Sunless Farming of the Future

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    Photo: Peter Dejong

    If we were to prevent a Malthusian catastrophe, we’d better figure out a way to boost crop yield to keep feeding the planet’s growing population. Gertjan Meeuws and other bioengineers of PlantLab have found an answer: a greenhouse where every aspect of the growing condition is controlled, where climate (or even the Sun) is not a factor at all.

    In their research station, strawberries, yellow peppers, basil and banana plants take on an eerie pink glow under red and blue bulbs of Light-Emitting Diodes, or LEDs. Water trickles into the pans when needed and all excess is recycled, and the temperature is kept constant. Lights go on and off, simulating day and night, but according to the rhythm of the plant — which may be better at shorter cycles than 24 hours — rather than the rotation of the Earth. […]

    Sunlight is not only unnecessary but can be harmful, says Meeuws. Plants need only specific wavelengths of light to grow, but in nature they must adapt to the full range of light as a matter of survival. When light and other natural elements are manipulated, the plants become more efficient, using less energy to grow.

    “Nature is good, but too much nature is killing,” said Meeuws, standing in a steaming cubicle amid racks of what he called “happy plants.”

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