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Who Needs The Sun? Growing Better Produce With LED Lights

What sort of light do plants favor best? It’s a question that farmers – and curious middle school science fair participants – have been pondering since the dawn of time. It’s generally accepted that sunlight is essential for flowers, vegetables, and a host of other plants to flourish, but is there another way around that?

The new answer to this question is Yes— at least according to scientists at Phillips’ GrowWise Center, an urban farming laboratory in the Netherlands, whose research focuses on finding the proper wavelength. Behold, the “light recipe”: a substitutional approach to meeting plant’s photosynthetic needs through red and blue LED lights.

Not unlike the “HappyLights” used to treat seasonal affective disorder, the lights at Phillips GrowWise Center mimic the colors that plants detect (or “see”), enabling them to grow. Every plant is different, which means these scientists are always thinking up new recipes for success.

Different light blends produce different effects– tomatoes develop higher concentrations of Vitamin C and basil tastes sweeter depending on whether they achieve their recommended dose of light, and the list goes on and on. “By being able to tweak the spectrum – the color the plants see – and put the lights exactly where they need it, we can dramatically increase yields and improve fruit density and quality,” Gus van der Feltz told Co.Exist last month.

Aside from simply looking and sounding cool, Phillips’ LED agriculture shows significant promise as a keystone of urban farming operations, as well as a supplement to traditional greenhouses. As the agricultural community continues to invest in and explore the potential of indoor vertical farms – structures with no natural light – “light recipes” will likely emerge as one of the defining components of such facilities’ success. At the very least, the innovation should go over well with down-on-their-luck, windowless apartment dwellers convinced that gardening is an impossibility for them. In the future, with the right amount of light, we may begin to see gardens of a quality we never thought possible.

Below, take a closer look at Phillips’ “light recipes”:

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