Thursday, September 28, 2006

Big Push, Mixing Synthetics and Organics

The big push is on—we’re determined to reach our goal of 400 heads of lettuce per day! This spinach scare has increased the demand for our produce, so we are figuring different ways to achieve our goal.

Field based horticulture has its drawbacks and this spinach situation definitely proves that hydroponics is better. They still don’t know where the e-coli bacteria came from, but one possible source mentioned is animal droppings. By growing our lettuce in a secure greenhouse environment, that particular contamination is not a danger for us.

By following strict sanitary and hygienic procedures, we eliminate another possible source of infection, which is through humans. Our staff are required to wash their hands thoroughly before touching any tools or plants in the greenhouse, and we use Advanced Nutrients Wipe Out regularly to clean our rooms and utensils.

Soil horticulture is open to other infestations, such as root nematodes, which can be prevented and treated by using products such as Piranha. The beneficial fungi in this miracle powder colonize the root zone of plants and not only aid in the absorption of vital nutrients, but also help prevent many diseases.

We use Piranha as a foliar spray, to inoculate our lettuce against gray mold, mildew, Pythium, Rhizoctania solani, Fusarium, Sclerotium rolfsii, Sclerotinia homoeocarpa and many other microbes that could devastate our bread and butter crop.

In order to boost our lettuce production, we are using Super Nutrients Super Bud Blaster in alternating cycles with Super Nutrients Ultimate Super Boost. These wonderful products are designed to work synergistically to produce maximum benefits in our lettuce crop.

The experts at Advanced Nutrients believe that if you augment your synthetic regimen with select organic nutrients or boosters, you’ve covered all your bases and have given your plants the best of both worlds. For this reason, we are adding 100% organic Iguana Juice Grow to our reservoir, as well as Colossal Bud Blast to our spray regimen.

Iguana Juice is a fish-based organic fertilizer and the owners of a nearby cucumber growing operation swear that it’s doubled the size of their harvest. Not only has the quantity of their cucumber crop increased tremendously, but the size of their cucumbers has as well, drawing praise from all of their customers.

“Who needs bigger harvests faster?” This is a tag line on the Advanced Nutrients website, which introduces their Overdrive. Although billed as a bloom enhancer, it has certainly increased the pace of the growth of our butterhead lettuce crop, filling our plants with renewed energy.

We’re also using Emerald Shaman, which uses the ancient Oriental technique of providing your plants with fermented nutrients and enzymes, in order to accelerate growth and enhance flavor. It’s full of bioactives that work their green magic on our butterhead crop.

To sweeten our harvests, we are using Carbo Load Liquid and Sweet Leaf in our reservoir aimed at the end of our Nutrient Pond that has the mature lettuce plants. These products give boosts of energy by providing much needed carbs, sugars, and microbes to push our plants to the finish line. Did I mention the enhanced flavor?

Finally, we’re using Grandma Enggy’s Seaweed Extract that helps our lettuce grow faster, resist diseases, and produce bigger harvests. We just started using this 100% organic fertilizer to augment our regular plant food regimen. It blends perfectly with other plant growth products.

We’ll keep you posted as to how our race against the clock is going. Gotta get that fresh lettuce on the plates of the spinach-starved multitudes!

posted by silvio @ 11:35 AM   0 comments

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Scared of Spinach? Eat Butterhead!

It’s funny how certain events in the marketplace influence the marketability of some products. I’m thinking of this recent e-coli scare with regard to spinach. As soon as the supermarkets that we supply with Boston lettuce found that they had to take spinach off their shelves, they turned to us, begging for more lettuce.

Now I know that there are many people who have salad every day, but I didn’t realize that in their minds spinach and butterhead lettuce were interchangeable. I should have known that they weren’t going to forget about their passion for crunching on such a healthy, vigorous food as salad greens, just because spinach was temporarily unavailable.

Chuck and I stuck our heads together—our task was to figure out how to increase our daily quota of 350 heads of lettuce. We decided to call the experts at Advanced Nutrients. A plant scientist who works for that company suggested that we add Super Nutrients Super Bud Blaster to our regular regimen of Grow, Micro, and Bloom.

