Strawberry plants like the blues

​​Just about any plant with the right lighting and in the right environment can be grown indoors, but it turns out that determining ideal conditions for growth is not a one-size-fits-all affair. Today, it is pretty well established that different plant species have different needs and requirements, and this happens to be especially true in the realm of lighting where different plant species react differently to different wavelengths of light. This is why it is important to understand the effect of different lighting conditions on a plant species-by-plant species basis. One recent study that emphasises this point looked at the growth of strawberry plants under different kinds of artificial light with some interesting conclusions that might be relevant to anybody thinking about growing their own strawberries indoors.

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Maximising the cucumber yield

​If you are a cucumber grower and you are looking for ways to increase your yield of the ​vegetable, or just ​looking to extend ​its growing season well into the autumn, then you may be interested in a recent scientific study from Poland looking at the different types of supplemental grow lighting on the yield and quality of cucumbers.

​Natural light during the autumn months is usually not sufficient to grow cucumbers very ​efficiently and commercial cucumber growers often use supplemental lighting in the form of high pressure sodium (HPS) lamps to extend the period in which they can successfully grow the vegetable. However, as it is becoming increasingly accepted in more recent times, HPS lamps are seen as energy guzzlers and being able to switch to more efficient LED lighting presents significant benefits.

​In this study, the researchers compared HPS lamps with LED lamps in three different supplemental top-lighting and inter-lighting combinations (HPS top-lighting alone (HPS), HPS top-lighting plus LED inter-lighting (Mix), and LED top-lighting and LED inter-lighting (100%LED)):

​Testing cucumber growth under 3 different supplemental lighting combinations

​HPS
​Mix
​100% LED
Top-lighting
HPS
HPS
LED
Inter-lighting
--
LED
LED
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Growing healthy tomato seedlings

​​One of the problems with growing tomato plants in artificial environments especially under artificial lighting is a physiological disorder that negatively affects the​ir growth and ultimately also the tomato fruit yield. The disorder manifests itself through the appearance of callouses or bumps on the leaves and veins of the plants, and rarely occurs in tomato plants that have been grown in greenhouses. We at LED Grow Lights HQ, have personally experienced this issue when growing cherry tomato plants indoors under the TaoTronics LED grow light - no longer sold - (which emitted light in three light wavelengths, namely, red (630nm), orange (610nm) and blue (460nm)). Fortunately in our case the problem was not too serious, and we were able to get a decent enough yield of tomato fruit. However, the disorder is likely to be an important issue for any growers thinking of using artificial environments to grow tomatoes, and it would be nice to avoid this problem in any of our own future indoor tomato grows.

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Even plants are affected by their youth

Anyone debating whether to use fluorescent lighting or LED lighting for indoor gardening, or ​trying to decide on which ratio of red to blue light to use, may well be advised to pay attention to ​this recent South Korean study, especially when it comes to the ​lighting ​requirements of seedlings. In this 2018 study, the researchers briefly grew 2-week old cherry tomato seedlings under different combinations of red and blue light versus a fluorescent light control for 4 weeks before transfer to a regular greenhouse (i.e. natural sunlight) with some striking results.

Seedling light treatment
Abbreviation
0 DAT ^
37 DAT ^
68-75 DAT ^
Fluorescent (+HPS**)
control
less growth
less growth
​smaller harvest
​100% Red LEDs
​0B
​more growth
medium harvest
​87% Red : 13% Blue LEDs
​13B
​more growth
largest harvest
74% Red : 26% Blue LEDs
26B
​65% Red : 35% Blue LEDs
​35B
​53% Red : 47% Blue LEDs
​47B
medium harvest
41% Red : 59% Blue LEDs
59B
less growth
less growth
​smaller harvest
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Best light recipes for growing lettuce indoors

An interesting study ​from NASA published just recently looks at different LED light recipes for growing lettuce indoors. The US researchers grew the Outredgeous variety of lettuce (part of the Romaine family of lettuces but with red leaves) due to its known sensitivity to the light spectrum, where it was grown for 28 days in a special LED grow light chamber, akin to a grow tent with grow lights, called the Advanced Plant Habitat that is used on the International Space Station (ISS). ​The grow lights were on for 18 hours ​per day and a total PAR light output of 180 µmol / m​2 / sec ​was tested using seven different LED light combinations as follows:

Light Treatments
Abbreviation
​Key Lettuce Characteristics Observed
White only
W
​(baseline)
​Red + Blue
​RB
​High ​nutrient ​concentration & small size
White + Blue
WB
​High ​nutrient ​concentration & small size
White ​+ Green
WG
​Fast early stage growth
White ​+ Red
WR
​Fast late stage growth
White ​+Far Red
WFR
​Longer petioles​ & smaller leaves
Red, Green, Blue + Far Red
RGB + FR
​Largest size
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How to grow bigger tomatoes

​For all the tomato growers out there. A study done in 2012 highlights the value of supplemental inter-lighting (lighting that is right in amongst the leaves, providing light to the lower shaded areas of the plants) on tomato production. In this study, the researchers from Japan, grew tomatoes in a greenhouse setting (ie. with natural light) but supplemented with fluorescent inter-lighting. They found that the application of this intra-canopy lighting specifically during the tomato fruit development stage could significantly increase the weight and sugar content of the tomatoes produced.

