NOW:53208:USA01012
http://widgets.journalinteractive.com/cache/JIResponseCacher.ashx?duration=5&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdata.wp.myweather.net%2FeWxII%2F%3Fdata%3D*USA01012
34°
H 36° L 34°
Partly Cloudy | 5MPH

Blue Bungalow Farm

Heather Zydek writes about life on the east side of Tosa.

Vanishing Bees

Bees, Colony Collapse Disorder, beekeeping, apiculture

Growing up, I was absolutely terrified of "bees," the name I used for a variety of tiny monsters with dreaded, piercing stingers and stripy yellow and black backs. I was destined to get stung, I reasoned, if one of them came near me. As a child I was always afraid of any creeping, crawling thing, but my exceptional fear of bees and wasps was sealed when I was about seven years old. One evening, I bolted outside the second the last bite of dinner was consumed so I could ride my bike in the waning hours of daylight. As I pulled my bike out of the garage, I unleashed the wrath of a yellow jacket. It chased me up the sidewalk until my hero arrived: Jack, the burly tough-guy next door, who lifted one gigantic work boot and smashed the creature underfoot. 
 
I spent my entire childhood running in this manner from bees and their kin. While conventional wisdom holds that a person confronted by a bee should stand like a stone, lest flailing arms and screaming scare an insect into stinging behavior, I held firm to my own belief that running was a more effective evasion method. And it did work for me – over the three and a half decades of my life I have never been stung.
 
I held on to my fear of nearly all creatures of the order hymenoptera for a very long time. That fear worsened as I grew up and read books like A Taste of Blackberries, in which a young boy dies from an allergic reaction to bee stings. My grandma is allergic to bees, so I figured that I might be, too. All the more reason to flee on sight of any yellow-and-black-backed insect.
 
A few years later, I met my husband, a man with almost no fear of bees. He spent hours as a boy trying to capture them with honeyed jars and, unlike me, was able to distinguish between a honey bee and a yellow jacket wasp. When we were hiking and confronted a fuzzy bumble bee, he'd try to pet the thing. I later had three children by this man, and amazingly, they displayed the same bee-loving behavior. My firstborn daughter so loved the little creatures that she continued to try to capture them as pets, even after she was stung. 
 
Having children who spent hours at play turning over rocks in search of arthropods piqued my own curiosity about all insects, including bees. So I bought an insect field guide and began to learn the difference between the "gentle giant" bumble bees and the aggressive hornets. I learned that the horrifying Ichneumon wasps with their excessively long stingers have no interest in humans (their "stingers" are actually ovipositors used to inject eggs into the insect prey they parasitize). The more I learned, the more my fear melted away. That fear was replaced by enchantment, curiosity, and fascination. My husband's macro-photos of insects, including various bees, helped me to see the beauty of their world. Here's one of his photos, of a bumble bee pollinating a flower:
 
 Photographer: Steven T. Zydek
 
Soon, I became interested in honey bees in particular, due to their manifold virtues. Honey bees are amazing creatures. They are organized in a way that suggests high intelligence, though their human-like civilization is more innate than learned. Bees are crucial pollinators. Without them, many of our most prized fruits would not, well, come to fruition. And of course, bees provide us with delicious honey and fragrant, useful beeswax. The more educated I became about these creatures, the more I loved and respected them. 
 
Naturally, then, I was disheartened to learn about the recent rise of what has been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder. Honey bees, it seems, are disappearing. CCD is a mysterious and potentially disastrous dilemma. Bees aren't simply dying overnight, leaving their corpses in mounds around their hives. If this were the case, perhaps it would be easier to trace the source of the problem. Instead, worker bees – the small female honey bees that collect pollen to feed their young and care for the queen -- are simply disappearing, flying off in confusion and dying when they can't find their way back to the hive. The disappearance of workers ultimately causes a hive to collapse over a span of a few months.
 
