Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Expanding to Pak Choi and Specialty Lettuce

The fast-talking potential partner vanished as quickly as he came, and Chuck and I were once again left to our own resources in the expansion process. Luckily, Chuck had done his homework. He had purchased an adjacent property that was big enough for two slightly larger greenhouses. He had checked with local authorities, to make sure that it had the proper zoning for agricultural use.

Then he approached the same greenhouse construction company that had built our Boston Lettuce greenhouse some time ago. They were still in business, in fact they were thriving. Regardless, they managed to fit us into their busy schedules, and construction on the two additional greenhouses is well on its way.

Instead of 100 feet by 30 feet, as this one is, the new ones will be twin Quonset Huts joined together, 110 feet by 25 feet each. So from a 3,000 square foot greenhouse, we are expanding to two more greenhouses, each 5500 square feet in size.

This will enable us to produce 600 heads of pak choi, as well as 600 heads of specialty lettuce per day, in addition to our daily quota of 400 heads of Boston lettuce. This will position us as major players in the local fresh produce market.

Construction is progressing at a spectacular speed, considering that it is still the middle of winter. In fact, the builders had to employ two large outdoor heaters equipped with blowers to keep the concrete foundations from cracking.

Galvanized steel pipes, curved appropriately, will hold the double-layer of polyethylene sheets, that will have heated air forced in between them for rigidity and insulation. The long, winding system of tables and tanks will comprise and hold the Nutrient Ponds which will be supplied with nutrient solution through an intricate system of pumps and pipes.

Light, heat, EC, and pH sensors along the way will report back to the central computer system, which in turn will govern the lights, central boilers and heating pipes, nutrient feeds from the reservoir tanks, and the acid-alkaline balance of the nutrient solution.

Small tanks on the side will be attached to the automatic system, enabling the immediate correction of any acid-alkaline imbalance, for instance, by adding pH Up or pH Down in minute quantities (but not at the same time). These very helpful agents are made by Advanced Nutrients, the company that supplies us with all our nutrients, root colonizers, supplements, and additives.

The twin greenhouses will both house a bank of 55 600W Metal Halide lights with electronic ballasts, equipped with appropriate bulbs on the blue end of the spectrum for the growth stage of our vegetables, which will be harvested before they have a chance to enter the flowering stage and go to seed.

Chuck contacted all of our local produce outlets and gave them an idea of when they can expect our first expanded delivery. With California produce having become more scarce and pricey, the merchants were more than eager to sign up to receive our shipments.

We have alerted Advanced Nutrients as to our increased need for the appropriate products. They advised us to stick with Micro and Grow as our basic nutrients, and continue to supply the roots of our new plants with Piranha, Tarantula, and Voodoo Juice. These provide beneficial fungi, bacteria, and microbes respectively.

By colonizing our root systems, these helpful microorganisms enhance the growth of our root balls and facilitate nutrient absorption. In addition, Sensi Zym provides over eighty types of enzymes to our root zone, which are living organisms that munch on plant debris and turn this debris into easily absorbable nutrients.

Additionally, we use Grandma Enggy’s Fulvic Acid and Grandma Enggy’s Humic Acid, which provide much needed organic growth enhancers, much like the content of humus, from which the name of Humic Acid is derived. Despite the name, Humic Acid is not overly acidic, so it doesn’t throw off you pH.

B-52 and Grandma Enggy’s Seaweed Extract supply the vitamin needs of our produce. The first product contains all the major B’s, along with natural hormones that increase the plant’s energy through increased metabolism. It has an NPK of 2-1-4, since part of its content is Potassium Nitrate, Magnesium and Potassium Phosphate, as well as Magnesium and Potassium Sulphate/Sulfate, and Urea.

Seaweed Extract is like a multi-vitamin. I’ll never forget when our Boston Lettuce crop all of a sudden looked weak and anemic and I called the Advanced Nutrients tech line in panic. The very helpful voice at the other end of the line asked if we were feeding our lettuce with vitamins.

To make a long story short, we started mixing Seaweed Extract into our reservoir, and almost immediately the lettuce leaves recovered their vigor, their overall health improved and their growth increased tremendously.

Seaweed Extract not only contains very specific growth stimulants, but also natural antibiotics, immune system boosters, as well as two vitamin A precursors, vitamin C, Vitamin K, and Vitamin E.

For that extra organic touch, we also feed our lettuce Mother Earth Blended Super Tea Grow, that is made from Alfalfa Extract, Canola Meal, Citric Acid, Crab Meal, Earthworm Castings, Fish and Shrimp Meal, and Sea Kelp. It has an NPK of 4.8--1.8--4.3, so be sure to calculate your total EC or ppm accordingly.

Anytime an additive or a supplement has an NPK rating, it is necessary to calculate your overall NPK for your nutrient solution. This is crucial, since too much Nitrogen can cause the tips of your leaves to turn yellow, while too much Phosphorus or excessive Potassium have other adverse effects.

In order to ward off pathogens, we always add Barricade to our nutrient solution, usually the night before in our pre-mix tank. Although it takes a little extra time to dissolve, Barricade is an excellent product that uses potassium silicate to strengthen cell walls and make your plants immune to many pathogens and pests.

A very important additive where lettuce is concerned—and I’m sure the same goes for pak choi—is Sensi Cal Mg Mix Grow, which provides three types of much needed Calcium, including a Calcium chelate, helping you grow crunchy, robust heads of lettuce that will sell very quickly off your grocer’s shelves.

A vital ingredient in lettuce production is the repeat customer. Once your lettuce is allowed to grace the salad plates of the purchaser, the taste and freshness and vigor will convince him or her to seek out your produce again and again.

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