Chapter 1 The History of HydroponicsInitially, it can be very strange to see that hydroponics is actually an age old technique. In fact,when people are first introduced to hydroponic technology, they often assume that hydroponicsmust be a new concept. But I found out that indeed it was an ancient form of production. Thefacts were interesting and poured through. Now, hydroponics is high-tech; so we live in a high-tech world it stands to reason. The average farmer is approaching old age quickly, in fact theaverage age is 60 years old. At this time in their lives growing crops like they had when theywere 20 years old is not going to happen. In fact they have to develop a new way to farm, and forthe future impending food shortage hydroponics is the answer. It’s growing plants in less spaceand with less of a detrimental effect on our resources.Although hydroponics has become very high-tech, the application of growing plants in water isat least as old as the pyramids. In fact, I found out that it has been traced back to the 600 BC,with one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. It was known the world around as theHanging Gardens of Babylon. Many believe that that the Hanging Gardens, were the firstsuccessful attempt by people at growing plants in water rather than in soil. It had to be so, theclimate of Ancient Babylon was dry and arid-the soil less than fertile. There was also a series ofhieroglyphic records along the nile that date to around 200BCE.These records vaguely describe plants being grown in water only.The Mexica or Aztecs of Central America were innovative, in fact they too dabbled inhydroponics before Europeans drifted into their world. These people have a very interestingbeginning, the site of their permanent home was modern day Mexico City, however in ancienttimes it was literally a water fortress, with boats leading the way to an elaborate standingstructure in the middle of a lake. They had been driven there by a hostile tribe who was in searchof arable land on which to grow food crops. The Aztecs settled near the marshy shores of LakeTenochtitlan. Since this fresh water lake was surrounded by marshes and rising hills, the Aztecs(Mexica) were faced with the problem of trying to find a place to grow food. Where else wouldthey find such a well fortified land? The Aztecs constructed large rafts out of reeds and thrushesthey found near the lake.They floated these rafts in the water and covered them with soil which they dredged up from thebottom of the shallow lake. They then planted their precious food crops on these floating islandsthat they called chinampas. Guess what they found that when the plants matured, their roots grewthrough the soil and dangled in the water! Some remnants of the Chinampas can still be foundtoday in Central Mexico. Thus, they were the earliest inhabitants in South/Central America tohave utilized the process of hydroponics in order to create a sustainable and lucrative cropstructure.Let’s move to Asia, again I was studying and researching everything I possibly could. I foundthat here the Chinese developed their own hanging gardens in the 11th century. It was MarcoPolo who arrived on the scene exploring new heights and developing ties that would ultimatelylead him to his Silk Route--a bridge between Europe and the Orient. However, he noticed an
unusual site in China. He personally documented a floating garden which was another exampleof hydroponics in history.Let’s fast forward here to the 1600’s where a Belgian Jan van Helmont derived that plants obtainsubstances for growth from water. He figured it out by planting a 5 lb. willow shoot in a tubecontaining 200 lbs. of dried soil. After 5 years of regular watering with rainwater, he found thewillow shoot increased in weight by 160 lbs., but the soil lost less than 2 ounces.Everything just took off from there. In 1699, plants were grown in water containing variousamounts of soil by John Woodward, a fellow of the Royal Society of England. Mr. Woodwardfound that the greatest growth occurred in the water which contained the most soil. He concludedthat plant growth was a result of certain substances and minerals in the water, derived from thesoil. This mixture of water and soil was the first scientific hydroponic nutrient solution.Then I found out that European plant physiologists established many things in the decades thatfollowed Woodward’s research. It was truly amazing! They proved that water is absorbed byplant roots, that it passes through the plants stem system and that it escapes into the air throughpores in the leaves. They also showed that plant roots take up minerals from either soil or waterand that leaves draw carbon dioxide from the air. They also demonstrated that plant roots take upoxygen. But, the determination of precisely what it was that the plants were taking up wasdelayed until the modern theory of chemistry made great advances in the seventeenth andeighteenth centuries.Then, in 1792 English scientist Joseph Priestly discovered that plants placed in a chamber filledwith carbon dioxide (CO2)will gradually absorb the carbon dioxide and give off oxygen (O2).They were on the road to moving toward the right road; developing hydroponics. It happenedtwo years later when Jean Ingen-Housz demonstrated that plants in a chamber filled with carbondioxide could replace the gas with oxygen within several hours if the chamber was placed insunlight. He then was observed that the plant was responsible for this transformation, eluding tothe first concept of photosynthesis.Fast forward now to the early 1800’s and the 1920’s, when phenomenal discoveries anddevelopments were achieved in many laboratory studies of plant physiology and plant nutrition.It was then in 1925, that the greenhouse industry expressed interest in the newly acquiredknowledge in “Nutriculture,” as hydroponics was called at that time. Between 1925 - 1935,extensive development took place in converting the laboratory techniques of nutriculture tolarge-scale crop production. It was then that the industry began to become super-powered.The advent of it was phenomenal as you could imagine the possibilities that go hand in handwith it. In recent times, the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Dr. William F. Gericke, at theUniversity of California, Berkeley, focused his research on growing practical crops for largescale commercial applications. During this time, he coined the term, “hydroponics,” which wasderived from two Greek words, hydro meaning water and ponos meaning labor, literally “water-working.” His work and research is considered the basis for all forms of hydroponic growingused to- day.
As a result of Dr. Gericke’s experimentation with using hydroponic for commercial cropproduction, he was photographed with tomato plants that exceeded 25 ft. in height. At that time itwas pretty huge in the crop industry and it still is-imagine 25 ft high tomato plants. Thesephotographs appeared in newspapers throughout the country and created both excitement andskepticism in the general public. Promoters and equipment manufacturers proceeded to cash inon the media-hype by selling impractical and mostly unproductive equipment and materials topeople hoping to duplicate Dr. Gericke’s results.In reality, Dr. Gericke’s newly developed hydroponic growing system was far too scientific andcomplex for most potential commercial growers.During the late 1940’s, a more practicalhydroponic method was developed by Robert B. and Alice P. Withrow, working at PurdueUniversity. Their system alternately flooded and drained a container holding gravel and the plantroots. This provided the plants with the optimum amount of both nutrient solution and air whilethe gravel provided support for the plant.Then, in 1945, the US Air Force built one of the first large hydroponic farms on AscensionIsland in the South Atlantic, followed by additional hydroponic farms on the islands of Iwo Jimaand Okinawa in the Pacific, using crushed volcanic rock as the growing medium, and on WakeIsland, west of Hawaii, using gravel as the growing medium. These hydroponic farms helped fillthe need for a supply of fresh vegetables for troops stationed in these areas.During this time, a large hydroponic facility was established in Habbaniya, Iraq, Bahrain and thePersian Gulf, to support troops stationed near large oil reserves. It was then that the AmericanArmy and Royal Air Force built hydroponic units at various military bases to help feed troops.Asyou can imagine the advent of it was simply amazing-feeding troops by means of hydroponicproduction was certainly something futuristic. In 1952, the US Army’s special hydroponicsbranch grew over 8,000,000 lbs. of fresh produce to fulfill military demand. Also established atthis time was one of the world’s largest hydroponic farms in Chofu, Japan, consisting of 22hectares.Following the success of hydroponics in W.W.II, several large commercial hydroponic farmswere built in the US, most of which were in Florida. Due to poor construction and management,many of these farms were unsuccessful. Because no soil was needed and, with propermanagement, optimum results could be achieved, the excitement over hydroponics continuedand its use expanded throughout the world, specifically in Italy, Spain, France, England,Germany, Sweden, the USSR and Israel. Areas with little rainfall, poor or no soil and difficultaccess were ideal for hydroponic culture. So then between 1945 - 1960’s both individuals andgarden equipment manufacturers were designing hydroponic units for home use. Of course likeall things some were quite efficient while others failed. Mostly due to poor growing media,unsuitable construction materials, poor construction and improper environmental control.Okay so they tried again-even with many failures, the idea of creating the ultimate growingsystem intrigued many, and research and design continued in the field of hydroponic culture.Why shouldn’t it have? The possibilities are incredible with hydroponics! In the mid-1970’sanother media blitz about the miracles achieved with hydroponic technology hit the UnitedStates. In many instances, hydroponics was considered a get rich quick scheme and a largenumber of hopeful investors lost money on failed hydroponic farms. These failures were mostly
because of the lack of information on growing techniques and nutrient formulas, exorbitantlypriced growing and greenhouse systems, the high cost of operation due to non-energy-savinggreenhouse designs and poor management.So, even though the potential of hydroponic culture is incredible, commercial hydroponics in theUS was held back. They wanted to make sure that the systems were easy to use, create andmaintain. They also wanted to make them available under those guises. With the advent of high-tech plastics and simpler system design, this came about in the late 1970’s.Energy saving polygreenhouse covers, the PVC (or similar) pipe used in the feed systems, the nutrient injectors,pumps and reservoir tanks are all made of types of plastic that weren’t available prior to the1970’s.The small and large hydroponic farms were established in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, it wasproven that with proper management, hydroponic culture could grow premium produce and be aprofitable venture.It made sense, and as hydroponics attracted more interest, complete plantnutrient formulas and hydroponic greenhouse systems were designed and marketed and environ-mental control systems were developed to help to growers provide the ideal environment inaddition to the ideal plant diet.In the UK there is a long interconnected timeline of history that evolved from Marco Polo’s silkroute and more. The UK has utilized the trade for some time and because of that it is one of thepremier sources for literature and learning.So then I decided to calculate some figures-why? Because I knew that you too would beinterested in this amazing journey of hydroponics. So I found out that worldwide there are over30,000 acres in commercial hydroponic production, mainly in fancy lettuce, tomatoes,cucumbers, peppers, cut flowers and herbs. Hydroponics is a 4-billion-dollar-a-year industry andgrowing rapidly. In Spain, Holland, Australia, Canada, and other countries hydroponic culturemakes up a sizable percentage of the agriculture market. In the United States the application ofcommercial hydroponics is just recently booming.It was with the construction of several 40 and60 acres hydroponic tomato facilities in recent years, total acreage in hydroponic production inthe US is between 800-1,000 acres.Most of the hydroponic facilities in the US are family or small business operations, with theexception of several large corporate farms.The demand for premium produce is so high in the USthat the number of current hydroponic farms cannot meet the demand. Every day, hundreds ofthousands of pounds of hydroponic tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are flown in from Canada,Europe and Mexico.So besides the addition to the commercial applications of hydroponics, there are many homegardeners that maintain hydroponic systems. Because more crops can be grown in a small space,it is environmentally friendly and grows premium produce, hydroponic culture lends itself wellto a small garden. You can actually take the hydroponic garden to a new level. A hydroponicgarden can be set up indoors, in a windowsill, a patio, balcony or roof top, making gardeningavailable to those who do not have a traditional yard or access to fertile soil.
