There are an impressive 56 different mother plant varieties in the greenhouse of Biological Youngplants, from which over 13 million SKAL certified cuttings are being propagated each year. To improve on both the quality and the cultivation speed of the cuttings, the company uses LED lamps. The lights are equipped in such a way that each lamp can be set for a certain intensity and length of the day. “Every plant has their own lighting needs”, says owner Gerard van der Knaap.
International herb growers
“Our clientele mainly consists of international herb growers”, says Gerard, while he shows how they propagate millions of cuttings each year in the greenhouse of Biological Youngplants in the Dutch town of Poeldijk. “Namely from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland where they want high-quality plants and find it important that the herbs are MRL free.” This is something the company can guarantee thanks to its SKAL certification, which proves that their herb cultivation is done one hundred percent organic. Thanks to the SKAL certification, the company's clients are also able to supply organic products.
Taking extra steps in quality thanks to lighting
To take further steps in terms of quality, Gerard decided to look at the options for lighting last year. “The market, especially in terms of retail, expects the same quality year-round as well as the same quantity of herbs, but in winter we have to deal with a drop in the growing power of the plants. Even with plants like mint, which grow through everything, you will experience a drop in quality and cultivation will take more time. Plants such as rosemary and thyme need a lot more light in order to develop young cuttings.”
However, the fact that it would become possible to create a lighting plan for each individual variety was something he would never have suspected. A variety of suppliers talked about switching between lamps, so, if needed, half could be turned off – but that wouldn’t be of any help. During last year’s trade show, he met Koen Vangorp of Mechatronix, who explained more about the CoolControls lamps, which can be controlled and are wireless. “We are able to adjust the intensity of each lamp as well as the length of lighting.”
Determining the spectrum
Together, Gerard and Koen decided to test out the extent of possibilities that came with the extra controllability of the LED lamps in herb cultivation, which turned out to be vast and wide. “We first tested out spectrums. The spectrum used in fruit vegetable cultivation is too generic for herbs. In herb cultivation, especially when it comes to the propagation of herb plants, the development of the roots is the most important factor.”
This year, the lights were installed above the mother plants. Now that the days are getting shorter, Gerard sees the difference in quality. “Especially in this first season, it is still a matter of trial and error, but we can already see the plants becoming more vigorous. And not only that: the cuttings also grow roots much faster. It seems like the cuttings are bursting with energy. The young plants have more strength.”
Adjustments for each cultivar
In order to get the most out of the plants and the lights, they are busy exploring the option of sensors. “We want to combine the light coming from the sun with that of the lamps to create an ideal amount of light for a certain cultivar, as well as determine the ideal day length for the cutting. Thanks to CoolControls controllable lamps, we can now do just that”, says Gerard.
Cultivation manager Raymond shows how he can adjust the intensity and the day length of the lamps whenever he wants from his computer. He keeps a close eye on how the plants respond to a certain amount of light. “This type of information we also intend to use in the seasons to come.”
Expanding the light
Besides further research into the specific lighting recipes, Biological Youngplants is also busy expanding its lighting. CoolControls lamps will also be placed above the unrooted cuttings.
“We see that the plants are more powerful in terms of growth and of better quality as well. By also lighting during the rooting phase, we expect to take the next steps.” He says that the strength of the plants in the organic sector is of great importance, especially when it comes to herbs. “Our customers don’t have the option of using chemicals, so the plants need to be resilient and sturdy. After all, the plants will eventually end up in the supermarkets and in the homes of consumers, where they will then decide if they want to buy the plant (again). A sturdy plant will give you your money’s worth throughout the entire production chain. Maybe the extra lighting will also help customers to realize a faster cultivation, but no matter what, they will be getting a better quality plant. And in the end, that is what it’s all about.”