Make sure you also read this post, where I studied the PAR of these lamps and realized they are not as good as I thought!
Several months ago I wrote a post about using high power LED cobs that do not require an external driver in order to build a high power DIY LED lamp. However I hadn't built a practical lamp using these cobs at that particular point in time so I just gave a general idea of why I would use these diodes and how the particular lamp setup would work. Today I want to talk about how to build one of these lamps in practice using an aluminum heat sink, a 150W warm white LED cob, a fan and some zip ties. The setup lacks the use of any adhesives and should provide you with roughly a 40-50% equivalent of a 1000W HPS. With two of these lamps you should be able to run the equivalent setup to 80-100% of a 1000W HPS in terms of PAR with around 60% less power consumption.
The idea of this post is to help you build a very affordable DIY lamp. However please note that this lamp involves work with mains voltages which are dangerous. Please familiarize yourself with all the precautions needed when working with high voltages. All the information herein in is provided as-is for educational purposes with absolutely no guarantee, either expressed or implied.
To build this lamp - showed above - you will need these materials (note that if your country uses another voltage you will need to buy the appropriate pieces for the voltage in your country):
Initially I wanted to build a lamp using a high power warm white LED cob by gluing the cob to the heatsinks using a thermally conductive glue. However the problem with this is that these glues very permanently bind the cob to the heatsink so if for any reason the cob fails you would lose the heatsinks because the cob would be bound to them. For this reason I decided to use zip ties instead, which provide an easy way to secure the entire ensemble and allow you to easily replace any failing part rather quickly. I used nylon zip ties but you can also use stainless still ones if you want the setup to be more resilient (although things will be harder to cut if you make a mistake).
To assemble the lamp I basically used 4 zip tie lines two horizontal and two vertical. For the lines that go the width of the heat sink I just had to use one zip tie but for the other two lines - that also go above the fan - I had to use two zip ties for each line (you can connect one zip tie to another to have a larger zip tie). You need to tighten the zip tie very hard to ensure the cob is in direct contact with the aluminum along all its length, you can also use some thermal compound (like the one you use for CPUs) between the cob and the aluminum heat sink for maximum heat transfer. The pictures below show you a bit better how I performed the entire assembly. When putting the fan on top of the heat sinks make sure the airflow is towards the heatsink (flow arrow in the case pointing down) and that the fan can spin freely).
Finally I connected the cob directly to the AC line by soldering the appropriate live/neutral cables to the connectors at the left size of the cob (in the above picture). I then covered the soldered spots with silicon glue to ensure that the connections were as electrically isolated as possible. Make sure you solder as small portion of wire as possible and make sure the wire makes absolutely no contact with the aluminum heat sink or you will have a short. I also soldered the fan cables to the live/neutral as well since the fan can be driven directly by AC as well.
Since you have the zip ties you can also use them to hang the lamp, you can also add screws to the fan screwing ports and use those to hang the lamp from the ceiling. When I turned on this lamp its power consumption was around 220W - measured directly from the wall - meaning that it consumed a bit more power than what was advertised (which is not uncommon for these cobs). Since my voltage is a bit higher than 110V - which is the minimum rating for this cob - I actually get a slightly higher light/heat output than someone using it at a lower voltage. The fan - which takes around 12-15W on its own, also contributes to this consumption level.
When you power on this lamp - image above (sorry about the camera not being able to handle the light intensity) - you'll immediately notice how the heat sink starts to heat up. I have tested the lamp through 2 hours of continuous operation up until now and the heat sink reached a stable temperature of around the 120°C (~ 250F), the final temperature you reach will of course depend on your ambient temperature and how well you assemble the components. It is however very important for you to test each one of these lamps for 12/24 hours to ensure that they don't heat up excessively. Nylon will melt at around 220°C so you definitely don't want your lamp to ever reach even close to that temperature (to be safer you can use stainless steel zip ties). However it is very likely that the LEDs will burn out way before this happens if your temperature rises too far. You can also add a second fan or use a larger heat sink if your temperature is too high.
In the end the setup is extremely simple to build and you can get roughly 40-50% of a 1000W HPS with one of these lamps. With two of these lamps you will run at around 450W which is 55% less power than an equivalent HPS setup. Although heat generation is no joke here, it is indeed much less than the comparable heat output of a 1000W HPS. With a cost of less than 80 USD per lamp you will be able to build these lamps at a far lower cost than the very expensive grow lights you can get online (which can often go for thousands of dollars for a single 1000W HPS equivalent). If you read my earlier post you will notice that I previously thought you needed 4 cobs to reach the equivalent of a 1000W HPS, turns out you only need two 110V cobs running at 120V!