The super nutrients in Super Bud Blaster are a proprietary mixture of powerful plant foods, minerals, and vitamins that are configured for easy absorption during the completion phase of our crop cycle. It not only creates tastier fruits and vegetables, but it also speeds up their growth, enabling us to harvest some lettuce ahead of time.

Which is exactly what we need now. We’re also floating more seedlings on our Nutrient Pond than ever before, attempting to eventually raise our quota to 400 per day, without having to hire any extra help. The four of us working on it have to put in extra effort, but it’s worth it if it pleases our customers.

The slogan “88 reasons you’ll get larger harvests faster” caught my eye on the Advanced Nutrients website, so I ordered some SensiZym to add to our nutrients solution. Its array of eighty-eight different enzymes are biological catalysts to supply life energy to our lettuce plants, enabling them to grow faster and better.

Since Advanced Nutrients firmly believes that mixing synthetic and organic plant nutrients is the way of the future, we also added Mother Earth Blended Organic Super Tea Grow to our reservoir. It can be used in conjunction with other plant nutrients to provide the missing elements needed for strong, sustained vegetative growth.

We’re also using Wet Betty Organic not just because we like the picture on the container, but also because its growth stimulators pass quickly into roots and leaves for that extra kick that will help to increase our production of quality lettuce.

I’m glad to report that although we just started this new regimen about a week ago, when the spinach scare first hit the headlines, we’re starting to deliver more product to our customers on a daily basis. Of course the Sensi Cal Mg Mix Grow is a major part of our feeding regimen, since lettuce requires more calcium in order to produce crunchy and flavourful leaves.

You must know that this miracle product not only contains calcium and magnesium, but the wise plant scientists at Advanced Nutrients mixed these two vital nutrients in direct proportion with all the other micronutrients necessary to produce robust and zingy vegetables.

Sensi Cal Mg Mix also contains Nitrogen (N), Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Zinc (Zn), Copper (Cu), Boron (B), Molybdenum (Mo), and Cobalt (Co). You only need one to two teaspoons per gallon of nutrient solution. In our experience, this product is far superior to those made by their competition, since none of them is as inclusive and helpful as Sensi Cal Grow.

posted by silvio @ 5:17 PM   0 comments

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Running a Cost-effective Greenhouse

The trick to making a hydroponic greenhouse cost-effective is how well you control the lighting. During the summer months, sunlight has to be your chief source of light, and the supplemental lighting system—which in our case consists of 45 600W High Pressure Sodium lights—will only get turned on when needed.

In the case of Cornell University’s Controlled Environmental Agricultural facility (CEA) in upstate New York, professor Louis Albright designed their lighting system. His research indicated that lettuce plants require precisely 17 mols of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) per square meter, per day.

Since they use a bank of 144 lights, they opted for water-cooled light fixtures, to reduce the emitted infrared radiation, otherwise known as heat. Our space is smaller and we use fewer lights, so we achieve the cooling with fans and an evaporative cooling pad, when the sunlight gets too hot.

Since we know that a 600W High Pressure Sodium bulb emits 90,000 lumens 1 foot away, 22,500 lumens 2 feet away, 9,999 lumens 3 feet away, and 6,428 lumens 4 feet away, the computer does the appropriate calculations to figure out how high the lights have to be situated above the Nutrient Pond surface in order to provide the optimum level of PAR per day.

Given enough fans, we can cool the air between the lights and the lettuce plants adequately, without having to water cool the lights. Also, our lights are on tracks so they can be raised or lowered, or moved to the side on intensely sunny days, to keep them from casting a shadow on our growing lettuce crop.

Photo sensitive cells measure the sunlight as well as the artificial light and just like a good digital camera, the computer figures out how much fill light is necessary to bring the intensity of light to the desired level each hour.

The same precise measurements are taken each hour in our nutrient solution, which primarily consists of Advanced Nutrients Grow, Micro, and Bloom, as well as other ingredients to help produce healthy, robust vegetables, such as Sensi Cal, Piranha, Tarantula, and Voodoo Juice.

