Friday, December 22, 2006

Plans to Expand, Using Guano Productively

Chuck and I had a brainstorming session the other day, trying to figure out how to expand our business. We’ve reached our goal of producing 400 heads of Boston lettuce a day, but given the size of our greenhouse, that is the maximum number we can produce.

I suggested branching out, building two more greenhouses, and growing spinach in one, and pak choi in the other. This would continue to follow the model set by the Cornell University Controlled Environment Agriculture experiment, that was the inspiration for our hydroponic lettuce-growing venture in the first place.

Chuck argued that Cornell tried growing spinach, but found it to be more of a difficult crop than lettuce. I countered that pak choi, on the other hand, was found to be an easy crop to grow.

Given the large ethnic Chinese population in a nearby city, pak choi would be a profitable vegetable, to be sure. But since Chuck is not as enthusiastic about Chinese food, as I am, our pak choi plans fell by the wayside.

“Why don’t we just build two more greenhouses and expand to grow different types of lettuce?” asked Chuck. It was a good question. Further market research is needed, before we can decide on such a major investment however.

Consumers are increasingly interested in healthier foods. A crisp, fresh salad has replaced the fatty lunches of the past. We are riding the crest of this new wave of wiser nutritional decisions. We need to do better than what we are able to today.

Just as our customers are keen to add better nutrients to their diet, Chuck and I are constantly thinking of how to improve the nutrient intake of our lettuce plants. We consult the Advanced Nutrient technical guys on a weekly basis, in order to ask their advice with regard to products that grab our attention, when we browse their Advancedepedia.

Grandma Enggy’s Fish Stew looked promising, but alas it’s been discontinued. Mother Earth Blended Super Tea Grow had a short write up last time I checked, then the other day I discovered that more information had been added, so the product description now totals 12 pages.

We’ve been using this product to add that organic touch to our basic synthetic ferts, Micro and Grow, since the Super Tea has alfalfa extract, canola meal, citric acid, crab meal, earthworm castings, fish meal, sea kelp, and shrimp meal in a blended, organic mix.

The new product description lists as additional ingredients: leonardite, sea weed meal, and two blends of guano. According to the write-up, “some of the richest bio-materials found on Earth” are included in Mother Earth Super Tea.

Guano, for the uninitiated, is excrement or manure. Both seabird guano and bat guano are included in the Super Tea mix.

Bats eat a lot of insects, so their guano contains chitin and has a higher percentage of nitrogen. I never heard of chitin, so I had to look that one up in the dictionary. Chitin is the principal constituent of the hard covering of insects and crustaceans. Sort of like grinding up sea shells to feed the powder to your plants.

Seabirds eat a lot of fish, so their guano contains copious amounts of phosphorus, as well as other biologically available nutrients that come from the sea.

We always knew that Mother Earth Super Tea Grow helped us grow better heads of lettuce, but little did we know why.

Further in our research, we found that triocontanol is a lipid in alfalfa meal that speeds up the metabolic rates of certain, membrane-bound enzymes. This process helps to increase photosynthesis in plants by a significant percentage.

Okay, so photosynthesis according to its abbreviated definition is the process by which plants turn light and CO2 into sugars and oxygen. These carbohydrates are the nutrients that cause a plant to grow.

Naturally, since we know that lettuce requires extra Calcium to be healthy, we apply Sensi Cal Grow regularly. In addition to calcium, this Advanced Nutrients product contains its sister element, Magnesium, as well as many other micro-nutrients necessary for optimum growth.

Compounds of Boron, Cobalt, Copper, Iron, Molybdenum, and Zinc complement the SensiCal Mg Mix Grow. We don’t use its other version, SensiCal Mg Mix Bloom, since we definitely do not want our lettuce plants to go into flower.

Chuck and I are still debating whether to proceed with producing more lettuce or to branch out into some other vegetable. The fact remains that with increased fuel costs, transporting fresh produce great distances to distant markets will become less and less economically feasible.

