Building LED grow light

Plants grow extremely well under my new grow light

Plants grow extremely well under my new grow light

As many of you already know, I love to grow plants from seeds. Almost every winter, I’m bothering with a new plant, that needs to be kept alive inside under artificial lighting. Until earlier this year, I’ve had a setup with a combination of warm and cool white LED diodes. I’ve had relatively good results and didn’t even think about buying a grow light. One day, however, I’ve noticed a superb deal on a Chinese online shop, which made me think about building more power efficient and effective light setup. I did not think twice. I have bought several power adapters and full spectrum LED diodes with wavelength of 380-840nm. The LED diodes operate at 30-36V, which means I had to get a power supply, capable of supplying two 50W diodes with electrical power. All the commercial products were extremely expensive and possibly low quality, which means there would (could) be a lot of overheating and a chance of loosing my LEDs. I decided to use my old computer’s power supply unit, which can supply 5V and 12V. LEDs operate at 30V, so i needed to take care of power conversion.
I discovered some cheap converters online, and when I received everything, it was time to start building the LED grow light.

Assembling the  wiring

Assembling the wiring

My expectations for the first grow light setup were not high. I wanted to see if I could make it work, check its effect on the plants and learn before building a larger, more sophisticated setup some day later. I decided to use simple wooden fixture to place the lights above the surface and attach the CPU coolers with LED chip to the wooden frame. When I needed to increase the height, the only thing I needed was a bit more wood and it took less than 20 minutes to increase the distance between plants and the lights.

 

I used computer parts, which made assembly easy

I used computer parts, which made assembly quite easy

Computer PSU is capable of supplying energy to at least 5 LED chips operating at full power, so there’s always an option to upgrade the whole thing. Using old computer parts made it super-easy to assemble the whole setup and within an hour or two, I’ve had it prepared for the first test. When I plugged the power supply and turned it on, I needed to set the power converters to appropriate output voltage. When I increased the voltage over some point, the LEDs started to emit dim light. Success!

Output 30.5 Volts

Output 30.5 Volts

CPU cooler, attached to the wooden frame

CPU cooler, attached to the wooden frame

LED diode attached to a CPU cooler

LED diode attached to a CPU cooler

With increasing voltage, the lights emitted more and more light, which became too bright to look at, even below the upper operating limit of 36V. I’ve set the power output to just a bit over 30V, which is the low operating value. Lower voltage means LED diodes use less power and don’t overheat as much as they would if I’d run them at full power. The ability to further increase the voltage offers an option to increase the height of the light – and greatly increase the amount of space for the plants below.

I already have some ideas for my new DIY light setup, which will be taller and have some additional LEDs. That way I may be able to overwinter even some of my adult size plants way better than before.

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Late snow in the end of April

Large Moso shoots when it started to snow.

Large Moso shoots when it started to snow.

After several weeks of extremely nice and warm weather, polar blast brought much lower temperatures and a ‘shipment’ of heavy wet snow. Most of bamboos already started shooting some time ago, trees are all leafed-out and most of the fruits have already flowered. The day started warm with strong southern wind, but the wind direction changed instantly, heavy low altitude black clouds appeared temperature dropped from around 15°C to just a bit above freezing. When it darkened in the middle of the day, thunderstorm brought sleet and first half melted snow which instantly started to pile up on plants, even if the soil remained warm enough to melt it.
It snowed for the rest of the day and by early evening, I could hear distant breaking of tree branches. Luckily it only snowed for a couple more hours and stopped completely by the end of the day. Total amount of snow was around 15cm. Considering the fact that a lot of it melted, because of nicely warmed ground, there might have been more on the completely flattened bamboo.

Only an inch of wet snow flattened Spectabilis to the ground.

Only an inch of wet snow flattened Spectabilis to the ground.

Like I already mentioned, most of my bamboos already started shooting, especially early shooters like Fargesia sp. ‘Rufa’ and Phyllostachys edulis ‘Moso’. These two started shooting early this year and many smaller shoots already started poking over the canopy of last year’s culms. All those shoots were not nearly hardened enough to handle the weight of heavy snow alone, not to mention the weight of whole bamboo flattened to the ground. Large Moso shoots have been growing on the northern side of the older clumps and that’s what saved them from breakage – bamboo grew more leaves towards south and the culms always fall down into south-eastern direction.

Here's how the Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Spectabilis' culms look like in the snow.

Here’s how the Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Spectabilis’ culms look like in the snow.

Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Spectabilis’ was lucky to have started growing the shoots slowly. The largest shoots were pushed towards the ground by the weight of the culms, but so far, there’s no visible damage, even if they point into different direction. Other bamboos were only slightly damaged, because new branches already started to grow, shoots were either too small or not existent.

When the snow finally melted, most of the shoots that were bent to the ground recovered. Some of them snapped and died off, but most of them recovered with culm deformation which resembles genuflection, often seen on P. aureosulcata.

Some of the shoots have snapped under the weight of snow

Some of the shoots have snapped under the weight of snow

None of the larger shoots got damaged and they took off instantly after the snow was gone.

Fruit trees and walnuts were also lucky enough to survive without a lot of breakage. Could be much worse if there was just a little bit more snow.

 
 
 
 
 

Shoots that did not snap are seriously bent

Shoots that did not snap are seriously bent

Damage was not as severe as it seemed

Damage was not as severe as it seemed

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Phyllostachys edulis shoots

Moso shooting 2016

I tried planting bamboo seeds in 2011 and failed miserably with old Phyllostachys pubescens Moso seeds. I’ve tried 100 seeds and couldn’t get one single seedling to sprout. Second batch of seeds was supposed to be fresh and much more viable. I was able to get several seedlings to grow slowly from tiny little plant to not so tiny bamboo seedlings. I’ve learned Moso bamboo is hard to keep happy. I’ve been slowly learning about bamboos on my onwn mistakes and growing them in containers was a nightmare. In the end I’ve ended up with 2 living seedling, one is declining and is now hardly any larger than one year old seedling, but the second one managed to survive all the torture and eventually escaped the pot in its second year. It started growing in tight space where I left it, knowing that some day, it might become too large and I’ll have to remove it. That day seems to be getting close.

Smaller shoots appeared all around last year's culms.

Smaller shoots appeared all around last year’s culms.

A year later I’ve bought Phyllostachys aureosulcata rhizome division, and learned how much faster they grow, compared to tiny little seedlings. Well, all that was true until this year (Well, Spectabilis should also upsize considerably this year – can’t wait)! The tiny little Moso seedling finally took off after completely covering the area with thick rhizomes.
Last year I’ve been a bit disappointed in the spring, when it only managed to put out around 10 shoots which did upsize, but not as nearly as much as I had expected. Largest rhizomes were around the diameter of the largest shoots, but… rhizomes were everywhere and upsized shoots only grew in a tight clump on south-eastern position of the bamboo.

A bit larger shoots are not as packed together as the smaller ones

A bit larger shoots are not as packed together as the smaller ones

The last summer and autumn, seedling further increased rhizome growth! Some of the rhizomes that were ‘dolphining’ around the clump were a bit over 1cm diameter, which is larger than last year’s shoots. I expected upsize. And I expected more shoots than last season.
I haven’t been fertilizing the beast much, except for the bucket of wood ash or two over the winter and a thick layer of mulch in the fall, which I removed when warm weather came with first signs of spring. I noticed first shoots quite early, compared to previous years, so I wasn’t really aware, what to expect regarding the shoot size. After the first real rain, the shoots instantly took off.

Haven't even noticed the largest shoot until now!

Haven’t even noticed the largest shoot until now!

Some of the shoots have white hair.

Some of the shoots have white hair.

The winter this year was quite warm, and the bamboo didn’t suffer almost complete defoliation like it did a year before. Like usually, first shoots that appeared were the smaller shoots of the shooting season. They appeared a week or to before the large shoots started to appear. And when they finally did, I knew why I like this time of the year so much. 🙂

The upsize of new shoots is  extreme

The upsize of new shoots is extreme

New shoots growing out behind last year's culms.

New shoots growing out behind last year’s culms.

Is the coin getting smaller, or are these shoots getting thicker?

Is the coin getting smaller, or are these shoots getting thicker?

It's quite easy to determine the rhizome direction

It’s quite easy to determine the rhizome direction

Some of the shoots show white variegation

Some of the shoots show white variegation

Some shoots seem to be quite compact at the bottom

Some shoots seem to be quite compact at the bottom

Incredible variegation looks even better on larger shoots

Incredible variegation looks even better on larger shoots

The same kind of variegation in low-light overcast conditions

The same kind of variegation in low-light overcast conditions

Like last year, variegation returned

Like last year, variegation returned

Like in previous years, white variegation of the shoots returned and with this seedling’s first more mature shoots, variegation started to show completely different effect. On juvenile shoots, variegation was nothing more than white striped leaves, sometimes even with a hint of purple. Variegation seemed fabulous, but then I’ve seen how mature shoots look like! On mature shoots, there is much more purple and red pigment, which brings out beautiful bright orange coloration. I’ve taken two shots, one in bright sunny condition and one in low light overcast weather – shoots look great in both cases, but the light emphasizes the bright color even more. Like previously, the variegation builds up with each additional node. At the beginning they start without variegation and the shoots look like regular Moso shoots.

