Having a basic understanding of how a plant grows indoors will pay huge dividends throughout your grow and especially come harvest day. There are many free and/or low cost informational resources available to today's indoor farmer that it has become quite easy for anyone entering the world of indoor gardening to quickly become an expert grower.
Cabinet Grow would like to encourage free sharing of information by contributing our condensed version of how to grow indoors in tight quarters. We’re going to cover the fundamental aspects of plant growth and particularly all the info you need to master our grow cabinets. Enjoy!
I'll take on light first because it seems to be what the indoor farmer gets most excited about, even though the other aspects of growing are equally important. For optimal growth rates and development, plants need different types of light at different stages of growth. Depending on what you grow, some require light for more or less time during various growth stages.
Keep in mind that when growing indoors, you'll need to mimick the outdoor seasons. During the spring and summer months, days are long and the sky is bright blue.
Seedlings and/or clones require light for 18-24 hours a day for proper rooting and the beginning of vegetative growth. During vegetative growth plants require at least 18 hours of light per day though for best results 24 hours of light will promote rapid growth (some growers will disagree and claim that the plant needs rest). During stages of flowering most plants require 12 hours of light and 12 hours of complete darkness.
Lumens measure the intensity of light output. The light spectrum refers to the color of the light which ultimately determines how usable the light is to the plant. During seedling, clone and vegetative growth plants require a spectrum that mimics the summer sun which is on the blue side of the Kelvin scale.
Seedlings and clones do not use near as much light compared to the vegetative or flowering phase. Fluorescent lighting with rating of 6500 on the Kelvin scale offers the perfect low intensity light to promote rapid rooting and the beginning stages of new growth.
During vegetative growth for clones and mothers, we found three types of lighting that promote rapid vegetative growth; Metal Halide, Fluorescents, and LEDs. All three put out light spectrums that plants just love during this phase! Now that we know the light feels like summer sun to the plants, we need to look at two other important factors; heat and energy efficiency. Metal Halides run hotter and soak up more electricity than the other two, but encourage robust and vigorous growth as well as a smooth transition into the intense light of the HPS (see Flowering Lights below). T5 HO Fluorescents put out more heat than LEDs, but are on a level playing field in terms of efficiency for our application. Being one of the new kids on the block in terms of lighting, LEDs in their current form are finally taking hold due to improvements in manufacturing, R&D, and quality control.
The most popular and arguably the best flowering light available is the HPS, or High Pressure Sodium. Plants soak up the spectrum emitted by these robust lights, but it should be noted that the great light and high lumen output comes at a cost. The bulbs run approximately 400 degrees and the plant can only use about 16% of the light output. That means using a fair amount of electricity to get maximum yields. For this reason, LED grow lights have emerged as a serious competitor for the HPS. Offering a specific flowering light spectrum, operating at just above room temperature, and lasting for years the LED's are changing the way growers approach their flowering lights.
No reflection or poor reflection is like throwing money out the window! Sounds harsh, but really it’s pretty simple; don’t waste the lumens your expensive lights are putting out by letting it soak into something other than your plant. Reflect it back to the plant and let the good times roll! We use a reflective insulation that serves more than one purpose. It prevents radiant heat from escaping or entering your grow area, it won’t harbor bacteria or fungus and is easy to clean, it silences the cabinet, and prevents a heat signature from your grow lights. Oh, and it reflects 90% of the light too.
T5 HO Fluorescents and LEDs are clearly the best options for supplemental lighting in a cabinet grow. CG experienced far better results with LEDs than fluorescent lighting, and it doesn’t hurt that they run cooler and more efficiently too. Supplemental LEDs can be implemented at an affordable price. So if your canopy is so thick and luscious that it’s blocking light from getting to the lower growth on your plant, turn on the LEDs and smile because you are not only ensuring that no part of the plant is lost, but you're providing an even greater range of usable light to your now blissful plants!
