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


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