The bright sparks of electro-horticulture

Ever since Benjamin Franklin got his knuckles burned when flying a kite in a thunderstorm, many scientists — and even more quacks — have been curious about the possibilities of what has been called electro-horticulture.

The logic is inescapable — most things react in some way to an electric current. Why shouldn’t plants react too, and perhaps grow better/faster/bigger?

While I’m not prepared to speak authoritatively on this subject in general, I have had a bit of experience with one aspect of electro-horticulture: the use of electric lights — fluorescent lights to be precise — in a contraption intended to start seedlings indoors. It had three shelves illuminated by bulbs casting a special kind of light (I’m not sure how special it really was) and provided space for a couple of dozen seed trays. At the time I was working on the 29th floor of an office building, and inevitably the contraption ended up in the corridor outside the ladies’ room, which was the only place I could find to put it.

The plants didn’t seem to mind. In fact, under the benevolent rays of the Gro-Lux, watered from time to time and admired by most of my fellow office workers as they passed by, the infant courgettes, tomatoes, snapdragons and the rest thrived. If they resented the low status of their situation, they could at least look forward to being transplanted.