Cheap grow box with LED Christmas lights

cheap grow box

I have one major problem last year with growing seedlings, running out of space.  I grow many different types of plants with various germination/growth rates and varied start dates.  This forces me to make sacrifices for placement of my movable light and eventually forced to move some plants outside earlier than I should.  The light needs to be close to the newly emerging seedlings, but can’t be burning the more mature plants growing into it.  My solution to this problem is a LED storage container grow box.  With this I will have a portable seeding area and since LEDs practically emit no heat the plants can literally touch the lights without problems.  At that time I move them to a larger grow box where it can continue to grow and start more seedlings.  I thought about creating my own LED matrix and buy individual LEDs and solder them together, but that sounded like a lot of tedious work and soldering, which I most likely would mess up.  Given it was after Christmas and LED lights were really cheap, this seemed like a good possible solution.

Materials cheap grow box with LED lights:

  1. 3 gallon Rubbermaid tub
  2. 1 string white or blue LED Christmas lights (50% off after Christmas)
  3. Drill with (1/4 in drill bit)
  4. Hot glue gun (may be optional)

Take a look at the number of lights on your string (mine had 60) then by measuring your tub figure out how you want to create your matrix.  Best to double check your measurements as you can see below I miscounted and only planned out 55 holes which I improvised and added 5 more after the fact.  You can also combine multiple strings if you want, given the low wattage you can string dozens of these together if you really wanted.

build cheap led grow box

Drill holes that will provide tight friction fit to the tub, for my lights this was 1/4 inch drill bit but for yours this may be more or less, I would recommend starting smaller and increase until you find just the right fit.  Once you have all your holes drilled fit each of the LEDs into the holes you drilled some of the connections between the bulbs will have a solid section in between (resistor) so depending on the spacing might be best to make this one diagonal of the previous light to make it not as tight a fit.  If you have some lights that just won’t stay in, apply a small dab of hot glue between the bulb and the lid.  This may diffuse the light a little  but very little intensity at the base so light loss should be minimal.

Last plug it in and check out your cheap LED light.  You may want to shake it upside a couple times and find any loose lights while your glue gun is still hot.

build cheap led grow box #3

Now some of your might be thinking (including myself) are these lights intense enough to allow adequate vegetative growth?  I did take a look at the LED matrix with my homemade spectrograph and it did show a high intensity of blue wavelength with minimal on red and orange/yellow/green so for this small space it may just work.  I am going to test it out on some guinea pig plants now and if I start seeing tall spindly growth I can easily switch out the current while LEDs with some ultra bright blue LEDs by simply pulling out the socket, swap out old LED (save some other project), replace with new LED, trim excess terminal wire, and push back into the socket.  Below is my proof of concept for this as long as the voltage/amperage is the same the circuit will continue to work, below is my proof of concept.

cheap led grow light

I also purchased a couple of red LED Christmas lights for plant flowering stage but have a couple months before I need to pull those out.

For build cost, this small storage container costs less then $2.00 and with the 50% off sale on Christmas lights at $3.00 I have a cheap grow box with full LED grow lighting for just $5.00 and about 15 minutes of assembly.

UPDATES:

Christmas light LED grow box – Update #1
Christmas light LED grow box – Update #2

75 Responses to “Cheap grow box with LED Christmas lights”

  1. Hambob Says:

    Question: I have yet to see led christmas lights around here that I can remove the decorative part from. or do I just need to be a little more destructive to get that diffuser/icicle off to get at the led below…


  2. Robj98168 Says:

    Hambob- the decorative part of the LED light should twist out with thr light.My question is: I thought Full spectrum Lighting was needed to start plants- will this provide Full spectrum?


  3. SWEETHEARTS MOM Says:

    Does this really work??? I have been tearing my hair out trying to figure out something that will start seeds and not have to mount grow lights which I can’t afford. I have 5 boxes of extra christmas lights in the closet!! woohoo…it’s christmas…ok i had to say it.


