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Quote: Horticulturists say you need three things to grow good plants: the right soil, the right water and the right sunlight. The first two can be controlled and enhanced.
Now what if someone built a better sun?
Ocoee entrepreneur Chris Pieser says he and his company Chameleon Grow Systems have done so.
"This is sunlight in a box," Pieser said. "We built a better sun, because it doesn't have the UV [ultra-violet] which washes out the plant color and is also detrimental to growth; and it doesn't have the IR [infrared] which superheats the plant canopy and dries the plant out."
As Florida prepares for legal production of noneuphoric medical marijuana and awaits voters' Nov. 4 decision on whether full-strength medical marijuana can also be grown, Pieser is positioning his startup to shine a little light on the industry.
Chameleon's box is a greenhouse grow light combining 500-watts of plasma and LED bulbs, which was designed during the past seven years of trial and error and is now selling to greenhouses, private growers and researchers through Internet sales. He and his contract employees assemble and ship from his garage, though he declines to discuss his sales numbers.
The lamp produces 97 percent of the sun's light spectrum, based on tests with certified laboratory equipment. "It is a better spectrum of light for plant growth than any other lamp on the planet," Pieser said.
In other tests, at various universities and labs to which Pieser shipped his lamps, tomatoes and lettuce grew bigger, tastier and faster, he said. Ornamental bedding plants grew richer in color. Coral grew. And marijuana grew stronger.
Mahmoud ElSohly, director of a marijuana research center funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at University of Mississippi, tried some of the lights. Like other researchers contacted by the Orlando Sentinel, he spoke cautiously about them. He said the Chameleon lights worked as well as the other grow lights in use there.
Kent Kobayashi, who is researching hydroponic lettuce growth at University of Hawaii, said the lamps produced a "high-quality light" resembling sunlight, and predicted it and other next-generation grow lights entering the market will rapidly fuel an emerging warehouse-based plant industry.
John Skarie owns Lakeview Greenhouse Co. in Detroit Lakes, Minn., which was part of a North Dakota State University study on tomato growth. After the experiments were done, he kept using Chameleon lights, though only for the germination phase, because the lights are useful for relatively small areas.
"We germinate everything under the plasma lights," he said. "It provides a more dense and healthier root mass. That's very important when you are transplanting. It also allows us to get the plants into the greenhouse a few days sooner."
For now, Florida's medical marijuana industry will be limited to five greenhouse operators statewide, and Chameleon Grow Systems is among scores of emerging businesses hoping to form partnerships with whichever operators are selected.
If voters approve Amendment 2, Florida's medical marijuana industry will expand to include all forms of cannabis to treat any debilitating illnesses. The legal marijuana industry in Florida could rapidly grow from zero to hundreds of millions of dollars in business a year.
Pieser's lights already are being used for marijuana in Colorado and California, which have legalized some marijuana sales.
Though he sees a bigger market in tomatoes and other foods, he has no qualms about the marijuana market. He said he has a relative with epilepsy and another fighting cancer, and is convinced that medical marijuana can help.
"I want to help feed the world, and I want to help heal the world," he said.