Many theories have been bandied about as to why the bees are disappearing, from climate change to cell phone radiation to industrial beekeeping methods and even supernatural phenomena. A couple weeks ago a study was released that again pointed the finger at cell phones as the culprit, indicating that their signals are confusing and killing bees. So stated this article shared across social media.
 
But cell phones are not the real cause of CCD, say beekeepers interviewed in Vanishing of the Bees. We recently viewed a screening of the documentary at Unity Church in Wauwatosa. The film largely blames neonicotinoid pesticides as the cause of CCD. These chemicals work not by being sprayed on the leaves of crops, but within the system of the plant (hence the name "systemic pesticide"). Theorists point to treated plants as having a detrimental effect on bees, who do not die instantly after exposure but bring tainted pollen back to the hive. Over time, larval bees, who have been reared on toxic pollen, grow up confused and disoriented and are eventually incapable of leaving the hive without wandering too far and dying. 
 
Abroad, some beekeepers and apiarists are so certain of the link between systemic pesticides and CCD that they have worked to successfully ban neonicotinoids. Cf. http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/about/intheworks/ccd-european-ban.html and http://www.bayer-kills-bees.com/.
 
In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency will not take a strong stance against neonicotinoids as the cause  of CCD. They say research isn't conclusive enough to institute a ban. Why? According to the film, studies conducted by chemical companies stating that neonicotinoids were not harmful to bees (adult bees did not die within a few days of exposure to these pesticides) were submitted to and accepted by the EPA as proof that these pesticides are not causing CCD. Here's the EPA's statement on the issue.
 
Whatever the cause, if CCD continues it may have a devastating impact on humans, as well as bees. According to the film, bees are required to pollinate a third of the food we eat, from fruits to tree nuts and many things in between. Without ample honey bees, farmers are required to ship bees out of state to do the pollinating of select food crops, causing food prices to rise. Without any bees, we will simply not be able to enjoy many fruits, nuts, and seeds. Can you imagine a world without apples? Pumpkins? Sunflowers? It boggles the mind to think of the impact of the death of honey bees. In addition to the threat to many of our staple foods, Colony Collapse Disorder is perhaps symptomatic of environmental toxicity that is bound to have an effect on all life – human included.
 
What can be done to stop the death of bees? Until the cause of CCD is determined, it may be difficult to completely eradicate the problem on the residential level. That said, there are things any citizen can do to help protect bees. Find (or host) a screening of a documentary like 'Vanishing of the Bees' or the similar film Queen of the Sun. Plant bee-friendly plants in your yard, like sunflowers, pumpkins, and bee balm (Monarda). Cease from killing dandelions and clover in your grass – they are important food sources for pollinators like honey bees. Commit to keeping your yard chemical-free. Don't fear honey bees – they help us survive and make the world a beautiful and healthy place. They rarely sting humans unless bothered. Take a beekeeping class through the University of Wisconsin Extension's Urban Apiculture Institute. Lobby the government and the EPA to work harder toward finding the cause of CCD.
 
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, educate yourself about insects. Know your bee and wasp varieties and avoid killing honey bees (if you see a swarm, DO NOT spray it with pesticides – most people fail to realize that bees are at their most tame when they are swarming. Call a local beekeeper and he or she will collect the bees for you). As citizens we have to stop believing the hype about "bugs" and learn to tell the difference between beneficial insects (without whom would mean certain death for humans) and true "pests." 
 
Here are a few more bee-related resources:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Accidental Hot Composting

hot composting, composting, passive composting

In my last blog post, I shared some of my knowledge about composting in honor of International Compost Awareness Week. I began composting in 1999, when I bought my first bin (something along the lines of this). Composters like my first bin are often touted as a way to achieve "hot composting" – the black plastic container absorbs heat, or so the ad copy goes, thus encouraging organic waste to "cook" into rich black compost.  

