Farmers have for centuries complained about the fickleness of Mother Nature. You can't count on the rain. You can't count on pests to leave the plants alone. You can't count on sunny days. Hydroponics growing systems bypass Mother Nature, with artificial methods of providing optimum growing conditions. Hydroponics lights are one of the best ways to manipulate growing conditions to create high-yield plants.
When you choose lights for your hydroponics system, you need to consider the part of the light spectrum each bulb covers, the heat output of the lights (which has an impact on cooling and humidity control), the cost, and the life of the bulbs.
Three different types of light are used in hydroponic grow boxes or growing rooms.
Normal incandescent bulbs provide room lighting and can be used to grow young plants. However, they produce heat and are not as effective as other choices. Although they are less expensive, they have to be changed more often, because they burn out sooner. An incandescent bulb lasts somewhere between 100 and 1,000 hours, whereas special high-intensity hydroponic lights last as long as 18,000 hours.
Fluorescent hydroponic grow lights - because they are cooler and gentler on plants - are a great way to provide light for seedlings and young plants. After plants reach about six to eight inches, fluorescents don't offer enough light to reach lower areas of the plants. Fluorescent grow lights are cooler than high-intensity lights and less expensive. They can be used for room lighting, too. You need to hang the lights about 12 inches above the plants for growing. These bulbs need ballast to control the electricity flowing to them, but many fluorescent lighting fixtures include ballast right inside the fixture itself.
High-intensity discharge (HID) hydroponic grow lights are the best lights to use for later growth stages of plants, and are necessary for best results. They are available with blubs that cover several different portions of the light spectrum to match the growth cycle. MH or metal halide bulbs provide blue-spectrum light for the earlier "vegetative" stage of growth. High pressure sodium lights (HPS) cover the red and orange portions of the light spectrum, and they are ideal for use in the flowering stage of the plant, encouraging plants to fill out and produce a rich crop.
High-intensity hydroponic lights use a large amount of electricity, and they require special ballast to control the amount of electricity that reaches the bulb. If you use HID within the confines of a smaller grow box, it's important to use a double insulated ballast. Different types of ballasts are available to meet different hydroponic lighting needs.
LED grow lights are high-intensity lights that provide a cooler source of light. About 15 watts of LED light is equal to 500 watts in an HID light. The advantage of these hydroponic grow lights is that they provide the light needed for flowering growth, without the heat. Hot hydroponic lights require a way to control heat and humidity. Some hydroponic light control boxes include controls for heat, humidity and CO2 levels, as well as timers to automate on/off cycles.
Other equipment needed for a hydroponics light setup: grow light stands, cords, meters, grow light movers and hangers, relays and conductors for controlling large amounts of electricity, reflectors to help direct the light and improve efficiency, and remote controls. Hydroponic grow light kits provide the basics to keep costs down and make choosing parts easier.
Lighting is not a place to skimp on cost, when it comes to your hydroponics system. It's one of the most critical factors that lead to higher plant yields. If you're going to take on Mother Nature and win the race, you need all the help you can get.