There were many schools that are using hydroponics in science courses.Many schools are nowusing hydroponics to teach plant science, plant structure, plant nutrition and chemistry. Thehands-on learning allows students to apply abstract concepts to real-world technology whileencouraging responsibility in caring for the plants. Not only is hydroponics popular in schoolsand in some small areas because it offers world wide hydroponics.World wide, hydroponics has become a well established, popular method of growing food crops.So in arid regions such as Mexico, the Middle East, India and north Africa hydroponic culture ishelping to feed growing populations. Nearly every country in the world uses hydroponic cultureon some scale. Hydroponic produce is strictly considered a premium or gourmet product. Inothers, hydroponic technology is utilized for producing staple crops and grain. Hydroponictechnology is even used by some zoos in the US for producing animal feed its just that easy, andawesome. Hydroponics is obviously money saving as you do not have to get the soil at a certainnutrient level in order to produce. It’s based in water, and it makes plants grow phenomenallylarger.I even found out that the US Navy is growing fresh vegetables on submarines in highlyspecialized recirculating hydroponic systems to help supply fresh vegetables for the crew! I alsoread somewhere that NASA is experimenting with recirculating hydroponic systems to be usedto feed people in space. Many experiments have been conducted in laboratories and on recentspace shuttle missions. So in another decade or so we are going to be eating on the moon fromhydroponic systems.With today’s technology, a small hydroponic grower with just 7,000 square ft. of greenhousespace (that’s 1/8th of an acre) can grow as much as 50,000 lbs. of hydroponic tomatoes annually.As a concept, hydroponics has been around since the pyramids. As a science, it is quite new andit’s also exciting. Hydroponics has only been used in commercial production for approximately50 years. In that time, it has been applied to both indoor and outdoor farms, growing premiumproduce, feeding third world countries and applications in the space program.What’s in the future?Well as we become more and more advanced refining the technology the field will become moreproductive. People around the world will no longer no hunger perhaps, and people will be able togrow their own food in space. Other areas where hydroponics could be used in the future includegrowing seedlings for reforestation, establishing orchards, growing ornamental crops, flowersand shrubs and integration with aquaculture where the plants purify the water the fish are livingin.Chapter 2Introduction To The
Hydroponics IndustryOkay, so the future is bright with hydroponics and its a good thing too because if we have notcome as far as we are now then we may have found ourselves facing a food crisis without theability to produce anything. I found out also that with hydroponic technology and a controlledenvironment greenhouse, you have the ability to grow premium quality produce using aminimum of space, water and fertilizer. That’s right you can grow it in your windowsill, orlaundry room-it depends on your light source among other things. Hydroponics is an intensiveform of agriculture that can fulfill the demand for premium produce and provide the you with aprofitable business. Which works out great considering that it takes a limited amount of space,little startup costs in comparison to traditional growing methods and it is a “green” mode ofproduction.There are hydroponic growers throughout the United States and worldwide. Of over 30,000 acresin hydroponic production around the world, about 800 of those acres are in the US. Most of thehydroponic facilities in the US are family or small business operations that cover 1/8 - 1 acre,produce premium hydroponic produce and sell it locally. The smaller operations generally havethe advantage of offering vine ripened, locally grown produce with minimal transportation costand damage. It is in this niche, offering premium produce to a local marketplace, that ahydroponic grower with less than a 1/2 acre in production can earn an excellent profit. Smallergrowers can establish themselves near the marketplace, eliminating the problems and costs oflong-distance transportation. Most of the hydroponic farmers in the US deliver all the producethey grow within a 1 - 4 hour radius of their greenhouse.The US has several smaller growers-as well as there are several large hydroponic facilities thatcover as many as 60 or more acres and produce large quantities of hydroponic tomatoes, peppers,cucumbers and lettuce. Often this produce is shipped throughout the US to help fill the growingdemand for hydroponic produce. Currently there are jumbo jets, trains and trucks that bringhydroponic produce daily into the United States from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Mexicoand Canada.But it’s better to have your own local site because the items that come from abroad(U.S and Internationally) are going to have to travel far, it’s going to get hot, smashed andbroiled before it even arrives to the store and then they throw half of it away because of Bemisspots. The waste is incredible and the quality of the hydroponically grown product is disgusting.Both US and Internationally grown hydroponic produce that suffer the rough handling of long-distance transportation is usually of a lesser quality and sells for a lower price that that of asmaller hydroponic farmer who caters to specialty stores and farmers markets near to theiroperation. That’s where you come in, maybe you are mid-life or young and you are looking toproduce your own crops. Well, like I have said it’s all too common to go the expensive routewhich is traditionally grown crops, but hydroponics is a developing field and it allows you togrow much more than before. Let’s explore this shall we?Quality of foodThe premium quality of most hydroponic produce is due to several things. First it is thecontrolled environment and then a high grade nutrients and precise control of the nutrient feed.
