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Issue 33

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Table of Contents:

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1. MARKETING: What it's all about.

(For starters. the following article is a direct excerpt from my book on hydroponics, more details of which you can find at http://www.mayhillpress.com)

Without a market you are nowhere. NEVER START GROWING ANYTHING UNTIL YOU HAVE ESTABLISHED A MARKET FOR IT. Not having a market can break you. Obvious, right? You'd be surprised at the number of people who won't heed this advice and have learned the hard way what needs to be done. That's why this book has a lot of space devoted to marketing.

To start you don't just run out and begin "bargaining". How are you going to bargain when you don't yet know how to grow at a profit and do so consistently? So you must get your feet wet. You have to prove you can consistently fill customer orders. You must be able to project the future. What crops will you have and how much 4-6 months from now? And will they be the crops the customer wants? After you have made a crop decision (which only comes from market research suggested in later pages here), stick with one or two crops per season. At least for the first season or two. Gain a reputation for dependability.

You must get your price! You cannot stay in business without a profit. The only way you can get your price is to have the right crop available at the right time. If you are growing what everybody else is growing, your chances of making money are slim. The large hydroponic operations will take it away from you. Not to mention, the average dirt-grower. This is very true with some foliage items such as ficus and croton. And it is particularly true with chrysanthemums, which it seems everybody is trying to sell.

Why not try for the market items, which aren't on everybody's growing list? Why not research your market for those items that can give you that profit break? This is why this book recommends growing certain kinds of vegetables, especially the winter crops. Because you can go to your local market area and make deals on lettuce, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts and come out ahead of growers in California, Mexico and Florida. Your produce will be fresh - theirs will be too long from the field.

It isn't difficult to do this. Most produce and store managers will be happy to listen to your proposal. After all they're in the business to make money. All they'll want to know is are you dependable and can you do what you say you can do? Just keep in mind the market can be very huge.

For example the Houston, Texas market is serviced not only by soil farmers but, by a whole army of hydroponic growers. All of them are trying to satisfy this one market. Do they succeed in their efforts? Many times they don't. When I managed a nursery in Houston several years ago, there were occasions when even all these suppliers could not keep up with the market's demand. There were times we had to do without or else settle for something less in quality.

At the outset, two people can easily compete. They'll be able to handle their current operation of 1/3 acre or less. They'll be more conscientious. They'll put out quality plants and do it consistently. One of them can specialize in marketing - the other can handle the growing.

As time goes by both of them will develop a reputation for quality and consistency. As their operation grows larger, they will find that their hydroponicum's output will increase at a relatively constant rate. This will enable them to accurately forecast larger and more profitable markets. By this time they will have others on their payroll.

Make a complete market survey before you start building. Check out all of the following: home-owned stores, supermarkets, national chains, retail florists, nurseries, farmer's markets, even flea markets and county fairs. We know of a man who does nothing else but sell at flea markets and county fairs.

How about those little shops in outdoor malls, convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, high-class restaurants? The list is endless - everybody loves food and everybody loves plants. Check each one out. Find out what each usually runs short of and when. Ask them if they would rather have a more secure source of supply.

When approaching these people, be specific and make it short. Don't waste their time. Listen to their responses. If you're already growing and want to expand a little, take along some of your best samples. The prospective buyer will then have something more concrete to look at. Listen to what these people have to say. Make notes on the interview later, after you leave. Don't try to remember - Write it down.

You may find the prospective buyer isn't interested in your fine African violets but would like to buy all the high-quality fern you can provide. Try to determine for yourself the retail prices on these items - they are on display for everyone to see. For example, if a large specimen fern is priced retail at $40, you will be able to wholesale it for $20 to $27. Quality fern sells for that and more.

If your goal is to grow quality vegetables, check out the restaurants, such as Chinese restaurants for bok choy. Remember? Check out the finer restaurants and ask the chefs if they'd like to have quality herbs. There are many ways to "open a market". After you've finished your survey and found the "soft" spots on the market, go to the buyers you have in mind and make the best deal you can. Once you've done all of this you'll be able to proceed with some confidence. And you can place your hydroponicum into full operation.