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The IKEA indoor garden

​​IKEA is one of the latest mainstream retailers to jump onto the indoor gardening bandwagon with their own range of indoor gardening equipment allowing anyone to grow their own herbs at home. The IKEA indoor gardening system is not dissimilar to indoor herb gardens from other indoor gardening specialists, but with IKEA's focus on interior design, the indoor garden ​blends more harmoniously ​into the home. The IKEA indoor garden is simple but stylish in the typical IKEA way. The simplicity of the system makes the setup of ​the indoor garden a painless process that is ideal for the non-green fingered amongst us. Impressively, IKEA even provides ​us with everything ​we need to go from seed to harvestable herbs without the need to look anywhere else.

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Growing Underground

Image of a person tending to a hydroponic farm located in an underground tunnel by the start-up company, Growing Underground

​Once you have got the indoor-growing bug, there is almost no limitation as to where you can actually set up your indoor garden, and if you do it in the right place, the endeavour can even be quite profitable too. Just ask the founders of Growing Underground, who have recently set up an indoor farm over 30m below the streets of London in a disused World War II air-raid shelter of all places.  Crucial to its success is its proximity to lots of food markets and eateries allowing them to carve out a niche in London’s fresh produce market by producing ultra-fresh produce that tastes better and is more nutritious since only having been harvested just a few hours earlier. Growing Underground is the creation of Richard Ballard and Steven Dring, two entrepreneurs that spotted a gap in the London fresh produce market but they also have some pretty impressive directors on their board including Chris Nelson, a consultant well-known in the horticultural arena, and Michel Roux Jr., the chef patron of the Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant, Le Gavroche. The growing tunnels themselves are located underneath London Underground’s Northern Line where the farm remains isolated from changes in seasonal variations in surface climate allowing produce to be grown year-round. In addition, the underground location is not accessible to typical farming pests and diseases so pesticides are unnecessary making the produce even more desirable. Unsurprisingly, the founders have opted for using hydroponics to make the system as efficient as possible and to dramatically reduce their water requirements, and LED lighting is used to optimise growing conditions while keeping energy costs down. So far, Growing Underground has been successful in marketing Watercress, Thai Basil, Red Vein Sorrel, Pea Shoots, Mustard, Red Amaranth, Garlic Chive, Coriander, Mizuna, Rocket, and Radish, and the company is doing so well that it just recently secured further funding to expand into yet more underground tunnels.

Vertical gardening – Coming soon to a work place near you…

Image of a type of vertical wall garden known as PodPlants

​Vertical gardening is slowly but surely becoming mainstream, even spreading to environments that one would not normally associate with much greenery like the work place. One such example are PodPlants which were developed specifically to cater to the office environment. PodPlants are 2.4m high sealed vertical garden modules that are designed to be free-standing and low maintenance. The units are made out of recycled ABS plastic but the walls of the unit are kept very thin making each PodPlants unit weigh in at only 20 kg which is unusually light given the overall size. They use a patented irrigation system developed by the creator where the exposed roots of the plants dangle within the device, and is based on the increasingly-prevalent aeroponics technology which feeds plants using an air-suspended mist of nutrient solution. One of the problems with many aeroponics setups is that they are also a breeding place for bacteria, but the inherent design of the patented PodPlants is designed to address this issue. As a result, plants grown in PodPlants are healthier allowing them to grow more vigourously. The PodPlants are very easy to install, with the only requirement that they be located next to a power socket - no additional piping or drainage is required as with other vertical gardens. One reason for the increasing popularity of plants in the work place is the recognition that they not only increase the health and wellbeing of their workers but also increase worker productivity as much as 15 percent! Now that’s a compelling reason for any company to install a vertical garden and why PodPlants are becoming so popular.

Hydroponics made simple

Image of the Grow Float, a simple table-top hydroponic system

​The Grow Float

​There are many ways to ‘grow your own’ using hydroponics but it is a fast moving area and new ideas are coming to the market all the time. The Grow Float is one such design that really shows how simple the technology can be. It essentially reduces hydroponics down to a receptacle for the nutrient-laden water and some floating baskets for the plants to grow in (you also need a water aerator but that is only used intermittently). The nice thing about the Grow Float is that it is so simple, you can almost just make your own DIY version, but part of the appeal of the official version is the 'polished' finish designed to look like a hip house plant that is comfortable on your kitchen countertop. It debuted on Kickstarter in 2014 and has since evolved into a small business for the creator. 

Image of the GrowGrip, used to provide physical support to plants in large-scale hydroponic systems

Another Kickstarter project, the GrowGrip, which is a new design for supporting plants in large-scale hydroponic systems is almost ridiculous in its simplicity. The GrowGrip units look like someone just did a quick cut out of some foam packaging (and maybe they have), but once you understand the idea behind it, you realise it really does solve an efficiency problem when growing lots of plants hydroponically, and it does so in such a simple way.