Poor man’s grow lighting

The days are shorter and the colder weather has arrived. The outdoor gardening season is long gone, and we’re months away from Spring planting. But that doesn’t mean you can’t continue growing indoors. Lettuce, peppers, and some tomatoes grow well indoors – if you have the right lighting.

One thing about plants is that they don’t care what generates the light. They only care what color spectrum is available and the intensity of that light. There are many variables of what light spectrum to imageuse based on what type of plants you are growing, but as a general rule, 6500k is good for vegetation growth and 2700k for flowering. Since I grow mostly vegetables, 6500k works for the entire grow cycle.

The ‘k’ at the end of the 6500k refers to the Kelvin rating. It’s often referred to as the color temperature. 2700k is warm light – a lot of reds are in the color range. 6500k is a very cool temperature – a lot of blues. The reason the cooler color temperatures are good for vegetation is because in the primary growing season, the majority of natural light is in this color range. The days are longer and the overhead sun lingers longer. Plants respond with extra growth.

At the end of the season, the days are shorter, and plants respond to the red light spectrum. You can get an idea of the red spectrum by looking at the sunset. The setting sun is low on the horizon and many of the color ranges are filtered out. The reds shine brighter and create a nice sunset of reds and oranges. The shorter days produce more of this light spectrum, and the plants are programmed to respond by flowering. Once plants detect the lower light days, they know the season end is near and they go into reproduction mode.

This is also why vegetables do well under 6500k light. They are always in flowering and production mode, so there is little need of warmer lights to trigger flowering.

Now that you know this, you also know how to make those potted plants bloom. And now you know how florists keep things in bloom. Flowering plants are grown into a mature size with cool lighting, and then brought into flowering with warm lighting.

But you aren’t reading this article to find out how to make your Christmas Cactus bloom. You are looking for a money saving tip or two. I might even give you three.

The inset picture is where I plan to grow some winter lettuce and possibly a tomato plant. Right now I am rooting some Venus Flytrap cuttings, but this will soon be done. In the spring, this will be my seedling chamber. (I know. I’m a plant geek.)

I tacked Mylar on the wall to shield out some of the cold (there is a window behind it) and to reflect more light onto the plants. The grow lights are 100 watt equivalent 6500k, and are mounted on a shelving board suspended on a pulley. This will allow me to raise the lights as the plants grow. The total cost for this package is a whopping $25.69.

This price doesn’t include the bulbs or the Mylar. I already had the Mylar, and bulbs vary in price depending on where you buy them. Let me say a thing or two about reflecting your lighting. It is obvious that the more light the plant receives, the better it will grow. One of the benefits of CFL (Compact Fluorescent Bulbs) is that it uses less electricity and produces less heat. Having less heat means you can get the light closer to the plant. The farther light travels, the more it diffuses, and the less your plants will receive. The purpose of the Mylar is to redirect as much of the escaping light back to the plant as possible.

Do not use aluminum foil. It is a very inefficient light reflector, and it has a tendency to create ‘hot spots’ that burn plants. I’m not sure why this happens with foil, but it is a plant no-no. Either use Mylar or a surface painted with flat white paint. Glossy paints can also create problems. I recommend Mylar, flat white, or nothing. Mylar is the most efficient reflective resource you can use. Here is a freebie tip for you. Mylar sheets cost $90 for 100×4 feet from a plant supplier, but you can get more sheeting for less than $9 at a survivalist supply store. The quality may not be quite as good, but your plants don’t care. On Amazon.com, you can buy a packet of 10 Mylar Blankets for $8.95. ASIN: B000GCRWCG. I have had good results using these.

Here is a list of supplies you’ll need to build a grow system.

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3-pronged 15 Amp plug connector $4.65
ASIN: B000FKBZ7M

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Splitter $1.62
ASIN: B009YAS3RE

(Optional, but recommended)

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Leviton Lamp Mount $1.66 x 4
ASIN: B000HJDAFQ

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15ft 14 gauge wire $10.89
ASIN: B0069F4CYU

Finally, something to mount the fixtures to. I bought a 6’x2′ shelving board for $1.89 at a local building supply store.

My Grand Total: $25.69

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Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take pictures when I built this system, so I’ll just have to detail it verbally.

Precision isn’t essential, so I just placed the lamp mounts on the board and lined them up so they looked centered and spaced evenly. I took a pen and outlined them. I then estimated where the wiring needed to come through, and I drilled a 3/8” hole inside each outline. I then took my wire and cut three pieces that could easily reach each hole with a little to spare. Keep in mind that it has to be long enough to thread to the connectors of the lamps on each end.

