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The Plant Whisperer®

Updated on September 18, 2017
Plant Whisperer Mark V at work in my office. This shows the original setup, before the plants were re-potted and moved.
Plant Whisperer Mark V at work in my office. This shows the original setup, before the plants were re-potted and moved. | Source

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.

Introduction

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.

Here's a video Jeffery created in 2012 which explains the concept behind Plant Whispering...the background noise level is caused by four cooling fans (Each Mk V unit includes a massive heat sink and fan designed to keep the electronics components cool).

... take it away, Mr. Bucove...

MarkV History - Narrated by the Inventor

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!

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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.

The Computer

This is the programmable computer which controls the Plant Whisperer's spectrum output.
This is the programmable computer which controls the Plant Whisperer's spectrum output. | Source

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.

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The Controller Display

Source

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%.

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The Power Supply

I am using the power supply shown on the left. The one on the right is water-resistant, and will be used in production models.
I am using the power supply shown on the left. The one on the right is water-resistant, and will be used in production models. | Source

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.

Wow

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

October 8th, 2015 9:50 PM
October 8th, 2015 9:50 PM | Source

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

More space was needed after repotting, and a much larger tray!
More space was needed after repotting, and a much larger tray! | Source
The Dawning Light...this is the first light of the day, which  leads into Far Red
The Dawning Light...this is the first light of the day, which leads into Far Red | Source
LEC's Far Red spectrum appears twice daily.
LEC's Far Red spectrum appears twice daily. | Source

Kaffir Limes Re-Potted October 23, 2015

October 23, 2015, 9:53 PM - Repotted Kaffir Limes
October 23, 2015, 9:53 PM - Repotted Kaffir Limes | Source

October 23, 2015 to February 13, 2016

A Great Tray to Protect a Great Floor!

August 2016

My lime is enjoying its brief summer of outdoor sun, and it appears to have decided that it's not in Thailand any more. The plant has put out multiple branches and secondary leaves...I think it's decided to be a bush instead of a tree...
My lime is enjoying its brief summer of outdoor sun, and it appears to have decided that it's not in Thailand any more. The plant has put out multiple branches and secondary leaves...I think it's decided to be a bush instead of a tree... | Source

April 2017

April, 2017: Two years, eight months after sprouting, my original Thai Kaffir Lime is nearly four feet high.
April, 2017: Two years, eight months after sprouting, my original Thai Kaffir Lime is nearly four feet high. | Source

September 2017

Sunshine and fresh air obviously appealed to my lime...growth has been strong, and resulted in a lot of secondary trunks (I don't know what else to call them.
Sunshine and fresh air obviously appealed to my lime...growth has been strong, and resulted in a lot of secondary trunks (I don't know what else to call them.

Work Cited

<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
Controller (LEC)
85.725 D x 193.675 W x H 31.75( mm)
Mean Well Power Supply
228x 68x 38.8 (mm)

Disclaimer

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.

We'd Love To Hear From You!

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    • Bucove profile image

      Bucove 23 months ago

      I'm working on it. Only the device we're preparing won't kill them, it just makes them run away. In fact, the device is the light. We're adding a peculiar trait to our light emissions which will influence the way bugs behave, and our researchers are currently delving into various specific behavioural influences targeting specific species of bugs which would be applied concurrently without affecting the efficaciousness of "Plant Whispering®".... Look for this capacity in the MkVI....

    • Dragon 40 profile image
      Author

      Ken McVay 23 months ago from Nanaimo, British Columbia

      Now if you could just develope a light that kills spider mites...

    • Bucove profile image

      Bucove 23 months ago

      Looking forward to putting a couple of MkVI around your citrus trees before the next transplant, Ken! Thanks for the plug ;)

      Kickstarter is coming online soon!