These ratios can accelerate vine ripening time without having herbicides and pesticides in yourback pocket.Advantages of Hydroponic ProduceThere are so many advantages that it’s hard to think of them all. But basically if youdecide to grow your plants with this method then you will not have to deal with any:*soil borne disease *hydroponics uses up to 1/10 of the water that is used to grow equivalent amounts offield produce •hydroponics uses less fertilizer than is often used to grow equivalent amounts of fieldProduce •extended growing season•intensive production in a small spaceEven if you live in a high rise apartment hydroponics is always an option and another thing youdo not have to be extremely mobile to farm in this manner as long as the items are in a place insuch a way that you can get to them.What’s the Most Popular Crops?Right now in the U.S the most popular crops are tomatoes. Then the runners up are fancy lettuceand leaf crops, third cucumbers and fourth herbs, peppers and flowers. Ironically, there is morehydroponic produce flown into the US from Holland, Canada and Mexico than is grown here. Ifeel that it is time to take up the slack and get it moving. As more and more growers areestablished in the US, this will change. You can grow hydroponic produce at a lower cost andoffer fresher, better quality for a fraction of the cost that traditional growing methods offer. Thereis nothing worse than sticking your neck out for a bank loan and getting nothing in return exceptfor a sore neck and an overcharged and heightened loan. They call them loan sharks for a reason-they will take it all and then demand more. This is not something that I personally would want toget myself involved in.Productivity of Commercial SystemsIn the past decade or so, productivity has really burgeoned-the field of hydroponics is ripe for thepicking. There was no pun intended there! Commercial tomato growers who once hoped toannually pick 20 pounds of tomatoes per plant are now picking as much as 35-40 poundsannually, amazing! So let’s analyze the specs here--in a 12,000 square foot greenhouse, a tomatogrower can grow 4,0000—5,000 pounds of tomatoes every week! See that’s where we get theidea that we can avoid a coming crisis. Lettuce growers are picking mature heads of lettuce inunder 5 weeks and, with 20,000 square feet of growing space, can produce nearly 3,000 headsper week. The cost of establishing a commercial hydroponic greenhouse operation is quitereasonable when considering the potential profit and the intensive volume of high-qualityproduce that can be grown on a small lot. Plus when you consider the cost of a traditionalmethod of growing there is a huge difference.The addition of new equipment such as electronic monitoring systems, nutrient dosing systems,row bed heating, CO2 generators and insect screening have greatly increased the overallpoundage many growers are harvesting. So these are options that you may want to take into
account as you go through this venture. They increase the amount of production--threefold andthey offer a lot more to the potential buyer.Methods of Hydroponic ProductionHydroponics literally means “water working.” but, in practical use, it means growing plants in anutrient rich solution without soil. Soil is not necessary for plant growth, it’s only an early formof production that has been part of the global crop history since the time the first nomad planteda corn kernel. The science of hydroponics proves that soil isn’t required for plant growth but theelements, minerals and nutrients that soil contains are. Soil is simply the holder of the nutrients, aplace where the plant roots traditionally live and a base of support for the plant structure. Byeliminating the soil, you eliminate soil borne disease and weeds and gain precise control over theplant’s nutritional diet. In a hydroponic solution, you provide the exact nutrients your plants needin precisely the correct ratios so they can develop stress-free, mature faster and, at harvest, arethe highest quality possible.In commercial production, the two primary growing methods are drip (also known as substrate)and NFT (Nutrient Film Technique). The are a number of variations of these methods and alsoseveral others including the float system, ebb and flow system, aquaponics, aeroponics andpassive. The biggest difference between the drip and NFT systems is the use of a growingmedium. In a drip system, the plant roots are in a growing medium such as perlite or rockwooland the nutrient solution is dripped onto the medium to keep it moist. In an NFT system, theplant roots are in a channel where a thin film of nutrient solution passes, keeping them moist butnot water-logged. Recently I was reading about NASA researchers who were looking into onionproduction in fact it was quite fascinating. We can create a plethora of vegetables with thismethod of farming.DripThe drip system is often used in commercial hydroponic facilities that grow long term crops liketomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, onions and more. In this system, the nutrient solution isdelivered to the plants through drip emitters on a timed system. They then schedule theseemitters to run for approximately 10 minutes of every hour depending on the stage ofdevelopment of the plant and the amount of available light. The drip cycle flushes the growingmedium, providing the plants with fresh nutrients, water and oxygen. They don’t need the soilbecause of this method, because they get all that they need from that format.In a commercial drip system, the plant roots are most commonly grown in a medium of perlite orrockwool. The biggest variables in a drip system are in the growing medium and thecontainer that holds that medium. Perlite is often bagged in thin, plastic sleeves. Holes are cut inthe bag and plants, usually 3-4, are set in with the roots growing down into the perlite. Recently,a bucket system has been developed to contain perlite for drip systems. Each bucket holds looseperlite and one or two plants. In either of these methods, a slot or hole is cut in the container toallow excess nutrient solution to run out. A drain line below the bag or bucket collects theexcess.Another method of a drip system that is becoming popular for lettuce and herb production is theperlite tray, usually about 24 inches wide by 10—14 feet long. An aluminum tray, coated with anon-toxic material, is filled with perlite and set on a gentle slope of 1-inch to 10-feet. The
nutrient solution is continuously dripped in at the higher end of the tray and allow to tricklethrough the perlite to the other end. Essentially, this system is a combination of drip and NFTtechniques.In most drip systems, injectors are used to add nutrient concentrates to water when the feed cyclestarts. In this case, there is no need for a large nutrient reservoir tank or the periodic dumping ofused nutrient. These are the most common in the world and they are used by small and lagregreenhouses.NFT (Nutrient Film Technique)In this technique NFT (also known Nutrient Film Technique); the plants are grown in channels(also called gullies) which the nutrient solution is pumped through. The plant roots are keptmoist by the thin film of nutrient solution as it passes by. Ideally, the bottom of the roots areexposed to the nutrient solution while the top are kept moist but not water-logged. It’s basicallylike a channel or stream that feeds the line with dissolved nutrients which then recirculates on aconsistent basis.Most NFT channels are fed continuously at a rate of approximately 1 liter per minute. Since theplant roots are not in a growing medium, it is crucial that they are kept moist at all times. In mostNFT systems, the nutrient solution is mixed in a primary reservoir, cycled through the channelsand back to the reservoir. With the development of on-demand dosing equipment, a nutrientreservoir can automatically be adjusted and, with proper aeration and pH adjustment, caneffortlessly be kept fresh for weeks at a time.NFT is ideal for lettuce, leafy crops, herbs, onions, tomatoes and more, all of which are shortterm crops. Larger NFT channels are used for long term crops such as tomatoes and cucumbersin many locations around the world. One great benefit of NFT, especially for leafy crops, is thatwith no growing medium and no soil, the crop is clean and no washing is necessary.Growers, chefs, grocers and consumers all appreciate this. They can simply grab it and go-unlessthey are worried about pesticides. But there is really no worry if they recive the produce form alocal grower.NFT channels are usually set up on waist-high stands that slope slightly to allow the nutrientsolution to drain to one end. Although round pipes have been used in NFT production, mostgrowers have found flat bottomed channels or gullies provide greater surface area for rootdevelopment and oxygen uptake, resulting in better, faster plant development.FloatFloat systems take advantage the surface of the nutrient solution. Most float systems are long,rectangular reservoirs built out of cement or wood and lined with a durable, poly liner. Holes arecut in a foam board which floats on the surface of the water and plants in net pots are set in theholes. The plant roots dangle in heavily aerated nutrient solution.In areas where raw materials are limited and manufactured hydroponic systems and compo-nents are not available, the float system can be an economical means of hydroponic cropproduction.Ebb and FlowThe Ebb and Flow (also know as flood and drain) method of hydroponics simply floods agrowing area for 5 or 10 minutes and then the nutrient solution drains away. The nutrient solu-
tion is stored in a reservoir that can be located under the grow table. Ebb and Flow is common inhobby systems but not often found in commercial production. In an Ebb and Flow system,the plant roots are usually grown in a medium of perlite, rockwool or expanded clay pebbles.AquaponicsIn hydroponics, you mix a specific nutrient formula in solu- tion which is fed to the plants. Inaquaponics, you combine aquaculture (fish farming) with hydroponic production. The nutrient-rich waste water from the fish tanks is pumped through plant grow beds. Although not as preciseas a hydroponic fertilizer mix, the effluent from a fish tank is high in nitrogen and many otherelements and most plants will do quite well in aquaponics.The key to aquaponics is the establishment of a healthy bacteria population. Beneficial bacteriathat naturally occur in the soil, air and water convert ammonia (the primary form of fish waste)to nitrate and then to nitrate, which the plants readily uptake. In consuming the nitrate and othernutrients in an aquaponic system, the plants help to purify the water.Although the combination of hydroponics and aquaculture is quite new, the interest in this tech-nology is booming. Aquaculturists who normally have to buyexpensive water purification equipment to purify the water see aquaponics as a great way toclean the water and end up with another, very marketable crop. Hydroponic growers see thevalue in a natural source of nutrients, already in solution.The water from a fish tank can be pumped through any hydroponic grow bed in place of ahydroponic fertilizer solution. For commercial aquaponic production, designs that show greatpromise include the float system, NFT and ebb and flow.AeroponicsAeroponics is the method of growing where the plant roots are constantly misted with a nutrientsolution. Designs include an A-frame with boards on each side, plant plugs set in each side and amister between the boards spraying the roots. A round, large diameter PVC pipe set verticallywith plant plugs all they way around and a mister mounted inside is another way to set up anaeroponic system. Although aeroponics is a unique way of growing, it is not a common means ofcommercial production.PassivePassive hydroponic systems are sometimes used by hobbyists. A passive system does not useHowTo Start and Succeed in the Hydroponics Business 17pumps or timers to flood the root zone. The roots usually dangle into the nutrient solution anddraw what they need. A passive system is generally slower growing and not as productive as theother methods discussed.Hydroponic Growing Mediums:In a traditional garden, plant roots are in the soil. They support the plant and search for food andwater. In hydroponics, we sometimes use a growing medium in place of soil to help support theplant and to absorb the nutrient solution. The roots of a hydroponic plant do not work as hard asthose of a plant grown in soil because their needs are readily met by the nutrient solution we feedthem.Ideal mediums are chemically inert, porous, clean and able to drain freely.Since the beginning of hydroponics, many materials have been used as hydroponic growingmediums, some of which include vermiculite, saw dust, sand and peat moss. More recently,rockwool, perlite and expanded clay pebbles are available and excellent choices for hydro-
