The Plant Whisperer®
The Simplicity of Genius
It is one thing to read about leading edge technology, and quite another to have the opportunity to employ these outpourings of genius yourself.
Light Emitting Computer's Plant Whisperer® is definitely cutting edge; it's value is based upon the fact that different light wavelengths have specific effects on plant growth and development, and that narrow-bandwidth light-emitting diode (LED) lighting may be used to directionally manipulate size, color and metabolites in high-value plants. <1>
To put it simply, different light frequencies encourage different responses from plants. Or, as Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick put it, "One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small, and the ones that mother gives you, don't do anything at all." <2>
Me? I feel like I'm in a 1977 California garage, watching Steve Wozniak design the first Apple computer.
I was introduced to The Plant Whisperer® when I mentioned my efforts to germinate and grow Kaffir Limes in my Vancouver Island home to an old friend. (Click to read about it here, so I won't have to repeat myself.)
I was contacted by the inventor, Light Emitting Computer's Jeffery Bucove, who offered to lend me one of his magic lanterns, and asked if I was interested in borrowing one for three or four months and using it to grow my limes.
A few weeks later, Jeffery brought a Mark V unit to my home and installed it in my office. The results were amazing, to say the least.
Sadly, Jeffery passed away early in 2018, due to cancer.
Impact of light wavelengths on plant growth & development
Although I was unaware of it at the time I introduced my Kaffir Lime seedlings to the Plant Whisperer, a few minutes' time on Google revealed some fascinating research coming out of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida.
In a recent article published in Horticultural Research, authors Carvalho & Folta wrote: "Different light wavelengths have specific effects on plant growth and development. Narrow-bandwidth light-emitting diode (LED) lighting may be used to directionally manipulate size, color and metabolites in high-value fruits and vegetables," and "Sequential treatments of darkness, blue light, red light and far-red light were applied throughout sprout development to alter final product quality. These results indicate that sequential treatment with narrow-bandwidth light may be used to affect key economically important traits in high-value crops." <3>
In a subsequent paper, Carvalho & Folta explained what might this mean to your kitchen table:"Research studies in photobiology, mostly in Arabidopsis thaliana, have characterized light effects on many plant behaviors, along with the genetic mechanisms that control them. Transferring this knowledge to crops has opened a new field in plant science where variation in light quantity, quality, duration or combinations can be used to change plant growth, development or metabolism to influence a desired final product."<4>
What this means, in plain English, is that the technology embodied in the Plant Whisperer can be used to produce many different types of produce from the same genotype. Want curly green lettuce and red lettuce from the same seeds? You can do that by manipulating the light spectra the plants are exposed to as they grow!
Again, Carvalho & Folta: "Blue and red LEDs have been shown to promote lettuce growth that is comparable to white light sources, indicating they can replace traditional lighting in controlled environments as a way to save energy...Blue light exposure promotes growth, leaf area and biomass increase, together with rounded leaves...while red-rich sources stimulate leaf elongation and lower growth rates. [Big snip] Other pigments can be affected by these wavelengths besides chlorophyll. Blue combined with red LEDs can induce higher carotenoid levels than white light or monochromatic blue, whereas red alone decreases them.
Can you grasp this? Using nothing more than programmable light spectra, you can change growth patterns and plant colors, and also increase or decrease Chlorophyll and Carotenoids levels! "Other pigments and metabolite levels altered by selective blue and/or red light combinations include phenolic compounds, ascorbic acid, soluble sugars, and nitrates."<4>
Calling this research astounding is almost demeaning. Let's face it, this is mind-boggling, cutting edge science. Its import to our quality of life is obvious, as is the future impact upon all of humanity.
Vertical hydroponic farms are but one incredible possibility, and the changes such farms will bring to the Third World will be beyond amazing. The more I learn about what this amazing technology can do, the more my head feels like it is going to explode!
The Heart of the Plant Whisperer: The Computer
The controller is normally mounted securely on a wall, in a convenient place for reading the display and entering data. In my case, as I'm borrowing the unit, and it was pre-programmed for my Kaffir Limes, I've simply placed it on a handy shelf where it can easily be monitored.
The controller is connected both to the power supply and the Mark V Lighting Head by appropriate cables.
An Overview, From the Operating Instructions
The Mark V controller allows construction of 10 custom 'spectrum' settings which are stored in permanent (non-volatile) memory. There is also a setting which simply turns the light off.
Spectrum settings are picked, up to eight times a day, by a program built into the Mark V. The program utilizes a 24 hour cycle. The controller can store 8 programs.
When you set a program to run, it acts as a timer which switches the light up to eight times a day. The program calls upon a spectrum setting by number when switching the light at designated times-of-day. The user programs spectra and schedule using the built-in software.
For example, you might begin with a period of darkness, ending with a dawning light, then the portentious power of morning, intensifying to mid-day sun and gradually softening toward an evening light and then on into twilight, finally ending in darkness once again.
Does this technology excite you?
The Controller Display
The Nitty Gritty
There are four navigation keys which let you move the cursor around a page. The cursor will only move to locations where you can modify a setting. These yellow, green and blue keys can be seen in the photograph on the right side of the motherboard.
