Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Swedish Partner--We Decide to Grow Herbs

The negotiations with Bjorn have come to an end, resulting in a brand new, three-way partnership. This Swedish man who wandered in off the highway has purchased a third of our three-greenhouse lettuce and pak choi growing operation, and we are jointly building a fourth greenhouse to grow nothing but choice, gourmet herbs.

As you may have guessed from my name, my family is originally from Italy. Chuck is Anglo-Saxon, mainly of Scottish background. Now we have Bjorn. It’s almost like a joke—did you hear the one about the Italian, the Scotsman, and the Swede who set up a hydroponic herb-growing operation?

I only hope that the punchline is a good and profitable one. One thing we did convince Bjorn about. We’re going to attempt a Nutrient Pond technique, instead of the Winding Canal technique that he uses in Sweden.

The reason for this is that the contractors we work with here are used to building this type of greenhouse and the learning curve would be time consuming and expensive getting them to change the specs. One change will be that the Ponds have to be narrower so the workers can reach each individual herb more easily.

The three of us agreed that Basil should be our primary herb, since it comprises a full 40% of Bjorn’s profits in Sweden. Basil has a funny history. In many cultures it used to be reviled as being in league with the dark powers, but in India a strain of Basil is revered as a sacred herb and used in Hindu funeral rites.

In Italy, Basil is considered the herb of love. It is liberally mixed with Oregano in many tomato based recipes. It has a pungent taste and a strong fragrance and prefers warm temperatures. It can’t stand being cool.

In addition to Basil, we went through the whole list of herbs and came up with Oregano, Marjoram, Dill, Cilantro, and Mint as profitable herbs that lend themselves to hydroponic production. I wanted to include Coreander, but it seems that it is a difficult herb to grow profitably.

The herbs we plan to grow all prefer a warm greenhouse (70 to 80º F) with moderate humidity. Some herbs are more susceptible to fungal infestation than others, so we have to keep the humidty down.

We’ll be using Advanced Nutrients base ferts Micro and Grow, and pass on the Bloom, since we don’t want our herbs to go to seed. The different germination times for each herb will be handled in the incubation room.

Basil takes 7 days to germinate; Oregano, 7-15 days; Dill, 7 days; Marjoram, 10-15 days. The temperature and humidity in the incubation room will be higher. Temp at 75-85º F, while the humidity will be in the 70 to 80% range.

Seedlings will be nourished with a half strength fert and vitamin mixture, the vitamins being supplied by B52, an excellent product containing all the essential B vitamins to keep down plant stress.

The rooting and initial growth period will be approximately 2 to 3 weeks for most of the herbs, while the mature plant’s growth period to harvest will be an additional 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the specific herb. This is much faster in a hydroponic setting, than in soil.

Basil will require additional Magnesium, which is contained in Sensi Cal Grow. The Calcium will help all the herbs develop crunchy leaves. The Potassium Silicate in Barricade will strengthen the cell walls of the herbs and help them resist insects and pathogens.

Additional induced systemic resistance will be supplied by regular sprayings of Scorpion Juice. This will be done every three weeks in order to inoculate the herbs against the major bacterial, fungal, and viral infections that some of them are prone to.

For instance, Basil is susceptible to Pythium, which is an insidious fungus, as well as to aphids, which can vector many viral diseases. When not receiving full sun, Basil is especially vulnerable to pathogens.

We plan to augment sunlight as needed with a bank of 600W Metal Halide lights, arranged in such a pattern as to maximize the area covered and the lumens supplied. In the winter, this artificial, very powerful lighting will be on 14 hours per day.

Whiteflies, leafminers, and spider mites like to munch on Oregano, so an ultra fine mesh screening will be in place on each and every ventilation opening in the greenhouse. In additon, yellow sticky traps will be hung at regular intervals and these will be monitored daily to detect any bugs before the infestation reaches a serious stage.

Our fourth greenhouse will be fully automated in terms of temperature, humidity, pH and EC of the nutrient solution, heating, cooling, lighting, and slight corrections in the acid alkaline-balance, for instance, by the addition of small quantities of pH Up or pH Down, depending on the circumstance.

posted by silvio @ 10:32 PM   0 comments


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