ponics. Descriptions of today’s popular growing mediums, perlite, rockwool and expanded claypebbles follow.PerlitePerlite is derived from volcanic rock which has been heated to extremely high temperatures. Itexplodes like popcorn, resulting in the porous, white medium we use in hydroponics.In addition to uses in hydroponics, perlite is also used in many commercial potting soil mixesand in non-horticultural areas including construction and as a packing material. . Perlite can beused loose, in pots or bagged in thin plastics sleeves (referred to as grow bags because the plantsare grown right in the bags). Plants in perlite grow bags are usually set up on a drip feed systemand each standard bag holds 3 or 4 long term plants.RockwoolRockwool is derived from basalt rock. It too is heated to high temperatures but then is spun intofibers resembling insulation. These fibers are spun into cubes and slabs for hydroponicproduction.The cubes are commonly used for plant propagation and the slabs are used similarly to the perlitegrow bags. A plant is set onto the rockwool slab and grown there. The plant roots grow downinto the slab. Rockwool slabs usually hold 3 or 4 large plants.Expanded Clay PebblesMany hobby hydroponic gardeners use expanded clay pebbles for their growing medium becausethey have a neutral pH and excellent capillary action. For commercial applications, ex- pandedclay pebbles are generally considered too costly.The field of hydroponics is something that will not only produce much more than a tradtionalfield can but it will also cut costs. You won’t have to pay for soil testing, soil itself, addedminerals and more. There will be less of a cost regarding your laboy and in many cases peoplehave used alternate power sources to create a truly earth friendly or “green” environment. Argots2012 showcased recently the relationship that solar power and hydroponics had in a matchedrelationship. The festival takes place each year in Barbados, where the sun beats hot. One of2012’s exhibits showcased photovoltaic panels that converts the suns rays into electricity whichlit the lights and powered the pumps to operate the hydroponic greenhouse. It is amazing thepower we can harvest naturally from the earth around us. Plus, the cost is driven down and theFederal government is even giving tax breaks to people who invest in “green” power sources.Chapter 3 Investigating FeasibilityWhen determining if a hydroponic greenhouse business is right for you, it is important to dosome research to help you make the decision. After all you need to know if you can fit thebusiness on your property (which I’m sure you can), you will want to know about the size of thestructure you have to build and the feasibility of the structure in your current living conditions.Remember, even if you are not a huge corporation you will still be able to grow some produce inyour apartment with relative ease. But, if you are considering this innovative technique as analternative to what you have now then by all means read on.I think that you should first: Talk To Other Growers
People who already grow with hydroponics will tell it to you straight. They speak with anenlightenment that a newbie could never handle. They will let you know all about the ups anddowns of growing and how to succeed. They have already battled in the trenches and this is theperfect time to talk them. This is an excellent source of information about the hydroponicsbusiness can come from people who are already in it. A hydroponic farmer can provide valuableinsight and share experiences about the hydroponics business. The questions will be somethingthat should hit the matter head on. They should be straightforward and raise questions that willaffect your business.If you cannot locate any growers in your area, you may want to contact several greenhousemanufacturers and hydroponic equipment suppliers and ask if they can give you names ofhydroponic growers that you could talk to. It’s easy to find them, look online and type“hydroponic growers” and add your locale. I bet you will have at least one hundred hits.In most cases you will find some growers are more open with information than others. It is agood idea to talk with a variety of growers, listen to what they have to say and then proceed.But what are you going to talk with them about right?When meeting with a hydroponic grower, you should find out:•Do they feel it is a profitable business?•What crops are they growing? •What hydroponic methods are they using? •Does their growing system suit their needs?• How do they market their produce?• Where do they purchase growing supplies from?• Are they happy with their supplier?• What would they do different if they had the opportunity to start over?You should also determine if there is room in the local marketplace for additional hydroponicgrowers. If not, are there other areas to market your produce within a reasonable driving distance-or- is there another crop that you could grow and market in your area? Think about your locale,the temperate area and the seasonal sensations that most people cannot wait for. You can providea veritable crowd with numerous amounts of items from a locked treasure trove.Remember to Always Research Market PricesTo help determine the price you will sell your produce at, study your projected expenses andnecessary profit for the business to be worthwhile. Also ask produce brokers, your greenhousemanufacturer, grocers, other growers and produce co-ops what similar products are selling for inyour area.As a general rule, your produce will be higher priced than field produce. If you are growinga premium quality product, many consumers will pay a higher price because they want the bestthey can buy. It is important not to undercut yourself when pricing your product.Cost of both production and of the end product varies dramatically throughout the United States.In the Midwest, average wholesale prices range around $1.30/lb for hydroponic tomatoes. On theEast and West Coast, they go as high as $2.75/lb.
National Average UK pricesProduce prices go as high as $1.34 USThe prices are driven up depending on several situations including the latest flood that affectedthe UK’s spring crops. In fact almost each piece of produce was raised 3.5% compared to theglobal average. So even though you are working on an average price always take into accountthat there are many factors that will affect the growth rate.Talk to GrocersTake a walk into the grocery store take the time to visit the produce section. You will want to talkto local grocers to get an idea of where you can sell your produce. Plus they will be able to talkto you a little more about the average prices and how they have seen them raise in recent years.Why? Because of the shortage of food and the increasing age of the average farmer.Prior to meeting with a grocer or produce manager, it is a good idea to tour their producedepartment and familiarize yourself with what they offer and the price range they sell in. Alsonote whether they currently sell premium, hydroponic or organic produce. Observe theircustomers to see what they look for in fresh produce. Take a closer look at the produce in thesesection, examine them and look at the differences.It is recommended that you have your promotional materials, business cards and a sample ofwhat you will be growing with you when you visit a grocer y store. You will need to make anappointment with the produce manager of the store you hope to sell to. If you are not yetgrowing, you may want to purchase a few cases of hydroponic produce from another grower sothat you have a sample of what you plan to grow.Discuss your plans with the produce manager, tell him what you plan to grow and when youanticipate you will be in production. It is not likely that you will get a guarantee but, if the groceris excited about the product he will probably be willing to try it when you come into production.There are many options in this phase of your growth. I suggest you take your time.Another Option: Contact Greenhouse Manufacturers & Hydroponic Equipment SuppliersOne of the best sources of information on hydroponic growing, industry needs, producemarketing, greenhouse structures, hydroponic systems and growing techniques is fromgreenhouse and hydroponic equipment suppliers. Most greenhouse and hydroponic suppliers alsooffer an extensive line of books on greenhouse and hydroponic culture. You can view all of thisinformation online at various sites including: Hydroponics Growth chart and more.A request for literature will often provide a wealth of information.Take the time to study the literature and books to learn what you can about the hydroponicproduce business, hydroponic growing techniques and greenhouse management. There are somegreat authors out there that have personal experience embedded in each and every chapter oftheir novel. It’s a great match actually and because of that they can provide you with a greatbackground into the research. Hydroponics is still a standard part of all research.
Reference MaterialThere are several excellent books on hydroponics. If you are serious about getting into thisbusiness, these books will be a small investment in your success. I found them all over the weband you will be able soar when you start your business.BooksHydroponic Food Productionby Howard M Resh, Ph.D. With 462 pages of information, this is possibly the most definitiveguide to soilless culture ever published.Hydroponic Home Food Gardensby Howard M Resh, Ph.D. Learn how to grow more food per square foot; avoid pest problems;automate your garden; extend your growing season. 152 pagesGardening Indoorsby: George Van Patten Easy, complete “how-to” guide on high-tech indoor and outdoorgardening - packed with drawings, examples, step-by-step instructions and expert advice.Commercial Hydroponicsby John Mason This is an excellent book with many color photos of commercial hydroponicsystems.Home Hydroponicsby Lem Jones with Paul and Cay Beardsley This book covers the basics that all hydroponicgardeners need to know.Tomato Diseases; A Practical Guide for Seedsman, Growers and Agricultural Advisorsby Jon C Watterson, Plant Pathologist This book contains excellent documentation and colorpictures of tomato plant diseases.Secrets To a Successful Greenhouse Businessby T.M. Taylor A complete guide to starting and operating a profitable greenhouse business.Hydroponic Gardeningby Raymond Bridwell This classic book on modern soilless culture shows you how to prepareand grow a hydroponic garden.How To Start and Succeed in the Hydroponics Business 22MultimediaThe Encyclopedia of Hydroponic Gardening CD-Romby Nelson/Pade Multimedia This interactive CD-Rom with video, pictures and text, covers over100 topics on hydroponic gardening.Hobby Hydroponicsby Nelson/Pade Multimedia A colorful 30 minute video covering the basics of hydroponicgardening.Hydroponic Farming Videoby Nelson/Pade Multimedia An informative video coving all phases of commercial hydroponicproductionMagazinesAquaponics JournalThe Aquaponics Journal is a bi-monthly magazine dedicated to gardeners and fish culturists whoutilize the unique technologies of aquaponics, aquaculture and hydroponics.
