Welcome to fluorescent lighting…
First, let’s talk about the glorious world of fluorescent tube lighting.
There are currently three major standards worth caring about, T12, T8, and T5
The T12 lights are what most of us are used to. The thicker bulbs that we know and love. These are your cheapest option.
Unfortunately they’re also the worst option from a light output and efficiency perspective. An average Warm White T12 4′ long will dump about 2025 Lumens at 34 Watts.
Rudy’s Short Winded Explanation: Lumens is a measure of how bright the light is. Temperature is a measure of what color the light is. And Watts are how much power it takes up.
T8 lights were brought out to replace T12s with more efficient bulbs. They’re smaller than T12s around, and aren’t all THAT much more expensive. An average Warm White T12, 4′ long, puts out 2800 lumens at 32 Watts.
T5 is the new and improved version, and the most expensive. That said, they put out an astounding amount of light at 3500 Lumens while drawing 35 Watts.
Throughout this article I’ll use a few standard terms for light temperature, which is really just the color of light, or the spectrum it’s in.
Warm White – This is about 3,000 K, but may vary a couple hundred one way or another
Cool White – This is about 4,300 K, but may also vary a couple hundred one way or another
Daylight (also known as Tropical Daylight) – This is pretty much always 6,500K, but can occasionally vary.
Phase One … Let’s Get This Party Started!
In the beginning, seeds don’t need much except for warmth and moisture. So pop them in whatever you’re going to use and add supplemental heat from the bottom (a tip on that in a future post) if you care to, and wait for a few days.
It’s a good idea to have some light going here too, but it’s not ABSOLUTELY necessary yet. But in all honesty, I start the lights here.
Phase Two … Flip That Switch!
Once the seeds have germinated and you see a little bit of the sprout coming, you need light. And a bunch of it! For best results in this phase you want to use a mix of Warm and Cool White light. I typically use two fixtures, with alternating bulbs so everyone gets good coverage.
Phase Three … Grow On!
After your sprouts have formed their first true leaves it’s time to provide them with the good stuff. This is when you use the Daylight bulbs and go to town. Switch your bulbs to all 6500K lights and go for it.
A few hints in closing:
- Light Distance – It’s important to keep as much light on the plants as possible. Light fades with distance. Keep your lights a few inches above the tallest plant. It follows logically that you’ll want to keep plants of similar height together so they all get lots of light.
- Prevent Weak and Leggy Starts – Keep a small fan going gently over the sprouts. This will prevent mold and rot, and will help the sprouts get big and strong. This is how you end up with nice sturdy thick stems. Keeping the plants close to the light is also a major factor here, but I already mentioned that in the last one.
- Lots of Light Please! – Aim for 16 hours of light a day. Use a timer. Don’t try to remember yourself.
- Don’t Be Afraid Of Heat – Adding a bit of supplemental heating can work wonders. It’s like making your own greenhouse inside. The growth difference between 75 degrees and 85 degrees for a summer plant is amazing.