 
As I explained in the aforementioned blog post, hot composting occurs when wastes rich in carbon and nitrogen are mixed in the right proportions (30 C : 1 N). A few scoops of soil or finished compost (for the microorganisms within) are thrown into the mix. The pile is kept moist and well-aerated and, if one is lucky, the bacteria in the pile will begin to consume like maniacs. They eat and breed in such a frenzied manner that they generate heat in the process. This heat is a sign that waste is breaking down rapidly. 
 
I have no idea if my first compost bin really worked – sure, the waste I put inside broke down, but when I tried to remove it a year later the receptacle fell apart, and I never really found out if the compost heated. This is consistent with stories I’ve heard from other gardeners who have invested in expensive plastic composters only to find they broke or collapsed after a year or two of use. While not all of these bins bust so quickly, they can fail to deliver in their promises to cause the kind of heating that creates crumbly black "Gardeners' Gold" within three months’ time. 
 
A few years after my disappointing first run with hot composting I opted to try passive composting. With passive composting, you basically throw stuff in a pile and let it rot for a year. You don't aerate by turning the pile, nor do you water the pile; you simply let nature take its course and enjoy a small amount of compost each spring. In 2003, my father-in-law built me a two-sided bin with an open top, removable wooden slats in the front, and chicken wire sides. I've been passively composting ever since, harvesting compost once a year.
 
That is, until about two weeks ago. That's when, despite the cold and rain, I discovered that my “passive” pile out back had accidentally become a hot pile – so hot, in fact, that it has been steaming for over a week. Here's a photo in which I almost captured the faint vapor rising one cold morning when I dug into the pile:
 
 
 
A hot compost pile is desirable because (A) heating causes compost to form much faster – it only takes about three months; (B) the quality of the compost is higher because of all the additional microbial activity encouraged; and (C) weed seeds and pathogens are "cooked" through the pasteurization process that takes place in the pile.
 
Accomplishing hot composting can be tricky. Most believe they fail to generate heat because their pile isn’t getting enough sun or warmth, though my case is proof that these variables have little to do with hot composting. My pile is in a shady spot in the back of my yard, next to an ash tree. The day I first found it steaming it was about 45 degrees Fahrenheit, extremely windy, and overcast. Not exactly the scorching day you'd expect would cause yard waste to heat. Nor is my bin made of heat-absorbing black plastic, which many companies claim is an important factor in successful hot composting (cf. this model, which advertises that "this high-performance tumbler is made of 100% recycled plastic in a heat-absorbing black color which helps compost 'cook'").
 
I'm not 100 percent sure what I did to cause my pile to heat, but I do have some theories:
 
(1) The pile is big. The whole thing is at least 3’x 3’x 3’. I'm not sure if it's absolutely necessary to have a big pile in order to achieve hot composting, but it certainly helps, for two reasons: one, the greater the variety of waste I throw on the pile, the more I increase the likelihood of balancing nitrogen to carbon, and two, the more waste, the more for the microbes to eat. I currently throw any and everything I can compost into the bin, from yard waste to kitchen scraps (my own and those I’ve collected from neighbors and, occasionally, local restaurants). I throw in large amounts of dried weeds and dead leaves from the yard (for the carbon) as well as buckets of moist, nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps. This helps me get closer to striking that important carbon to nitrogen balance of 30:1.
 
(2) The pile has LOTS of sticks in it. In the past I omitted the sticks, as they take a very long time to break down and are a pain to pick out of my passive pile once a year. HOWEVER, I learned in my Master Composter class that sticks, because of their size, create necessary pathways in the pile for air. So I allowed a number of sticks of various sizes into the pile, which I believe helped to aerate it, thus reducing the need for turning (something I seldom do).
 
(3) The pile is very moist due to ample rain. One of the main reasons folks’ piles don’t' heat is because they dry out, especially mid-to-late summer. Compost piles need to be watered when it's not raining – especially if they contain a lot of carbon-rich materials like dead leaves. It has been raining a lot this spring – which has limited the amount of time I’ve been able to spend in the garden, but has worked wonders on my compost pile.
 
