High energy-use cost for electric lighting is one of the major issues challenging sustainability of the indoor lettuce-farming industry. Thus, maximizing electrical energy-use efficiency (EUE, g·KWh−1), defined as the ratio of dry matter production (g) to electrical energy consumption (EEC, KWh−1), is crucial during indoor production. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are energy efficient and highly suitable for indoor farms. Research on optimal spectral quality of LEDs for lettuce growth is extensive; however, there is limited research examining LED spectral quality effects on EEC and EUE. Photon efficiency, defined as the ratio of light output to electrical energy input (PE, µmol·J−1), generally is used for selection of LED fixtures. Because PE does not account for differences in emitted light spectrum, it is not clear whether light-fixture selection based on PE can maximize EUE in lettuce production. This study comprised two experiments. In Expt. 1, we used four “phosphor-converted” commercial LEDs with different light intensities and spectra to model the effect of light spectral quality on lettuce shoot dry weight (SDW), EEC, and EUE. We also evaluated relations between EUE vs. PE and EUE vs. PER (PE based on red light) for indoor lettuce production. Results indicated that light spectral quality affected SDW, EEC, and EUE in lettuce production. Fitted models indicated that EEC increased linearly with increasing percentage of red-light output and was unaffected by other spectral colors or ratios. However, EUE increased in a curvilinear fashion with an increasing ratio of red to blue (R:B) light and reached a maximum at a ratio of 4.47. Similar to EUE, SDW also responded in a curvilinear fashion to R:B. Results also indicated that EUE correlated poorly with PE but linearly to PER. In Expt. 2, we grew three lettuce varieties under two commercial LED fixtures. They had similar levels of PE but different percentages of red, R:B, and PER values. Regardless of the variety, fixtures with greater percentages of red, R:B, and PER significantly increased EUE. We conclude that red-light quality is an important determinant of EUE and growers should select fixtures based on R:B and high PER in indoor lettuce farming.
Sulfur (S) is an essential plant nutrient that regulates plant growth and metabolism. However, S is often absent from certain one-bag hydroponic fertilizers designed to provide a complete and balanced mixture of nutrients. We quantified the effects of S supplementation on the growth, morphology, and photosynthesis of lettuce grown in a deep-water culture hydroponic system. Two lettuce (Lactuca sativa) cultivars, green butterhead Rex and red oakleaf Rouxai, were grown using a prepackaged fertilizer specially formulated for reverse osmosis (RO) and other low-alkalinity water sources. The base nutrient solution was mixed using Jack’s FeED 12–4–16 fertilizer and RO water at a nitrogen concentration of 100 mg⋅L−1 (control). Three S supplementation treatments were implemented over a 4-week production period: 10 mg⋅L−1 supplemental S (provided using MgSO4); 20 mg⋅L−1 supplemental S (MgSO4); and a treatment using H2SO4 (instead of nitric acid) for pH adjustment. In both lettuce cultivars, shoot fresh and dry mass, total leaf area, leaf photosynthetic rate, total chlorophyll content, and leaf S concentration with all three S supplementation treatments increased significantly compared with those of the control. In contrast, the ratio of shoot dry mass to fresh mass, root dry mass, and percentage of root dry mass (i.e., root dry mass/total shoot and root mass) were significantly higher with the control treatment. Notably, ‘Rouxai’ lettuce grown in the control treatment had intense red coloration with a 216.6% to 288.9% increase in the anthocyanin index. There were no statistical differences in any of the growth and morphological parameters among the three S supplementation treatments. Overall, we observed significantly enhanced lettuce growth and photosynthetic performance with S supplementation, resulting in a 144.0% to 215.9% increase in shoot fresh mass in the two cultivars compared with the control. Thus, we recommend that at least 10 mg⋅L−1 of S should be supplemented when growing lettuce hydroponically to ensure optimal plant growth, especially when S is absent or low in the fertilizer and water source.