Indoor grown strawberries have become one of the hottest crops to emerge in the horticultural industry in the past couple of years. Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) gives growers more control over lighting and climate conditions, allowing for local produce to be grown and harvested in Canada year-round. We’re seeing a lot of vertical farm and glasshouse operations add strawberries to their crops in Canada and the North East USA, with great success, both from a crop perspective, and consumer desire and demand. By being able to harvest multiple crops per year, indoor growers can improve cash-flow, and provide consumers with more local and fresh strawberries in any season.
If you’re considering adding strawberries to your indoor grow, we’re here to help you learn more about supplemental lighting impacts, and pest management practices in part 2 of our strawberry series, below. Stay tuned for part 3, which will focus on crop diversity, labour, and climate considerations.
How light impacts indoor strawberry crops
Growing indoors using CEA techniques, allows you to control exactly what types of lighting and radiation strawberry plants are exposed to. Researchers have found that treating strawberry plants with small amounts of UV-C and UV-A radiation leads to increased flavonoid content in the strawberry as well as decreased rates of fruit-softening and degradation, giving these fruits a shelf-life advantage over their outdoor-grown counterparts.
What are flavonoids?
Flavonoids are plant-derived phytonutrients that have antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. There is some evidence that flavonoids protect our cells from oxidative damage and stress, which may help prevent the development of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and many types of cancers. Flavonoids also contribute to the colour of strawberries, giving strawberries their bright red appearance. From a flavour perspective, flavonoids also contribute to the aroma and flavor of strawberries, making them a favourite berry crop around the world.
What spectrum is best?
Many greenhouses have found success growing strawberry crops using supplemental lighting, with full spectrum LED lighting yielding the best results for crop growth and production. Researchers also found that when using broad-spectrum blue light, or using multiple blue light wavelengths, this increased the flavonoid content and antioxidant properties of the strawberries.
But, what effect does spectrum have on pollinators?
In order for strawberry plants to produce, bees need to be able to pollinate. Researchers have found that bees “see” light differently than humans. We see light in the 380 to 700nm range, while bees, like many other insects, only see light in the 300 to 650nm range. This means that if the majority of your supplemental light comes from red spectrum (620 to 750nm), bees and other pollinators will be less efficient in pollinating under this spectrum. Running lighting trials on different spectrums, prior to scaling your operation, is recommended to understand which spectrum is best for your crop.
What other benefits will I see by bringing this crop indoors?
CEA also has the advantage of making it easier to manage pests and diseases if good sanitary practices are followed, allowing growers to lower the pests and disease risk compared to outdoor growing, through integrated pest management systems, and without needing to use harsh agri-chemicals. Because these crops are grown predominantly in indoor or aquaponic environments, soil-based pathogens are effectively eliminated, and widespread monitoring of the entire crop is much easier. By focusing on a more natural grow, and avoiding the use of chemicals and pesticides, many growers find they save money, and produce a cleaner, more environmentally friendly, and consistent product for their consumers to enjoy.
What’s next for locally grown strawberries?
Strawberries continue to have major growth in the vertical farming sector, making them the next hot indoor crop. Watch for greenhouse-grown strawberries to be popping up in your local grocery store this summer, and beyond.
If you’d like to learn more about adding strawberries to your indoor grow, or the best lights to consider for maximum flavonoid potential, reach out to us for a free consultation and expert advice.