The first one mentioned boosts the level of calcium required by lettuce, while the latter three strengthen the roots by colonizing them with beneficial fungi, bacteria, and other microbes. Voodoo Juice stimulates root growth and it contains Gibberellins, which create natural growth-enhancing hormones.

If the pH of the solution deviates from the desired 6.5 to 7.0, the system automatically adds the required amount of Advanced Nutrients pH Up or pH Down, depending on the circumstance. The temperature of the solution should be between 60º to 65º F (15º to 18º C) at all times, since lettuce grows best at these temperatures.

If the temperature of the solution drops below these numbers, a system of pipes circulate warm water to bring it up. If it dips below these numbers, the pipes circulate cold water to bring it down.

The crop of lettuce constantly moves from one end of the Nutrient Pond to the other, with the young seedlings at one end, and the ready to harvest mature plants at the other. In this way our hydroponic greenhouse can produce 350 heads of butterhead or Boston lettuce each and every day.

Aside from Chuck and I, we only have two other part time employees. Since most every step is computerized, our need to pay salaries has been minimized, thus making the whole operation that much more cost-effective.

posted by silvio @ 6:03 PM   0 comments

Friday, September 08, 2006

Growing lettuce hydroponically was my partner’s idea. We’ve been buddies ever since high school and he was always the visionary. My talents are more on the practical side.

He started off by researching the market for lettuce in our area, and realized that butterhead or Boston lettuce was in high demand, had to be shipped in from California, and that small, independent supermarket chains were open to the idea of a local grower supplying their needs.

We decided on greenhouse production. Our inspiration was the Cornell University Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) experiment, where 1,000 heads of lettuce are produced daily in a huge greenhouse, year round.

We didn’t have a half-a-million needed to start up a project on that scale, so we compromised. The weather in our neck of the woods isn’t as severe as that of upstate New York, so instead of 4mm thick tempered glass, our greenhouse is covered with transparent plastic.

Instead of 144--600W High Pressure Sodium lights, we installed 45. Instead of 9,000 square feet, our greenhouse measures only 3,000. But the principle is the same—to continuously produce 350 quality, uniform butterhead lettuce each day, with a largely computer-run operation.

The same as Cornell, we decided against the Nutrient Film Technique of hydroponic growing, recognizing its numerous shortcomings. We researched the PVC pipe arrangement, utilized by many lettuce producers, but found it wanting. So we went with the Nutrient Pond solution, utilized by Cornell, where ten inches of nutrient solution are constantly recirculated by a system of pumps and PVC pipes.

After considerable research, we decided on Grow, Micro, and Bloom, made by the Advanced Nutrients company, as our main lettuce-food of choice. Their track record of using a team of first-class plant scientists to formulate their nutrients is only surpassed by the quality and quantity of the yield that their products help produce.
Advanced Nutrients offered us unlimited technical support and extremely valuable advice. For instance, they told us that lettuce needs more calcium than some other vegetables, so they advised us to use Sensi Cal, to increase the rate of CO2 and nutrient uptake, for better vegetative growth.

We use several CO2 burners in the greenhouse to maintain optimum levels of this vital ingredient for optimum yields. We also use Voodoo Juice, in tandem with Piranha and Tarantula, all Advanced Nutrients products designed to build healthy root systems for our lettuce, by colonizing them with beneficial microbes, bacteria, and fungi. Using these products has perked up our lettuce production and has saved us time and money.

During the seedling and transplanting stage, we use Advanced Nutrients No Shock to cut down on wilting and root damage during this vital process. Later, we administer Organic B, a B-vitamin formula for better growth and yield, and Wet Betty Organic, which is a plant strengthener and “surfactant,” that helps make our Boston lettuce crop larger and healthier.

My partner’s name is Chuck, and I’m Silvio. We’ve been doing this now for five years and the quality and quantity of the lettuce we produce gets better and better, largely thanks to the miracle products made by Advanced Nutrients. We look forward to sharing some more of our “secrets” in future postings.

posted by silvio @ 10:41 AM   3 comments