Want healthier tomatoes? Grow ‘em with LEDs

May 18, 2013 by

 TreeHugger

tomatoes photo

© Wageningen University

Relatively easy to grow and extremely versatile, nothing gets you in touch with your inner farmer faster than a juicy red tomato plucked right from the vine. When planning a garden, most people envision neat rows lined up in the back yard, but as we’ve reported many times, indoor growing through the use of hydroponic technologies is now affordable as well as convenient.

If you’re considering an indoor system, you may want to opt for one that features LED lights rather than fluorescent. Recent research by Philips, in conjunction with Wageningen University, found that tomatoes can contain more vitamin C if they are exposed to LED lamps while growing on the plant.

Wageningen University is the only university in the Netherlands to focus specifically on the theme ‘healthy food and living environment’, so it’s the perfect testing facility for research into the use of LED lamps in greenhouse horticulture.

To discover the impact of LEDs on the vitamin content of homegrown tomatoes, scientists chose several different plant varieties and suspended LED modules around the tomato clusters. These clusters usually appear under the leaves, so they are partially shaded from the sun. By adding the LED spotlights, the scientists exposed the tomatoes to a little extra ‘sunlight’.

In the tomato variety that showed the strongest reaction, the tomatoes receiving extra light from the LEDs contained up to twice as much vitamin C as the tomatoes not exposed to the LEDs, even though the extra dose of light was equivalent to only a quarter of the natural light intensity on a sunny day.

This information is valuable to both the LED industry and to those interested in alternative methods of agriculture. Hydroponic and greenhouse systems are helpful to those who want to grow year-round in harsh climates, or who can’t grow in the ground for lack of space or quality soil. Still, these systems, when paired with traditional lighting systems can consume a huge amount of electricity. Understanding how LEDs can reduce energy consumption, while possibly producing a superior product, could be helpful for those interested in large scale hydroponic systems.

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