What’s New This Year? A Review Of The Best LED Grow Lights For 2013
As the technology matures, led grow lights are becoming more accepted in indoor gardening and hydroponics. What started out as a niche market with its own brand of cult-following, solid state now has a proven track record of success for growing anything from wheat grass to cannabis and lettuce to strawberries. The market continues to grow as a few leading LED grow light suppliers push the technology with new research and exciting developments, shaking off the once common (and sometimes legitimate) view that manufacturers were out just to make a buck on unproven, poorly executed fad gadgets.
Here are my predictions of where I think the technology is going in 2013.
2013 – LED Grow Lights Come Of Age
After the expected growing pains of a new technology, growing with LEDs is becoming more mainstream – being looked at now as not only an energy saving alternative to high wattage HID lights, but as a means to grow more (fill in the blank) in a smaller space. Because these lights emit very specific wavelengths along the electromagnetic spectrum, plants absorb the light more readily versus HID lights and are able to convert it via photosynthesis into energy for vigorous vegetative growth followed by prolific flowering and fruiting.
In this article, you will not find any mention of specific brand names nor will there be any direct comparisons. If that is what you are looking for – check out these LED Reviews. What I will do is talk about common features and benefits of LED grow lights in general while pointing to what new developments I think will advance the technology and help you grow bigger, better plants.
Growing With LEDs – A Paradigm Shift
For over 40 years, indoor growers were faced with just a couple of choices when deciding on grow lighting – high pressure sodium, metal halide, and more recently, compact fluorescent. In every instance, the idea is the same; to try to replicate sunlight for your indoor plants. Plants need sunlight for photosynthesis which turns it into energy for vegetative growth and flowering.
As you know, sunlight is white light, which is to say that it contains light wavelengths from the entire visible light spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet) along with invisible forms of light radiation such as UV, gamma, and infrared. Traditional grow lights attempt to imitate this light and do so to limited success – limited only because these lights are inherently inefficient. While individual types of plants all have different lighting requirements (orchids have different light needs than cannabis,most plants flourish with only a limited range of light – reds and blues. This is because various processes and chemicals involved in photosynthesis respond most readily (and sometimes exclusively) to these bands of light. Unfortunately, only about 15 percent of light emitted by HID/CFL bulbs is available in the bands of light needed for photosynthesis. In contrast, 90-99 percent of the light emitted by LED grow lights is immediately usable in plants for photosynthesis.
Because of this fact, it is necessary that traditional growing methods, light cycles, heating & cooling, nutrient and water requirements all need to be altered. I am not talking about massive, drastic changes but just subtle tweaks to nutrient levels, altering lighting cycles by a couple hours, adjusting the growing environment, positioning the lights at appropriate levels above the canopy, etc.
So far, the general discourse on a majority of forums is that LED grow lights can work well for micro-grows such as Sea Of Green (SOG) and Screen Of Green (SCROG) methods were the focus is on a short vegetative growth followed by an extended flowering stage. The end result is a short plant with a single, large cola and few leaves or branches. I have had reports of this method capable of producing in excess of 2 grams per watt using this LED grow light which is phenomenal growth for indoor plants. The forums maintain, however, that LED grow lights are not ready for commercial growth – that they are not capable of growing large, bushy trees for the medical marijuana industry because they lack the penetrating power of HID lighting.
It is my prediction that the belief that LED grow lights cannot grow on a commercial level will be disproved in a big way. Just check out the results of a commercial hydroponic tomato growing operation in New Hampshire using LED grow lights. The article points out that Hobbit Hill Farm has been able to save 50% on electricity by using LED grow lights for their commercial tomato grow. At over $1000 per month on electricity using HID lights, the switch to LED enables the farm to save over $500 per month. Hobbit Hill Farm was also able to get a grant from the USDA and the local electric company, NHEC, which covered 53 percent of the almost $24,000 upgrade cost. This means that the farm will be able to break even on the upgrade cost in just 2 seasons, based only on electricity savings and not taking into account increased production from using LEDs (thus increased income). With money savings and results like this, it is hard to imagine why growers would continue to use inefficient HID technology.