I have made some PAR, lux and temperature measurements but I want to keep those for a future post where we will look at some of the spectral and thermal characteristics of this lamp vs other lamp types.
Most commercial hydroponic setups completely lack testing environments. The most common reason for this is that commercial crops are meant to produce revenue and a testing environment means dedicating space, time and money into something that might not be as productive as the rest of the production facility. Furthermore a testing room implies that you will need to create a completely independent setup and hire someone who knows how to do research in order to ensure it is both adequate and fruitful. Although many people believe this not to be worth it today I want to talk about the five most important reasons why I consider that a testing room is something incredibly useful to have as a part of your commercial growing facility and why getting one will probably pay off greatly for you going forward.
Testing product changes. Perhaps the first and most direct benefit to having a testing room is to ensure you can test product changes. It may be the case that your supplier for some particular fertilizer product or additive has ran out and you now want to test a new product to replace it. It may also be that you want to test how a product does compared to what you generally use but you don't know if it does better or worse. Most growers are afraid of change because making facility-wide changes that won't work could have huge financial consequences. A testing room ensures you can test safely and then roll-out changes slowly without having to risk your entire crop cycle to find out.
Optimizing what you currently have. Change is very rare across commercial facilities because growers understandably want to preserve their current results, even if some better results by making some change would be possible. This constraints growers from making incremental changes that might make their crops significantly more productive. By having a testing room you can optimize the setup you already have by making adequate research into optimizing things such as environmental or nutritional factors.
Trying potentially game-changing modifications from academic research papers. There are many papers published each year on how to increase the yields of hydroponic crops. Some of these papers offer somewhat risky and controversial changes that might not transfer well across species. However if something gives you the potential to increase your yields by say, 50%, it might definitely be worth trying across a testing setup. Obviously these things are too risky to try across an entire facility but a testing room would be perfect to help you try these new and exciting modifications, potentially giving you a huge edge versus all the other people who will never try this.
Try new plant varieties. Usually growers try new plants without having a clear idea of how productive they are going to be under their growing setup. This means that you introduce a new variety with a huge question mark regarding its productivity and potentially financial benefit or cost. A testing room provides you with a risk-free way to test how a particular plant variety will perform under the exact conditions in your facility, potentially allowing you to make far less risky decisions when it comes to making planting changes in your facility.
Research new ideas. A final benefit you can get from a testing room is that you can research your own new ideas. With adequate experimental design even a small room with just 10 plants can be used to test some ideas to see how they affect plant growth. This means that you can develop your own in-house growing modifications that will make it much harder for others to compete with you. For example if you developed a secret foliar additive in your growing facility it would allow you to only use this for your own crops, without the industrial secret ever being used by your competitors.
Of course there are many other advantages to testing rooms but the above are just some of the wonderful things you'll be able to do if you have a testing room and someone trained in scientific research who can help you design experiments and get the most out of it. A testing room also doesn't need to be huge and even starting out with 10 plants can be a huge step in taking your commercial growing facility to the next level.
Many hydroponic growers - especially large scale ones - can benefit greatly from mixing their own custom nutrients. Not only can this save money in the thousands of dollars per month but it can also give you an unprecedented degree of control when compared with store-bought nutrients. On today's post I am going to write about five important things you should know when mixing your own nutrients so you can avoid many common problems that can arise when you start preparing your own stock solutions.
More concentrated solutions are not always better. When you prepare a concentrated liquid you would usually want to go with the highest possible concentration factor so that you can prepare as much final nutrient solution as possible with as little stock solution as possible. However trying to get into higher concentration factors (1:400-1:500) can cause important issues due to the solubility of the salts used and the temperatures the stock solution will be exposed to. It can also cause high inaccuracies with variable injector setups since the dilutions will be much smaller. For starters go with a 1:100 concentration factor and only start going higher when you get more experience. If you're using injectors I would generally avoid a range higher than 1:250 unless you do more extensive calibration procedures with your injectors.
Impurities can cause important problems. Some salts can come with significant levels of impurities - sometimes mainly additives - that can cause substantial issues when preparing your nutrient solutions. Lower quality grade salts - mainly those used for soil fertilization or those that are OMRI listed and come straight from mining with no refining - can generate problems within your mixing process. These problems range from insoluble left-overs in tanks to toxic amounts of some micro elements. To ensure you get the best possible results use greenhouse grade fertilizer salts and try to avoid sources of salts that are OMRI listed. Synthetic sources that have been heavily purified are your best bet in ensuring the best possible results.