Of course, my happy composting accident has me revved up to try intentionally hot composting. So lately I've been checking the pile daily and have even started turning it with a pitch fork. It’s so fun to see all the black crumbly compost steaming in the center of the pile. If my hot pile keeps working so well I’m sure I’m going to have compost by mid-summer, which will offer a nice pick-me-up for the veggies and herbs growing in my raised beds. 
 
Do you have a question about composting or a composting success to share? E-mail me at gardensnotgarbage@gmail.com or leave a comment below. Or, stop by the Tosa Farmers Market on Saturday, May 28 at 11 a.m. and learn about composting basics at the Historic Little Red Store (7720 Harwood Avenue). 

Do You Compost?

composting, hot composting, passive composting, vermicomposting, worm composting, International Compost Awareness Week

If your answer is yes, you have my permission to skip reading this blog post.

 
If your answer is no, I'd like to make a special appeal to you: consider engaging in the simple, delightful process of turning organic "waste" into the resource it really is. This is International Compost Awareness Week, and in honor of the event, I'd like to challenge you to make a bold move to cease throwing kitchen scraps into the trash and instead give composting a try. In doing so you'll discover for yourself how magical (and how easy!) the act of composting can be.
 
Composting is magical because it takes garbage and turns it into a useable product – compost, also known as "humus." Humus is a crucial but often lacking component of healthy soil. Adding compost to the earth reduces the need for commercial soil amendments, as well as manufactured chemical fertilizers that can run off our properties and into the rivers and lakes, polluting our water supply. Compost adds nutrients and micronutrients to depleted soil, helps soils retain moisture, and reduces erosion. This allows us to grow healthier plants, from vegetables and fruits to native flowers and even grass. It can act as mulch and side dressing and can be used to make "compost tea." Compost can be purchased, of course, but it is virtually free, after start-up expenses, once you begin converting your own kitchen waste into this natural resource.
 
And composting really IS easy. There are three main ways to compost -- choose your favorite. The bottom line is that anything you do to return resources to the soil, rather than send them to the landfill, is an important contribution to environmental sustainability. 
 
The first method of composting I'm going to discuss is probably the most well-known. Hot composting is a technique whereby your aim is to "cook" your vegetable-based waste. Food scraps heat and thus break down faster into compost. Contrary to popular opinion, a pile doesn't necessarily heat because of the sun or summer temperatures. It heats when beneficial composting bacteria go to work inside a pile, heating it to degrees upwards of 160 F. This pasteurizes the pile and creates high quality compost quickly – the total turn-around time is about three months when a pile properly heats. 
 
While this is a fantastic composting method, it can be tricky to get a pile to heat. Heating requires a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30:1 in the waste. Carbon rich materials include things like dead leaves and hay. Nitrogen rich materials include fresh-cut grass, vegetable scraps, or manure. Many say a good rule of thumb is to mix two parts carbon-rich "brown" materials with one part nitrogen-rich "green" materials. In order to heat, the pile also needs to be adequately moist (about as wet as a wrung-out sponge) and it needs to good oxygen flow – aeration is encouraged through regular turning of the pile. 
 
Sounds fun, doesn't it? 
 
Um….sort of? I know I don't have time to do all these things. I would, of course, LOVE to see my big ol' pile out back get so hot it steams, but I know accomplishing this is no small task.
 
An alternative is what is called "passive" or "cool" composting. This is the outdoor composting method of choice for those who are extremely busy – or just plain lazy. I think I may have one foot in each of those categories, which is why this method works so well for me. The main difference between hot and passive composting is the amount of work that goes into it – and the amount of time it takes to create usable compost. For my pile, I simply dump waste into the bin. I try to layer the types of waste I add – for example, if I dump in nitrogen-rich veggie and fruit scraps I will cover them with carbon-rich dead leaves. I do this to help the carbon-nitrogen balance and to cover any offensive-smelling waste that might attract flies. Occasionally I will also turn the pile, although I admit I don't do it often enough to call it "hot" composting.
 
