What better way to see how well equipment works than to actually use it? You can harp on about measurements, outputs and spectrums until you are blue in the face, but what good is it all to you if you don’t make use of it? That is essentially the inspiration and ultimately goal of this whole little endeavour: to show different types of lights used in familiar scenarios, to establish and show any differences in plant growth. How does intensity of light really effect plant growth? How do different spectrums effect plant growth? Is there any practical advantage to tailoring your light recipes throughout your growth cycle?
Without actually going through the process of trial and error with real life plants you aren’t going to get any answers to these questions, so that’s precisely what will be happening here. Of course, this is by no means a clinical grade, laboratory style of endeavour, but more of a window into the array of possibilities that growing with different lights can provide. By showing what is possible with different light recipes and offering a few practical hints and tips along the way, hopefully we can all grow better together!
Setting up the LED Grow Lights
The first hurdle in setting up these lights, was simply wiring them together. The type of cable you need is one with five cores. Just seeing a five-core cable blew my mind – I am not even close to an electrician and had only just mastered the art of wiring a conventional three-core plug, although admittedly I still have to google which colour is which every time. Turns out though that the extra two cores shouldn’t have been as intimidating as they initially were. They simply provide the path for signals to be relayed between the LED fixtures and the main control box itself.
Once each LED fixture had been individually wired up, they were connected together and then joined to the brain of the whole operation: The DimController. As the lights need to be wired in parallel and a couple of layers of LED’s are being used, a few junction boxes are needed to do this.
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Once they are connected together properly, you need to tell the dimcontroller which LED is which, so you can assign them to banks and start controlling all the fun things like spectrums and intensities etc. This involves using the dimcontroller’s awesome touch screen interface panel. Through the intuitive menu you turn on and off each driver and assign it to the correct bank until the controller knows exactly which LED is which. Once this is done you’re are pretty much good to go!
Measure twice, cut once
My old man is quite handy when it comes to DIY. Methodical and precise, he could knock pretty much anything up from scratch if needs be. Measure twice, cut once: this was basically his mantra whenever he was tinkering away. A grow room demands a similar set of principles, not as far removed as you would think, particularly when it comes to actually setting things up on the first place. It is one of the most important stages to get right; getting something wrong here can cause problems the whole way down your growing life-line.
One of the first hurdles in setting everything up was simply where to place the fixtures onto the actual shelving unit. Before anything could be fixed in place, a bit of measuring was involved. The ideal distance between each strip needed to be found, so a nice uniform spread of light is created, without any spikes. This is an extremely important part to get right! Double checking and then triple checking each point may seem annoying but pays off in the long run!
The optimum distance between each strip needed to be found to create this uniformity. To do this the lights were initially placed upside down on the shelves that were being used, and then readings were taken with the fixtures at various distances from each other. Once the distance had been found to give the best uniformity for the area, points were marked out and holes were drilled.
One of the final problems to overcome: hanging height. Once they are all wired up and fixed with the correct distance between them, the height to the crop then needs to be deduced. With them being compared against one of the most common T5 lights currently used on the market, it was a case of measuring what the output of that was and matching the height of the LED’s accordingly. Now – bear in mind the LEDs are fixed to the shelves, so each time the height was changed actually involved a lot of huffing and puffing.
Fluorescent tube, T5 lighting systems are used by many a grower, particularly for early propagational periods. Having a broad spectrum of light, they are a very good all-rounder, especially considering the general retail price vs. performance. The fixture in use here is a 4-foot tube system that houses eight individual T5 tubes with each T5 tube consuming 54w, consuming 432w in total. With each LED strip consuming a maximum of 135w, the total wattage per shelf is (almost) identical, so the differences in spectrum and intensities should become nicely apparent.
So, with all the grow lights correctly hung in their final positions and the propagators now in, it’s time to get the show on the road! The only problem now is to decide what to do first! There are huge possibilities of what can be done with these LED’s so seeing exactly how they perform is something you really don’t want to miss.