It doesn't all end there. This is just the beginning to a long and enjoyable career. And you still have a lot to learn because like in all businesses the markets always change. What's selling this season may not be so hot next year or even next season. But there are some predictables and you'll find them as you go along. If you keep your eyes open, you'll quickly see how your operation can mesh into a special niche of the market and hold its own in that niche. There are ways you can insure this.

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2. Items of interest

A. For those just starting out growing tomatoes hydroponically, the University of Arizona has just the information you can use. See it at: http://www.ag.arizona.edu/hydroponictomatoes

B. For those who want to know more about growing lettuce, see Cornell University's site on CEA hydroponics at: http://www.cals.cornell.edu/dept/flori/lettuce/index.html

Also see reference below to Tom Alexander's article on the same subject which recently appeared in the Growing Edge.

C. Plants can endure more sunlight if proper shading is provided and if you allow the air inside the greenhouse to move from the bottom to the top.

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3. Build your own system

(By Rob Smith, from recent issues of Growing Edge.)

If you're into building hydroponic systems for your own use, there are a series of articles in the last three issues of Growing Edge. Rob Smith, the author, takes you from ground zero and shows you how to lay out a hydroponic system, where to lay it out and how to construct it.

In the issue coming up he will talk about getting the system up and running as well as some tips on tomato plant propagation.

(Growing Edge has a web site at http://www.growingedge.com where you can find more detailed information about the magazine.)

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4. Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)

(By Tom Alexander, the publisher of Growing Edge (see web site details above).

This article is about Cornell University's $500,000 nearly 1/4 acre greenhouse used for growing lettuce on a large scale. This operation is intended to show farmers how to farm differently and more productively, and to get many times the number of crops they can get from soil.

What I like about it is the use of plants being grown in holes in floating styrofoam boards. This technique seems to be developing a lot of interest lately. The Japanese have been using it for years.

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5. The return of ultraviolet sterilization

(By Steven Carruthers, editor of Practical Hydroponics and Greenhouses. Web site address is: http://www.hydroponics.com.au)

(This article is from issue 38 of the above magazine which is published in Australia.)

The unique function of ultraviolet light is that it doesn't kill outright as chlorine does. Ultraviolet light alters the DNA structure of a micro-organism and thus keeps it from reproducing. In addition the main reason ultraviolet is coming back into its own again is that it doesn't have any toxic byproducts.

Muddy water is undesirable. The transparency level should be at least 20% to prevent most pathogens from getting out of control. One ultraviolet sterilizer allows water "to flow through the cylindrical chamber where it is exposed to an appropiate dose of UV light for a proper length of time to ensure a high kill rate." More details are given in the article which is available for free at the web site.

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6. The Lichen-Z-Farm

(By Pam Blair in the latest issue of Growing Edge (see above for web site details).

Here is a family living "in the mountains of southern California" who have made a going business raising herbs hydroponically. For those of you who have such an interest you will find this operation very interesting. The mother takes care of the planting and the son does the construction and deliveries.

They now have four greenhouses which house a total of 2400 square feet. One 12 x 36 foot greenhouse is used by basil only, while the others are devoted to arugula, rosemary, mint, watercress, tarragon, chives, catnip and dill. The mother and son operation is finding it difficult not to expand as the market wants more and more of what they grow. I'd say this is a happy state to be in.

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7. Think about it...

It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.

- Lewis Grizzard

An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that they will also make better soup.

- Henry L. Mencken

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Our Resource Center

"How to Start on a Shoestring and Make a Profit from Hydroponics" For those of you who want to pursue hydroponics further, go to: http://www.mayhillpress.com/hydroponics.html

"Beneficial Insects - How to Mass-rear for a Profit" If you would like to try your hand at raising beneficial insects, go to: http://www.mayhillpress.com/insects2.html

"Big Dollars Growing Gourmet Salad Greens" And if you are fond of salads, such as baby salad greens, go to: http://www.mayhillpress.com/salad2.html

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bsaffell@mayhillpress.com...Last Update: 52008 copyright 1996 - 2008 by Hilmur Saffell


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"Big Dollars Growing Gourmet Salad Greens"
"Beneficial Insects - How to Mass Rear and Make a Profit"
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