  4. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    Hambob, in my case there was no decorative cover so I simply pulled out the light (same as replacing blown bulb) and bend the terminals down then the bulb slides right out) Here is an instrucatable which appears some destruction may be necessary.Robj98168, white LEDs provide a full spectrum. According to NASA’s research (see my color spectrum post) you can grow plants strictly on the blue/red spectrum with blue more important for vegetative growth, red for flowering.sweethearts mom, growing with LEDs has been proven effective, with Christmas lights still to be proven though I did find one reference when I decided to see if anyone else had also tried this, though does not mention anything past sprouting. Could still create leggy plants if so I will upgrade the LEDs.


  5. Anonymous Says:

    where did you find led lights for cheap? everywhere i’ve been they are still $12 a strand of 50 ish….


  6. Daphne Says:

    I love the idea. I'm really curious if it will work out or not. I'm thinking the LEDs ought to be about 1 – 1 1/4 inches apart for enough light. Hard to say though without testing. How far apart are yours? I'm waiting eagerly for your test results.BTW where the heck did you get a string of 60 LEDs for $3? I want some ;>. I see them usually around $25.


  7. Molly Says:

    This is brilliant! I use cheapo 4 foot fluorescent shop lights in my furnace room, but the plants do get spindly, and then burn their little leaves on the bulbs.


  8. pelenaka Says:

    You have made me a very happy woman!


  9. Anonymous Says:

    Probably very energy efficient as well.By the way if any of you are tempted to buy ultraviolet leds (which are available) keep in mind that they can literally blind you before you realize what they have done becuase they emit so much UV light and so little visible light that your retinas get too much sunburn before you feel any pain. Then within about 24 hrs your retinas destruct and you are permanently blind.Don’t fool with UV leds.Use only consumer type Christmas lights or regular led’s.


  10. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    I picked up 3 sets of lights at Wal-Mart for $3-4 the day after Christmas. I wish I would have gotten more but I was holding out hoping to find some blue LEDs.Daphne, I have some concerns if this will be enough as well, but it is a small surface area to cover and many commercial LEDs matrices I have seen are made to be few feet above the plant so hopefully I have enough intensity to avoid the leggy plants.As for IR LEDs from my understanding they have a more damaging effect on plants than benefit but I will stop looking at my remote control :)


  11. Anonymous Says:

    IR LEDs in Remote controls are safe, they won’t do anything to your eyes, the IR Light can hardly cross the water in them. Anonymous above was talking UV leds, but they are quite rare, and emit a weak violet glow apart from the invisible UV radiation.


  12. ave Says:

    I have 20 UV LEDs which mainly emit visible blue/violet light, with just a little of the real, invisible UV emission, but it does the trick with changing colours. I think they sell them as “black light” or “UV LEDs”. I bought them from another hobbyist. Nothing fancy or too strong, but I’d still not point them in my eyes.


  13. mike Says:

    @robj98168from what i understand, most plants enjoy the bluer-wavelength (6500k/ 470nm) for vegetative growth (i.e. seedlings) and redder-wavelength light (2700k/550nm) for flowering (making strawberries! :p)


  14. Kris Says:

    LEDInsider.com is a very good online source for LED bulbs. The web site is pretty user friendly but they have live customer service that came in handy to figure out what was the best LED bulb to do what my old bulbs did. Now I’m using a tiny amount of electricity compared to before. The bulbs were expensive but they’ll pay for themselves pretty quick. Oh yeah, Eaglelight had a calculator on the site to show how fast the bulbs take to pay back in electricity savings what you spent in to buy them. Cool.


  15. Hilery Says:

    Thank you for sharing this project! I built my own yesterday and just sowed some seeds and plugged ‘er in today.


  16. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    Hilary, glad to hear would love to see photos. I am working on an update on the seedlings in mine (so far so good)


  17. Alex Says:

    Hi,How do you ensure enough air gets to the plants? Do yuo just put the lid on loosely?thanks!


  18. scramblepad Says:

    I was researching this 3 years ago from a college that did this and they had stunning results. They used 80% red and 20% blue. The plants grew to a certain height next to the outdoor plants to a certain height and stopped. Was impressed enough to try it my self with the soldiering method. Blew up my leds. Need more research and added current resistors around a 12 volt supply in parallel. Anyway I was thinking of using the disc’s from cheap led flashlights next . They make them in several colors and are shipped free from hong kong. Take out the disc and wire them up. They have them up past 109 led flashlights that I have purchased over 2 years ago. Time to put them to use. Just take out the disk and throw the rest away. A couple of sites I use are http://www.ledshoppe.com/index.html and the other is http://www.dealextreme.com/. They also have led’s on a roll to for over a year just now making it’s way to the u.s. market.


