GROWING SELECTED HYDROPONIC VEGETABLES AND FLOWERS

by Hilmur Saffell

Published by:
Mayhill Press
103 Susan Ct
Winchester, KY 40391

All rights are reserved. Entire contents copyrighted. This material is protected under International Copyright Union. No part of it may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or manner without written permission from the author, except for brief quotations, which may be included in a review.

Copyright© 2000-2006 by H. L. Saffell/Mayhill Press

This booklet has been designed to educate, to entertain. Mayhill Press and the author shall have neither responsibility nor liability to any entity or person with respect to any damage or loss caused or alleged to have been caused directly or indirectly by the information contained in this booklet.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

·  1. Some ideas about strawberries

·  2. Herbs: They can add sizzzle to your profits!

·  3. More about herbs

·  4. Growing Tomatoes

·  5. Tomatoes are big in Nevada and Arizona

·  6. Lettuce: growing and selling tips

·  7. Chickens and roses

·  8. What have you got in your salad mix?

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1. Some ideas about Strawberries

Plants grown under lights only (no daylight) have individual needs. Flat leaved plants like strawberries can get all the light the leaves require because they don't shade each other. But with tomatoes, only the top-most leaves get the desired amount of light. All the leaves below get very little light. Actually the leaf at the top gets most of the light.

So with strawberries the amount of light depends upon the cultivar you're using. Some cultivars don't care how long the day or daylight lasts. You can get by for both growing and fruiting with 12 hours of light.

Other cultivars take less than 12 hours of light, whereas there are also those which need more than 12 hours. But all of them have to have their "rest" or periods of darkness in order to fruit and flower. Reflectors are an excellent addition because they throw light back to the lower leaves.

Different lighting techniques for the two main stages of growth. Metal halide lamps are just right for the vegetative state when the plant is growing and putting on structure. For flowering (and resultant fruiting) you need the sodium (high pressure) lamps. It's best to use the metal halide until you notice beginning flower buds.

Chilling is necessary:

No matter which cultivar you use, it will require some chilling. Too little will cause the plant to produce only runners. Too much and you get runners again and no fruit. A rule of thumb is 6-7 weeks of the kind of temperatures they would experience if they were planted outdoors like they would in winter.

So have an old refrigerator on standby. Wrap the young plants in paper or sawdust which has been dampened (not soggy!) and place them in the refrigerator for the 6-7 week period.

Seedlings and some young plants can be grown under light night and day. There is no restriction on light here.

For more details on strawberries, see H Saffell's book on "How to Start on a Shoestring and Make a Profit with Hydroponics" at http://www.mayhillpress.com/hydroponics.html

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2. Herbs: They can add sizzle to your profits!

The following has been taken from H Saffell's book: "How to Start on a Shoestring and Make a Profit with Hydroponics". More details can be found at http://www.mayhillpress.com/hydroponics.html

Herbs can be grown a lot faster with hydroponics. However the main criticism against hydroponic herbs is that they lack pep or taste. So get your ducks in a row. Get your production methods down pat in order to insure that your herbs do in fact have plenty of pep and taste. Don't commit yourself to growing herbs hydroponically until you're sure these herbs will be just as good smelling and tasting, as those grown in soil. You'll have to experiment a little. If you stay aware of each herb's fertilizer and culture requirements you should be able to keep your problems to a minimum.

The herbal market is growing rapidly because chefs are discovering they can get fresh herbs grown close at home. If you can furnish clean fresh herbs in small units of supply but with some variety, the customer is yours. You don't want to go broke trying to grow too many varieties.

Basically the following herbs can be profitably grown: watercress, basil, mint, rosemary, thyme, sage, tarragon and dandelion. All except dandelion can be grown in pots, which will also open up the housewife market for you. A chef may only want a handful of one particular herb. But if you can satisfy all his herbal needs, you can afford to make the delivery. If you also program your deliveries within a restricted area, you can make them all that much more profitable. Your profit per square foot can be as high as $50-$60!

