Winter is a difficult time for plant growers that are not fortunate enough to live in more temperate climates. To prolong the season, many growers choose to use indoor systems to replace the light source plants need most: the sun. For many hobbyists, the expense of high-quality grow systems might be enough to prevent them from bringing their passion indoors. Fortunately, an indoor growing system can be put together for less than $200 with a little help from your local home improvement center.
Determine Your Needs
Make a list of the materials you need by examining the types and amounts of plants you will grow. Do you have available floor space to place your new system? What type of shelving or workspace will you need? Will you be transferring seedlings into a greenhouse? To minimize your spending, try to source your racks, shelves and tables from garage and yard sales, or even by monitoring the free item listings on Craigslist.
Selecting Your Lighting
Many of the grow lights available on the market use high-pressure sodium or metal halide lights, which are excellent products for the price. However, a great deal of success can be had by traveling down a less costly route. Fluorescent two-bulb workshop lights, which can be found at any home improvement center, can be used with a wide range of bulbs to simulate the spectrum of light your plants need at varying states of growth. Depending on the size required for your grow station, work shop fixtures can be found in lengths from two feet to over eight feet long with prices starting around $8 for smaller fixtures.
The most critical factor is the bulb. To help whittle down the choices, look for bulbs that are labeled as "cool" or "cool white." Next, look at the label; there should be a number that ends with a "k" (example: 2200k). This is the color temperature of the bulb, or the warmth or coolness of a light source. This can help determine the type of light the bulb will emit. For most plants, select a 6500k bulb, which is as close to natural daylight as possible.
Putting It All Together
Once you have your workspace and your lights sorted, it's time to get to work. Hang the lights from your work area, leaving two inches between the top of you plant and the bulb. Any closer, and you risk burning the plant; any further, and your plant might not get the light it needs. You will need to raise the fixtures as your plants grow, so be sure that you have adequate headroom on the racks to accommodate them. Next, place a fan close by, and set it to oscillate. This will keep the air circulating over your plants, which will prevent diseases from sprouting and also helps the plants grow stronger roots. Once you have this all set up, maintain a schedule of watering and providing your plants with a few hours of darkness per day.