With each issue of the Aquaponics Journal, readers discover the newest technologies andresearch on aquaponics, aquaculture and hydroponics, meet fascinating people who successfullyuse these methods of growing and learn tips, tricks and techniques that can be employed invarious growing systems. In addition, new products are showcased and a calendar of eventsupdates readers on pertinent conferences, trade shows and expos, classes and training programs.For a subscription, call 209-742-6869 or visit the aquaponics web- site athttp://www.aquaponics.comPractical Hydroponics and Greenhouse MagazinePractical Hydroponics and Greenhouse Magazine is published in Australia but available in theUS and worldwide. You can subscribe at the website http://www.hydroponics.com.au or bycontacting Casper Publications, PO Box 225, Narabeen, NSW 2101 Australia, phone # +61(02)9905 9933AssociationsThe Hydroponic Society of AmericaThe Hydroponic Society of America was established in 1980 to help promote hydroponics anddisseminate information from and to all sectors of the industry. Members include re- searchers,commercial growers, educators, students and hobbyists. The quarterly publication, The SoillessGrower, contains both practical and cutting-edge information and is included with membership.In addition, the HSA sponsors an annual conference on hy- droponics. You can contact theHydroponic Society of America at 510-232-2323 or PO Box 1183. El Cerrito, CA 94539. TheHSA website is at: hsa.hydroponics.orgHow To Start and Succeed in the Hydroponics Business 23Hydroponics Merchants AssociationThe Hydroponic Merchants Association is an organization consisting of retailers, manufac-turers and individuals in the hydroponics industry. Members are provided with support andpromotional materials. In addition, the HMA sponsors an annual conference for members. TheHydroponic Merchants Association can be contacted by phone at 703-392-5890 or mail at 10210Leatherleaf Court, Manassas, VA, USA 20111-4245 or e-mail at HMA@hydromerchants.org.The HMA’s website is at: www.hydromerchants.orgWorld Wide WebThere is an abundance of information about hydroponics on the Internet. In any search en- gine,type “hydroponics” and you’ll find hundreds of websites about soilless plant culture. A list ofsome that we find helpful follows.http://www.aquatic-eco.com http://www.amhydro.com http://www.ag.auburn.edu/dept/hf/http://www.cals.cornell.edu/dept/flori/lettuce/cea1.html http://www.usu.edu/~cpl/hydropon.htmlhttp://www.np.ac.sg:9080/~csk/lecture/content.html http://www.cropking.comhttp://www.deruiterusa.com http://www.genhydro.comhttp://www.ahandyguide.com/cat1/h/h301.htm http://www.hmoonhydro.comhttp://www.hsa.hydroponics.org http://www.aquaponics.comhttp://www.wormsway.com/trellis.html http://www.pacific-hydro.comhttp://www.wormsway.com/hydro.htmAquatic Eco Systems, Inc American Hydroponics Auburn U Horticultural Dept CEA-GrownHydroponic Crop Physiology Lab’s Hydro Crop Production / Hydroponics CropKing, IncDe Ruiter Seeds, Inc General Hydroponics Handy Guide Hydroponic Links Harvest MoonHydroponics Hydroponic Society of America Nelson/Pade Multimedia The Trellis, GardenLinks Pacific NW Garden Supply Worm’s Way
Other Business Information SourcesOther sources for information relating to an agricultural enterprise and starting a businessinclude:• your local Chamber of Commerce• local business associations• The US Department of Agriculture• Your County• Farm Advisor• Universities• University Extension AgentsRemember to take your time when you seek out additional information. Keep a copy ofeverything that you feel is pertinent to you and your business.Chapter 4 Making a Business PlanSuccessful projects begin with an accurate market analysis and a sound business plan. Prior toembarking on any business venture, it is important to prepare a business plan. A business plan isyour opportunity to clearly understand your goals, potential cash flow, estimated earnings andwork requirements. If you are trying to get any kind of financing, a well-written business plan isessential.The purposes of a business plan include:• defining a new business• defining agreements between partners• supporting a loan application• define objectives and means of achieving those objectives• evaluating a new product, promotion or expansion• setting a value on the business for legal or sale purposesPreparing a business plan is an organized, logical way to look at all of the important aspects of abusiness. A good plan saves far more time than it takes to complete and should be reviewed andupdated on a regular basis.A business plan should be used to set concrete tasks, responsibilities, and deadlines.Tips for Better Business Plans• All businesses, not just new or large businesses, need business planning. A business plansets goals and priorities, providing a forum for regular review and course corrections.• Long-winded business plans don’t get read. Today, the maximum number of pages abusiness plan should contain is 50.• Useful business plans contain concrete programs to achieve specific, measurableobjectives.• Good business plans assign tasks to people or departments and set milestones anddeadlines for tracking implementation.NOTE:
Included in this package is a sample business plan for a fictitious hydroponic produce company,HydroPro. You can use this sample as a guide when writing your own business plan, but be sureto research all expenses and information to ensure it is ac- curate and based on your location andsituation. It’s extremely useful and will save you a ton of time.There are several excellent software programs that walk you through building a business plan.Investing in one of these is an investment in time-saving, planning and organization. My favorite is: Business Plan Pro, by Palo Alto Software, (541) 683-6162.Start-Up and Ongoing ExpensesPart of preparing a business plan for a new venture is determining the estimated cost of startingyour business and determining the estimated expenses and income.Start-Up CostsBe sure your estimated start-up costs include:•purchasing the greenhouse and hydroponic equipment • applicable sales tax • freight to getthe greenhouse and equipment to your location • any additional equipment not included in thegreenhouse package (if any) • add-on equipment such as a generator, shade cloths, insectscreening • purchase of computer and office related equipment • site preparation • thecost of construction of your greenhouse • building permitsOperating ExpensesBe sure your estimated expenses include:• propane or natural gas and electricity • fertilizer • consumables and growingsupplies • pest and disease control• labor • maintenance • packaging materials • marketing and promotional costs • delivery expenses / vehicle • insurance • office expenses • cost of loan/financing• laboratory analysisLabor DistributionThe amount of labor to run your hydroponic greenhouse will vary depending on the growingsystem you use, the type of crops you are growing and the size of your operation. Yourhydroponic equipment supplier should be able to give you an idea of how much work will beinvolved with your particular growing system.Prior to beginning your operation, you should outline your business activity by using anorganization chart to define responsibilities of each member. This is important whether you are afamily, a partnership or a corporation. If you plan to hire labor, be sure to talk to your accountantor business advisor to acquire the proper workers regulations and forms from the state andfederal government.Be sure to think about all areas of the business that need attention, including:• Greenhouse maintenance• Plant culturing• Picking and packing• Nutrient mixing and analysis• Marketing• Delivery
• Administration and bookkeeping• How To Start and Succeed in the Hydroponics BusinessChapter 5 Financial PlanningThe first step to creating your business is to make sure that your financials are in place. Properfinancial planning is crucial when establishing any business. Most experts recommend that youstart with enough extra capital to operate your business for a year and provide for your personalexpenses for 6 months without income. Starting a business without ample capitol is a sure path tofailure. Why go through all of the research, coordination, and learning the history of an areawithout making sure that you have no capital to work with?The consistency of reworking your finances is really going to take you to a new level. Take intoconsideration operating costs and include all of your expenditures in them. This includes the costof additional labor, over head, consumables and equipment maintenance. It also may includecrop insurance and advertising costs and eventually the cost to replace equipment. This is whereyou should determine whether it is profitable.Configure the cost and the benefits to your operation. What I did was include all times and fullyallowed for the costs that will make this venture attainable.This include the cost of doing all thatis necessity and then consider the interest and repayment of the loan as well. The operating costsshould be project to at least five years ahead. Unfortunately there is a strong tendency tounderestimate the cost factors and to overestimate the yields and prices. It was simple to startlearning, the hard part is configuring the cost analysis. Most people that have never grown athing in their life or have no experience growing commercially can not garner a full appreciationfor the time that any crop demands. In fact, let’s assess it now.In a 365 day year--crops requiredaily attention. This will impact your life tremendously in every way imaginable. In fact, let’snot get too whimsical just yet, you still have to plan for the future investment.Sources of FinancingIt is difficult if not impossible to secure financing for a hydroponic venture from a bankinginstitution without equity in property or other assets, a history of success in business or both.If you are applying for financing, do not approach a bank, financial institution or potentialinvestor without a business plan. The business plan should always include the cost/benefitanalysis and your operating costs. In addition make sure to research the financials for your area,the UK offers business grants for some startups and the US offers a series of government loansfor new agricultural startups.But of course your local bank is a good place to start when looking for financing. If you haveadequate equity in your home, it is likely that they will be able to assist you.The Small Business Administration (SBA) is another option for financing a new business.Information is available at 1-800-827-5722. The SBA can be reached online athttp://www.sbaonline.sba.gov.
