Grow lamps were once massive, power-hungry, expensive and hot. Meet the amazing new LEDs.
As a self-confessed science geek I am fascinated by technology. Yet in the world of gardening this is often synonymous with the gimmicky (fibreglass meerkat solar light, anyone?) or the hugely complex and costly – think hydroponic growers that require a degree in electrical engineering to install. So it was with trepidation that I started experimenting with LED grow lights last winter in my tiny flat.
The new effective, cool-running grow lights cost a fraction of the old-school behemoths both to buy and to run.
Nine months down the line I am a total convert, eulogising about them to all my gardening mates. They are something I feel could be a gamechanger to many modern gardeners, if we could only get over our preconceptions. This is why…
Once upon a time grow lamps were massive, ungainly things – fluorescent tubes more than a metre long that required complex and hideous systems of stands, cables and reflectors. They were real power guzzlers, too, so not exactly great for the planet, or your wallet – which would already have taken a pretty eye-watering hit from the price of all the kit. They even kicked out quite a bit of heat, which apart from raising safety issues, could also damage the very plants you were trying to grow.
However, recent breakthroughs in LED technology have created a new generation of effective, cool-running grow lights that cost a fraction of the old-school behemoths both to buy and to run, consuming (according to some manufacturers) 90% less energy. Crucially, they have shrunk down enough to be easily incorporated into average living room decor, some seamlessly integrated into planter-cum-lamp designs.
Others are light and thin enough to be fixed pretty much invisibly into standard flat-pack shelves, turning existing pieces of furniture in my house into instant growing units. These LED lights are becoming increasingly widely available online and even at a certain Scandinavian home store.
But why bother in the first place? Surely part of the pleasure of getting out in the garden is to escape the relentless march of technology into every aspect of our lives. Well, here’s what my little experiment has done for me: I was able to grow houseplants in parts of my dark, urban flat that I never could before. This is a huge bonus to an obsessive plant collector like me, and could make an even more dramatic difference to houseplant lovers in basement or north-facing flats where lack of light is a serious issue.
Also, come spring seed sowing, I started off a good six weeks or so earlier and got zero etiolation on my baby plants. Stronger plants, much earlier, meant I got a bumper harvest of tomatoes and chillies weeks ahead of time. And all of this for the cost of a couple of desk lamps than run on minimal power. Brilliant!