  19. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    Alex, airflow was definately a problem. I am trying to find a small fan I can plug in. I have a little desk fan but it would be like a huricane for those little seedlings. In the meantime I have been taking the top off at night.


  20. scramblepad Says:

    Try using a CPU fan, they are quiet , cheap and easy to wire up.Kevin…


  21. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    scramblepad, I actually have the perfect CPU fan one in my spare parts box. Just have to find a 12 volt power adapter somewhere in there as well.


  22. scramblepad Says:

    Make sure of the voltage so you won’t burn it out, some are 5 volts, if it is 12 volts you can play around with a lower voltage and make the fan even slower, a cheap adjustable regulator made out of a lm315t form radio shack will able you to adjust the voltage from 1 to 37 volts and of course to get the desired output voltage the input should be a few volts more than the desired output. The lm317 requires about 3 parts to operate, a few resistors and a disc cap. , Be sure if you are using a wall adaptor that it is dc not ac and the proper polarity is applied by using a volt meter or hooking it up just for a second. Another way of reducing the power to the fan is by adding a resistor in line , play with different values until you get the speed you like. Take care and have fun…. Kevin


  23. scramblepad Says:

    Made a mistake, in the above comment It says lm315t and should be a lm317t. Sorry….Kevin


  24. Worrelldpeace Says:

    Thanks for this fantastic design idea. I also turned to small rubbermaid boxes to start seeds this year, and just want to suggest that you could use the clear boxes to allow some natural light in also. Might help balance the spectrum, and provide a bit of warmth for the soil. My no-name brand clear boxes were $1 each at Home Depot.


  25. LED Lights Says:

    well these LED lights are costly?


  26. scramblepad Says:

    Not when you consider the low electric cost to run them You can buy high brightness led’s by the bag for under 20.00


  27. Brad Says:

    Love the idea.. Love the cost efficiency of it. I’m going to see if I can find any lights anywhere around town.. I’m hoping they may still have some out. However, my only concern is fire hazard. I noticed that the bulbs were in direct contact with the container.. and considering they will stay on what 12-18 hours a day? How hot do they get on that surface and what do you think the chances are of a possible fire coming about because of it? Thanks.


  28. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    LED Lights, well I got these ones pretty cheap after Christmas though at regular price setting up a CFL or florescent tube still is pretty cost effective.Brad, can’t speak for all LED bulbs but that was a concern of mine even on for 24 hours they generate almost zero heat. I put a digital thermometer inside the bin and actually was colder inside than outside. Seems most of the heat that is generated is through wires/sockets.


  29. Brad Says:

    Thanks for your help on the LED lighting.. I guess I didn’t really think about that being a big difference between LED and regular light bulbs. ALSO..Just to give you all an idea on the airflow issue in the box, I think I’ve got it solved. I was reading about the PC fan idea and really liked it, however I was getting EXTREMELY confused by all the fancy tech talk, no offense to you guys of course. So here’s what I did: I went and found one of my old cell phone chargers, it was registered for an input of 9 volts and the fan is 12 volts. I cut the computer attachment off the fan and the phone attachment off the charger, connected the red wires to the red wires and black to black. BINGO. It was a little fast though, so I went and found a 5.4 volt cell phone charger and did the exact same thing. Now it spins slow enough to move the air but not fast enough to constantly be bending the plants. If you don’t find coloration on the wires, just try it and if it doesn’t work switch the wire connection and it should work just fine. After testing, wrap the exposed wires with electrical tape and you’re through. I’m no genius so I don’t know about fire hazards or anything, it’s such a small voltage though I don’t think anything major is at risk because of it. I got 100 red and 100 blue LED’s on eBay for $10 a piece and I’m waiting on them to get here before I start building. Love this idea Veggie Gardener, saved me so much money! Let me know how the fans work or if you have any disclaimers for it please post so myself along with others can know the facts.


  30. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    Brad, lower voltage should be ok though I would recommend checking the amps on your charger compared to the fan. Normally phone chargers draw about 500ma where CPU fan is usually more than 1amp. This could cause the power supply to heat up and fail. What exactly can happen during failure I am not sure.