The Money Store is working directly with the SBA to assist businesses in acquiring funding.They can be contacted at 1-800-722-3066.Farm Credit Services (FCS) is an ag lending cooperative serving states in the Midwest. Theyspecialize in lending services to farm related enterprises. For information call 1-800- 444-3276.Consolidated Farm Service Agency (CFSA), formerly the Farmer’s Home Administration, offersprograms where greenhouses may qualify. These include: Farm Ownership Loans (PA62), Non-farm Enterprise Loans (PA1231), and Limited Resource Farm Loans (PA1398). Call 202-720-8207 for more information.In the UK:Business loans in the UK:http://www.business.hsbc.co.uk/1/2/business-banking/business-loans-and-finance/small-business-loanBusiness Grants Uk: http://www.ukbusinessgrants.org/There are other mortgage lenders and alternative financing solutions you can find on the Web,which include:Venture Capital http://www.moneyhunter.com Alternative Financinghttp://www.datamerge.com/fin prod/sources.htmlChapter 6 Selecting Your LocationA good location is part of the success of any business. When choosing the site for youroperation, consider these factors:Reside on or near greenhouseIdeally, it should be on a parcel where you or a person responsible for the operation resides. Ifthere is a problem in the greenhouse, a power outage or some other misfortune, you will need tobe there or could potentially loose your crop. If you live on the same property as the greenhouse,you are more likely to be aware of any problems. Most larger operations have someone wholives on site not only to maintenance the facility but to keep on top of any security breaches thatcould occur. You know those kids could consider smashing up the greenhouse when they gettired of cow tipping. Greenhouse growing has a long history, and since that is true there has beena lot of research done on it.Greenhouse should be near the marketplaceYour greenhouse should be near the marketplace where you intend to sell your produce. Yourprimary focus will be on running your greenhouse. If too much time is spent on delivery, yourgreenhouse will suffer. In most average sized operations, a 4 hour radius is the maximum drivingdistance that is considered reasonable. Retail growing and selling is the easiest area to break intoand is the best place to get your prices settled correctly. On average a population base of about6,500 people will marginally support one retail greenhouse outlet. When evaluating yourpotential customer base, consider The size of your community trade area, not just the since of thetown or city.Look for a flat parcel, open to sunlightA hydroponic greenhouse business can be started on a parcel as small as an acre. If you plan toexpand, you may want to have a larger parcel. The location that your greenhouse will sit needs tobe flat and open to direct sunlight. You should avoid a location that has heavy tree cover,mountains or anything else that would hinder direct sunlight.You should also avoid a location
that is surrounded by field crops or heavy vegetation. These are areas that may harbor pestinsects or plant disease.Adequate water source and disposal requiredYou need to have an adequate water source for your greenhouse operation. Once you’ve chosen ahydroponic system you should have a comprehensive water analysis done by a reputableagricultural lab to be sure it is adequate for hydroponic crop production. Most water that isn’tsuitable can be purified using reverse osmosis or an ozone purification system.Determine whether or not the system you are using creates any waste water or excess nutrientsolution. If so, you will need to have an adequate disposal system. Depending on localordinances, this can range from using the excess nutrient for irrigating your lawn or garden tohaving to remove it from the premises and dispose of it.Deciding on how much greenhouse space is needed requires that one must first figure out whoyour customer will be. Who is going to be your customer? Is it just the local market? Or is itgoing to be someone else. For instance, if you wanted to make $24,000 a year on bedding plantsand poinsettias (one-third) of the money. The figure you can make $2.00 per flat profit onbedding plants and $1.00 per pot on poinsettias to earn your $24,000. Okay so now you havesomething to think about right? Most bedding plant growers have an early and a late crop, thusproducing two turns of their space each spring. This means that if you have 4000 flats would begrown in the first turn and 4000 in that second turn. These are just some specs that you want tothink about--remember we want you to know all the avenues you are getting into.It’s the mostrewarding thing ever.Chapter 7 Selecting A CropIt is important to research your marketplace to determine what crops there are a demand for.There are niche markets that some growers fill with specialty herbs or ethnic vegetables but mosthydroponic growers produce common vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. Thedifference between what most hydroponic growers and most field growers produce is quality. Inyour hydroponic greenhouse you can grow premium quality produce which will bring a premiumprice, even with common vegetables.If you want to grow a variety of crops, it is best to start with one, and add the others one at atime. Each crop has different nutritional and environmental needs and cultivation techniques. Toavoid confusion or improper care for a crop, wait until you master one before starting another.Following is information on a variety of crops you may consider for your hydroponicgreenhouse.TomatoesVine ripened tomatoes-when choosing a crop, many new growers choose tomatoes. The primaryreasons for this are (1) a premium quality tomato is quite easy to market and brings a high price(2) tomato plants can produce up to 35-40 pounds per plant under optimum conditions.
Most commercial hydroponic tomato growers plant one crop annually. The time from when theyseed until they start picking tomatoes is between 90 and 120 days, depending on variety andconditions. In most climates in the US, growers will start their plants in November or December,during the lowest light periods, begin picking in March or April and continue picking until thefollowing November or December. This schedule provides income for 7-8 months of the year, sobudgeting is important.On a weekly basis, the grower of indeterminate tomato plants needs to perform several culturingtechniques on each plant including clipping, suckering, leaf pruning, cluster pruning, leaning andlowering and harvesting. The tomato flowers also need to be pollinated. A grower can do this byhand on a daily basis or bring in a special hive of bees that reside in the greenhouse and pollinatethe flowers. The bees do a better job of pollinating and save someone the labor of doing it byhand.Tomatoes need a minimum of 8 hours of light per day during fruiting periods. In most climates inthe US, it is not feasible to produce during the winter months without artificial lighting and, inmany cases, it is too costly to purchase and operate artificial lights in acommercial application. This is the reason most hydroponic tomato growers use the wintermonths to propagate their plants. The lower light conditions are adequate for propagation andearly plant development, but not for fruiting.The varieties most commercial growers use are specially bred for greenhouse production. Theyare hybrids and have specific needs that must be met. The advantage of these varieties is thatthey have excellent taste and aroma and the plants produce high poundage.Recently, cluster tomatoes have become very popular. They are varieties of tomatoes that ripenuniformly and are harvested by removing the whole truss. Cluster tomatoes are also referred to as“tomatoes on the vine.”Most of the field tomatoes sold to grocery stores throughout the US are picked green,warehoused until they are needed and then gassed to turn them red. Unfortunately, they are neverreally ripe, which is why they are off-color and have no flavor. When you approach grocers andshow them a tomato that is truly red and tastes and smells like a tomato, they love it.Tomatoes that are vine ripened have a much longer shelf life than those that are green- picked aslong as they are not refrigerated. A vine ripened tomato should ideally be kept between 58o - 65oF. Temperatures lower than 55o F will quickly loss flavor. When stored correctly, a vine ripenedtomato should keep for 2 - 3 weeks.Because of the longer shelf life, most tomato growers need to deliver only once a week.Remember there are also a ton of places to get seeds from. Ornamental edibles, stokes seeds,Richters, Burpee and more.When you first start out we suggest you state with smaller varieties like patio tomatoes and bushbeans. You can harvest so much produce form these plants. When pruning these plants they willgrow larger than soil plants and they can keep on growing.Fancy Lettuce
The demand for fresh lettuce and lettuce mixes is rapidly growing. The US Department ofAgriculture reported the worldwide sales of packaged cut lettuce reached $1.2 billion in 1997. Ifyou are in an area where fresh, high quality leaf crops are hard to find, you should consider alettuce operation. Hydroponic lettuce growers usually sell a fresh bagged mix or a whole leafcrop, including the root base to keep it fresh.Fancy Lettuce is usually grown in an NFT (nutrient film technique) system. Since fancy lettucegrows from seedling to harvest in 4-12 weeks, the chance of plant disease, fungus or pests aregreatly reduced. Hydroponically grown lettuce is far superior to field grown and, unlikefield-grown, is free of grit and sand. Leafy lettuces or head lettuce will do well in hydroponicculture. Most lettuce growers select hybrid varieties developed for good flavor and quickproduction.Since there is no fruiting involved with leaf crops and the time from seedling to harvesting isquite short (as little as 30 days), most leaf crop growers operate year round. With sequencedcluster tomato planting, leaf crops can be picked continually. Another advantage of lettuce is thatit will grow well in cooler temperatures than tomatoes or cucumbers. For greenhouse growers,that means lower heating costs. In locations with somewhat steady outdoor temperatures manyNFT lettuce growers eliminate the greenhouse altogether and grow the lettuce outdoors.The labor in a lettuce operation is in the seeding, handling and harvesting of the plants. Becauselettuce is quite perishable, it needs to be delivered several times a week, if not daily.CucumbersHydroponic cucumbers are also a popular crop. Most hydroponic cucumber growers produce theEuropean seedless varieties, bred for greenhouse production, great taste and higher yields. Theyare an excellent tasting cucumber with a skin that is very tender and sweet. The skin is so tenderthat most growers wrap the cucumbers individually to prevent punctures and scratches.Cucumbers grow in similar conditions to tomatoes and are sometimes grown in the samegreenhouse. These two crops complement each other nicely. The culturing of a cucumber plant issimilar to that of a tomato plant.Most hydroponic cucumber growers plant two crops annually. The time from seed to first harvestis less than tomatoes, at approximately six weeks. A cucumber grower will usually pick fromthose same plants for another 3 – 31/2 months and then replant.Both cucumbers and tomatoes are usually grown in a substrate system with either perlite orrockwool as the growing medium and a drip irrigation system for feeding. They can also begrown in NFT and ebb and flow systems.Cucumbers keep well and can be delivered once a week.PeppersThe market for both colored, sweet bell and hot peppers in the US is excellent. At this point,almost all of the large colored bell peppers that are sold in the US come from Holland, Europeand Mexico.Peppers are usually grown in a substrate system, with drip irrigation for feed because of thelonger duration of the crop. They can also be grown in NFT and ebb and flow systems.The amount of information available on pepper culture is somewhat limited and, even though thedemand is there, there are very few pepper growers in the US. Part of the reason may be dueto the sizes that areEuropean Cucumbers
