I was first introduced to LED grow lights in Alaska when I went to visit garden writer Jeff Lowenfels. He had one little pepper plant under an LED grow light, and let me tell you, that plant was blooming and fruiting like nothing you've ever seen. He invited me to count the number of peppers emerging from the plant; I lost count after twenty. And you have to think about what it's like to crave fresh produce in Alaska, where everything's got to be shipped in or grown in a greenhouse most of the year. I could just see what those bright, spicy peppers would mean on a dark, cold, short Alaska winter day.
So when I got one of these Sonnylight LED grow lights to try out, I had already bought into the concept. The LED lights are highly efficient–lasting 75,000 hours or about 15 years (according to Sonnylight's website), and a unit like this costs less than $1 per month to operate–not exactly an energy hog. They give off no heat, meaning no wasted energy and also no risk of scorching the plants.
And–here's the key thing–those red and blue lights? They change depending on the light needs of the plant. You use these programmable buttons to tell the light what kind of plant you're growing–does it fruit or just leaf out, for instance–and it will adjust the red/blue wavelengths to give the plant the kind of light it needs most as it moves through different phases of growth.
Below is the kitchen garden unit. The light moves up and down its post so that it can be raised up to 28 inches high as the plants grow. No tools are needed to adjust the light–it's got a clever rubber thingy that holds it in place, and you just gently rock the light hood back and forth to raise or lower it. I didn't have anything particularly rare or unusual I was trying to nurture through the winter, so I put some pots of herbs under the lights–cilantro, parsley, etc–just to see how they do.They look great and I love that I've got lots of leaves and no flowers.
You can also get the light by itself to hang on wires and suspend above, say, a larger houseplant or an indoor citrus tree.
And one more thing–every bit of the packaging can be composted. All of it. No plastic, no styrafoam. Reusable (or compostable) cloth bags protect the sensitive bits, and it's all packed into this cardboardy stuff that will quickly become worm food.
Oh, and it just takes a couple of minutes to put together–no tools needed, except for a little Allen wrench, which is included.
So. What do I think? Well, frankly, it's a pretty awesome little gadget. Well thought-out, nicely designed, simple to use, all that. And unlike shop lights, it's slick and pretty enough to sit in the kitchen or living room.
The only thing that's going to give most of you pause is the price. At $300 ($250 for the hanging version), this is not a casual expenditure. I try to justify larger garden purchases by amortizing them over time: if this light lasts the expected 15 years, that's $20 per year, plus a miniscule energy cost. From that perspective, it seems like $20 per year could buy me a lot of fun in the winter.
Now, keep in mind that the real benefit of this kind of LED light as opposed to the $40-$50 versions you might see in hydroponic shops is that the colors change to encourage the kind of growth you want. Seed-starting, vegetative growth, flowering, fruiting–you can change the light settings, or let the pre-programmed settings change over time for you.
I'll definitely start some seeds under this light in early spring, and since I've used the shop lights before, I'll have some basis for comparison. And I might try detaching the light and hanging it above one of my indoor citrus trees, too, just to see how that goes. I'll report back.
What are your thoughts about these LED lights? Let me know.
AND–I think–I think–we have one of these to give away, but as of this very moment I haven't confirmed it. So don't comment to win at this moment–I'll do a separate post if, in fact, we can give one away.