The profit lies not only in furnishing fresh edible herbs to restaurants and markets but also in marketing dried herbs, fragrant herbal oils and for ornamental uses in landscaping. Suppose you over-produce one herb? A very high profit idea to exploit would be a product line, which utilizes this over supply. You could market herbal butters, herbal jellies, dried sachets. And you might find this end of the market more exciting than the fresh herb end.

The herbal market appears to be a growing one for at least several more years. The locally grown herb is attracting more and more attention. Chefs are no longer looking to Europe for such specialty items. And already one fast-food chain is featuring fresh herbs at its salad bar! Acceptance will gain momentum. Be ready to cash in on that momentum by learning and preparing yourself as much as you can.

How do you grow them? The old adage that herbs like poor soil is false. However you should not use a fertilizer which is too rich. This will give you a lot of growth but not much flavor and very little oil in the leaves. Use a fertilizer such as 5-5-5 or 10-10-10 where all three elements are in balance. Use in moderation and don't feed too often. The clue as to what's happening as far as flavor goes is this: if the growth is too lush, then quite possibly you're not getting much flavor.

Most herbs grow well at temperatures between 70-80 degrees F. They like moderate fertilizer, some sun and good drainage. They do not like a soggy medium. They prefer a humidity of 40-50%. You can propagate from cuttings (3-5 inches long) taken from the new tip growth. You can also propagate by layering. Most growers grow directly from seed, which is less labor intensive. The only advantage of using propagation methods other than seed is that you have the plant sooner than you do with seeds.

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3. More about herbs

Yes, everyone finds this topic fascinating and most folks use herbs in their daily diet. But to grow them profitably and to get an idea of which ones to grow, some additional particulars must be noted (other than those already noted above).

It goes without saying that you need a market - and you need to know what that market wants. For example, in many cases its not profitable to grow the common mints since they are mostly available at just about everyone's garden or doorstep. To get a good idea of what herbs to grow, check with your local grocer and see what he stocks and what he has to toss out because it doesn't sell.

Hydroponically grown herbs, when done correctly (see our book at http://www.mayhillpress.com/hydroponics.html), can have better taste and more flavor oils than the same herbs grown in soil. This is a boon to the average grower because most chefs like fresh herbs which can be supplied on a daily basis. And the average housewife can also be supplied with potted herbs such as basil, oregano, mint or marjoram. These herbs can be pinched back for use and will re-grow again.

Other herbs can be re-seeded when harvested. The main thing, if you plan to sell to chefs or markets is to make sure you can grow the plants all year round. Since a big seller such as basil doesn't grow well in hot weather, you'll need to keep the greenhouse at a temperature of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, especially during summer. According to one grower, most herbs do well when the pH is around 6.8 and the EC around 2,000. (EC stands for Electrical Conductivity - you can get a meter to measure this important requirement which determines how elements will flow from one point to another.)

Warmer or hot climes may have to use a chiller-type aerator to keep the nutrient solution temperature at a lower level. Remember that the roots are, to a great extent, what a plant is all about. What goes on at root level is what results at topside.

Growth methods vary from growing in long 2 inch deep trays to spacing at about eight inches for each plant in 3 inch PVC piping. Seeds are sown directly in the trays, whereas transplants are placed into 3/4 inch holes already drilled in the PVC piping. The seeds are rather small, so it's best to sow them into a peat-lite or coarse perlite mix.

The nutrient solution can be the same as that used for lettuce which is usually something like 5-5-5 or 10-10-10. (As you know, the first figure stands for percentage of nitrogen content, the second for phosphate and the third for potash.) Most fertilizer mixes obtained from hydroponic suppliers will also contain the necessary micro nutrients.

A one and a half horsepower pump which is used for shallow wells can be used for pumping the nutrient solution throughout a 30,000 square foot greenhouse such as that described in our book on hydroponics.

When planning for the market, don't forget the UPC market codings and any insurance to cover all liabilities. Of course, the insurance should be included in all growing costs, not just herbal ones.

