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It's What Plants Reach For!

 

Considering that the earth has supported a great diversity of plant types for about 420 million years, it’s entirely logical to think that the plant/sun relationship is both a dynamic and an intimate one. When considering what’s required to supplyyour greenhouse and indoor plants with the best in artificial lighting, it’s a good tactic to think about exactly what aspects of this relationship have led to successful outdoor crop production.

Humans have a condition that, at times, may make it difficult for us to understand the complex interplay of highly evolved plant systems. This mindset, anthropocentrism, refers to people who tend to carry on as though they were at the center of the universe. This can lead to shortsighted closed-mindedness and an failure to grasp the “big picture." Combining a dose of anthropocentrism with a “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality can absolutely hinder the design and development of artificial lighting systems for our indoor grow rooms.

 

                      

As agricultural lighting engineers, we are able to diminish the importance of the natural symbiosis that occurs between broad spectrum sunlight and plants by encouraging development with specific narrow band wavelengths, which research reveals to be beneficial during specific phases of growth.

These kinds of findings haveushered in a widely accepted market-driven approach to indoor plant grow lighting that has traditionally been one where crops react favorably to red light during their bloom phase and prefer blue light during their vegetative stage. This mode of thinkinghas become accepted doctrine to the point of seeming like a sort of law; however, these conclusions were the result of laboratory trials in which the chlorophyll response was measured against a wide spectrum of light frequencies and those with the highest response were deemed photosynthetically active while the remainder were deemedsurplus and expendable. This approach, while adequate for selling a great assortment of lamp varieties, fails to consider the big picture approach to lamp design, which intuitively supposes that plants exposed to broad spectrum wavelengths are more inclined to respond the way that plants thriving under broad spectrum sunlight conditions grow.

Bolstered by this knowledge and motivated by escalating utility costs, engineers have endeavored to bring about lamp technologies that deliver intensities and PAR spectra that are energy efficient, have a long life, have a low rate of depreciation, have stable spectrum and afford low thermal contribution while maximizing crop production values.

This quest has led to conceiving lamps that decrease, or in the case of many LED panels, eliminate what are considered “wasted” wavelengths while emphasizing the wavelengths linked to optimum plant response.

The lion’s share of LED manufacturers embody this mindset to the extreme by producing panels that are either all RED diodes, all BLUE diodes or a hybrid matrix of the two, essentiallyshunning what they consider the “less important” wavelengths. These newer generation approaches to indoor lamp technology usually examine plants’ photosynthetic response, and any increase in that response is marked down as a positive. We feel this approach shortsighted, failing to properly address the overall well-being of the plant.

When you’re thinking about which artificial light to employ in your indoor garden, remember that the indoor grow light that you select impacts every component of your system: water temperature, air temperature, evapotranspiration rates, relative humidity, vapor pressure deficit, rate of CO2 uptake, dissolved oxygen levels, symbiotic bacterial densities, disease resistance, pest resistance, canopy biomass, root biomass, fruit and flower production, nutrient density, bricks levels — the list goes on and on. In natural conditions under sunlight, where plants get broad spectrums throughout their growth cycle, successful plant development is realized via the process of natural equilibrium, where all of these aspectsunite to affect overall plant health.

Artificial lamps can’t recreate the sun in terms of power consumption and broad spectra, at least not economically. Indoor gardening would simply not be affordablewith the use of such a light. Sacrifices are required.

When considering those compromises, the goal is to diminish those spectrums that will probablyexert a negative impact on plant development, but not completely eradicate those spectrums from a lamp that emits broad PAR spectrums like what plants would receive under sunlight conditions.

In the end, a narrow spectrum approach to artificial plant lighting design demands the question: if approximately 400,000 varieties of plant life exist on the earth from drastically different environments, why should anyone try to execute a generalized model to dynamic and diverse population?

In conceiving and promoting stage-specific lamp solutions we have effectively separated ourselves from any natural cycle and subsequently impaired our capability ofgrasping the wonderful solution that nature has provided. In order to grow plants that are nutrient dense, prolific, and healthy, we as engineers have to tackle artificial lamp design beginning with a correct notion of natural conditions.

It’s our opinion that the most effective light forcultivating plants is the sun — it always has been and always will be. The reason? Four billion years of symbiotic evolution.

Greenhouse growerscapitalize on that evolution as their crops rely on sunlight as their primary light source. When time of year and/or growing regions require that supplemental lighting systems come into play to boost insufficient levels of sunlight for a given crop, the greenhouse gardener will also benefit fromdiscovering that the latest technologies blend energy efficiencies, crop repeatability, reduced time to harvest, tighter internodal spacing, increased fruit and flower sizes and higher quality for their crops.

High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting systems have been employed as artificial lighting systems in both indoor gardens and greenhouses for about the past four decades. What separates the greenhouse grower from the indoor grower is that the greenhouse gardener relies on sunlight as their principal light source, so the supplemental lighting system they choose should deliver the light spectrums that theircrop needs. Wastingvaluable resources by running supplemental lighting at higher intensities when natural light conditions make that unnecessary doesn’t make sense.

A historic shortcoming of any HID system is that it needs long restrike times once it is turned off. To go from a cooling-off period to full intensity usually takes 20 minutes or longer. This type of technology is not a very good counterpart to SCADA-based control systems where the light output levels can be instantaneously turned off or on, and then lowered or raised as ambient conditions dictate. In the end, it is lighting and control systems that allow greater control abilities and empower the greenhouse gardener to meet his or her plants’ daily light integrals without wasting energy.

As an industry, it’s up to us to try more sincerely to accelerate the evolution of those technologies that diminish waste and perform more efficiently than prior generation technologies. Indeed, it’s a Herculean job to attempt to pinpoint every one of the collateral variables that can beaffected, whether directly or indirectly, by the artificial light source. But one thing is for sure: all the considerable effort is valuable and necessary, as a strong understanding of these underlying relationships will deliver unrivalled yields and unprecedented qualityoverall.

As caretakers of the earth, it falls to us as manufacturers to leave behind obsolete designs and approach our future lamp designs with the intention torecreate nature as close as we can, by supplying the market with a low wattage/long life, recyclable lighting system that possesses stable, broad spectrums that see our plants through from propagation to final flower, from generation to generation.

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