally, soil is much more work than hydroponics. Every grow bag or container is watered on it's own schedule as it needs.

Furthermore, you end up mixing all of the nutrient solution by hand, and hand watering. This requires extra space, because every two or three days you have to pull every single plant out of the garden to check and water it. Working a garden in soil really is constant work. For a garden your size, I would guess two hours a day minimum. With hydroponics, you check and adjust one nutrient reservoir (takes about 5 minutes), and the hydroponic system feeds and waters every plant in the system 24 hours a day. The only other thing you have to do is change the nutrients every two (or three) weeks.

It is best to let water sit out overnight in a large plastic storage tote to allow it to de-chlorinate. Chlorine levels usually do not cause a problem, but they can....and sitting the water out also allows it to come to room temperature, making damage from temperature shocks a non-existent problem. I have seen a whole garden killed almost overnight because the guy used cold tap water for his water change.

You will be disappointed if you try to grow corn indoors, because of it's particular pollination requirements (which are practically impossible to provide for indoors).

Finally, ideas on having a 24 hour garden. There are some crops that produce edible parts in the vegetative stage (which would be 18-24 hours). These include spinach, all lettuce varieties, and many herbs. In addition, there are certain crop varieties that pay no attention at all to the daytime or nighttime photo period. These include ever bearing strawberries and day neutral onion varieties, you can probably find several other veggies. Honestly, I don't know for sure, because this is an area I have not researched well personally....but I think you may find it difficult to fill a whole garden of your size with these type of plants. One place that would know for sure are the scientists in Antarctica- I believe they try to grow only 24 hour crops, and there should be something on the internet about their garden.

The gardens that NASA grows in space might be another good lead for this kind of information. Finally, the Territorial Seed Catalog is packed full of information on hundreds of different varieties of everything you could ever want to eat....I tell everyone who gardens to order a copy and give it a read. If worse come to worse, you could always have a separate smaller area for salad greens and herbs (and possibly the next crop of flowering veggies while they grow in the vegetative stage). I hope this helps you out Dave, and Happy Growing!

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Find out the cheapest and easiest ways to garden productively in this article.

Hi everyone, Jason from Jason's Indoor Guide here. When I got started with hydroponic gardening more than 22 years ago, my first garden used rockwool cubes and B.C. Nutrients....and I remember thinking to myself yeah, sure, there may be a lot of advantages to gardening with hydroponics, for example there are very few pest problems, therefore very little pest control, no weeding, no plowing or tilling the soil, no soil testing or having to add things into the garden soil, no watering the garden....but for someone who just wants to grow their own vegetables and have more control over their food supply and the quality of the food that they eat, the cost of constantly having to buy grow media and hydroponic nutrients makes this an expensive hobby for most people.

I suppose when you take into consideration how much money you save NOT having to buy food at the grocery store, it is surely cheaper to grow your own food hydroponically even with the cost of high quality nutrients. Nevertheless, I didn't have a whole lot of money to work with and I needed to make my efforts as affordable and effective as possible....and in the last 20 years I HAVE learned a thing or two!

As you browse through Jason's Indoor Guide, you will notice all of the systems that I use personally are homemade systems. As I got 3 or 4 years of experience under my belt, I quickly adopted a preference to standing water systems and systems that use expanded clay pellets or lava rock, because the media is re-usable and it eliminates a huge operating expense. So once a hydroponic system is built, garden maintenance is minimal- check and adjust the nutrient solution daily, and to change it completely every 2 weeks....and the biggest operating cost is the hydroponic nutrients. (and the electric bill, lol).

And, regarding the cost of the nutrients....I experimented for about 3 years with making different compost teas and nutrient teas, but there is still a lot of expense $$$ associated with making high quality nutrient teas....like kelp meal, liquid seaweed, rock dust, bat guano, un-sulfured molasses, worm castings. You can eliminate a lot of this expense by becoming an expert at making high-quality colloidal humus compost, and use your properly made compost as the basis of your hydroponic nutrient solution.



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Unfortunately, I have been gardening for over 20 years and I have only just recently mastered this difficult skill....and even then, only because I happened to find a very easy to follow, high quality technique and decided to follow the instructions to the letter. I produced more high quality compost in just one week than I was able to use in a whole year! I highly recommend it. It is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase the productivity of your food production efforts, while at the same time decreasing the amount of effort required to grow all of your own food, and decreasing the total cost of operating your food production system.

And when I say decrease operating costs, I mean decrease them to almost ZERO, especially if you are producing your own nutrients.


High Efficiency
Hydroponics

One final solution to eliminate the cost of your hydroponic nutrients: Imagine a hydroponic system that does not require you to buy any nutrients, does not require you to make your own compost, and does not require you to brew your own nutrient tea. Seriously! No cost and no effort as far as providing nutrients to your plants is concerned. Plus, at the end of the gardening cycle, you harvest all of your garden vegetables, PLUS YOU HARVEST FISH from the system!


Aquaponics

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This solution is aquaponics. If you are serious about producing all of your own food and being self-sufficient, this is the ultimate solution for reducing expenses (as much as possible), reducing the total amount of work required, and maximizing the productivity of your gardening efforts. I have been gardening for over 20 years, and it is the perfect food production solution in my opinion.


Produce garnden vegetables AND fish together. Eliminate fertilizer costs!

Besides mastering how to make high quality compost, learning aquaponics is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase your garden productivity, reduce your total costs, and reduce your total work. The product that I learned from is called Aquaponics4you. With all of my hydroponic gardening experience, the first time I came across the Aquaponics4you product I knew immediately that it was something very special! Place an aquaponics system outdoors and use the sun instead of grow lights, and you have reduced every garden expense to nearly ZERO!


High Efficiency
Soil Gardening

This is where my advice ends for people growing in water. But some of you out there are in love with soil gardening and organic gardening, and rightly so! It's a pro-human activity. It is pro-conservation. It is pro-life. It nurtures and promotes life at all levels, from the micro-organisms to beneficial insects, to healthy humans. It's natural. it's spiritual. Gardening is written deeply into our DNA, like how you feel watching a bonfire or sitting by the ocean or next to a river.

My friend John at Food4Wealth has more than 20 years experience organic gardening, so he reminds me a lot of myself. He knows organic gardening like I know hydroponic gardening, and over the years he has learned just about every trick there is to organic gardening. He knows what makes the plants grow, and he knows how to do it with as little effort as humanly possible. His garden never needs digging, naturally repels pests, has no weeds, always produces more than his family is able to eat, produces vegetables everyday all year round, and....only requires 8 HOURS of light, easy effort PER YEAR!


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Years and years of experience and results can't be argued with....the Food4Wealth gardening strategy is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase your productivity, reduce your total costs, and reduce your total work....specifically for organic gardeners who love soil gardening. THIS is the most efficient and productive way to do organic gardening, period! And combined with the ability to make a years' worth of colloidal humus compost in just one week (see World's Best Compost), this overall organic soil gardening strategy is just unstoppable- foolproof, low cost, and low effort!

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