  31. Anonymous Says:

    Interesting idea for off season use of your LED Christmas lights. As for removing bulbs, some LED lights have removable bulbs and some do not. HOWEVER, keep in mind that with LED light sets the bulbs should ONLY be replaced with a bulb of the same type and color! Different color LEDs are different voltages. The light strings are made for the specific color bulbs that are in the sets. (IE: The cord for a set of blue LEDS is different than a cord for a red set!) If you swap in different color bulbs you are asking for trouble. Using the wrong cord can cause problems such as bulbs blowing out or bulbs lighting very dimly. Different problems can occur depending on the specific combination of bulbs and cords. As for fire hazard there is virtually none with LED lights since they don’t produce heat. (I’m referring to manufactured LED light sets not a DIY setup. If you make your own be sure to take the proper precautions.) Unless you have a bad set with bare wires or a short it is unlikely for there to be any problem. Even non LED lights that do heat up don’t produce enough heat to create a significant fire hazard. People have been putting them on Christmas trees (dead and dried out) and houses for a long time. I’ve never heard of a fire starting from the heat of the bulbs. If the bulbs got hot enough to spontaneously burst into flames then it would not be legal to sell them and they would not be UL listed. Fires start when people do unsafe (or stupid) things such as using unsafe light sets with bad insulation or when they install lights in an unsafe manner (across a sharp metal edge).(For those of you who need some help finding LED sets in the off season drop by the forums at http://www.planetchristmas.com. There are several vendors who post there–check the LED forum.)TED


  32. Tara Says:

    Greetings – long time gawper, first time squeaker. If one were to extend the holes and xmas lights all the way around the grow box, would that be enough lumens to grow from seed until harvest? Or are lumens irrelevant in this context? Also, using an entirely blue pattern grid, would this be suited for seed germination?Sorry if these enquiries are idiotic. I’m a slow learner. PS From my (admittedly remedial) vantage point this is – hands down, no contest – the best gardening writing I’ve ever read.


  33. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    Tara, it is entirely possible to grow plants from seed to harvest using LEDs but as the plants grow their need for light energy increases especially for fruiting plants. Unfortunately there are not too many vegetables that can grow to maturity using a couple strings of LEDs but with some more powerful ones you can get great results.As for using just blue lights, the plants need both blue/red to have healthy growth. If you are growing small seedlings that would be planted outside a little after they see their first true leaves you probably could get away with blue LEDs. If you have an alternate light source blue LEDs do make a great supplement to other lighting you may have.


  34. Tara Says:

    Thank you. I have seen those LED grids for high, high prices on Ebay, etc. It would be lovely to think such things were in the reach of the common man for a fraction of the cost.


  35. jes Says:

    GREAT IDEA, AWESOME JOB!!


  36. t3chn0b0y Says:

    So what have the results been? one could also drill holes and put a few strands of lights on the sides of the tote also, maybe some mylar or tin foil to increase the light.


  37. Eric Will Says:

    Did you check for Christmas Lights at Christmas Central? THey have them all.


  38. Mandy Says:

    I just found this site today, and I’m wondering if we are just talking about vegetable and fruit plants, or will this work for other types of plants as well?


  39. Ned Says:

    If you power your LED string from a bridge rectifier and capacitor you will get at least twice the brightness. The cheap christmas lights use just a resistor in series with about 25 LEDs (in the case of white LEDs, which have a higher forward voltage than red ones do). So they only turn on for a small percentage of each AC line cycle (only on the positive half). You can show this by swinging the LEDs around when they’re lit and looking at the relative length of the lit and unlit areas. If you add a bridge rectifier and capacitor (make sure you do this safely!) you can get the duty cycle (the percentage of the time that they’re lit) up from 15% or so to a much higher level.


  40. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    It is nearly impossible to make lights spontaneously catch on fire. The Mythbusters even did an episode on this without any luck doing some serious extremes.


  41. ohsnapiam56 Says:

    I bought a strip of LEDs for my kitchen under the counter. Can I use these lights?


