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lighting systems

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HID lighting stands for High Intensity Discharge, which is a special type of lighting that is much more intense (brighter) than other types of lighting available. An HID lighting system consists of a ballast, reflector, socket and lamp (light bulb). The ballast acts like the engine, converting and driving energy to illuminate the lamp. HID lighting options include High Pressure Sodium (HPS), Metal Halide (MH), Mercury Vapor and Low Pressure Sodium. The two typically used for plant growth are HPS and MH systems.

MH lamps provide more of the blue/green spectrum, which is ideal for leafy crops, and/or plants that are in a vegetative (actively growing) stage. MH lamps provide a more natural appearance in color and are typically the choice for plants that have little to no natural light available. HPS lamps provide more yellow/orange/red spectrum, which is ideal for most plants that are actively fruiting and flowering. In addition, HPS lighting is the choice for growers looking to supplement natural sunlight. Ideally, the horticulturalist will use MH to grow their plants and HPS to fruit and flower their plants.

Traditionally, fluorescent lighting was used for seedlings, cuttings and plants with low light-level requirements and HID was used for established plants and plants with higher light-level requirements. Advances in fluorescent lighting technology, however, have provided more options for horticulturists. T5 fluorescent lighting is the latest in plant growth lighting. T5’s high-light output combined with its low heat and energy consumption makes it an ideal light source to grow a broader array of plants.

Frequency output to the lamp and energy conversion from electricity to usable light are the biggest differences between HID ballasts and electronic ballasts. HID ballasts produce a frequency of 60 Hz. Electronic ballasts vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but the frequency produced can be 400x that of an HID ballast. HID ballasts produce more heat than electronic ballasts, thus making electronic ballasts more energy efficient. You will not, however, save money on your electric bill by using electronic ballasts. HID lighting has been available for 60+ years, while electronic ballast (especially 400 watt and higher) is a relatively new technology.

Electronic ballasts are more efficient at converting electricity into usable light. Since your power bill is based on kilowatt-hours and not efficiency, a 1000 watt electronic ballast will cost you about the same as a 1000 watt HID ballast to operate.

An average lighting system will increase your electricity cost about $8 to $20 per month. The exact amount depends on the wattage of the system and the number of hours operated. To calculate your cost, multiply the bulb wattage X the number of hours of operation and divide by 1000. This figure is the number of kilowatt-hours of electricity used. (Example: a 400 watt lamp running for 18 hours will use 7.2 kilowatt-hours). Check your power bill for the cost of each kilowatt-hour. Then multiply the number of kilowatt-hours used by the cost of a kilowatt-hour (K/hr) to figure the cost to run your light for that many hours.

Lighting systems are available in a variety of voltages. The standard used by most gardeners is 120 volts / 60 Hz which plugs into a standard wall outlet. Other voltages may require special circuits and receptacles. Always contact a licensed electrician if the light you purchased has special voltage requirements and never exceed more than 75% of the rated ability of the fuse/breaker. (For example: use no more than 15 amps on a 20-amp circuit.)

HID systems are available in 120 volt, 208 volt, 240 volt, 277 volt and 480 volt – All at 60 Hz. Fluorescent lighting varies, but most are available from 100 volt to 277 volt and 50 Hz or 60 Hz.

No. Electric companies base your electrical bill on Wattage, not Voltage or Current. While ballasts wired for 240 volt will draw less current and run a little cooler than one wired for 120 volt, it will not save you money on your electric bill.

This depends on the type of plants and whether you have natural sunlight available to your garden. As a general rule, when you are in a vegetative stage of plant growth and you have no natural sunlight, run your lights 14-18 hours a day. If you have natural sunlight, it will vary because the sunlight may or may not be direct. It will take a little experimenting to find the best length of time to run your lights. If you are actively fruiting and flowering, the rule is to run your lights 12 hours a day if you have no natural light.

The higher the wattage the further away you want the light to be from your plants due to the amount of heat. HID lighting will be further away than a fluorescent fixture because of this. When mounting your lighting fixture take into account the type of plant and how tall the plant will grow. You want to keep the light as close as you can, but not so close to burn the plant. A simple rule is “if it is comfortable for the back of your hand, it will be a safe distance for your plants”. Doing a little research on the type of plant and where it comes from will help in determining how much (or little) light your plants like. With fast growing plants, you may need to check the hanging height on a regular basis as plants that get too close to the lamp will be severely burned.

The size of the garden area will determine the wattage you need. If we assume that the plants will get no sunlight, a 1000 watt light will cover about 7 x 7 feet of growing area. A 600 watt will cover 6 x 6 feet, a 400 watt will cover 4 x 4 feet, and a 250 watt will cover 3 x 3 feet. These sized areas would be considered the “Primary Growing” areas. These lights will light-up larger areas, but plants placed outside of the Primary Growing area, will stretch and bend toward the light; a phenomenon called phototropism. Keep these areas of coverage in mind when using multiple fixtures. The best results occur when the areas of coverage overlap.

A lamp that operates on the opposite ballast it was originally designed for. For example, a 940 watt conversion lamp is an HPS lamp that runs on a 1000 watt Metal Halide Ballast. There are also MH lamps that are designed to operate on HPS ballasts. These bulbs allow the grower to purchase the ballast of their choice and offer the flexibility of growing a variety of plant types by simply changing the lamp they need.

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