Thanks for coming over and checking out the Better Homesteading blog, great to have you here. In this article, I’m going to chat about how to grow herbs with grow lights, something I really got into a couple of years ago when I realized that I wanted herbs all year round, and the climate that I live in just wouldn’t allow for it.
Some trial and error saw me make plenty of mistakes, but over time, the successes ramped up and I now have it down to a relatively fine art. I’m going to share one of my favorite herb garden ideas with you today, to save you time and effort. Growing herbs under artificial light.
Luckily, the vast majority of common culinary and medicinal herbs can be grown indoors with little trouble. For long periods of the year, depending on where you live, herbs can do quite well on a window sill with a sunny aspect, but growing herbs under grow lights, and in some cases, hydroponically, you have MUCH greater ability to control the environment. You can grow them in soil, or try out hydroponic herb gardening, where the roots of the plants are suspended in a water/nutrient solution.
Who Is This Article For?
I wrote this for anyone who is considering growing herbs, or indeed any type of plant using indoor, artificial lighting. I’m going to keep it relatively non-technical, just give you the bare bones, quick start guide on growing herbs under artificial lights, whether that be fluorescent tubes, bulbs, or LED lighting systems.
But, before I move onto the meat of the article, the how-to section, lets define lighting, as it purports to growing plants. and discuss WHY you would want to, or need to do it.
Unless you live in a part of the world where the days are long, it’s warm all year round, with plenty of sunshine and light (luck you if you do), you’re going to struggle to grow herbs all year. In many Northern Hemisphere locations, the growing season for many herbs and vegetables is quite short, only 4-5 months in some cases.
You just can’t provide enough natural light to keep your herbs satisfied. Most herbs like are least 12-16 hours of light each day, to truly thrive. That’s just not going to happen in the garden or on a window sill.
Horticulturalists developed low-intensity lighting to allow them to grow crops commercially all year round, to maximise profits. This technology has become accessible, and cheap enough for anyone to do it at home. I’m definitely not suggesting we never grow anything outside again, but growing herbs with artificial lights can definitely produce higher quality plants which are more robust than those planted in the garden.
Why? The ability to control climate, including light, moisture, microclimates, and to minimise attack from pests and disease are just a handful of factors that have encouraged me to take a duel approach to food production. Some annual herbs and vegetables outside during the growing season, a good selection of hardy perennial plants that survive well in my climatE (South coast of England), and indoor grown herbs and annual vegetables which I can cultivate and harvest year round.
I think this is a good combination for the food grower or homesteader looking to minimise the food they have to purchase.
How Hard Is It To Grow Herbs Under Lights Indoors?
When I first started using grow lights for my own purposes, I was under the impression that it was a highly technical undertaking. I’ve always been a geek for tech, so I was prepared to do some learning.
But, after reading a lot and buying some low-cost gear, I realized just how simple if actually is. I’d say it’s actually a lot EASIER than growing plants outside. Plants want to grow, it’s how they reproduce. Growing outside means that you have to be really cognisant of placement, light, wind, soil moisture levels, frosts, bird and insect attack, and a lot more.
Inside growing cuts most of these issues out. Read on and you’ll quickly understand just how simple it really is.
Equipment Requirements For Growing Herbs Indoors With Artificial Lights
With just a few simple components, grow lights can allow you to grow herbs in pots anywhere in your home, or even outside in a garage. A basement, which would never be considered a decent place to grow anything can easily be transformed into a highly productive herb garden.
Other than the actual lighting unit, everything else can be made from everyday materials, that you may even have already. This is for a basic 3 shelf indoor herb garden light kit. You can go bigger, but this is a great way to get started.
- 3 Tier Shelf Unit – Under $30 on Amazon | Product Link
- Power Strip Extension Lead (Under $20 | Product Link (many people have a spare one of these at home)
- Fluorescent Housing Unit – Tubes Included (Just Over $50) | Product Link (If you go for LED you won’t need this)
- Zip Ties ($5 for 100) |Product Link
- Heating Mats | Product Link – Optional, but if you are growing in a cold basement or shed, they can help a lot.
- Digital Timer | Product Link – Optional. A timer is a cheap way of turning the lighting on and off, ensuring just the right amount for your herbs.
- Seed trays to get started
- Potting Mix
You’ll eventually need some pots or deeper trays as the plants gain size. I’ve had good success just planting directly into pots, I just have transplanting seedlings!
Fluorescent Or LED Lighting?
Fluorescent tube lights are one of the most common lighting set ups for the home herb grower.
Standard tubes, the sort you see in shops and commercial properties work well, but high output T5 grow lights are a better option. There are also fluorescent bulbs and lamps that work extremely well. LED grow lights for herbs are definitely taking over for the home setup, and can be purchased REALLY cheaply.
As mentioned fluorescent tubes can be great for a grow setup, but they tend to come in 2-4 foot lengths as standard, which is fine if you have plenty of room to set up a proper growing area. But from personal experience, the LED lights are much more compact, easy to hang, and just made for a much easier process, for me at least. I definitely find LEDs the best light for growing herbs indoors, based on cost, size, and versatility.
If you choose to use tube lights, then it’s worth knowing that the standard setup for twin 4 foot long tubes will illuminate an area 4 feet long by a foot wide. You’ll likely have noticed in the past that the tubes are brighter in the middle and dimmer towards the ends, so you essentially lose around a foot of light coverage, around 6 inches on each end.
The ColoFocus 600W LED Indoor Plants Grow Light Kit available on Amazon, as shown in the above image is approximately 12 inches x 8 inches in size, but actually illuminates and area of 3.5 x 4 feet. That’s pretty substantial for such a small unit don’t you think?
How To Grow Herbs With Grow Lights (video)
This second video on how to grow herbs with grow lights explains the concepts and the actual implementation of an indoor herb garden under lights in more detail.
That just about sums things up. There’s really not too much to getting started. You only really need a lighting unit, the shelves and racking a nice to have, but most people can find a way to hang lighting over pots or trays. I’d definitely advocate the timer, it saves a lot of hassle. But everything else is pretty optional.