RULE #1: More is not necessarily better. Over watering and over fertilizing nutrients are the most common mistakes made by new growers. Droopy water logged plants carrying too many salts built by nutrients will often stop growing completely, or worse. With Cabinet Grow’s bubbleponic nutrient delivery system, it’s virtually impossible to overwater your plants. Just drain your water and nutrients and replace with a FRESH batch EVERY 7-14 days depending on desired results. Here’s what you must know;
It’s important that you know what you’re starting with. Tap water varies in every municipality across the globe. In Orange County the tap water is between 300-400PPM (parts per million) and has a PH level of 7.5-8.5. PH levels should be between 5.5 and 6.2 ALL THE TIME for optimal growth and nutrient uptake. In early stages of vegetative growth and in the final week of flowering, your water should be at or below 400 PPM. Some growers prefer using RO (reverse osmosis) filtered water in order to have a “clean slate” before adding nutrients. If you do, you may need to supplement your base nutrients with additives such as calcium and magnesium. Other growers use a hybrid of RO and tap water. Start with RO water and mix it with tap water to get a reading between 100- 150 PPM. After adding nutrients, check the PH level of the water and make sure it’s within the range mentioned earlier. This step must NOT be missed or your plants will not grow and you will experience a nutrient “lock out” (a state where your plant is no longer feeding hence stalling growth) with a PH range outside that. Water will constantly evaporate, sometimes at rapid levels depending on your environment, and your reservoir will need to be topped off with plain old PH balanced water periodically. Fortunately, we offer optional reserve tanks that automatically top off your tanks for up to a week. That’s right a week! Talk about low maintenance!
There are a million different nutrient companies out there with great products that will work wonders in various hydroponic systems. Local hydroponic shops are great sources for information and will offer you an opportunity to dial in your combination of nutrients and put together a schedule for feeding. Different plants require different nutrients, so you should research nutrients based on the type of plant you plan on growing if you really want to get serious. If you’re growing as a hobby and looking for less maintenance, an all-in-one nutrient solution will typically work just fine. We’ve tested too many nutrient lines to count and hands down the Botanicare CNS17 line has produced the best results as a base nutrient. Here’s a sample schedule for growing tomatoes using the CNS17 included with the Cabinet Grow grow boxes;
Feed vegetative plants, and mothers a more nitrogen rich diet that promotes growth. When flowering, phosphorus and potassium levels must be increased to promote budding and flowering. Just about every nutrient brand I’ve seen offers a grow formula for vegetative and a bloom formula for flowering. The two can be easily identified by the N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) rating on their label. For example, a label for a grow formula will read; 15-4-5 indicating a solution high in nitrogen while a bloom formula with a 3-15-5 rating reflects flower loving phosphorus levels. During the first two to three weeks of flowering, wean the plant off the high nitrogen diet by mixing a growth formula with a flowering formula before going to a flowering solution exclusively. While we supply everything you need to go from clone to harvest, I encourage you to talk with the experienced growers at CG, do your own research, and ultimately end up with a schedule perfectly suited to your grow.
After years of cabinet growing, we found that there is no better hydroponic nutrient delivery method than bubbleponics! Make no mistake; there are plenty of options out there that work very well, but for the biggest low maintenance and easy yields, its bubbleponics without a doubt. It works like this; a bath of nutrient enriched and ph balanced water sits in a reservoir. Air pumps deliver oxygen to the nutrient solution through air stones. The plants are placed in small pots which are recessed in a tray so the bottom of the pot sits just above the nutrient solution, but not submerged. The roots from the plant will grow down into the water and feed on the nutrient and oxygen rich bath anytime it wants. Couple that with our optional Auto Top Off feature that battles evaporation and it doesn’t get any easier than this!
Grow medium is the material that your plants grow in. Ideally, it should be PH neutral, resist algae and bacteria growth, retain some water and nutrients, and allow oxygen into the root area for absorption. Again, too many choices to list here, but we’ve tested them all. Root Riot rooting cubes are perfect for rooting cuttings or raising seedlings. You’ll need more than a rooting cube for your plants roots to take hold. That’s where Sure to Grow comes in (it’s PH neutral, resists algae and bacteria, and in our experience, even pesky bugs, mold and mildew seem to stay away from it! Once rooted, pack some Sure to Grow around the Root Riot cube in one of our net pots. Then using PH balanced water and a watering can (or similar) wet the medium. 12oz of water per plant is adequate to just get it nice and wet. Until your plants have a root system popping out of the bottom and into the nutrient bath, you’ll need to top feed once a day to every few days depending on your environment. Basically, you just want to make sure the medium stays moist (notice I said moist and not drenched) until the plant is fully rooted. The bubbleponics will take care of this in the smaller net pots (3”-3.75”), but if using a larger net pot you will need to help it along in the beginning by watering periodically. Now, watch in amazement as vigorous growth takes place! When considering ease of use along with efficiency, this combination is truly the latest and greatest that the indoor hydroponic growing industry has to offer.
