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US (MA): Lettuce grower decreases crop cycle by 30%

Fresh Roots Greenhouse is a hydroponic lettuce, herb and leafy greens grower based in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. After 40 years in the pharmaceutical industry, Fresh Roots’ owner Bill Evans wanted to give back to his community during his retirement years. He found himself drawn to how cooperative-run greenhouses like Evergreen Cooperatives and WellSpring Cooperative created jobs for underserved members in addition to providing local produce, which inspired him to build Fresh Roots Greenhouse. Fresh Roots’ state-of-the-art Harnois greenhouse uses an AmHydro Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) system to grow arugula, kale, basil, and several varieties of lettuce.

The potential to direct plant growth
Since Bill’s goal is to run his greenhouse year-round, he needed the most energy-efficient lighting system possible. His experiences growing with HPS and fluorescent lights at other facilities had been suboptimal. While the fixtures grew plants, Bill could tell that the plants were not growing as quickly and that the red varieties were not coloring up as expected. Bill felt that LEDs were the most practical financial choice – while LEDs cost a bit more up front, they would save him money on electricity and labor in the long run. After Bill learned about spectrum and LumiGrow through Melanie Yelton, Vice President of LumiGrow Research, at a hydroponic tomato growing course at the University of Arizona, he was eager to learn more and stayed in touch. He was impressed with LumiGrow Research’s depth of knowledge and hands-on approach to helping customers implement the latest lighting strategy research. As a result, LumiGrow was top of mind for Bill when he began to search for the right LED lighting system for Fresh Roots Greenhouse.

“I really believe in the promise of spectral science,” says Bill, “From the time I met Melanie [at University of Arizona] and learned about LED lighting’s potential to direct plant growth, I’ve wanted to work with LumiGrow.”

Extending photoperiod to maximize growth
Bill implemented LumiGrow fixtures across the Fresh Roots entire greenhouse. He uses them for all NFT stages of plant growth. Bill was eager to start growing and immediately began using the lights to extend his plants’ photoperiod to 21 hours.

“Keeping the light on for 21 hours keeps the plants awake,” explains Bill, “If they’re kept awake, we maximize their growth period.”

Fresh Roots lettuce varieties reach harvest size about 30% faster than their typical light exposure seen in soil farming. The seed manufacturer reports a typical harvest after 50-55 days, whereas the LumiGrow-lit lettuce is ready after about 35-40 days. Bill has had success growing a wide variety of lettuces, from green butterhead to green leaf to romaine. Depending on the variety, the finished lettuce heads weigh between 7-10 oz. Each variety grows a bit differently under the LumiGrow lights.

Bill has also successfully reduced his basil’s crop cycle by over 35-40%. The basil plants reach harvest size in 35-42 days – unlit greenhouse-grown basil can take up to 56-68 days as reported by the seed manufacturer.

Additional savings using smartPAR Light Sensors
Bill has moved past simple daylight extension and is using LumiGrow fixtures to automate his lighting strategy to improve production. Bill is using LumiGrow smartPAR Light Sensors to constantly monitor the light levels inside the greenhouse and adjust the fixture intensity to achieve a daily light integral (DLI) of 17 μmol·m−2·s−1 over the course of each 21-hour photoperiod. Once the target DLI is reached, the LumiGrow smartPAR Wireless Control System turns down the fixtures’ light intensity to minimize electricity use while keeping the plants awake for the full photoperiod. Bill is happy to see that his plants are thriving under the LumiGrow fixtures.

Bill was even happier to discover that in addition to consistently reaching his lighting goals, the smartPAR Light Sensors are maximizing his LumiGrow fixtures’ energy efficiency. After Fresh Roots’ smartPAR Light Sensors were installed, Bill noticed that his electricity bill was significantly lower than when he was simply turning the fixtures on at the end of the day to extend photoperiod. Bill can rest easy knowing that he can rely on his smart lighting to deliver the appropriate amount of light every day while saving him money each month.

Bill also appreciates the flexibility that LumiGrow adjustable spectrum offers. While Bill prefers to use his LumiGrow smartPAR Light Sensors to automate his greenhouse’s lighting, he likes that the LumiGrow smartPAR Wireless Control System also gives him the option to adjust each spectral channel to create custom spectral strategies. His LumiGrow fixtures’ versatility and user-friendly software make it simple to fine-tune his spectral programs as leafy greens research continues to develop. Bill likes that smartPAR enables him to easily create new lighting zones, which opens the possibility of growing new varieties of leafy greens under different ratios of light spectrum

In the meantime, Bill will continue to provide high-quality, locally-grown leafy greens to the local community in Massachusetts and share his passion for LumiGrow technology.

“I love sharing the many properties of these lights with people, particularly the science and engineering behind them,” says Bill, “Year-round supplemental lighting is not something a lot of greenhouses in this area have yet.”

For more information:
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