Adam Green was pursuing a career in filmmaking when he realized his real passion was raising the finest microgreens for the world’s top chefs. Now, the 25-year-old directs AGreen Farms, an indoor hydroponic farm in Philadelphia that specializes in selling garnishes to restaurants and hospitality establishments. Of course, it’s not easy to make a mint while growing mint in the city, and that’s why Green is investing in LED horticulture lighting from Current, powered by GE, to produce herbs and edible flowers that make culinary pros go wild.
Light is one of the most important factors growing any crop. But, how can you be sure that your plants are receiving enough light? There is a way to measure the light intensity received by your plants.
Stan Gordon discovered the ultimate houseplant in 1986 when a friend gifted him a single orchid commemorating the birth of his daughter. Fast-forward 33 years, and Gordon finds himself surrounded by over 70,000 orchid plants in a 10,000-square-foot greenhouse in Louisville, Colorado. Business is always “blooming” at Fantasy Orchids with an ever-changing assortment of colorful, fragrant flowers, thanks in part to new LED lighting from Current, powered by GE, that makes growing season a year-round proposition.
Michigan State University researchers are studying the effects of sole source LED grow lights on edible and ornamental crops.
Michigan State University opened its Controlled-Environment Lighting Laboratory (CELL) in 2017. The 400-square-foot vertical farm research facility is being used to study the indoor production of high-value specialty crops, including edibles and ornamentals with LED grow lights.
New DLI maps have been created from an updated database that includes data from 1998 to 2009.
Daily light integral (DLI) is the amount of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) received each day as a function of light intensity and duration. DLI maps display the ambient light delivered daily during each month across the entire United States. The original maps released in 2002 were researched and developed by Jim Faust at Clemson University and Joanne Logan at the University of Tennessee.
The Lighting Approaches to Maximize Profits (LAMP) project aims to determine how growers can maximize their return on investment when considering installing grow lights.
As light emitting diodes (LEDs) become more efficient and more affordable, an increasing number of greenhouse and plant factory growers will consider installing LED luminaires to light their crops. In the case of greenhouse growers, these luminaires would provide light to supplement natural sunlight. For plant factory growers, production depends entirely on the light provided by an artificial light source including LEDs, high pressure sodium or metal halide luminaires.
The use of supplemental light to control downy mildew on food and ornamental crops could be integrated into current disease management practices.
Downy mildew is a major disease on both ornamental and food crops. Whether these crops are grown outdoors or in a controlled environment, environmental conditions, generally cool to moderate temperatures and high humidity, are favorable to downy mildew development. Warm temperatures and high humidity are conducive to powdery mildew development.
The LED light recipes that NASA scientists are developing on Earth could eventually be used by astronauts in space and growers on the ground to optimize the production of food crops.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been growing plants in space for research since the early 1980s. Within the last five years, NASA has been focusing on growing plants in space primarily for food production and as an astronaut life support system.
Osram’s smart horticulture lighting system prototype used in NASA ground research to help provide space crews with a reliable source of fresh food
WILMINGTON, Mass. & KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.–Osram, a global high-tech lighting company, today announced it is providing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with a customized version of its proprietary connected horticulture research lighting system, Phytofy RL. The smart lighting software, coupled with a unique setup of connected grow light fixtures, will supplement the lighting technology used in NASA’s Food Production Research focused on production of salad-type crops for crews during space travel. All software, hardware and LEDs in Phytofy were developed by Osram. Osram has developed a broad portfolio of horticulture LEDs that irradiate the specific wavelengths needed for optimum growth of a wide variety of plants and flowers, allowing the light to be adapted specifically for the needs of various crops.
Urban grower Karla Garcia is proud to announce the creation of her new company, Microgreens FLN based in Sonora, Mexico. Karla is a recent graduate with honors and a master’s degree in plant science from the University of Arizona. She is proud of her company’s commitment specializing in microgreens production using an indoor vertical farming strategy. Microgreens are an emerging class of specialty leafy greens and herbs. The crops are harvested when the cotyledons are fully developed and in some cases when the young plants have one true leaf.
