The winter growing season is once again upon us, heralded of course by the arrival and passage of shopping season. I’ve been getting lots of questions lately about water chilling, Light Emitting Plasma, and aeroponics; so, I thought I’d help you all out by taking a look at these pieces of new technology that can really help your indoor growing adventure become even more successful…and give you an excuse to go shopping for yourself after the season officially ends…
The most proven of these new techs by far is that of water chilling. Basically, it’s just like an air conditioner except that it cools water instead of air. So what’s so cool about that, you ask? First, it’s more efficient than cooling air, in part because liquid water is some 900 times more dense than air. This allows it to carry much more heat away from and cooling to your plants and growing spaces. Second, where A/C is more or less limited to the space where you’ve installed it, with a pair of waterlines and a small heat exchanger and fan unit, you can use just one chiller to provide the cool breeze your plants crave in several rooms at once, and far away from where the unit is installed. Third, and this is especially important for you hydroponic growers, it’s the only practical way to chill the water your plants’ roots are bathing in.
True, they are a bit more complicated to set up initially, but the advantages quickly outweigh the costs with the ease of operation, relative simplicity and initial cost savings of not needing several different units for different spaces and applications, and of course their lower cost of operation. Last but definitely not least, it’s possible to save even more by placing the water chiller compressor unit inside your house during the colder months and take advantage of the heat it’s removing from your growing space by warming your living space with it!
LEP, or Light Emitting Plasma, is a relatively new technology that has some amazing promise. To tell you what it is, though, first I have to tell you what it isn’t. It is not LED. It is not ‘more efficient than LED.’ It is not ‘comparable to incandescent lighting,’ nor is it, at least as of this writing, inexpensive. LED lights gain their efficiency by emitting only in very specific frequencies, which is where they get their wild colors. While most do a good job of providing low cost and low heat illumination, some growers have found the narrow spectral bands have some unintended and undesirable side effects, like lankiness and lower yields.
HID lighting, including both the tried and true high pressure sodium (HPS) and metal halide (MH) systems, have some pretty severe limitations when it comes to the quality of light they produce. Rather than an even spectral distribution curve, these lights tend to produce the bulk of their light output in the yellow and green bands, which is only marginally useful to growing plants. From the standpoint of your garden, the most useful parts of the spectrum are what these bulbs produce the least of!
LEP addresses this by emitting an extremely broad and relatively flat spectral curve of light, closely mimicking natural sunlight - the very stuff plants have evolved to use most efficiently. Early adopters have reported being stunned by how quickly and sturdily their plants grow under this light, without yellowing, lankiness or stretch caused by heat stress (the LEP runs very cool compared to MH or HPS lights) or by spectral deficiencies. While currently pricey and mostly available in relatively low power outputs, these show incredible promise as the solution to really ‘bringing the sun inside’ your grow room! As an additional benefit these don’t wear out like HID lamps do, as some manufacturers are saying their systems are good for up to 70,000 hours of use. Even at their current prices (and costs will surely come down as the technology matures) you can rest assured you’re getting your money’s worth.
Finally, aeroponics is a tinkerer’s high tech toy poised to go mainstream. Long plagued by a reputation for being finicky, many of the problems associated with this approach are being solved. For one, because plants have no access to liquid water reserves in a fully aeroponic system, if the roots dry out for even a short time such as from a power outage, the plant dies. Uninterruptible power supplies from the computer industry have gone a long way towards solving this problem, as have better water pumps. Spray emitters, tuned to provide a fine mist of nutrient solution directly to the roots, were also notorious for clogging and starving the plants of water. Now, more advanced filters, cleaner nutrients and different approaches to providing the necessary nutrient mist look ready to deliver the promise of aeroponics’ efficient and explosive growth to the mainstream.
Make no mistake, this is nowhere near a ‘set it and forget it’ type of system just yet. On the other hand, much progress has been made to make these more reliable and effective, including so-called ‘hybrid’ systems, where aeroponic techniques are used together with more proven technologies such as deep water culture to reduce your crops’ vulnerability in case of clogs or power problems.
This is truly an exciting time to be an indoor gardener, with fascinating new technologies arriving in a constant stream. Some of this new gear promises to be revolutionary, while others may just turn out to be a flash in the pan. The key is to do some research on your own, learn about the advantages and the potential rough spots of these new approaches, and then take the best of what’s out there and put it to work for you in your own personal garden space. Until next month, good luck and happy growing!