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Nico’s Nuggets: LED Grow Systems

Nico Escondido

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Hey Nico,
I just read one of your articles on the High Times website and I was wondering if there is a good LED company that you could recommend for a small home-grow of about 4-6 plants. It seems that there are many mixed opinions on whether or not they are worth buying. I have been doing a lot of research, and I believe that LED is better than HPS for my situation, but I want to make sure that I buy a quality light. Thank you for your time. — Jordan B.

Greetings, Jordan. Thanks very much for reading HT and for taking some time to write in to us!

You have asked a question that I get asked probably a couple of times a day from readers. And you are correct when you say there are many opinions out there regarding LED lamps. In fact, this summer, High Times plans to publish an article that reviews all the newest lighting technology out on the market today, including LEDs, plasma lamps, and induction lighting. It will surely be worth checking out.

As for me, I have strong opinions about horticultural lighting and would say that photobiology is perhaps my favorite niche of plant sciences. I will not try and dissuade you here from buying an LED lamp, and perhaps for a small garden like yours it is appropriate, but I will share with you some facts that I have uncovered in my own research.

To start, you ask about buying a quality LED lamp. The answer to this is based on your word choice: quality. Grow lamps offer both light quality (spectrum) and light quantity (photon energy). Much of the research out there when it comes to LEDs seems to be misinterpreted or misrepresented. For light quality to be at it’s maximum, the lamp must provide full spectrum light. Many LED lamps claim to be full spectrum, but they are not. If the light emitted from the lamp is not white light, as it is from the sun, then it is not a full spectrum lamp.

Other LED manufacturers will try to convince you that their lamps provide the optimal spectrum plants need most, and thus their products are heavier in red or blue wavelengths. These are the lamps you see emitting purple or pink hues on plants. Unfortunately, regardless of what manufacturers may argue, science has proven that plants do, in fact, need full-spectrum light. Now, it is true that plants may not need each spectral wavelength in even quantities, so there is an argument to made there, but the argument that plants need red and blues most is not true. The truth is that red and blue wavelengths are least abundant in the Sun’s natural light, thus plants on Earth have evolved to be more efficient in absorbing and processing those color wavelengths, but by no means does it mean they only need those wavelengths or even need more of them.

The second issue to deal with is light quantity, or strength. This is also a huge issue for LED manufacturers as diodes are cheapest in smaller wattages and anything over a 5-watt diode tends to get pricey. This is why the best LED lamps on the market are approaching $3,000. When it gets to that range, the energy costs they are saving you annually barely outweighs the cost of the lamps, thus as LED lamps gets better, they lose their competitive edge in the market place.

Very soon, if not already, LED companies will begin pushing out HI-LED lamps, or high-intensity LEDs. These lamps will utilize flat, chip-like diode that offer much higher wattages and we hope to cover one or two of this in this summer’s article. But for now, I have seen nice results using brands such as Stealth Grow, California Lightworks, Blackdog, and LumiGrow. Most, if not all, of these brands also offer smaller units that are excellent for supplementing HID lamps for better plant development. Of course, if you garden space is small, using both types of lamps may be problematic!

Thanks for reading everyone and remember: Grow… And help the world grow, too!

Got questions? Email ‘em over to Nico at Edit.Grow@hightimes.com and be sure to put “Nico’s Nuggets” in the subject line!

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