CROPS: Local by Atta produces a variety of lettuces, basil, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, cilantro and microgreens. Products are sold at farmers markets, health food stores, grocery stores, restaurants and through a weekly basket program. The basket program is expected to increase sales as the company looks to expand with pick up at local businesses, municipal buildings and its new production facility.
TECHNOLOGY: GE Arize Lynk LED Growing System
Local by Atta was founded by Julian and Jesse Howatt. The two brothers, who grew up on a farm, have professional backgrounds in urban planning.
“Even though we grew up on a farm we have an interest in cities,” said Julian Howatt. “In 2012-2013 we reached a point in our careers that we wanted to start an urban farm together. I had been growing lettuce hydroponically in my apartment. We scaled it up to a shed in my brother’s backyard. In late 2013 we started a small-scale commercial farm and in March 2014 we began selling at a local farmers market.”
Julian said one of the reasons that they chose to do indoor hydroponics was the limitations of an outdoor urban farm.
“With an outdoor urban farm there are limitations with the land that is available and it is more difficult to do very intensive farming,” he said. “Also, our climate is not conducive to long growing seasons because of the short summers.
“An indoor farm provides a major competitive advantage for leafy greens. Except for the summer when there is a local supply, for most of the year the majority of leafy greens are coming from California and other parts of the West Coast. We saw the biggest potential starting to sell our products from September through June. It made more sense given the constraints of trying to produce high yields on a small land-based urban farm to go year-round with an indoor farm using a hydroponic production system.”
When the Howatts started growing hydroponically in their backyard shed they were looking to trial a couple of LED lights.
“We wanted a horticultural quality LED fixture and not just some random LED from a hydroponic store where we weren’t sure about the quality of the lights,” Julian said. “I googled horticultural LEDs and found Hort Americas online. I contacted Chris Higgins and I explained that we were setting up a small hydroponic production facility growing lettuce. I spoke to Chris for about an hour and talked about LEDs and lighting issues and ended up purchasing a couple of LEDs. I also read the Hort Americas case study article on Jeffrey Orkin at Greener Roots Farm in Nashville, Tenn. We eventually contacted Jeffrey because we were looking for other hydroponic farmers to exchange notes with and get some advice.”
In late 2013 the Howatts began growing in a commercial building renting 1,500 square feet of space.
“We started off with a nutrient film technique system with PVC channels,” Julian said. “We figured out very quickly that the plumbing for this type of system is much more complex resulting in more issues including leaks, flooding and clogging. We eventually switched over to a raft system.
“Our raft system was five levels high. It was 12 feet high about 24 feet long and 4 feet wide. We had two of these systems. These were our major production systems.”
When the Howatts moved into the building they had limited funds to set up the production facility.
“At the very beginning we started with more fluorescent than LED lights,” Julian said. “We didn’t have a lot of money and LEDs were more expensive. We weren’t willing to make the jump to just LEDs at that point.”
A fire in January 2016 destroyed the interior of the building including $10,000 worth of crops that had just been planted.
“We lost the entire farm to the fire and had to restart,” Julian said. “We had maxed out the space in the building and had already started considering options of expanding, relocating and scaling up our production before the fire occurred. We restarted the business in June 2016 and started selling greens again in September 2016.”
The company’s new location consists of 7,000 square feet with 1,000 square feet of that space used for office, storage and cold storage.
“Our set up is basically a big rectangular space,” Julian said. “We have the space for six large towers. We have the frames built and are currently using three of them. Each tower measures 16 feet tall, 50 feet long and 4½ feet wide and has six production levels. Each level has two ponds measuring 4- by 24-feet. As we expand we are filling in the frames with the ponds, rafts, plumbing, lighting and wiring. The water reservoir is at the bottom of the tower and the water is pumped up to each level and then drains down to the bottom.