Interestingly, right now my pile is so big that it seems to be heating, despite my laziness. If it heats, it will compost faster. Otherwise, the compost from a passive pile is typically ready in six to twelve months. I usually harvest compost in late spring, just as I'm preparing my vegetable beds. 
 
One caution: if you choose passive composting, avoid adding weed seeds to your pile. Though most weed seeds will be destroyed by heating, without the heat the seeds may survive the composting process and end up sprouting in your gardens.
 
The third method is worm composting, AKA vermicomposting. I've written about in the past on this blog and I own a small vermicomposting supply business; I encourage you to peruse those resources if you want to learn more. Vermicomposting is my favorite composting method, simply because it's fast, can be done indoors year-round, and produces a superior compost that plants love. Worm composting creates finished compost in approximately two to four months.
 
With all three methods, avoid adding meat, fish, poultry, dairy, and other animal products, as these wastes create offensive odors and can attract pests. Also avoid adding heavily processed and salty foods, charcoal briquettes and ashes, and dog and cat feces. Paper products are OK – throw those coffee filters and paper towels in with your fruit and vegetable waste. They'll break down quickly in a compost bin of any kind.
 
As for composting systems, you can invest in an expensive commercial compost bin, and if you want to do this, more power to you. Just make sure you read as many user ratings as possible before spending money so you have an idea of what to expect. Of course, you do not have to buy an expensive commercial bin to compost. There are plenty of plans for bins, ranging from a simple cylinder made of chicken wire to more complex wooden systems. You can also use concrete blocks to build bins. The Wisconsin DNR has a nice site with composting resources, including info on types of home composting bins. Check it out. 
 
My passive bin is made from scrap wood and chicken wire, which allows for decent air flow around the pile. Wooden slats in the front slide up and out when the time comes to remove the compost. The two sides allow me to focus on adding waste to one side at a time; when the first side is ready, I remove any unfinished materials and place them in the other side, then begin adding new waste to the second side.
 
 
 
 
 
If you are unable to compost yourself, you may be able to find a neighbor to help you. I use my large bin to help neighbors compost. I also feed neighbors' waste to the thousands of red wiggler worms that eat garbage in my basement. 
 
If you can't find a neighbor to help you compost, locate a community composting collective, like the Milwaukee Community Compost Network. Or, start a collective yourself. 
 
If you have a big composting bin and not enough waste to fill it, you might consider offering to compost for your neighbors. You can also try to compost for local restaurants and grocers. There are many possibilities for composting. By working together, every community can turn their garbage into gardens!

The Joys of Nurturing Baby Plants

seed starting, growing indoors, garden journal

Every spring for the last three years I've started my own vegetable and herb seeds indoors. This year, I spent about half of the last day of March mixing growing media, prepping flats, and planting seeds. Two flats of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and lettuce are now growing in my cold basement under lights. Eight flats of tomatoes, eggplant, basil, peppers, and other heat-loving plants are in a mini-greenhouse that sits in front of my eastern-facing sliding glass doors in the kitchen.
 
 
In about one week I’m going to plant two more flats of seeds: pumpkins and sunflowers. I start these large, fast-growing plants indoors, even though the package directions say to sow them outside after the last frost. Why? I’ve heard slightly older sunflower seedlings, for example, don't taste as good to rabbits when they are a little less tender. By starting them indoors, away from hungry herbivores, and then transplanting them after the last frost, the critters tend to leave them alone.
 