Shoots are getting thicker

Shoots are getting thicker

This year, the diameter of the shoots increased considerably. There are still a lot of juvenile shoots, especially after some late snow related damage, but the majority of the shoots only started to show mature form. It will be interesting to see how the shoots look like in a couple of years, when they receive even more features of an adult plant. The pattern of spots and speckles on the culm sheath also became evident this year. Shooting season is not even over yet and I can’t wait to see the next one. 🙂

Shoot variegation on juvenile shoots

Shoot variegation on juvenile shoots

First branches

First branches

First branches also show variegation

First branches also show variegation

Juvenile shoot vairegation

Juvenile shoot variegation

Variegation

Variegation

Variegated juvenile shoot

Variegated juvenile shoot

Top of the shoot

Top of the shoot

Dark brown spots

Dark brown spots

Another shot of highly variegated moso

Another shot of highly variegated moso

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Phyllostachys arcana ‘Luteosulcata’ seedlings at 5 months

First couple of Phyllostachys arcana ‘Luteosulcata’ seedlings are now 5 months old. They grow fast and perhaps started showing some of their growth characteristics. Most of them are low and bushy, but two of them started to have much taller appearance with less branches and perhaps a bit longer internodes. Soil, fertilizing / watering cycle and light intensity are the same, which should eliminate possible environmental differences. The soil mix was made in the same bucket, but there could always be slight content difference.

Dense roots help it drain the water from container on the bottom of the pot

Dense roots help it drain the water from container on the bottom of the pot

All the seedlings have started showing signs of nutrient deficiency with yellow stripes on their newly grown leaves. I started introducing them to diluted liquid fertilizer which somewhat helped with the issue, but not entirely eliminated it. Water consumption of the fastest growing seedling is unbelievably high. I water them once daily and always leave some of the water in the bottom container, which allows roots to get the water from there as well. If I only skip one day, I get curled-up bamboo, with completely dried out substrate. I early lost two large seedlings, which are still recovering.

Soil was pushed up, out of the pot, because of all the roots.

Soil was pushed up, out of the pot, because of all the roots.

Currently, the largest seedling is also the tallest one. At one point this seedling started growing tall shoots with culm diameter comparable to other seedlings that were only half it’s height and enormous leaves (again – large for it’s size and age). Most of the seedlings are now 20 cm tall and the tallest one is over 40 cm. Largest leaves are up to 15 cm long with yellow striping that indicate nutrient deficiency, which is most likely caused by very fast growth in a rather small container.

Largest leaves are over 15cm long

Largest leaves are over 15cm long

All the shoots are choosing to get back into the soil

All the shoots are choosing to get back into the soil

The large seedling started pushing out 14 new shoots that are all eager to turn back into the soil. The shoots are growing into all directions and they certainly look like whip shoots to me. If rhizome growth actually started, it would explain the lifted soil that is getting pushed upwards almost daily. I will need to up-pot the seedlings before they get completely root bound. Heavy thirst drains water from the soil in about a day, which means any neglect would result in loosing the seedlings.

Bamboo decided it's time to run

We’re crowded here guys, let’s RUN!

There are no signs of either leaf nor culm variegations on any of the Phyllostachys arcana ‘Luteosulcata’ seedlings from that batch, except for the highly variegated one, which is growing slowly and often shows signs of stress. Its first couple of leaves on young culms seem to be the palest, sometimes almost completely yellow, those leaves are extremely susceptible to drying of leaf tips. Issue might also be caused by unnaturally strong grow light and will disappear when I plant it outside. The second batch of seedlings seem to have given another two variegated seedlings, one has the same kind of variegation as the one mentioned above, but is at least 30% greener and should have faster and more healthy growth. The second one is even darker green and might be inverse version of those two yellowish seedlings – this one shows yellow variegation on green leaf.

To force the rhizomes to turn into whip shoots, I started peeling off the sheaths as soon as they started drying

To force the rhizomes to turn into whip shoots, I started peeling off the sheaths as soon as they started drying

There's no more doubt, these are 100% rhizomes. They refuse to turn into whip shoots, despite being exposed to strong light.

There’s no more doubt, these are 100% rhizomes. They refuse to turn into whip shoots, despite being exposed to strong light.

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