Let’s keep this simple. Optimal temperature range for growth is 68-78 degrees Fahrenheit with a tolerance of 60-85 (I’ve had some success pushing as high as 95 degrees, but there is usually some sacrifice – yield, or quality typically). Humidity level should be between 40-60% with a tolerance of 30-70%. Outside of the ideal range plants can stress out, be more prone to pest attack, and promote growth of algae and fungus. Cabinet Grow’s grow cabinets use extremely efficient airflow systems that cool the lighting system and keep the temperature inside the growing area 7-10 degrees over of the ambient (outside) temperature. BEAT THAT!
CO2 is critical to photosynthesis and growth. Plants use CO2 rapidly and the air in your grow area needs a fresh supply, CO2 supplemented, or a combination of the two consistently and constantly. Plants will do just fine with a supply of fresh air. Cabinet Grow’s CO2 package has a control dimmer for the duct fan so you can determine the right amount air flow for your environment. This comes in especially handy when supplementing CO2. Adding just the right amount of CO2 can cause your plants to go bananas! Huge growth takes place as photosynthesis accelerates. The challenge is maintaining the appropriate level of CO2 in the air (1200-1500 PPM). CO2 monitors are expensive at $400-800 and regulators for CO2 tanks add an additional $150-225. Once you add the $150 for the tank itself and $30-60 every refill, you realize that the additional growth comes at a hefty cost. We’re making progress on innovative ways to reduce the cost of supplementing CO2 and will share the excitement once it’s ready. In the meantime, we have the expensive option if you’re ready to go!
Proper air flow will bring in fresh CO2 enriched air, circulate it within the grow area, and then exhaust the air used by the plant. Cabinet Grow’s cabinets have strategically placed air intake ports low and exhaust through a commercial grade carbon filter above the canopy so fresh cool air comes in from the bottom and warmer stale air is exhausted out the top. Air flow is also important for cooling light fixtures through heat exchange and plants do enjoy a nice breeze over the top of the canopy. It keeps them strong and able to support larger fruit. That’s why we use an internal circulation fan. The 4” commercial grade inline duct fan in our 3’ Bloom and certainly the 6” duct fan that comes in the 4’ Bloom will pull more than enough to keep fresh air flowing freely through your cabinet. When enriching the air with CO2, the dimmer controls the flow of air to allow for CO2 enriched air to stay in the environment longer.
These are just a nuisance and need to be dealt with. Our grow cabinets are sealed from light leaks and the negative pressure supplied by the robust fan ensures that all the air expelled from the cabinet is scrubbed with a heavy duty carbon filter. The amount of carbon contained in the filter is directly related to the effectiveness of the odor removal. Our large filters are not overkill; they remove virtually all the earthy smell. On the other side of the fan all carbon scrubbed air expelled from the cabinet is passed through a duct silencer. This combined with the reflective and sound deadening insulation takes all the noise from the fan and air pumps and dissipates it inside a chamber. What comes out? An odor neutral breeze quiet as can be.
Regardless of the location of your grow boxes, the type of light used, or the size of the area in which you’re growing, heat buildup needs to be addressed. The robust fans CG uses in every Solar System are plenty effective in removing heat from the light bulb, from the box, or both. Now that the heat has been removed from your box, it also needs to be removed from your room. The larger the room, the longer it takes for heat to build up. In other words, if you put your grow box in your garage it may take 10 hours of your light running for the room to heat up, but may only take 30 minutes for the same box to heat up a walk in closet. Moral of the story is, move more air! Air out the room your box is in as much as possible. We recommend adding a fan, opening a window/door, or some other method of exchanging the air in your room. It will only result in more CO2, less heat, less odor, and happy plants!