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BULB AND BALLAST REVIEW
The qualities of bulbs and ballasts are very important. The bulb spectrum, and ballast reliability, are of interest to the wise consumer. It should be noted that information concerning these factors may not always be current; quality manufacturers sometimes backslide, and often, problem-manufacturers make significant improvements. My recommendations are based on direct experience, and feedback from growers.
The ballast consists of the transformer and capacitor. The transformer consists of wire wrapped in a coil around a metal core, covered by metal plates which amplify the electromagnetic effect. The core and plates are not electrically active, although they are grounded to the enclosure box in case of accidental short. Therefore, exposing merely the transformer plates does not increase the danger of electric shock. The plates are laminated together, and the quality of this lamination determines to a large degree the quietness and longevity of the transformer. Air gaps, or bends, can create a loud humming. Extreme heat can melt the resins between the plates, creating air gaps which rattle. This heat also increases the resistance, which in turn increases the heat, leading ultimately to thermal overload. By reducing the heat and resistance of the transformer, more energy will be made available to the bulb. This means that the bulb will shine more brightly if the ballast is kept from heating up.
The Advance transformer company has made some improvements lately. They have reset the thermal switch in the HPS ballast; so the newer ballasts do not easily flicker off and on. The Advance HPS ballast has an average noise level. The Advance halide ballast is quieter than the average.
The Jefferson transformer company continues to offer an excellent price/performance ratio. The Jefferson HPS ballast is usually much quieter than average, although there will be an occasional loud one. The ignitor problem appears to be solved. The Jefferson halide is quieter than the average halide ballast, and is perhaps the best buy around today.
Sola ballasts manufactured within the last year are significantly louder — contrasted with previous years, and the industry average. The ballast prices are slightly higher than the average.
The GE ballasts continue to be high priced. The quality is high.
The halide bulb lasts an average of about two years, but the intensity diminishes with age. Most growers replace theirs after a year. The extra intensity and growth usually compensate for the replacement bulb cost. If the bulb is operated continuously, the heat will be increased. This may lead to thermal overload, and there is a chance in a million of non-passive failure. It is a good idea to run less than 24 hour days for the plant’s sake as well, as the incidence of hermaphroditism is sometimes increased with continuous lighting.
There are two main manufacturers of the super (125,000 lumens) bulb: Philips and Sylvania.
The Philips super phosphor halide bulb (MS 1000 C/BU) is the best for most plant species in most situations. The Philips phosphor bulb has more in the blue, yellow, orange, and red spectrum-- compared to the clear bulb. The blue usually performs many functions, such as prevention of stem elongation. Some species, or sub-species, like blue more than others. In most cases, the blue spectrum light is beneficial at all stages. The orange and red are the most efficient for over-all plant growth.
The Sylvania super phosphor halide bulb (MS1000 C/BU) has less in the blue, and more in the yellow, orange, and red spectrum (compared to the clear bulb). This means that in some cases, stem elongation may be increased. If your variety does not like blue, you may wish to try the HPS as the sole source of light.
The High Pressure Sodium light has a different construction, special socket, and a different ballast. The light produced is primarily in the yellow, orange and red. The Philips HPS bulb appears to have more blue, compared to the Sylvania brand. In many plant growing situations, the Philips HPS does a better job than the Syvania.
There is a special spectrum HPS bulb, called the Ultra-High Pressure Sodium. By having a higher pressure in the HPS arc tube, the orange and red spectrum is greatly increased, and the blue spectrum light is also increased. This results in a much better spectrum for plant growth. Unfortunately, this type of bulb is available only in 250w. GE is the only manufacturer at present, and their designation for this bulb is LU250/DX. Because of the lower wattage, I do not recommend this bulb for most overhead applications. The UHPS bulbs can be very beneficial as side-lighting from the corners of the room (with a lOOOw halide from overhead to provide supplemental blue).