“Of the nearly 6,000 square feet of production area we currently are only using half of that space. By next summer we expect to be using all of it. We have about 4,000 square feet under lights. That will double as we expand. It will be close to 8,000 square feet under lights once we are at full production.”
For the new facility the Howatts chose GE LEDs which they have been using since January 2017.
“After the fire we began looking at rebuilding and we only considered installing LEDs,” said Julian. “We didn’t even consider fluorescents. It was mostly because of power constraints. The fluorescent lamps were consuming too much power and generating too much heat. It wasn’t feasible to add more fluorescents.
“Because of the exchange rates we shopped around for price quotes and even though Hort Americas wasn’t the lowest, what we really liked was the customer service that the company offered and the industry knowledge that Chris had that most of the other lighting suppliers didn’t. The other suppliers we contacted had experience related to greenhouse production, but they weren’t as knowledgeable in regards to indoor farming.”
Julian said one of the advantages of using the GE LEDs is their energy efficiency.
“The biggest constraint for us besides money is the power constraint,” he said. “How much power do we have access to in the building can be an issue. It’s not as simple as just getting more power from the utility company.
“The GE LEDs are more efficient so we can get more light for the same amount of power, which is a nice bonus for us. Most of our crops grow better under the GE lights when they have the same light intensity or when we can give them more light because we can afford the power. Generally for most crops the yields are better and the quality of the product is better. This is especially true for red lettuces. We get better red pigmentation.”
The use of LED grow lights to provide specific light wavelengths could allow growers to increase nutritional values of edible crops, enhance the intensity of foliage and flower color and improve the postharvest longevity of ornamental and edible crops.
Improvement in the light intensity delivered by light emitting diodes (LEDs) is helping to expand their use for the production of both edible and ornamental crops. Research with LEDs has been going on for about 30 years. Only within the last 10 years have increases in the light
intensities of LEDs allowed researchers to study the direct effects of narrow wave bands of light on plant physiology.
“LEDs are now available to deliver all blue, all red, all green, all yellow light or mixtures,” said University of Tennessee plant sciences professor Dean Kopsell. “White LEDs are almost a broad spectrum light source. White LEDs are actually mostly blue light with a little bit of red, yellow and green light with a white phosphor over them.”
Kopsell and his colleagues at the University of Tennessee are studying the impact individual types of light can have on the nutritional qualities of edible crops. Their work is focusing on crops that can be produced relatively quickly in 25-35 days, including microgreens and baby greens. They have also begun looking at some herbal crops including basil, tarragon and chives.
Researchers at the University of Tennessee are finding that exposing plants like brassicas to blue light is having a significant effect on their nutritional values. Photos courtesy of Dean Kopsell, Univ. of Tenn.
“Some of the unique things we are finding are when we change the light quality environment, going away from broad band light sources like fluorescent, incandescent and HIDs, and exposing plants to narrow band wavelengths of red and blue light, many things are changing in the plants. These narrow bands of light are having an effect on several plant quality parameters from a metabolic standpoint.”
Potential of specific light wavelengths
University of Tennessee researchers have found that exposing plants to narrow wavelengths of the light spectrum has resulted in the increased production of antioxidants and anti-carcinogenic compounds within the plants.
“What is even more interesting is some of the primary metabolites like the mineral nutrients are also increasing,” Kopsell said. “We are shifting the light ratios and putting more blue light into the mix. Blue light is close to the ultraviolet (UV) range and has higher energy values than red light. Because of the higher energy level associated with blue light, the more blue light we are exposing the plants to, it seems the more significant the results are on nutritional values.
“We haven’t got hard data yet, but everything that we can see, smell and taste, these blue lights not only affect nutrient uptake, and anti-oxidant metabolism, but they also affect aromatic compounds and flavor compounds. They make them more intense.”
Although researchers have only recently begun to study the impact of narrow light wavelengths on plant physiology, Kopsell said this will be the major use of LEDs in future applications.