Upon power-up, the Mark V controller presents a 'Status Display' page on it's two line character display (mounted at the top of the motherboard, as shown in the photo).
In the left top corner is the time-of-day. This 5 character field is displayed with a flashing colon in the centre, two chars showing the 24 hour clock on the left side, and two chars showing the 60 minute clock on the right side.
Next is the currently running spectrum, either one of 'S0' thru 'S9'. Next you will see (top line) six groups of three digits each, followed by two groups of three zeros: 430 450 530 600 668 730 000 000.
These numbers represent the wavelengths (as measured in nanometers: 'nm') emitted by the LED used in the Mark V lighting heads. Those wavelengths are Royal Blue (430nm), Bright Blue (450nm), Emerald Green (530nm), Amber(600nm), Blood Red (668nm) and Far Red (730).
Underneath each wavelength number is a number representing the percentage of full power (5% increments up to 100%) which that wavelength is currently emitting. Of the five spectra I am using, four run at 100%, while Far Red is set to 30%.
How's Your Head, Ted?
Have you grasped the implications of this technology?
The Power Supply
Beta & Beyond
My unit's power supply is open to moisture damage, and would not be suitable for commercial applications. When I inquired about this, I learned that my power supply is a pre-production unit, and that the production model is immersible.
You can see both in the photo above, and I have included a link to the manufacturer's product page, for those wanting full specifications, in the "Related Internet Resources" section further down the page.
Once the Plant Whisperer was up and running, it didn't take long to see results. The next video shows the growth of of the seedlings over a period of two weeks and one day.
My Kaffir Limes - The First Day
The Kaffir Limes: The First 15 Days
Room To Grow
When the plants began putting roots out through the bottom of their small pots, it was necessary to move them to larger pots. They were moved into one gallon pots on October 23, 2015 (See below), a brief 15 days after installation of the Plant Whisperer®
I expect to have the use of the Plant Whisperer® through the end of 2015. I will post a time lapse video in due course so you can follow the plants' progress.
Setup After Repotting
Kaffir Limes Re-Potted October 23, 2015
October 23, 2015 to February 13, 2016
I began feeding my lime in January, 2017. The result (as you can see from the April photograph, above) was nothing short of spectacular. I feed the plant every two weeks, and will continue doing so until the growing season slows in the Fall.
My Thai Kaffir
<1> Carvalho & Folta "Sequential light programs shape kale (Brassica napus) sprout appearance and alter metabolic and nutrient contents," Horticulture Research hortres20148.3d 8/1/14)
<2> Grace Slick, "White Rabbit," on the album Surrealistic Pillow.
<3> "Editorial Summary," Horticultural Research, March 2014
<4> Carvalho & Folta, "Environmentally Modified Organisms – Expanding Genetic Potential with Light," Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, Volume 33, Issue 6, 2014
Dimensions (Approximate; Contact Light Emitting Computers for full specifications)
LED Module: Height
37.0 cm + 12.7 mm Mounting Posts
LED Module: Width
82 cm Square
85.725 D x 193.675 W x H 31.75( mm)
Mean Well Power Supply
228x 68x 38.8 (mm)
I do not have any commercial interest in the Plant Whisperer® or Light Emitting Computers Inc, or in any company or companies affiliated with either. I am simply blown away by the astounding technology and grateful for the opportunity to put it to use, however briefly.
You have probably noticed that I have not included pricing information in this article, for the simple fact that I am not aware of it. Please contact Light Emitting Computers Inc. for specifics.
Related Internet Resources
- 4 Skies Trigeneration Project :: Home
Canadian company formed to take advantage of LECs...one of the first to embrace the new technology.
- Light Emitting Computers
Light Emitting Computers Inc., the company behind The Plant Whisperer® - They're passionate about cultivating things.
- Enlightened Eating Via Light | Nutrition News
Discrete wavelengths of light, alone or in combination, may be applied to manipulate post harvest qualities of high-value horticultural crops.,..
- Dr. Kevin M. Folta | Horticultural Sciences at University of Florida
Dr. Folta's University of Florida's Horticultural Science's Faculty Information Page, which includes a list of his scientific publications, some of which have been cited here.
- Sequential light programs shape kale (Brassica napus) sprout appearance and alter metabolic and nutr
Sequential light programs shape kale (Brassica napus) sprout appearance and alter metabolic and nutrient content. LED light was provided by Plant Whisperer light units (Light EmitComputers, Victoria, BC, Canada).
- Scientists Shed New Light On Scent, Flavor Potential In Produce | Growing Produce
The results of a new University of Florida study tell them scientists specific light wavelengths can manipulate volatile compounds that control aroma and taste in several high-value crops, including petunia, tomato, strawberry, and blueberry
- Mean Well LED Driver HLG-185H Series 156W – 186W 12V – 54V
Mean Well LED Driver HLG-185H Series 156W – 186W 12V – 54V in Meanwell IP67 design for indoor or outdoor installations Built-in active PFC, PF>0.9 for 60% of load or higher 5 years warranty Protections: Short circuit / Over current / Over voltage
- Arabidopsis thaliana - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Extensive information about one of the plants used in Dr. Folta's University of Florida research.