THE WATERING OF PLANTS IN SOIL
One of the most common causes of difficulty is overwatering. The roots must have oxygen to function. It is best to have a well-aerated medium with good drainage. The soil particles should have a large surface area to retain a thin film of moisture, which means that there should be many air spaces and they should be well distributed. The objective is to maintain a proper balance.
The soil buckets should have holes in the bottom for drainage. I do not recommend placing a layer of gravel in the bottom of the bucket; if gravel is used, it should be distributed evenly throughout the medium.
Conventional pouring of water from the top may cause a few problems: leaching, compaction, and erosion. If a lot of water drains out and is not recovered, the lost water may carry valuable nutrients with it. The repeated impact of water from the top may compress the soil, resulting in less oxygen for the roots. Top watering may increase the air gap between the soil ball and the inside of the container. Since water seeks the course of least resistance, this means the outer portion of the soil ball will get the most water. Since roots seek out water, they will grow more in this area resulting in root circling. However, because the gap between the soil ball and the pot is the area most exposed to the air, it is also the first to dry out. This extreme drying of the roots will kill the affected areas. The end result of conventional watering techniques is a mass of halfdead roots on the outside of the soil ball, with scarcely any root growth in the dry, inner portions.
I recommend a tray underneath the soil container. This allows for bottom watering, the soil acting as a wick to draw the water upwards. This results in a layer of dry soil on the top, which discourages fungus and damping off. It is not necessary to have an individual tray for each pot. 10 mil white plastic can be used to line a wood trough, so that many pots maybe watered simultaneously. You may want to use a 4-way water distributor.
Another good way to go is drip irrigation. This means a plastic emitter going to each pot. I recommend ring emitters for more even distribution of water. The watering can be controlled by a cycle timer. However, because of varying conditions (heat, humidity, leaf surface area, etc.) a cycle timer may water when watering is not called for. To override a Gardena cycle water timer, a moisture sensor may be placed in the soil to prevent watering in moist conditions.
Just set the dial to the desired moisture level, and leave in place. A small electronic signal will be sent to the water computer cycle timer to prevent overwatering. I would not recommend for repeated use the probe-type moisture meter (which merely indicates the moisture level and does not hook up with the water computer). This repeated piercing of the soil ball tears the roots. Once it is known that a given soil ball has the correct moisture level (which is moderate), it can be weighed. From then on, simply weigh the soil ball (along with the plant and container), and add the correct weight of water. Be sure to compensate for the weight of the plant, which is increasing.
If you use trays beneath the pots, be sure to rinse the trays with clear water now and then. This prevents an unwanted build-up of fertilizers. A well adjusted drip irrigation system may not require trays. If just the right amount of water is added, very little will drain out the bottom of the container.
Seedlings and cuttings seem to need more water than plants in the late bloom stage. The interaction of UV-B radiation with mild water stress was studied by Teramitra, Perry, Lydon, McIntosh and Summers (Physiologia Plantarum 60:484-492; Copenhagen 1984). It was found that during the early stages of vegetative growth, both UV-B and water stress reduced total plant dry weight. Recovery was greatest among those plants which had previously undergone water stress, and which were given UV-B in their older (i.e., reproductive stage. This age-dependent effect of UV light is possibly due to a greater accumulation of flavinoids (i.e., the good stuff) in irradiated leaves. To water-stress your plants, simply withhold water until the point of incipient wilting. Then water thoroughly.
Where stressing the plants for potency is concerned, moderation is the key. However, if you do let a soil ball get too dry, there are a couple of tricks to re-wetting it. Place the soil container in a larger bucket with sides as tall as the soil container, and fill the larger bucket to the top with water. Soak for a while, then place the soil container back in the tray for drainage.
Pioneers on the High Frontier
searchlight speeding away toward the stars on a column of light until it abruptly blinked out. Nothing remained to show where it went or what might have become of it.
Dooby Reefer and the rest haven’t been seen since, but a lot of people expect them to come back one day. With that outrageous old outlaw, anything is possible...
Thank you so much for reading and following along with us these past few months! We are sad to see our Farmer in the Sky series come to an end.