“Not only is a grower going to be able to select the type of light and intensity from the LED manufacturer, but eventually the grower will know when is the critical time to apply a specific amount of light to a crop. One of the things that we have seen with these short term crops is using the light as a finishing-off treatment. The crops are grown under regular light conditions like any grower would have the ability to do and then just before harvest the plants would receive a specific type of light for a certain period of time. This light treatment would stimulate the plant physiology uptake and metabolism right before the plants go to the retail market.”
Kopsell said research exposing leafy brassicas to blue light prior to harvest has intensified pigments and green leaf color.
“We increased the green pigments in the leaves so that they looked more vibrant,” he said. “Other research has shown that UV light increases the anthocyanin compounds in leaf lettuce. Providing a little UV light, which is blocked out in most greenhouse environments, at the right time, a grower can get a crop to color up quickly before the plants are shipped out. What we have done with leafy greens to intensify the color of the leaves can also be done with petal tissue. By changing the light quality a grower could get more vibrant flower colors.”
Need for fine tune management
Kopsell said whether plants are grown outdoors, in a greenhouse or in a closed controlled environment with artificial light, the plants are using specific wavelengths from the available light source.
“Horticulture, floriculture and agronomic researchers know how much light is needed in order to produce crops with broad spectrum light,” he said. “The million dollar question that hasn’t been answered is how much light is needed from LEDs to achieve that same level of production? It is going to be less than the daily light integral (DLI) from a broad spectrum light source. But, right now we can’t tell you how much less it’s going to be.
“Applying specific light wavelengths when the plants need them, whether it’s for juvenile growth, flowering or fruiting, we don’t have a good grasp on the amount of light that the plants actually need. If a grower is only going to supply his plants with red and blue light, how much less light can a grower use in that production system?”
One of the reasons that plants will not require as much light from LEDs is because of the reduction in light stresses.
University of Tennessee studies have shown LED grow lights provide a less stressful light environment for plants.
“Providing specific types of red and blue light, the amount of stress on plants is reduced because the plants don’t have to tolerate the light not being used for metabolism and physiology,” he said. “We have data that shows LEDs provide a less stressful light environment for plants. So we have to determine how much less light is needed. It is going to require an extra level of management to know what kind of light, how much light and when to apply it. Growers are going to be able to use LEDs to fine tune the light environment. It’s going to depend on the crop, how it’s being grown, where it’s being grown and how the crop will be used. Is it an ornamental, edible or medicinal crop? It’s not going to be as easy as sticking a seed or cutting into a substrate and letting Mother Nature take control. It’s really going to take some fine tune management. But the future looks bright so far.”
For more: Dean Kopsell, University of Tennessee, Plant Sciences Department, Institute of Agriculture, Knoxville, TN 37996-4561; (865) 974-1145; email@example.com.
Hort Americas had the opportunity of the year this past week. Hort Americas was able to visit commercial horticulture businesses (including but not limited to greenhouses, garden centers, vertical farms and plant factories) in Tokyo and Yokohama and then head to an International Meetings on Plant Factory at Chiba University.
We know pictures are worth a thousand words, so please enjoy.
Small garden centers and poinsettias were everywhere.
Plus we had a chance to visit the Sakata Garden Center.
Japanese consumers are definitely willing to pay for quality.
Vertical farming concepts at Farming Frontier 2012
Plant factory research was one of the many reasons for our trip.
Local farmers market in downtown Tokyo.
We will save the details of this one for later.
Green walls on high-end jewelry stores on Ginza St.
Just one display of some of the amazing orchids we saw.
Chiba University is, in our opinion, providing students with an amazing opportunity to innovate in the green world.
Dr. Kozai – nothing more needs to be said.
Climate-controlled propagation of tomatoes for the greenhouse.
Chiba University branded tomatoes.
Mirai’s Plant Factory at Chiba University.
Plant factories in the mall – Mirai.
University of Wageningen and Chiba University working together to innovate the horticulture industry.
A very nice reception at Chiba – International Meeting of Plant Factory 2012.
New technology from Mebiol – Greenhouse-grown tomatoes