Use slightly acidic deionized water to prepare the solutions. Most water sources in Europe and the US are very heavy in carbonates an therefore inappropriate for the preparation of concentrated nutrient solutions as these ions can cause salts to precipitate when preparing concentrated solutions. To fix this issue the best thing would be to use distilled water but - since this is often not an option - the next best thing is to use reverse osmosis water and add a bit of acid (0.5mL/L of nitric acid, other acids may cause other problems) per gallon of concentrated solution. This will ensure that everything gets dissolved and will eliminate the carbonates that can be naturally present within the water. Of course never, ever use tap or well water to prepare concentrated hydroponic solutions.
Salts take up volume, take that into account. A very common mistake when preparing solutions is to just add the salts to the final volume of desired stock solution to prepare. This is a mistake since the salts also take up volume. If you want to prepare 1 liter of concentrated solution and you need to add say, 100 g of potassium nitrate, adding 100g of potassium nitrate to 1L of water would generate a solution with a final volume greater than 1L. To avoid this problem always add the salts to half the volume of water and, after the salts have dissolved, complete to the final volume of desired solution.
Add salts from the smallest to the largest quantities. When you prepare hydroponic solutions it is often better - especially when you're starting - to add salts from the smallest to the highest amounts needed. If you make a mistake at some point then you will minimize the amount of mass of salts that has been wasted due to this fact. If you make a mistake adding a micro nutrient you will only lose a small amount of the other micro nutrients instead of losing a huge amounts of macro nutrients due your order of addition. It is also true that the substances that are added in largest quantities are commonly nitrates and these salts have endothermic dissolutions - meaning they cool solutions upon addition - so it is better to add them last so that they can benefit a bit from the heat generated by the dissolution of the other salts.
The above is not an exhaustive list of pointers but it should save you from some important trouble when preparing your own initial nutrient solutions.Although some of these points may seem obvious to those that have experience preparing their own solutions they may prove invaluable to those who are just starting their journey in concentrated nutrient preparation.
One of the worst problems you can get in a hydroponic crop is mildew. Year after year I see growers lose significant amounts of production due to this disease within a variety of different crops. Powdery mildew reduces yields, stunts plants and - if contracted early on - will possibly cause a complete loss of your crop. It is generally hard to control once it gets in and it will expand like wildfire through any commercial growing operation. Today we will be discussing how to actually prevent mildew from ever appearing - without using toxic fungicide applications - and why prevention can play a huge role in ensuring you never have to face this problem in the first place.
Fungal spores are generally carried by the wind and by insects, making it very hard for a crop to avoid ever coming into contact with the pathogen. Wild plants or plants from other commercial crops close to you will most likely have the disease and millions of spores will get in the air and eventually reach your plants. It is only a matter of time till the powdery mildew reaches your crops - almost impossible to prevent - so you must make sure that your plants are strong enough to prevent the pathogen from taking hold.
There are two main factors that affect whether powdery mildew will infect your plants. The first is plant strength and the second is the environment. If one of these two is not at its best then your plants will fall prey to this fungal disease. Neither strong plants under bad environmental conditions nor weak plants under ideal environmental conditions will be safe from the disease. So what can we do to ensure our plants are healthy and our environmental conditions are safe?
One of the proven methods to make plants strong against fungi is silicon. Potassium silicate applications - as soil drenches or foliar sprays - have proven to increase disease resistance across several studies (see here and here for examples). But other innovative approaches using other forms of silicon - for example nanometer sized silica crystals - have also yielded good results. In this and this studies it was clearly shown that other forms of silicon - besides silicate - could also help in preventing fungal disease. This might be preferred in some cases as these forms of silicon can be far more stable and easier to store/apply compared with options like potassium silicate.
However silicate applications are no miracle. If your environmental conditions are not set properly the silicate applications will be useless. This is the reason why some growers say that silicate does nothing against disease, because an environment that's favorable for fungi can basically nullify the protective action of supplemental silicon. This was demonstrated by cucumber growers who had a lot of success with Si supplementation in Canada to prevent fungal diseases, but failed to reproduce this success in Florida. A study about this difference revealed that the higher temperatures in Florida negated a large part of the benefits from silicon supplementation. If you want silicon to work against disease better stay in the 20-25°C range.
