DON'T LET WINTER SLOW YOUR GROWING
LIGHT UP YOUR PLANTS
Autumn is in full swing and the days are getting colder and shorter for those of us north of the equator. It’s time to think artificial lighting for your vegetable and flower plants. The farther north you go in latitude, the shorter time the sun is above the horizon and the less amount of light is available for your plants to grow. For those of you south of the equator, your days are getting warmer and longer, but if your plants are indoors, they still may need some help with extra light. I can’t over emphasize the importance of adequate lighting, if you want success growing vegetables and flowers with hydroponics. If you are using your Growfloats hydroponic kit, then there are only a few variables that need to be controlled. The first that I will talk about here is lighting basics. More advanced ideas dealing with lighting and plant growth will follow, but for now lets talk about simple basic lighting to keep your vegetables and flowers growing or to get you started.
If you are not using artificial grow lights, you need to get some. That is if you want your plants to grow. In general, this time of year, when there are not long days of direct sunlight, your plants will need about 18 hours of artificial light each day and 6 hours of rest. Keeping your lights on 24 hours a day will over burden them. Less than 18 hours, they can’t photosynthesize, as they need to. Both under lighting and over lighting can kill your plants. So light up your plants! Normal light bulbs that you have around the house will not work. You need grow lights. Grow lights operate in a way that mimics sunlight at about 6400 K. The K is for Kelvin, which is a measure of the Hue of the light. That's not important, just look for a light that has a K number somewhere between 6400 – 7000. It’s typically a very white almost sterile color light, unlike the warmer, (yellow to orange-ish color) of white light found in most homes (in the 300 K range). Grow lights can be bought in bulb form, fluorescent tube form, or LED form. LEDs are more expensive but are much more energy efficient, run cooler, last longer and are now made in red and blue color combinations that help the plant in different parts of its growth cycle. If you remember from your old art class in school, If you mix all the colors of paint together… you get the color black, but if you mix all the colors of light together … you get white! It's the red and blue colors in that white light that the plant needs at different stages of its growth cycle, but we can talk more about that in a later post.
CHOOSING A LIGHT
Other than making sure your light is a grow light, what is probably most important is just what size and type of fixture you need. If you are using just one Growfloat… a simple bulb or LED set up will work really well. If you have a designated grow table, large growing area or a greenhouse then you will need larger options. I will discuss those later as well. For now, just keep the grow light within 24 -36 inches above the growing vegetables and flowers. Remember, sprouting seeds really don't need light (in nature, most of that takes place underground in the dark anyway). Once a shoot forms, the plant first extends its initial leaves (which are not really leaves at all. They are called cotyledons and there are usually two of them. Cotyledons don't photosynthesize light but can act as a food source for the plant. But again lets not get too technical for now). The secondary leaves or true leaves do photosynthesize light and they act as large light collectors. The more true leaves there are, the more light they can collect to help the plant grow. It is best to keep the light just a few inches above the plant when its small true leaves start to form. but as the plant grows larger and more leaves form, the light can be moved farther away. Find the right combination between function and aesthetics for your location. If you want to keep things growing over time you will need things to function and work well, but you will also want it to look pleasing. Of course, always keep extra cords and anything electrical away from water.
With enough light, your plants will thrive even in the winter. A side benefit you will enjoy is that on these short autumn and winter days, the colors of your growing vegetables and flowers, and the added brightness to your room cant help but be good to brighten your day. SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder is something more and more people are becoming aware of, especially in far northern or southern latitudes where there is only a few hours of daylight each day. You will find that added light is not only healthy for your plants but you will find it healthy for your overall well being as well.
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