Hydroponic greenhouses, such as ours, located near the market they serve, are the way of the future.

posted by silvio @ 3:29 PM   0 comments

Friday, December 08, 2006

NPK ratios and the magic of Humic and Fulvic Acids

Compared to the weeks immediately previous, this past week was uneventful in our computer-controlled greenhouse. As you know, it all started off with murky water, progressed into an all-out power failure, and climaxed in a giant snowstorm that knocked out our computer system.

Thank goodness all that is (hopefully) behind us. This past week of calm has allowed us to catch our breaths. Chuck remarked that things were positively boring at the greenhouse, which is just the way I like it. (But I didn’t tell him that.)

“How can you say it’s boring?” I asked, playing the naïve ingénue. “We’re producing 400 heads of Boston lettuce per day, using the energies of two full time and two part time people. The rest is all done electronically, provided the system doesn’t conk out like it did last week.”

“Where’s your pioneering spirit?” I asked, wanting to get his goat. “Don’t you realize that this is the wave of the future? When people discover that we can produce massive amounts of vegetables year-round with a much smaller footprint than the field-farms of California, and we can provide much cleaner, healthier vegetables to boot, they’ll be building greenhouses like ours all over the place!”

Grudgingly Chuck agreed, and proceeded to mix this week’s nutrient mix with a big smile on his face. I think I managed to rekindle his enthusiasm. As he poured Micro in first, then Grow, he informed me that the Advanced Nutrients Nutrient Calculator actually suggests to additionally pour in a small quantity of Bloom, even at the vegetative stage. We choose not to do that, since we definitely do not want our lettuce to start flowering, under any circumstances.

“They do this in order to correct the NPK balance of the 3-part fertilizer,” said Chuck. “But I’ve figured out how to compensate for that by the other ingredients that I add to our nutrient mix. I add a larger quantity of Mother Earth Super Tea Grow, for instance, which has an NPK of 4.8-1.8-4.3. This boosts my Nitrogen to a level that is helpful for plants in a stage of vegetative growth.”

He went on to explain why Grandma Enggy’s Humic Acid and Fulvic Acid are both necessary to produce crisp, bright green lettuce. It seems that these ingredients are both derived from a richly organic substance known as “leonardite,” that is found deep within the earth. It has to be mined.

Grandma Enggy is a legendary figure, whose family has known the secrets of leonardite for generations. Their Extra Pure Humic Acid has grown award-winning flowers and vegetables for nearly 80 years. It is best to use the two products together, in order to obtain maximum benefit from both.

Used in conjunction with Grandma Enggy’s Seaweed Extract, these products add the best components of a rich organic soil to your soilless horticulture. Your hydroponic nutrient mix will buzz with organic joy when you add Grandma Enggy’s not-so-secret ingredients.

Humic acid derives its name from humus, the rotten organic material in rich soils. Humankind has known this “secret” for centuries. Rich, organic soil has always grown the best flowers and vegetables.

Chuck becomes enthusiastic as he describes the benefits of humic acid on our lettuce crop. “Humic acid helps increase the synthesis of chlorophyll, thus accounting for the bright green color of our butterhead lettuce plants. It helps the accumulation of reducable sugars, increases both nutrient uptake and the growth rate of our lettuce, increases root respiration, and enhances the protein and mineral content of all crops treated with it.”

“Fulvic acid is a nutritional substance that accelerates cell division, increases root formation, helps plant respiration, facilitates nutrient uptake, and increases the permeability of plant membranes. The three Grandma Enggy product used together have a synergistic effect that multiplies the individual benefits to a great extent.”

“Any draw backs?” I ask Chuck, who is by now bubbling with enthusiasm. “Well, humic acid is rich black in color and has the ability to stain. With our floating polystyrene boards separating the nutrient solution from the growing heads of lettuce, the black solution stains only the roots of the lettuce, which is not a problem.”

“Occasional splashing might result in a head of lettuce being stained and discarded, but with extra care this kind of spoilage can be avoided.”

I am very glad to hear that even the perfect products sold by Advanced Nutrients can have an occasional imperfection, albeit a minor one.

posted by silvio @ 7:16 PM   0 comments