Other microorganisms can also be of great help in preventing powdery mildew. If a leaf is already colonized by beneficial fungi or bacteria it will be much harder for a pathogen to get in. Several species of microorganisms have been studied in this regard. Fungi like Tilletiopsis have shown to prevent and control the disease (see here), other microbes have also been studied in conjunction with silicon (see here and here), showing beneficial effects. Fungus like Trichoderma harzianum and bacteria like bacillus subtilis have also shown induction of systemic resistance against fungal diseases (see here, here and here). The two images above were taken from this study.
Friendly chemical solutions are also available for the prevention of powdery mildew. Plant derived extracts, for example neem seed oil at 1% has shown to be a good agent for powdery mildew prevention in okra (see here). Substances like salicylic acid have also shown to trigger resistance to powdery mildew in plants like peas (see here).
There are also additional alternatives dealing with the environment that can make it difficult for fungi to colonize plants by attempting to make the environment more hostile for fungi. Spraying ozonated water has shown positive results in experiments with tomatoes (see here) as well as electrolyzed water in strawberries (see here). Keeping the environment conditions within a proper range is also important, this paper shows you how environmental conditions affect powdery mildew disease severity in sunflower but the general features are applicable to most higher plants. As you can see in the image above - taken from this paper - disease severity increases with relative humidity. In general you will want to keep your relative humidity below 70% to avoid making the environment extremely friendly for fungi.
In the end there are many things you can do to keep your plants free of foliar fungal disease like powdery mildew. Use lower temperatures, control your relative humidity, do silicate and salicylic acid applications and use beneficial microbes. If you follow these steps you will forget that powder mildew ever existed!
A few months ago I talked about how you could build a simple sensor station for your hydroponic projects using an arduino (see here). However this small project used the relatively cheap - but I have found not very robust - pH/EC probes and boards from gravity which makes it a poorer choice for a more professional project aiming to constantly monitor the pH/EC of a production hydroponic setup. Today I am going to tell you how you can build a dedicated pH/EC monitor using the robust pH probes from Atlas, which also have several important advantages we will be discussing within this post. I would also like to point out that Atlas is not paying me anything to write this post, I write just because of my experience using their probes.
The pH/EC probes from gravity have several problems when looking for a robust sensing setup. The first issue they have is that the probes are not rated for constant immersion, so they are damaged if you place them within solution the whole time which is probably what you want to do within a production hydroponic setup. The second issue is that the boards require cable connections to the Arduino which introduces a significant amount of noise that can causes problems with measurements. Due to poor isolation there can also be issues with the gravity boards when measuring EC/pH at the same time. To overcome these issues we can use probes and boards from atlas which have the advantage of having no cable connections to the Arduino - connections are through pins directly - plus the probes are rated for constant immersion and are much more robust. These are the things we would need to build this project:
As you notice this sensor project is much more expensive than the sensor station I had discussed before, with a price tag of around 490 USD (not including shipping). However when looking for a robust setup you definitely should favor the additional expense as this will likely be paid off with much longer service times.
When you get the pH/EC kits the first thing you want to do is change your EZO boards (the small circuit boards that come with them) to i2C mode so that you can use them with your mini tentacle shield. To do this follow the instructions here, follow the instructions in the "Manually switch between UART and I2C" section, use female jumpers to make this process easier. Note that you can use your LCD shield analogue 5V and ground pins when you need power within the process.
Once you have changed the EZO boards to i2C you can now plug everything into the arduino and upload the code into your arduino. Plug the EZO boards into the mini tentacle shield and then plug that shield into the arduino. You'll notice that the EZO boards make it impossible to plug the LCD screen directly on top - as the EZO circuits make the shield too tall - so you should use stackable headers to extend the connections so that you can plug the LCD screen on top without any problems. Make sure you download and install the U8glib library in your arduino IDE before uploading the code.
As with the previous code you'll notice there are variables called PH_PARAM_A, PH_PARAM_B and EC_PARAM_A within the beginning of the code that you should change in order to calibrate your probes. Follow the instructions about calibration I gave in the previous post in order to figure this out. Using the calibration solutions that come with your kits you'll be able to perform this calibration procedure. Whenever you want to calibrate your probes you should reset these variables to their original values, reupload the code and retake measurements.
Following this guide you will have a very robust sensor setup using very high quality probes. These probes are also coupled with a board that has no wire connections with the arduino, offering very high quality readings with very small amounts of noise. Additionally the LCD shield opens up the possibility to add more sensors to your station so that you can monitor, temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide potentially from a single place.