The seed starter mix I use is based on the following recipe, inspired by Gayla Trail of You Grow Girl:
 
Combine equal parts of:
- peat moss OR shredded coconut fiber (I alternated between the two – both retain moisture; peat moss provides nutrition)
- vermiculite (ground up mica; expands and holds moisture)
- perlite (exploded volcanic rock; provides aeration)
 
I filled a five-gallon bucket with this recipe; at the end I threw in about a quart of worm compost. According to You Grow Girl, seeds don't need fertilizer until they've sprouted their second set of leaves (the first set of "true leaves"). A peat-vermiculite-perlite mix doesn't contain much nutrition for plants; it is ideal for seed starting because it is light and friable, but once the energy contained in the seeds is used up by the sprouting process, plant nutrients will need to be added by way of fertilizer and/or soil amendment. Hence the addition of worm compost: adding compost gives seedlings a little food in case they need it before I get around to adding extra nutrition. 
 
My 10-year-old daughter and I filled paper-based egg cartons I've saved over the last year with our homemade seed starter mix. We planted seeds in each carton and then placed the cartons in plastic flats.
 
 
I water by filling the bottom of the flats and letting the cardboard egg cartons soak up the liquid. This is preferable to watering from the top, which can be disruptive to the plants.
 
Seedlings are a joy, but they require work. Each morning I check on them – I make sure they are constantly moist and turn them toward the light if they are leaning too much. I keep a look out for mold in the greenhouse, which can grow if it becomes too humid inside. I thin out weaker plants. This allows selected seedlings to grow stronger, as they won’t have to compete as much for soil nutrition. (One tip I picked up somewhere along the way is to thin seedlings with scissors. Cutting off unwanted seedlings at the base of their stems, instead of pulling them up by the roots, can be less disruptive to the roots of the seedlings you want to keep).
 
Soon the seedlings will be far too large for the little egg-shaped pots in which they are currently stretching out their roots. So around the time I plant my pumpkin and sunflower seeds I will also transplant my other seedlings into larger pots – anything from reused 4” pots from old plant purchases to repurposed plastic food containers with drainage holes poked in the bottom. My biggest problem at transplant time will be figuring out how to make room for the bigger pots. Space in the mini-greenhouse is limited, so I will have to choose the strongest seedlings and discard the rest. It is so hard for me, though, to destroy viable seedlings, so I typically end up saving way more of them than I should. I squeeze extras into a second greenhouse I put up in my dining room window. 
 
In early May it will be time to harden off my tender babies: when the danger of frost has passed, I will give my seedlings time to adjust to the wind and sun outdoors by placing them in a shady spot for a few hours each day. Then I’ll bring them in at night. This will continue for a few days, until they are strong enough to be planted outdoors. 
 
Why do gardeners go to all this trouble to keep these tender baby plants alive indoors? Part of it is frugality: a packet of seeds costs only a couple bucks; from one seed packet you can conceivably end up with dozens of plants that would be far more expensive if purchased as seedlings. But there’s much more to this process than saving money. After all, time is money, isn’t it? Nurturing seedlings does require an investment of time.   
 
So it’s really not just about saving money – not for me, anyway. What started as an exercise in frugality has become a worthy spiritual endeavor. As seeds grow, I am able to observe and participate in the mystery of life. I nurture and serve these tiny, vulnerable creatures; they will eventually come to serve and sustain me when I harvest and consume their fruits. In their death they will bring forth new life when the remnants of their fruits are composted and used as food for a new generation of plants. 
 
This process is precious and sacred, and I enjoy every second of it.
 

More on Grow Lights

plant lights, indoor gardening

You may recall that a while back I posted an article on growing plants indoors under lights. The article recommended eschewing the purchase of expensive grow light systems and instead growing under simple two-bulb workshop ballasts, each with one soft and one cool white fluorescent bulb. These two inexpensive, readily available bulb types have just the right kind of light to stimulate plant growth. 

 
After posting  Read This Before You Buy Grow Lights, I received a couple of responses to the post, mostly from commercial vendors of grow lights of various types. I found one of those messages intriguing because it presented a concept entirely foreign to me: growing under LEDs (Light-emitting Diodes). Here's the letter sent by Alex McQuown, Research Director of  EcogroLED in Riverside, CA:
 
"Hi Heather, I read your grow light article and I thought I'd give you a few bits of clarification.
 
