If you’ve ever experimented with grow lights of any kind in the past to help with plant cultivation, you will know what fantastic results you can achieve, particularly if you are using LEDs. The advantage that LED lights have over conventional bulbs are twofold; not only do they not have quite such a painful impact on your energy bills, but they run much cooler than normal incandescent bulbs, meaning that you can place the lights much closer to the plants.
However, these aren’t the only sound reasons why you should be investigating using LED grow lights to grow better tomatoes – here are four more that you may not be aware of, but have sound scientific research behind them:
1) ‘Sunlight’ at any time of day
LED grow lights can provide artificial ‘sunlight’ at any time of day or night, and at any time of year. If you’ve experienced particularly dull summers impacting on your home tomato crop, you’ll possibly already have thought about artificial light solutions, and probably dismissed them due to cost. An LED system means that you can manipulate how much light your plants get, and when; ideal if you’re keen to try growing off-season when days may be short and dull anyway. Pairing your lighting system with a timer means that you can still give your plants the full dark that they will need to grow properly – in short, you can grow the perfect indoor tomato year round.
2) The right color temperature is perfect for a high fruit yield
You may have heard the term ‘color temperature’ before and wondered what it meant. It’s a fairly complex subject, but in short, it describes the temperature of light, although the temperature doesn’t actually correspond to the color – for example, bluish light, although ‘cool’, is actually hotter than the red or ‘warm’ end of the spectrum. This article explains it very well.
This is how that perfect color temperature works in terms of your tomato crop – a broad range LED lamp includes both blue and red wavelengths, so look for this when you’re making your choice for your home system. A lamp of this type should be around three watts, and you should also make sure that it will emit infra-red and ultra-violet light as well, to provide your tomato plants with something as close to the natural light they would have received had they been grown outdoors. Other less comprehensive lamps are available, but it’s worth making the investment to make sure you’re giving your plants the best start available. You might also see a figure relating to color temperature – for optimum growth, you are looking for something around 6000K (or Kelvin), which mimics natural sunlight.
It can be confusing, so to summarize, look for words like ‘full spectrum’, the initials IR and UV, and a figure of around 6000K. These will enable you to make the best decision and get the right light for a high yield.
3) Tomatoes grown under LED lights taste much better
If you’re choosing between one tomato and another on a taste test, you’re probably not overly concerned with the science behind why the tomato grown under the LED lights is better. However, it’s worth looking into why this is a little; it’s all in the light quality.
In February 2015, this British newspaper ran an article on what it described as ‘designer tomatoes’, which had been grown under LED lights. Although it doesn’t rain all the way through the British summer despite what you may have been led to believe, the climate isn’t always great for growing tasty and plentiful tomatoes, and around 80% of the tomatoes sold and eaten in the UK are imported from Europe, usually from Spain.
Farmers that had embraced LED grow light technology changed the color of the lights dependent on the growth cycle, altering the flavor considerably and achieving what they could only describe as a far more ‘home grown’ taste; in other words, exactly what you, the keen home-grower is aiming for!
The flavor was found to be vastly different to crops produced under traditional sodium grow lights, which have been used for a long time to extend the growing season. The reason? The LED spectrum is a far closer match to sunlight, and experimenting with the light colors given out was found to intensify and alter the taste significantly for the better.
4) Tomatoes grown under LED lights may actually be better for you
If you’re still unconvinced by the benefits of growing tomatoes under LED lights, here’s one very important health consideration you can’t overlook; tomatoes grown under LED lights have been found to contain more vitamin C. This is entirely due to the extra light they receive, and the intensity it is delivered at. Since LED lights can be distributed throughout the plant, the tomatoes that would normally sit in the shade under the leaves get their own little extra dose of ‘sunlight’.
In studies, the results did vary from variety to variety, but the tomatoes which had a little extra help from LED lights were found to have as much as double the amount of Vitamin C as those grown under normal natural sunlight conditions – all by increasing the quantity of light by as much as 25% as the tomatoes would have received outside on a sunny day.
So as you see, all grow light systems are not created equal – if you’re looking to keep your energy bills low and still grow the best possible crop you can, start to plan your own LED system so that you can grow the kind of salad tomatoes that really do taste homegrown.