The Best LED Grow Lights for Indoor Gardening

Erin Friar is morning editor for The Daily Beast cheat sheet. She is an avid gardener, and we at Scouted believe that in light of everything going on right now, gardening is a great hobby to pick up. It’s one I’m interested in learning, but I was too intimidated to try. But it turns out you can start a garden even in a small studio with this useful tool. Erin, an expert, was kind enough to chat with me about gardening and give me some tips.

When did you start gardening?

My grandfather had a huge vegetable garden when I was a child. He would have 45 tomato plants at a time, and summers and autumns were consumed with everyone sitting in a breezeway, smashing green and wax beans. Every interior surface—window sills, pool table, counters, spare beds—was lined with ripening tomatoes and mason jars. My grandma used to get really grumpy for weeks from canning everything.

My grandmother died without leaving her tomato sauce recipe. When we moved into an old farmhouse a few years ago, I discovered that the last owner had left behind a raised bed. I knew I needed a supply of fresh tomatoes to try all sorts of combinations to try to parse the recipe together. But I didn’t really take gardening seriously until I was pregnant with my daughter and was stereotypically drawn to eating pickles all the time. I started googling how to make my own pickles when my over-the-counter habit started getting expensive. I found a good seed supplier and then went crazy realizing I could do it myself. I learned the hard way that my yard is full of bugs that love to devour anything from the cabbage family, and that our groundhog neighbor is a foodie who comes and gets all the cilantro plants every time (he can’t help it).

I started indoor gardening last year because it seemed like a good way to get through the dark winter months. As the morning editor for the Cheat Sheet, I start my day around 4:45 a.m. So I go down to the LED grow lights on the kitchen counter next to my coffee machine and check things out before I start watching the miseries the news brings.

Now I watch it for other reasons, because all of our lives are changing day by day.

What products have you found useful?

Last Mother’s Day My Husband Seriously Bought Me a hoe– to be fair, I asked – and a cultivator’s tool which I said might be good to have. But last Valentine’s Day, I treated myself to the Root Farm All Purpose Broad Spectrum LED Grow Light, because clearly no one really knows what to buy me. I bought it with two Burpee 72 Cell Self Watering Seed Starter Kits and I mapped out my plan. It fits quite nicely on my counter and the light is angled down so it doesn’t light up the whole room. It’s very bright though – if you tilt it skyward, I think there’s a chance the International Space Station crew could see it. It is very effective in helping shoots to sprout in early spring and also serves as light therapy in winter.

What made you buy Root Farm lights in the first place?

Some things. I loved the Barbara Kingsolver one Animal, Plant, Miracle. Anyone really can create their own food supply with a little experimentation. Too, Calvin Trillin’s epic foodie article about finding and helping eat a stash of the elusive Spanish Padrón peppers in my neighboring town of New Jersey was always on my mind. I was amazed that he grew these delicacies himself and wondered if they were really as good as he claimed. Through friends I managed to get my hands on some Pádron seeds and tried planting them outside – and it didn’t work. I think I got four peppers at the end. My favorite pizzeria—Liberty Hall in Lambertville, New Jersey– increased my interest in trying again when they started serving grilled shishito peppers, so I decided to try doing it the right way for a change. I also have an endless craving for shallots, so I skipped the more expensive bulbs and found the tiny poppy seeds. Then I really went to town.

How do you use Root Farm Lights?

I realized that I only needed six Pádron plants and shishitos. The root farm configuration allows you to start the lights very close to the seeds in the ground, then gradually raise them inch by inch as your young grow and grow strong enough to withstand the outdoors. I was too successful last year—I had way over 1,000 peppers, which I have struggled to find a home for. A few buddies from the Daily Beast were happy to get rid of it. After that, I sometimes sneaked out and left bags of it on the doorsteps of “friends”. I ended up having so many shallots that I sold a few boxes of them to restaurants.

But that was then. I’m starting late this year because of the coronavirus news fire and disruption to our lives because of it. The plan for now is to put some lettuces indoors this week, then when the weather improves we’ll see if we have any luck with milkweed (for monarch butterflies) and maple seeds from Japan that we hardened in the refrigerator all winter.

“These are unprecedented times and it has forced me to think ahead about what foods we could really rely on in the months to come.”

My kids can be really picky eaters, but they seem to go for just about any type of bean, and I do my research on that.

I have a brown thumb, but I really want to start gardening, especially since I will have more free time. What do you think I should know?

You must really want to have a fresh supply of whatever you are growing. Since you’ll now be working from home, growing herbs from seeds indoors seems pretty smart right now. This way, you can make sure you have the ingredients on hand to spice up those dry foods that everyone’s been rushing to get, like rice and pasta. Lettuces will also be pleasant to eat. And as a beginner, even if you get it wrong the first time, the lights make things grow fast. Just like with a pet or a baby, you eventually learn to “read” what your plants might need: more water? More fertilizer? Pause? Less of everything? It is also a good project to occupy the children. Mine got two baby Venus flytraps for Valentine’s Day and they use the setup to give them some extra tropical light. I never saw this use coming.

Why would you recommend this to anyone over another gardening product like a freestanding fluorescent grow light?

LEDs have truly changed the game. This setup doesn’t get very hot to the touch and won’t increase your electric bill like a fluorescent grow light would. I’ve tried for a while with empty egg cartons and sunlight, but the boost you get from the LEDs is worth the investment. I was reluctant to splurge but I’m glad I did. It’s also quite compact at 24 inches long and 12 inches high, and accommodates so you can hang the light part from a ceiling or a light fixture above your plants.

Root Farm All Purpose LED Grow Light

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