How To Start and Succeed in the Hydroponics Business 33imported. The US gets virtually all of the large colored bell peppers while the smaller pep- persstay in the local marketplace where they are grown. For a US grower, the large peppers would beeasy to market but the smaller peppers could be a problem.Specialty Herbs, Ethnic Vegetables and FlowersSpecialty herbs, ethnic vegetables and flowers are also options in a hydroponic greenhouse buteach requires a specialty market. If you have an outlet to sell specialty items in large quantities,they may be an excellent choice.Another option for a hydroponic grower would be to specialize just in herbs. Culinary herbs thatdo well in hydroponics include:• Basil • Cilantro • Parsley • Chives • Oregano • Marjoram • SageBell PeppersOther produce that you might consider growing includes a variety of pepper plants. Green BellPeppers grow great in a hydroponic environment. In fact, Bell peppers highly complement thetomatoes. In a traditional growing scenario they each work with another. For many reasons whena tomato plant is traditionally planted farmers place bell peppers nearby thereby helping them togrow harmoniously. It’s been proven many times over and still to this day is a a lucrative modeof creating a hydroponically induced harmony. Yes, so I am saying place bell peppers neartomatoes if you can. In order to begin you have to prepare the seed bed. They should be started in porous netting andit should allow for a root system to flourish. These hydroponic peppers can grow extremely largeso they need all of the root structure support you can give them. Also using styrofoam or othermodes will have them stay upright as they grow. Once you have this plant the seeds so that theyrest in the solution its important also to remember that mostly all hydroponic plants will growlarge and these peppers are no exception.The water will have to be aerated and you should have the right amount of light as well. In fact,when you are creating the perfect structure for your plants make sure that you are taking intoaccount all that the plants need. Best pepper production comes from a warmer environment andthe peepers will grow more uniformly and sweeter if they are in a hot house. The warm air getsthe vegetable’s juices flowing, and the climate changes that most outside pepper plants endureshows up insidiously. This means that your peppers grown indoors will be well rounded, juicier,fleshier and healthier than any others you will find.CarrotsCarrots and other subterranean vegetables can be grown hydroponics as well. You will need afew extras to grow them though. For instance perlite, and vermiculite will help the plant withwater retention and it’s something to look into for your other crops. You will need a deepcontainer to plant these root crops in. The bottom should have a way to sieve the water through--holes placed in it. They need to be at least 12 inches deep and then at least 12 inches wide. Thecontainer needs to sit the first one in for water retention purposes is also an necessity. Thecarrots will germinate in 6-10 days. Carrots belong to the world of subterranean hydroponics-soyou see you can literally grow anything you would need with hydroponics!
If only researchers from the 18th century could see the developments that we have now. The onlyproblem is that most people do not even realize the ease of care and the relative crop productionthat can come from growing these plants in a hydroponic environment. But the governmentsknow it, NASA scientists understand it-therefore it should not be too hard to tackle it in yourown greenhouse. That is if you are purchasing the correct one. The process of growing theseplants iwht simply mineral solutions and water is truly an innovation. I really hope you takeadvantage of it, once you do you will see the heights that it can take you.Chapter 8 Purchasing a GreenhouseThere are two options for starting a hydroponic greenhouse business...you can start a new one orpurchase an operating business. Since commercial hydroponics is often a successful business,there are not too many operations for sale. If you find one, be sure to do your homework andresearch. Find out why it is for sale and if the growing system used was efficient and productive.The bottom line is that in greenhouses without sufficient heat you will be trying to garden in thewinder and heating costs will rise--it will defeat the purpose of even beginning this business inthe first place. Also consider that for heating costs you can purchase heaters--gas, electric andpropane to place in the greenhouse, and it may be more lucrative overall (but I seriously doubt it)to lay lines for a heating system in the structure.Occasionally people find an old greenhouse structure for sale and want to convert it tohydroponic use. In most cases, this isn’t cost effective for the following reasons:• The cost of a new greenhouse structure may be less than the cost of buying and repairingthe old one.• The newer greenhouses are more energy efficient and will cost you less to operate. • Piecing together the hydroponic equipment may cost you more than if you purchased acomplete greenhouse package that included the hydroponic system.When shopping for a supplier, you will find greenhouse manufacturers and companies that sellcomplete hydroponic greenhouse packages.If you are building from the ground up, ideally you should work with someone who sells thegreenhouse and all of the environmental control and hydroponic equipment as a package. Lookfor a company that will support you when you purchase the equipment as well as duringconstruction and on through production. Having a reliable company to call when you have aproblem is worth a great deal. That support, especially in your first year, may mean thedifference between prosperity and failure.Just take into consideration what we discussed, heating, the cost of a new structure (which ismany cases is cheaper than repairing an older version) and of course knowing that you havevested yourself in this business with careful consideration into every aspect of growing andcreating.
Chapter 9 Greenhouse ConstructionAfter you have considered not only your motivation for the business and the cit it’s timeto consider the fact that a greenhouse business is one of the fasted growing of its kind.In fact, people everywhere want their landscapes to be filled with life, or fruitful yearround. New greenhouses, nurses, and landscape companies use the structures and sodo hydroponic growers.There are two greenhouse styles to consider. The detached or freestanding houses orridge and furrow or gutter connected houses. The detached greenhouses standindependently and many times may be constructed using different types of greenhouse.Also the access from the work area to the greenhouse is often going to be through acentral, covered corridor or uncovered aisle. This style is the most common for growerswho are starting with 10,000 square feet or less and they want to add more in as theygrow their business.The great part about this style is that you can create a house withits own unique cooling/heating system, it’s own personalty and of course using severalhouses aids in creating unique systems for growing.Now the ridge and furrow types are connected by a gutter, they are also sometimescreated with internal walls that separate sections of the greenhouse where crops thatrequire several types of environment or internal walls separate individually. Thesesections are also going to be a problem for some because of that simple structure.The most common greenhouse structure is the Quonset which is a house essentiallyconstructed with arched rafters that are covered with one or two layers of flexiblematerials. The only one disadvantage of polyethylene is that it is subject to ultraviolet lightdegradation and must be replaced every 2 to 3 years. The cost of construction for detachedhouses is lower than the cost for other greenhouse types, usually $2.75 to $3.25 per square footexcluding heating, cooling, and benches. Many new businesses start with one or more housesthat are 25 to 40 feet wide and 90 to 100 feet long. However, this type of construction can beapplied to either the detached or the ridge and furrow styles.Many greenhouse construction companies offer packages for constructing Quonset greenhouses.These commonly come with either steel or aluminum bows and the manufacturer specifies thebow spacing depending on the structural strength of the bow material. However, beforepurchasing, select the frame based on load-bearing requirements. This will be determined bywhether or not the structure will support equipment or crops. Hanging the heat- ing system,irrigation equipment, or hanging bas- kets from the framing will increase the load-bearingrequirement. The end walls are often constructed of wood or metal framing covered inpolyethylene or rigid plastic with aluminum doors for access. The side walls are often wood ormetal with special fasteners for holding the polyethylene in place. The foundation for a Quonsetgreenhouse is usually a concrete footing poured at intervals dictated by the bow spacing.Polyethylene manufactured for greenhouse application comes in 20- to 50-foot widths, 1 to 8millimeters thick. It costs $0.12 to $0.18 per square foot. Two layers of polyethylene arefrequently ap- plied to greenhouses to reduce heating demand. Double-layer polyethylene housesgenerally cost 30 to 40 percent less to heat than do single layer houses. The two layers are keptair-inflated using a 100 to 150 ft.3/min. squirrel cage blower mounted to the inside plastic layer.Purchase 4-mil plastic forthe inside layer and 4- or 6-mil plastic for the outside. Use 6-mil polyethylene for single layerapplications. Polyethylene can be installed on wood portions of a greenhouse by nailing woodbatten strips over the film into the foundation boards and end walls. However, because
