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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Little Light Goes a Long Way

I stopped by my neighbor, Julie's, house the other day to exchange a few seeds with her and she gave me a couple tomato and jalapeno starts as well.

Seeing Julie's grow room system and the condition of her starts made me decide to put up a post regarding legginess and lighting.

Left, my pepper starts, planted about 2-3 weeks ago.  Right Julie's jalapenos, planted 2 months ago.

Left: my tomatoes, Right: Julie's tomatoes (the little ones in front are mine too.
In the photos above you can easily see that Julie's plants are much older than mine, but you can also see that they have a paler green color to their leaves, much longer stems between each set of leaves, and I'm actually holding the tomato up because its stem isn't strong enough.  So why the difference?  Light. 

I wish I had taken a picture of Julie's grow room, but sadly I'll just have to describe it.  She has one large set of fluorescents in a 4 bulb fixture above a wood shelf in a west facing window.  There is a second shelf below that one with no lighting.  The light fixture is suspended about 6-8 inches above the pots. 

All in all it isn't a bad system, but it's not adequate; the easiest way to tell that it's not adequate is the pale leggy look of the starts.  The light fixture she has would be perfect for the one shelf if it were positioned lower, but it does nothing for the lower shelf, especially since the wood shelves let no light from above down onto the plants below. 

So if you are having trouble with leggy, sickly pale green starts try adding more lights, bringing the lights closer to the plants (fluorescents are very cool and will not burn your plants even if the leaves touch them) or if possible the very best way to improve the health of your starts is to set them out in the sunshine a few hours a day.  Only do this when it's comfortably warm out though and slowly progress them from an hour or so to a full day in the sunlight.

Eggplants finally sprouted! (Only planted two though, WTF? Why are there three?)
 Just to add a quick update to things:  the past few days have been cold, rainy, and depressing.  The plants in the garden are growing very well and I'm waiting for my first harvest with bated breath.  I haven't been able to get the rest of my tomatoes started yet because there is no room under the grow lights, but the weekend is expected to be beautiful and I will try to get the pumpkin bed cleaned up and planted with pumpkins, beans, zucchini and basil.  Hopefully that will give me enough space to start the rest of the tomatoes.

More starts under the lights, I bought one Oregon Spring tomato in hopes of a very early harvest from it.
Keep your lights close to your plants, give them more light than you think they can bear, and good luck!



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