LED Grow Lights for Hydroponic Growing

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High Tech Grow Lighting Equipment

Just as irrigation canals helped remove issues of drought and water shortage, LED (light-emitting diode) grow lights are now on the front line of a wave of new products allowing safe, controlled, indoor agriculture.

What, exactly, is a grow light?

LED Grow Light Seedlings
By: Nick Johnson

The term “grow light” refers to an artificial light source designed to simulate natural light for photosynthesis stimulation.

These days, artificial grow lighting is commonly used to start seedlings in the spring, to provide supplemental light for sunlight in low-sun or harsh weather conditions, and can even be the sole light source for growing plants indoors.

 This new agricultural frontier is full of exciting new possibilities: for example, NASA has recently run experiments with LED light panels and indoor potato cultivation for growing crops in outer space.

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To provide some background on the science of indoor growing, there are some variables that are very important to plants’ photochemical processes.

The main variable to consider before cultivation is the light wavelengths from said artificial sources, or, in more layman’s terms: the light’s color.  Generally-speaking, blue light is considered best for growing vegetables; on the other end of the spectrum, red light is more commonly used for fruits and flowers.  It is also important to note that nearly all plants require periods of darkness, as with the natural day/night cycle, to grow.

The rising tide of LED growing:

Indoor Grow Lighting
By: Sonya Green

LED grow lights are quickly growing in popularity with indoor growing prospectors because they create light that is bright, long-lasting, and efficient.  In fact, LED lights are unique in their ability to pinpoint which wavelengths to produce, and they can be tailored toward the specific requirements of any crop. Because of this, LED light production has very low energy requirements compared to metal halide, incandescent, and fluorescent lights, as these all produce an unnecessary variety of wavelengths.

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Additionally, some of this wasted energy comes in the form of excessive heat generation around the light itself, which can damage plants that (if you’ll forgive the cliche) grow too close to the “sun.”  What’s more, due to their innately small size, LED grow lights are simply easier to mount and maintain in close proximity to the plants themselves, which means that LED-based grow operations are possible even in tight or enclosed spaces.

Cost: the only downside.

Indoor grow light setup
By: “Missellyrh”

There are a few minor disadvantages to choosing LED grow lights over other popular options.

The main downside to using LEDs for your indoor growing needs is the initial start-up cost, because although LEDs produce a cost-effective amount of light for the energy they consume, the down payment on an LED grow light itself is much higher. How high, exactly? Expect prices ranging anywhere from $500 to $1500 for premium, high quality choices available online.

Additionally, LED performance depends largely on ambient temperature conditions, and over-driving an LED light through high temperatures can overheat the LED package and ruin the device.  For this reason, LEDs require a heat sink to maintain long life.  This isn’t a huge deal, though, because taking into account the persnickety growing conditions of most crops, temperature-control should already be high on the list of considerations.

Separating the best from the rest:

For industrial or scientific growing projects, it makes sense to invest in premium-quality equipment. As with virtually every other type of product, LED grow lights come in different shapes, sizes, and levels of quality.

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Browsing for grow lights online, you might be surprised to find some panels that sell for less than a hundred dollars and some that sell for several thousand. Of course there is going to be a pricing spectrum depending on various factors, but what makes one LED grow light better than another?

Here is a break-down of what to expect from high-end grow lights that are ideal for high-yield, precisely-controlled grows.

By: John Abella

Quality of construction:

The best grow lights should be built to last. When you’re buying a high-performance grow light, take care to read all the reviews you can find to determine if a particular brand is known for having a long or short lifespan. Countries all over the world manufacture LED lights for indoor agriculture. Where your grow lights were made can have a huge impact on the price as well as the quality, but just because something was made in China doesn’t necessarily mean that it is going to be lower quality.

By: Karl-Ludwig G. Poggemann

Built-in temperature control:

One of the physical byproducts of converting electricity into light energy is heat. That is why most high-quality grow lights have some sort of mechanism built in for regulating temperature to ensure that the panel doesn’t overheat. These could consist of vents, fans, and timers among other methods.

While increasing the number of moving parts can occasionally lead to more potential maintenance issues in the future, if your LEDs get too hot the whole panel could be rendered useless.

The bottom line is: know the limits of whatever grow lights you buy so you can plan your indoor growing accordingly.

Full light spectrum:

Depending on what you’re growing, it can make a difference what type of light you feed to your plants. Some LEDs are “full-spectrum” while some target specific colors. Knowing what frequencies will help your plants the most can be tough if you aren’t a botanist, but there are plenty of resources to be found online that can help you figure it out.

By: Brian Lamb

Type, size & number of LEDs:

Another factor in the performance and price of an LED grow light is the total number of diodes in the panel and their overall quality. There are different types of diodes that can be used for indoor growing and familiarizing yourself with the pros and cons is a good idea before dropping a significant sum on your equipment.

By: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Show me the warranty:

If a grow light panel is supported by a warranty, it speaks volumes to the manufacturer’s confidence in their product. Find out as much as you can about the company that makes the grow lights you are considering for your project, read what other people have said about their products, and learn about any guarantees or return policies before making your purchase.

Got brand?

Sometimes a brand will charge more simply due to the fact that they are well-known and widely-used. While going with an established brand can usually be the more secure option, it is also possible to find lesser-known manufacturers who make a good product. In the age of the internet, it is usually possible to get a good sense of a product before you buy it. If a brand has a loyal following, that is probably a good sign!

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