"Fluorescent lamps are actually a pretty poor choice for indoor gardening. The output maintenance for the bulbs is rather dismal (as is the lifespan of any electrode-based lamp,) the heavy amounts of green light actually interfere with some aspects of plant cellular division and maturation, and the phosphors are not hitting optimal chlorophyll absorption peaks (two in red and two in blue, plus another huge photomorphogenic peak in the UVB range and potentially a peak in the IR range.) Also, due to the low efficiency of fluorescent lamps (approximately 17%) a ton of energy is wasted.
 
"You'll be forced to change those bulbs out almost every year to maintain the brightest output possible. Canopy penetration is pretty dismal as well, with a typical T8 lamp only being as intense as the sun almost literally on top of the bulb - this means the usable photon flux density is within a very short range - about 8 inches from the light is the maximum usable distance before the umol level drops below usable densities.
 
"For just over a hundred bucks you could buy a 50w LED system that would've covered that entire setup, plus increased your productivity several times over, you'd (practically) never have to worry about replacement, and the coverage is out of this world….
 
"You should consider LED lighting."
 
* * * * * 
 
Unsure of how to respond, I forwarded McQuown's message to my UW-Extension Master Gardener Training instructor, Sharon Morrisey, who serves as a Consumer Horticulture Agent for the Extension. She was the one who taught us Master Gardeners-in-training that expensive grow lights aren't necessary for growing indoors. Morrisey, too, was unfamiliar with using LEDs as grow lights, so she communicated with her fellow "co-horts" at the Extension. UW-EX greenhouse manager Johanna Oosterwyk responded: she doesn't recommend LED grow lights for hobbyists, though she agreed with McQuown that LEDs are more efficient at the commercial level. Here's Oosterwyk's response:
 
"[McQuown] is right on several counts. An LED fixture is more efficient and can produce a better growth response than a traditional fluorescent, incandescent or HID fixture.  There are two reasons for this. First, the energy efficiency of LEDs is well established -- you get considerably more light energy per watt of electrical energy. Second, although individual LEDs are small and their output is moderate, they emit light in a very narrow wavelength.  Manufacturers use this as an advantage by wiring together an array of LEDs that emit in the wavelengths that plants absorb best (red and blue). As you guys remember from class, both blue and red are needed for specific development responses (germination and flowering respectively). So not only is efficiency increased in production it's increased in absorption and use as well.  
 
"However, I would still not recommend them to hobby growers. The initial costs are too high (though coming down) and for houseplants you just don't need that kind of radiation output. In addition, though you won't find yourself replacing bulbs every few years, when you do have to replace LEDs you will have to replace the entire fixture (or at least the entire light array), not just a single LED.  They are all wired together on an electrical board so it is not a simple matter to swap one out. LEDs are supposed to be long-lived, but their lifespan can be greatly reduced by over-heating, so an effective cooling mechanism is essential or you will be replacing your fixture long before the 50000 hours he cites.
 
"Also, I don't know anything about the quality of [EcogroLED]; for a comparable product look here: www.lumigrow.com...
 
"LED growth fixtures are new enough that manufacturers are still working out the bugs.  Which LEDs are best? In what combinations? Does the housing keep them cool enough?  It will be interesting to watch them develop and in the next 5-10 years. Maybe we will be recommending them to hobbyists. There's a large study being undertaken by several universities and Orbital Technologies of Madison (former students of UW Hort Prof Ted Tibbits) more info here."
 
* * * * * 
 
Did you get all that? I know. It's pretty complicated stuff. The bottom line, I think, is that the two-fluorescent bulb approach works fine for those wishing to give a few flats of veggie seeds a head start indoors in early spring. For anecdotal proof of this, check out the progress of my two flats of lettuce started in mid-winter. This is how my "Pablo Lettuce" seedlings looked on January 28:
 
 
And here they are now (see flat on far left):
 
 
I've already harvested some of this lettuce and it tastes great! 

Page Tools