Let there be light!

We have now completed the next stage of the build: installing the LED lights which will enable our herbs and salads to grow as if they were being fuelled by natural sunlight.

In Unit 84 we are using Philip’s GreenPower production module LEDs. Philips have substantial experience in horticultural lighting, operating since 1936! These special lights are developed for multi-layer cultivation in environments with little or no natural daylight, making them perfect for the farm.

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So how can you grow plants using electric lighting? Allow us to shed some light on this seemingly peculiar process. Plants naturally use the sun for photosynthesis, as they trap the energy from sunlight in their leaves. LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) replace the sun as the source of this light energy. Plants have a very different sensitivity to light than the human eye, and they use certain wavelengths of light more effectively than others for photosynthesis. By using LEDs, we can fine tune the light wavelengths that the plants receive (mainly red, blue and green) to create a recipe tailored to their needs to optimise their growing. Being able to customise the wavelengths that our plants receive is important because different wavelengths facilitate photosynthesis as well as cell division.

When it comes to our farm operations, LEDs run at cooler temperatures than other horticultural lamps. This means that they can be placed nearer to the plant, ensuring its leaves are receiving a uniform amount and quality of light which encourages homogenous growth. Check out the Philip’s website for more information.

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To some folks, growing plants without sunlight may seem at best an alien concept, at worst artificial (although we know that our greens grown in trials are tried and tested delicious!). Using LED lighting, however, offers a number of benefits for growing sustainable food. When we control what light the plants are receiving, we have more overall control over their growth. This means plants germinate quicker  their roots grow faster, they flower earlier and we get bigger yields. 


Importantly for us, LED lighting is also highly energy efficient. In terms of energy usage, LED lighting systems can use reportedly 85% less energy than traditional methods and using LEDs rather than High Pressure Sodium Lamps, for example, helps us to further lower our energy consumption. Growing with lights also allows us to use our space more economically, as we can grow our produce vertically in layers rather than having to expose all our plants to the sun.


One of the other reasons we love our LEDs is that by allowing us to farm aquaponically indoors, we can minimise the need for fossil fuel derived chemicals – no harmful pesticides and no fertiliser (ours is provided by the fish). This reduces both the inputs for and the waste produced by the farm.


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It seems futuristic, but growing with artificial lighting expands the possibilities of food production exponentially. NASA are even exploring growing with LEDs on space stations! In terms of urban farming, we hope that you, like us, have now seen the light.