Keep in mind that fresh-cut herbs have an appeal all year round and can be a standby moneymaker for the entire year.

Also keep in mind that you can find all kinds of FREE hydroponic and growing information at the following sites:

http://www.mayhillpress.com/hydroponics.html which you already know

http://www.mayhillpress.com/index2.html has a host of good articles on growing hydroponically, even from countries abroad.

http://www.mayhillpress.com/salad2.html is all about specialty greens.

http://www.mayhillpress.com/insects2.html tells you how to raise beneficial insects.

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4. Growing tomatoes

(The following has been taken from H Saffell's book: "How to Start on a Shoestring and Make a Profit with Hydroponics". More details can be found at http://www.mayhillpress.com/hydroponics.html

Everybody wants to grow them, and we continually warn people to be careful. But if you must get involved, to do so on a limited basis. Greenhouse tomato growing is a difficult business - because of the competition not only locally but also from other states and other countries. In most cases tomatoes are nowhere near as income productive as other crops, such as foliage and potted plants (and flowers). Competition with field grown tomatoes can be terrific.

This information is provided for those who just have to raise tomatoes or who have a unique marketing situation where tomatoes are quite viable for profit. First of all when marketing tomatoes, divide them into three groups. Premium grade which you will sell to your best customers and who demand the best, good grade which you can sell to fast?food outlets and at your own roadside stand, and culls which you can keep for your own table.

Your best profits will result when you use the best transplants and seed in order to get more production. DON'T CUT CORNERS HERE - BUY THE BEST! Some varieties you should consider are Michigan-Ohio hybrid, Florabel, Tropic, and Caruso.

A greenhouse tomato should be globular and smooth, have deep red skin and flesh, be 3-4 inches in diameter and set fruit well under a wide range of temperature and light conditions. Use treated seed only. Choose those varieties, which are resistant to fusarium wilt, mosaic virus, nematodes and verticillium wilt. These should be listed on the seed package as F, M, N, V in any order.

We recommend you use the bag technique for tomatoes. You won't constantly have to monitor the nutrient solution because it won't get out of balance like a closed re-circulating system does. The mixture inside the bag should be between soggy like a sponge (but not dripping wet) and dry. Check the bottom of the bags for moisture; if moisture is coming out at the bottom then the media is too wet.

Tomato stalks should be tied to strong overhead wires (10-12 gauge) which also should be supported every four feet. Tomato vines should have all suckers removed as they appear. There should be only one main stem. The rule of thumb for removing the lower leaves: after a hand of fruit (where the blossoms occur) has set, remove the leaves below the hand of fruit when that fruit becomes as large as quarters. This applies to all varieties except the cherry tomato.

As the vine grows, carefully lower the bare stem but not more than one or two feet at a time. Do this during the daytime when there is more heat in the greenhouse - otherwise you might break the vine or stem. Re-tie the top end at the overhead wire. This procedure should only be done after the vine has reached the top of the wire. If you are growing tomatoes continually year-round, start your new seedlings and pinch off the top end of the growing vine 4-5 weeks before the time you have set for termination of the crop.

Set tomato bag containers (or in any other media such as beds) at 18 inch intervals and on a diagonal coursing. The diagonal distance and horizontal distance will always be 18 inches. You will cut your production if you set too close or too far apart. Tomatoes do best at temperatures between 60 degrees F at night and 88 degrees F during the day. The humidity for good pollination should be around 60-70%.

Opinions vary but most growers believe the best tasting tomatoes are grown in peat mixtures in polyethylene bags. Those grown in rockwool don't taste as good and don't have as good a color. Here is a recipe or one kind of peat mix. This so called New Jersey mix makes one cubic yard: 9 bushels sphagnum peat moss; 10 lbs. of 10-10-10 fertilizer; 9 bushels vermiculite; 3 lbs. of magnesium sulphate; 10 lbs. of agricultural limestone; 5 lbs. of calcium sulphate. This is for long term use. The added nutrients get the plant off to a fast start. You still feed your regular nutrient mix at stated times.