The fourth piece will be longer, since it has to be able to plug into an outlet. Strip about three inches of the outer coating on each end. If you bought the same wire as above, you’ll have three wires. The bare copper wire is the ground wire. Since these lamps don’t have a ground, pull the copper wire out of the sheath. You can cut it off, but since it is bare, you run the risk of creating a short, so I highly recommend removing it completely.

There is also a black wire and a white wire. The connectors behind the lamp mount have two sets of screws. See the picture below.

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The brass colored screw corresponds with the black wire. The silver screws correspond to the white wire. You’ll be daisy-chaining these lamp mounts, so you need to thread two wires through the holes you drilled. Very important. Don’t mix the wires. I know. For most of you, that is stating the obvious. But if someone isn’t mechanically inclined, this may be news.

Strip 3/4 of an inch off each end of the black and white wires. Take a pair of needle-nosed pliers and curl the ends of the wire. This will help the wire to wrap around the screw and make a secure connection. Wrap it around the corresponding color and tighten it firmly. I recommend leaving no excess exposed wire. Strip off just enough to make a secure connection with the mounting screw, but don’t leave exposed wiring extending away from the screws. If bare wire shows, clip it shorter and remount.

You should then have two black wires on the two brass screws, and two white wires on the two silver screws. If you want to be extra safe, place a strip of electrical wire over each brass connector. Never use any other tape except electrical tape.

Now press the plate flush against the board and mount it down with two wood screws. Make sure it’s flush.

The first lamp mount should only have one set of wires going to it. The second lamp mount should have two sets of wires going to it. One connecting to the first lamp and one going to the next lamp. Repeat the same process, connecting white wires to the silver screws and black to the brass screws. You may have to trim the outer sheath in order to make all four wires fit into the drilled hole. Mount the second lamp and move to the third.

On the fourth lamp mount, cut a new wire to the length you will need to reach an outlet or power strip. You could even buy a lamp connector to use as the outlet. Instead of spending the extra money, I decided to use the same wire and buy a three pronged outlet. You could also buy a two pronged outlet, since you are not utilizing the ground wire. Disassemble the plug and follow the same pattern. White with silver and black with brass. Keep any bare wire from being exposed. The last thing you want is an electrical experience.

If you have an ohm meter, you can test the continuity of the wiring. Or you could do what I do. Say a prayer and plug it in. It is a straight wiring pattern, so as long as you don’t cross the wires or leave any exposed wiring, there isn’t a lot to go wrong. I plug mine into a power strip that is turned off, put a bulb in one of the sockets, and flip it on. If it lights up, you are good to go. Keep in mind that all the sockets are hot, so don’t leave any open. And for goodness sake, don’t stick your tongue in one. After being resuscitated, I couldn’t talk for a week. I still can’t taste adverbs.

Either mount the board in a permanent location, or do what I did – screw two eye-rings on each end. If only one ring is used, the board won’t be stable. Instead, put eye-rings on each corner, them connect to a pulley system. Here is my mounting below.

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Don’t completely enclose the grow area with Mylar. CFLs do produce lower heat, but it can still build up. You want the heat to escape and air to circulate.

I plan to take the bare wire I pulled out of my cable and bend eyes on each end and use them to create a support for the Mylar. This will give me an eye to mount with a screw and round off the other end so it doesn’t tear the Mylar.

One last option is to split the sockets. If you use a y-splitter, it allows you to double the lighting and supercharge your plants. It also gives you the option to mix and match your kelvin ratings. When bringing plants to the flowering stage, some people like to add 6500k along with the 2700k lamps. This keeps the growth looking healthy while the plant flowers. If plants are under 2700k lighting for too long, the growth can begin to look leggy.

Visit our Suburban Store to purchase products mentioned in these articles.
Eddie Snipes 2012
Follow me on Twitter @SuburbanGarden1

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Poor man’s grow lighting — 4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Cheap Grow Room and Gardening Update 11/18/12 | Suburban Vegetable Gardening

  2. Pingback: Indoor Winter Gardening

  3. Hi,
    I’m trying to do a fun activity with my 3 year old by growing veggies from scraps (onion root, romaine stems ect.) I am unsure about what type of bulbs to buy especially because its winter in New England. I also don’t have a lot of money to invest either, so I’m hoping to use a couple old table lamps & a standing lamp. If you have any suggestions about what brand is best, please let me know! Thank you :-)

  4. Any brand of CFL bulb will do. Just look for 6400K bulbs. Most will be warm – 2300k or 3200k. 6400k will work best. 100 watt equivalent (23watt cfl) will work well and won’t cost much. Walmart carries them. Lettuce grows fine under this bulb.

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