  42. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    ohsnapiam, don’t see why not though if they are very low wattage might take several to get the intensity you want with them


  43. attrezzop Says:

    Hey cheap vegetable gardener,

    How well do you think high intensity LEDs would do on an adult herb crop. I want to have herbs growing in my house but the best place to put them would be in a vertical grower near a west facing window where I don’t think they’d get much light…

    Do you think an array of ultra-bright (1-watt) leds would be enough to keep them healthy?

    What about regular florescents?


  44. led lights Says:

    the LED can help the plants growing.very interesting


  45. Ed Campbell Says:

    Can I take two boxes and insert one into the other, put holes in the bottom of the inserted box and a hole in the form of a spout in the outside one, and convert it into an outside grow box? Looking for a cheap way to have an outside vegetable garden.

    Ed


  46. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    Ed, why not use sunlight outside? Possibly use to supplement light in that case I would go for a clear box…


  47. Rockwall Christmas Lights Says:

    When my daughter was in school, we did a science project one year testing various colors of Christmas lights and found dramatic differences in the growth of her test plants.

    If I remember correctly, plants grew larger and faster with light from the blue spectrum.


  48. outdoor_gardens Says:

    @rockwall : Yes. Plants can really benefit from the blue spectrum since this is the kind of light that can trigger shoot and leaf growth :)


  49. christmas light growing??? Says:

    [...] wanna start a new thread but need some opinions: Check this out: http://www.cheapvegetablegardener.co…-grow-box.html and: http://www.popsci.com/lightspikes and: http://www.ledgrow.eu/ would using the same ratio of [...]


  50. led strip lights Says:

    I have the christmas lights, just don’t have a glue gun. I’m hoping it wont prove too difficult without a glue gun.

    I got the christmas lights in a sale too :D


  51. TinaRD Says:

    What a great idea. Hydroponics are just too expensive. I’ll have to try this. Thanks.


  52. CityJoe Says:

    Your article about vegetables is very interesting. I found it on Google. Superb article!!!


  53. Gr8 Says:

    Thanks for all the ideas for the dark winter ahead.
    On the ventilation issue; it may be easier to control the leaf bending using the fan to suck air out and use small holes to limit airflow in. Less wind chill, its not blowing on plants and more even flow, you pick where and how much the air comes in.
    At least that’s the theory in cow barns where big full speed fans are required, but you don’t wanna freeze your water lines.
    -COOL cows come from Wisconsin-


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  57. LED strip Says:

    A very interesting use of LED lights.


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  59. Duke Says:

    Big lots has cheap LED Christmas lights 5 dollies a box of 30 red . Use the out side blue 130 for 18 dollars


  60. Juraj antonak Says:

    Most led christmass lights are very cheap leds and do not provide enough light and also not the right wavelength , but if you attempt this project , you will be more succesfull if you can find leds that look clear but when turned on emit a colour.
    These are usualy a higher quality of led and more light will be emmited, also use a mix of red and blue lights , 75% red and 25% blue , this will give your plants a boost .
    I live in canada so for most of the year its not too warm so I grow most of my plants indoor for 50% of the time. I have been growing all sorts of plants with leds but these are of high power but they develop beautifull plants ,flowers and fruits.


  61. jeffrey Says:

    sir, i just wanna ask if you know the total watt of one LED bulb?

    i need a reply as soon as possible XD thank you.


  62. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    jeffrey, the strings range from 2.4 to 4.8 watts depending if they are “premium” or not. This would equate to about 0.08 watts per bulb.


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  64. Frederik Herholdt Says:

    Hi I saw your solution for growing plants with artificial light,so I’m wondering if I may use this for a school project. If i can have your permission that would be nice.


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  66. Happy LED Light Says:

    Great DIY and inspiration, I am going to try this tonight :)


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  72. AutoflowerWeed Says:

    Wow that is a cool set up :D never would thought that Christmas lights would be good for growing!
    I have also grown with LED lights and I wrote an article about why LED grow lights are better than any other lights..


  73. DOYLE HOWARD Says:

    READ ABOUT THIS MONTHS BACK WAS GETTING READY TO TRY THIS MYSELF ANY SUGGESTIONS WOULD BE HELPFUL AND WELCOME, THANK YOU


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  75. grow tent Says:

    So what about all those studies showing horrible things happen to meat
    eaters. Impossible outdoors, but entirely achievable indoors with grow closets.
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