Other good media mixes are: 80% sand to 20% gravel, 60% gravel to 40% sawdust, 70% coarse sand to 30% sawdust, 40% perlite to 60% chopped peat moss, 50% #8 perlite (horticultural grade) to 50% vermiculite. This book recommends the perlite/peat moss mix for its lightness. You should make a fresh batch and change the mixture at the end of each crop.

A crop of tomatoes could last for an entire year. Choose the mixture which is easily and inexpensively obtained. Use white plastic on the floor and around the bags to give extra warmth and light in the winter. Tests prove that tomatoes whose roots are warmed will produce anywhere from 25% to 75% more fruit. Root-zone warming can come in handy here.

If you're using gravel beds or mixes, keep an eye on them. They dry out in a few hours. Also, in order to pollinate efficiently, you need to shake or vibrate the vine every day. The number one disease for tomatoes is bacterial leaf spot. To control this disease, stop overhead watering. And keep the area close to the greenhouse mowed and free of weeds.

As mentioned above, more hydroponic information can be found at http://www.mayhillpress.com/hydroponics.html

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5. Tomatoes are big in Nevada and Arizona

And I mean BIG! Just when I thought tomatoes were the last things to grow hydroponically, some big firms are getting big and fat growing, of all things, beefsteak tomatoes. Well, excuse me for hiding my head in the sand. Beefsteak tomatoes! Can you believe it?

Sunco in Nevada grows the "Trust" variety - to the tune of 4 million dollars a year! The company charges anywhere from 3 to 7 times the price of the average market tomato and has reaped a very loyal audience. Why? Because the tomatoes taste better and have longer shelf life.

Sunco's goal is to achieve the same quality product all year round. Customer's have come to depend upon the same consistent high quality and flavor. And so they come back for more, week in and week out. Sunco states it can't keep up with the demand. though they are surely trying very hard to do so.

Sunco presently has a production facility which covers twelve acres. Its parent company is United which operates a power plant which provides Nevada Power with electricity. A by-product of the power plant is the hot water which has been generrated. The hot water when converted into steam helps heat the greenhouses.

In addition to quality tomatoes produced, customers also learn that Sunco uses no pesticides. What the company does use to control pests like thrips and white fly are a miniature wasp, known as Eretmocerus. More than 200,00 of these tiny wasps are in the greenhouses at any one time. They are no problem for the workers. They're small, like what the Indians used to call "No-see-ums".

Pollination of the tomato plants is achieved by hives of bumble bees. This is a great labor saver - otherwise pollination would have to be done by hand.

Arizona has also seen the light. Growing tomatoes in this state has become quite the thing and promises to grow even bigger as time goes by. The state itself has set up a million dollar fund to train workers in this field. Because there are over 200 acres in tomatoes now, and the state expects that number to be 1000 in ten years.

Eurofresh is one of the main companies involved - and, yes, they also grow beefsteak tomatoes. They sell their tomatoes throughout the country. In fact Sunco's largest customer is Randall foods of Houston, Texas (where my wife and I used to shop when we lived there). So you see your market for your produce can be at some distance - IF you produce a product which is firm enough to last the trip.

Eurofresh also uses beneficial insects to control pests on their plants. Their tomato vines, as well as Sunco's, reach as high as ten feet. So your greenhouse must be taller than most.

Many other companies are going to Arizona, even one from Canada. There are outfits now building or have built greenhouses in Snowflake, Prescott and Willcox.

Learn the different hydroponic growing technigues at http://www.mayhillpress.com/hydroponics.html

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6. Lettuce: General growing and selling tips:

The following has been taken from H Saffell's book: "How to Start on a Shoestring and Make a Profit with Hydroponics". More details can be found at http://www.mayhillpress.com/hydroponics.html

Growing lettuce hydroponically is a demanding job. Hydroponics is not a short cut to success. As in any business the only short cut to success is knowledge of your product, its market, and a desire to pay attention to detail. However the real reason for failure in lettuce cropping is inattention to cost management and marketing.

