For those that have outdoor gardens, the thought of growing food indoors with artificial lights can seem like a ludicrous concept. Providing your plants with access to the maximum amount of possible sunlight is a basic strategy for increasing growth, and the sun is free. Purchasing and the operation of grow lights costs money, and gardening should save you money and provide you with resources, not cost money and use resources. So, are grow lights worth their cost and the cost of their operation?
Not to try to skirt the question, but it depends. If you live in an area that has little difference in day length throughout the year and relatively warm winter temperatures that allow you to produce in your outdoor garden year-round, or nearly year-round, then grow lights will not offer you the same benefits they will to someone living in a colder zone, but they will cost the same.
There are also a variety of products for you to choose from, on the low end you can get a small compact florescent light fixture for around $50. Compact florescent lights don’t use as much energy as incandescent lights and they provide plenty of light for vegetative plants, that is plants that are growing leaves, but they do not provide the necessary light for plants that are fruiting. On the higher end of the spectrum you can get LED grow light fixtures that can cost anywhere from $80 to over $600. Some of these LEDs use less energy than CFL and still are capable of producing all the light necessary to grow plants all the way through their fruiting stages, but at that point you need to start thinking about more than just putting a few pots under a light and the cost begins to rise in proportion to how long you want your plants under the lights.
If all you want to do is to extend your growing season, that is to start you plants earlier in the year when the sun is not giving enough light and when outdoor temperatures are not high enough yet, and potentially bring in a few perennial greens, then a grow light, even a CFL can be more than worth its cost, especially to those living in cold zones. Consider that 1 pound of fresh spinach can cost most then $5, and that a $50 light fixture that will last at least a few years can extend your season by more than 8 weeks and cost little to operate and you will begin to see just how worth it a grow light can be for you.
Even during the warm months, you may want to start seeds indoors to reduce the access pests have to seeds, this will reduce the cost of each crop.
Not everyone is offered the same amount of benefit from a grow light. If you have a green house or live in a zone with mild winters, then you won’t stand to gain as much as others. A little math may be necessary to determine if they are right for you, but no gardener should turn their nose up at the idea using supplementary lights.
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