Freeman Herbs is a family-owned business that grows a wide variety of organic fresh herbs in Beamsville, Ontario. Founded in 1979 by Tim Freeman, Freeman Herbs is one of the biggest growers and distributors of fresh herbs in Canada. They currently grow 12 organic herb varieties year-round, including basil, parsley and coriander. In the spring and summer, they grow over 150 herbs and vegetables for garden centers.
Dynamic possibilities empowered by LumiGrow
When Freeman Herbs purchased its greenhouse, it was lit with HPS fixtures. Since one of the company’s goals is to have comparable growing times year-round, Marco de Leonardis, Freeman Herbs’ Manager of Research and Development, insisted that they needed to replace them with LEDs.
“The HPS were very old and not very efficient,” recalls Marco, “I always believed that we needed the possibility of changing the lights [spectrum]. That’s why we went with LumiGrow from the beginning.”
Currently, 22,000 square feet of Freeman Herbs’ greenhouse is lit by 290 smartPAR-controlled LumiGrow fixtures. Marco uses the lights’ adjustable spectrum to control his crops’ morphology, flavor, and crop cycle length year-round.
Improved basil flavor
Marco takes pride in how his LumiGrow lights allow him to adjust spectrum to control the morphology of his plants. Using a spectral mix with a high ratio of blue light keeps the internodal length short- approximately 1-2 cm. This means that the plant has less stem and more leaves on the same height plant. As with any herb, customers gravitate toward the ones with the most leaves.
The LumiGrow lights also reduce the time the plants need to grow from seed to harvest by over 20%. During the winter, they only take 5 and a half weeks to reach harvest size. Unlit plants generally take around 7 weeks to mature. This shorter turn length frees up Freeman Herbs’ benches more quickly, allowing Marco to fit in more turns each winter.
The change that Marco is most excited about cannot be seen or quantified in weeks or centimeters. It can literally only be tasted. By using a program with a high ratio of blue to red, he was able to change the flavor profile of his herbs.
“We had 15 professional tasters and 200 consumers who tasted our basil and some parsley. We offered them the same variety of basil treated with high blue spectrum and untreated,” Marco recalls, “They all thought the treated one was a different variety with a much stronger flavor, with a preference for that flavor. It shows that a different spectrum actually improved the quality of the basil.”
All of these improvements in crop quality, morphology and cycle time allow Freeman Herbs to maximize their crop’s profits while using less energy than the facility’s original HPS fixtures would have needed. Freeman Herbs further maximizes their energy efficiency by using LumiGrow light sensors to automate ideal lighting conditions for their parsley crop.
“It’s very useful because we don’t have to think about when the lights go on or off - it’s automatic,” explains Marco, “It’s a lot of savings because times where we would have used light, we didn’t because the sensors decided for us that there was already enough natural light to reach our DLI.”
Controlling downy mildew with spectrum
In addition to controlling the morphology and flavor of his plants, Marco has been able to use spectrum for pest management. Downy mildew is every grower’s worst nightmare. Once it establishes itself, it is extremely difficult to control. When downy mildew pressure was high, Marco used LumiGrow’s red spectrum during the night. The red light prevented the downy mildew from sporulating, which stopped the spread of the disease. Instead of losing tens of thousands of plants, Marco only lost one or two to downy mildew.
“The adjustable spectrum helped me save my production,” says Marco, “A static light will not let you do this.”
A bright future
Overall, Marco is extremely satisfied with Freeman Herbs’ decision to use LumiGrow’s lighting solution. It is a key part of his process for trialing and selecting new herb varieties to sell. He is currently running trials using different spectrums of light to help biological predator colonies better establish themselves in the greenhouse. He has found that growing the herbs under a higher ratio of red to blue is the most effective.
“The quality of the light fixtures and innovation in the software developed by LumiGrow is the best of all the lights I’ve seen,” says Marco. “It’s an easy, straight-forward software.”