Growing isn't the real problem; selling the crop for a profit is. For some growers, growing lettuce has become a year round business. Their ability to stay in business depends upon customer loyalty in the winter and then matching prices with field grown lettuce in the summer. The problem? Perhaps these growers haven't sold nutrition strongly enough to their buying public. They have poor customer identity.

Once you get past the two-person or family operation, labor, high energy, costs and high-cost structures will eat up your time and profit. If you settle your goals on the small finely tuned market, an efficient housing and growing situation, you won't have interference from the large competitors. The large grower cannot profitably handle small, individualized markets.

Fresh hydroponic lettuce demands higher prices than the field grown. And in some cases hydroponic lettuce can be harvested more quickly: in summer, within 4-6 weeks; in winter, within 10-12 weeks. The Japanese use extra lighting and make it happen faster. The extra cost of lighting might come in handy during the winter when, if you can get a crop to market sooner, you can gain more profit.

Some suggested lettuce varieties are: Bibb, Red Leaf or Oak Leaf, Ostinata, Black Seeded Simpson, Columbus, Vasco, Pinto, Marbello. Head lettuce isn't profitable - not yet. It takes too long to form a suitable head. Lettuce can be grown in gravel beds or on horticultural rockwool slabs (about 30 inches by 12 inches by 3 inches). But NFT methods have been used with great success throughout the world.

Lettuce on the "Archway":

It has been calculated that by using the archway concept as much as $160,000 can be grossed on 1/3 acre - if you sell at 50 cents per head (leaf or Bibb). How? Because Irish growers can get 8 - 9 crops per year! The arch or A-frame concept gives you more than double the growing space. You can get 34 plants per square yard!

HOW DO THEY DO IT?

First the archway is sited in a N-S direction. Second, PVC troughs 4 inches wide and 3 inches deep are slanted in a slope of 1 inch to every 30 feet and are thus staggered from the top of the arch to the bottom. Matting is placed in the bottom of the troughs and drip irrigation is used for feeding. (Here drip irrigation means allowing the nutrient to flow slowly from top to bottom.) The lettuce seeds are planted in two-inch rockwool cubes. When the seeds have sprouted and grown to seedling size, the plants are placed in the PVC tubing at intervals 8 inches apart.

One grower has his troughs staggered twelve feet high! But the best pattern seems to be six double rows on each side of the arch or "A" Frame. The Irish also use 1 ¼-inch diameter PBV pipe in 6 1/2 ft. lengths. They drill ¾-inch holes every 7 5/8 inches. Then they insert the seedling's roots into the hole and allow the leaves to rest on top of the tube. The results are very good. The grower can market "clean" lettuce because nothing has ever touched the plant except the nutrient flow at the roots.

In our opinion, this size tubing is too small. It promotes root clogging and poor plant growth at the far end of the tube. But the Irish say they have no problem with it. There have been no root death or other diseases for these year-round operations.

Marketing tip: Package the lettuce in separate open plastic bags, pack in cartons and number according to size of carton and customer order. LETTUCE STORES VERY POORLY - HAVE A READY MARKET FOR IT! Even refrigeration doesn't help much. Just imagine how your freshly picked lettuce will taste when compared to that brought by refrigerated trucks from 1,000 to 2,000 miles away! Some of those growers have to keep lettuce cool for as long as a week!

What can they do? If they don't have a ready market, they must refrigerate. Here is where you save money and make your operation more successful: set up your marketing so well that you won't have to refrigerate. IT CAN BE DONE AND IS BEING DONE! Lettuce can also be harvested cube, root and all. This usually convinces the customer that you are running a clean operation.

More information on lettuce and various salad mixes can be found at http://www.mayhillpress.com/salad.html

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7. Chickens and roses

Yes, I know you probably won't believe this. But now there is a commercial operation where chickens and roses are both grown hydroponically together. The company is named Harmony and Roses. In a joint venture, the chickens are a product of a Japanese company named Nature's Harmony and the roses are sponsored by Beall's Roses which produces for the US market. The roses are distributed by Seattle Roses.

