DIY indoor grow lights, the manly way


The following conversation was recorded on Friday, December 9, 2016 while sitting on the dining room table dad build when I was ten or so. Dad was wearing a plaid shirt he’s had since before I was born. It still has a crease over the breast pocket from when he used to smoke. Despite his later jesting, he’s actually made quite a few healthy lifestyle changes since he lost his brother in 2007. He’s been nicotine sober for 8 years now and a rehabilitated carnivore for the last three. (Though he still fancies a fatty steak now and again). 

Dad, you wanna tell us about your setup?

They’re lights. What else you wanna know?

What do they do?

They shine.

…anything else you wanna say?

They grow stuff.

What kind of stuff?

Lettuce. About the only vegetable I can stand. But the doc says I need to eat more veggies and all that. I tried telling him ma cow ate his greens. And I ate the cow.

So I’m all set.

Did I ever tell you your granddaddy ate nothing but stake and eggs and died at the ripe old age of 65?

That’s not very impressive.

It is to me. If I could eat nothing but stake and eggs, I’d a been happy to die at 65.

Right. So tell me about the lights.

Well let’s see. Had about, oh I’d say 100o board feet or so of oak in the back barn there. And I figured I could spend about a thousand quarters on one of them fancy grow light towers with them psychedelic LEDs that make it look like you’re high at a fairy rock concert or something. Or, I could go out to the shed, plane some lumber, drink some coffee, inhale some sawdust and make one for the price of a few splinters and a respiratory infection.

Rights. So what’s that there?

Oh this is real good, son. See, the thing is, them grow lights need ta move as the lettuce grows. Don’t want no greens touching the bulbs and whatnot. So, I was gonna go to Lowes Depot and buy one of them shop lights with one of them fancy chains up off the top of it. Then when the lettuce’d grow, I’d move to another chain and so on until it was time to gag on the greens. But I opened the package and there was no chain. There was nothing. Just screws at the top to hang it on the wall. So, I figured I’d just use some rope from the shop, hook it up to a pulley and lift when I needed to raise the lights. But then I forgot I was hanging it right under a duct and, last I heard, screwing metal into a duct ain’t too bright. So, I knew I’d have to hang a bracket and I thought, well, while I’m at it, might as well build a platform for the planters to stand on.

And that’s when the idea came to me, son. I didn’t have to move the lights at all. I could move the lettuce instead.

So I cut a groove in the bracket for the shaft of a carriage bold, cut another groove behind that to fit the head of the bold, slide a carriage bolt inside, and now when I wanna move it, I loosen that wing nut, lift, and I’ve got the light moved.

DIY grow lights

So they’re just regular shop lights?

Yup. These [censored] companies try ta trick ya into believing ya need some fancy smantzy lights with ultra UV something er other. Nope. Just good ole’ shop lights.

Any special bulbs?

Nah. I read in the paper–

Dad, it’s called the Internet. 

I read in the paper that you gotta have one cool light and one warm light. Then, you got the fancy UV specta covered.


They got you too, did they, with their big words and sciency jargon.

Anyway. Put the thing on a timer too. I had one laying around in the shop. Turns on at 7AM and turns off same time in the PM. I don’t have to do nothing but stare at the bulbs during my morning coffee.

And water it. 

Do what?

Water it. You know it has to be watered, right?


[Editor’s note: at this point, dad’s straight face cracked and he busted up laughing.]

You shoulda seen the look on your face, boy. No son, I found some plants that don’t need any water. They’re one of them sciency GMO lettuces that grow from asbestos and whiskey.

Alright, I think we’re done. 

Notes from Quinn (me, the interviewer/editor/censor/freeloading son). One other thing dad forgot to mention was he had to wire a cord from an old lamp directly into the hot and neutral wires of the shop lights. Also, I measured the light output with a light meter from the lights and compared it to the output from a south-facing window.

Light meter reading under grow lights
Light Meter Reading, window sill

The window light was a little stronger, but this far north, we only get about 9 hours of daylight. Dad first tried using just the window light, but the plants looked kinda scrawny:

DIY grow lights
Scrawny lettuce sprouts from just window light

Hopefully this will solve the problem. 

See affiliate links below. These aren’t the products dad used, but will get you started.

Shop lights:

Carriage bolts:

Digital Timer

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