The chickens are raised below the roses which are in hanging tables that can be moved back and forth as desired. The chickens are raised on a bed of decomposing straw and chicken wastes.

This way the chickens give out extra heat while the decomposing litter bed gives off carbon dioxide. Both of these are beneficial to the roses. When the litter bed has decomposed to about six tons of nutrient over the course of twelve months the nutrient is used to feed the roses (in addition to regular hydroponic rose nutrient).

The operation is set up so no excess water or nutrient or liquid from the litter bed is allowed to escape to the outside environment and consequently seep into ground water. For the roses, drip irrigation is set to make sure there is no excess water. But if that does occur, the excess will drip to the chicken litter bed below.

The chicken litter bed is tightly sealed at the bottom to keep any liquid from escaping to the outside. This company uses plastic but concrete can also make an effective shield. Excess water is drained away and placed in tank which is periodically emptied.

To allow the chicken litter bed to decompose properly, 8 inch aeration pipes are laid on top of the bottom seal. Then about a foot of straw (usually grass straw) is placed on top of the floor and the pipe. Above that is laid 4 inch aeration pipe which can also transport water. Again, another layer of straw is strewn six inches deep.

Thus in a greenhouse which is 120 feet by 30 feet, you get straw amounting to 40 tons and chicken waste of 25 tons combining together to give the six tons of nutrient mentioned above. This design yields chickens valued at $7,000 and roses valued at $36,000 for a total of $43,000 per year. Not bad for about a tenth of an acre!

If you think the above to be amusing, you'll find lots more of plant growing ideas in H Saffell's book on hydroponics. The details can be explored at length at:

http://www.mayhillpress.com/hydroponics.html

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8. What have you got in your salad mix?

Mesclun mixes come in all sorts of ways. Here's one from Oregon: leaves from Good King Henry (a substitute for spinach), some radicchio, small slices of fennel, young Oregon grape leaves, daylily, nasturtium, Viola tricolor, rose and carnation.

Here are some other ideas: for accent, use the leaves of daylily, tiger lilies, or calendula. Or how about some baby vegetables such as squash, tomato, peppers and herbs to suit your taste. Don't forget those squash blossoms. They're good to eat too.

There's no end to mesclun mix ideas. Just use your imagination and anything which is edible and can add flavor or zest to your mix.

For those of you who have a garden, plant mesclun mixes along with annual flowers (along the edges of the garden). Keep repeating this all through your season to get the variety you want.

Some growers make a business out of growing baby vegetables and different flowers and blossoms. Top-notch restaurants are great prospects for these kind of ideas.

Always try to plant heat and bolt-resistant varieties. The baby vegetables will make good substitutes when other salad ingredients don't make it.

Only harvest in the morning of the day the items are going to be used. Vegetables should be rinsed in cold water. Either spin or towel dry them and place in plastic bags which can be stored in a crisper. To preserve flavor, don't cut or trim until you are ready to serve. Flower petals should be bagged without rinsing.

It's enough to make one's mouth water!

What's more interesting is you can find out how to use hydroponics and grow these savory plants by going to:

http://www.mayhillpress.com/salad2.html


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6. Rearing Ladybugs, Praying Mantis: Controlling Scale, Aphids, Mealybug

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8. Computers and Hydroponics

9. Indoor and Basement Hydroponics

10. Growing Facts for Strawberries

11. Growing Hydroponic Hay or Fodder

12. Carbon Dioxide for Fast Plant Growth

13. Grow Plants with the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

14. Great Crops from Flood and Drain

15. AVRDC - Hydroponic System of the Future?

16. Is Aeroponics, and Particularly Ein-Gedi, the Face of the Future?

17. Sand and Gravel Systems - Old but still Reliable

18. Many Growers Prefer the Bag System

19. Let's Grow Juicy, Tasty Tomatoes

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21. Let's Grow Delicious Lettuce

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