polyethylene will require replacing frequently, investing in special fasteners will make the jobeasier. Fastening systems are available for single- or double-layer applications.A second commonly applied greenhouse type is the even span, gable roof. This type ofconstruction is appropriate where rigid glazing materials will be used such as glass or rigidplastics. The cost of construction for glass-covered, detached- style houses is higher than forQuonset types, usually $5.50 to $7.50 per square foot excluding heating, cooling, and benches.However, these structures are more permanent and require less maintenance. Gable constructionwith rigid glazing is a good choice when plans are long-term and the business is well capitalized.This type of construction can also be applied to either the detached or the ridge and furrowstyles.Gable houses on the other hand use galvanized steel, aluminum, or a combination of the twomaterials for constructing the frame. The weight of glazing material, the weight of equipmentattached to the frame, snow and wind loads, and the width of the greenhouse will have an impacton the type and size of materials chosen, size and spacing of support posts, and the design andconstruction of trusses. Glass is very heavy and re- quires strong support while rigid plastics arelighter requiring less support.Prior To Building Your GreenhouseIt is important to contact your building department and look into zoning ordinances prior tobeginning construction. Building or construction permits may be required.If you are skilled with basic tools and have some mechanical abilities, you can build yourgreenhouse yourself. You can also hire a contractor to construct your greenhouse. If you hire acontractor, be sure they are competent, licensed and insured.To operate an environmentally controlled hydroponic greenhouse you will need electricalservice, water and natural gas or liquid propane at the site. Be sure your electrical service andnatural gas or LP lines are sized correctly for your operation, with room for expansion.Your greenhouse site needs to be level or at a slight grade depending on the greenhousemanufacturer’s specifications and the type of growing system you’ve selected.When your pad is ready, you will need to gravel or cement it. Cement will provide a cleaner andeasier surface to walk and work on but gravel is less expensive. If using a row crop system, youcement just the walkways and leave gravel rows for the plants. Each gravel row will need aburied drain tile to collect excess nutrient run off. A collection tank for excess run-off will alsoneed to be installed. Nutrient reservoirs are usually buried at one end of the greenhouse. If yoursystem uses a reservoir, keep this in mind when planning the layout of your walkways and floorIf you’ve purchased a greenhouse package, it will arrive as many separate components. Be sureto inventory all of the parts as you unpack the system and confirm that everything you ordered isthere.Familiarize yourself with the parts, instructions and blue prints before you begin constructionand then store the parts in the order that you will need them.Greenhouse ConstructionWhile building your greenhouse, be sure to contact the greenhouse manufacturer if you havequestions. Plan ahead and study the blueprints. If you are building over a weekend, get anyquestions answered on Friday, prior to the weekend so you are not delayed.Level PadCemented walkways, frame posts
How To Start and Succeed in the Hydroponics Business 36Depending on the style of greenhouse you are building, you will either install grounds stakes orwall posts. The frame is usually screwed or bolted together. Again, follow the manufacturersinstructions carefully to avoid mistakes in construction.If you will be growing row crops such as toma- toes or cucumbers that need support, you willalso have to cement in the plant support posts. This can be done before or after the frame isconstructed.In most cases, your greenhouse will be orientated north and south. The north wall of yourgreenhouse is framed out in wood, insulated and sealed because there is no direct sunlight thatcomes from the north. Your cooling fans, door and heaters are usually framed into the north wallof the greenhouse.The south wall is usually made of a clear plastic to allow sunlight in. If you are using anevaporative cooling system, it is usually installed in the south wall.If you are using poly covers, they are pulled or rolled over the frame and secured in place with asnap locking device. A double poly cover can be used for better heat retention in the winter andmore efficient cooling in the summer. When covering your greenhouse with a poly cover, do iton a calm day with as much help as possible.The hydroponic growing system that you choose should be installed to the manufacturer’sspecifications. The two most common commercial hydroponic systems are the drip system andthe NFT system.A drip system is usually set up to feed the root base of the plant on a timed basis. The plant rootsare grown in a media such as perlite or rockwool. The media serves as a place for the roots tolive and is porous, allowing it to absorb nutrient solution. In a drip system, there is usually 2, 3 or4 plants per bag or slab. By isolating the plants roots into small groups, you lesson the chance ofa root borne disease spreading throughout your greenhouse.This makes a substrate system ideal for long term crops.If you are using a substrate system with drip emitters, you will have nutrient concentrate tanks,an injector system, and drip irrigation lines to install. The perlite bags or rockwool slabs need tobe laid in the rows.BenchesBenches may be constructed from a variety of materials and arranged in many different ways. Carefulplanning can result in 70 to 80 percent of floor area devoted to crops with fixed benches and up to 90percent utilization with rolling or movable benches. Rolling benches are designed to open an 18- to 24-inch aisle of work space at any location along a row of benches.Supports for benches should be strong enough to hold a large number of plants and the largest containersize anticipated. Wood, metal pipe, or con- crete blocks have been used as bench supports. The benchsurface should be strong enough to support plants without sagging, but open to provide waterdrainage and air movement. Spruce or redwood lath and 1-inch square, 14-gauge welded-wire fabric orexpanded steel mesh make a strong, long lasting, open bench top. Bench height should be 32 to 36 inchesand width should be 3 feet if against a wall or up to 6 feet if accessible from both sides. Benches can bepurchased from a manufacturer in a variety of sizes and construction types.VentilationThe purposes of ventilation are to exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen, to remove hot air, and to lowerrelative humidity. Forced-air ventilation relies on electric fans controlled by a thermostat and a louveredintake vent. Fans pull cool air into the greenhouse from the outside through an in- take vent and warm,inside air is pushed out. Fans should be mounted in a waterproof housing with exterior, air-activatedlouvers to protect electrical components from inclement weather and to keep cold air out during the
winter. It is important to install a screen over the inside of fans to prevent injury. There should be adistance equal to at least 1.5 times the fan diameter between the fans and adjacent structures. The intakevent on the wall opposite the fans can have an air-activated or motorized louver. Fan capacity should belarge enough to exchange the air in a greenhouse at least once per minute. Recommendations for warmclimates call for a fan capacity to remove 12 to 17 cubic feet of air per minute per square foot of floorarea.Natural ventilation has made a comeback in the South in recent years in the form of retractable-roofgreenhouses and Quonset houses with roll-up side walls. Retractable-roof greenhouses come in a varietyof types while roll-up side walls on Quonset houses are relatively simple. In both cases, the idea is tomove as much of the greenhouse structure out of the way as possible to expose crops to natural conditionsduring warm weather.CoolingOne of the best ways to cool a greenhouse in the summer is to reduce light intensity. How much reductionto provide depends on the heat load in the greenhouse and the light requirements of the crops grown.Greenhouse whitewash and shade cloth are popular choices. Greenhouse whitewash is a special kind oflatex paint that is diluted in water and sprayed on the covering surface. This material is designed to beapplied in the spring and gradually degrade by the action of rain and sun so that little remains by fall.Shade cloth is a black, green, or white woven fabric of polypropylene that is applied over the outside ofthe covering. Shade cloth can be purchased with various weave densities that result in 20 to 80 percentlight reduction. For many greenhouse applications, 30 to 50 per- cent light reduction should be sufficient.Evaporative cooling relies on air passing through a porous pad saturated with water. The evaporatingwater removes heat from the green- house. Fan-and-pad systems consist of a cellulose pad the length ofone wall and at least 2 feet tall with water supplied to keep the pad wet during operation. Fans along theopposite wall draw out- side air through the pads. Fan-and-pad systems cool more efficiently when therelative humidity is low, a condition that is infrequent in Southeastern summers. However, a 5 to 10degree reduction over the outside temperature can be achieved with a well-designed system.HeatingTwo popular heating systems for greenhouses are forced-air unit heaters that burn propane or natural gasand hot water or steam central boilers that burn fuel grade oil. Unit heaters cost less in initial investment($.30 to $.50 per square foot) than central boilers ($1.00 to $2.50 per square foot), but cost more tooperate ($1.00 per square foot versus $.60 per square foot). Unit heaters are easier to install and requireless maintenance than central boilers require, but even heat distribution can be a problem. Central boilersprovide even heat and combustion takes place away from the greenhouse, but installation can be timeconsuming. Generally, unit heaters are more appropriate for small greenhouse ranges and central boilersfor larger ranges.Unit heaters burn gas in a firebox and heated air rises through the inside of a thin-walled heat exchangeron its way to the exhaust chimney. A fan draws air in from the greenhouse, across the outside of the heatexchanger and into the green- house. Thus, most of the heat is removed from the exhaust before it exitsthe structure. The exhaust chimney must be sufficiently tall to maintain an up- ward draft and extendabove the greenhouse roof. An 8- to 12-foot chimney is usually sufficient. Open flame heaters must bevented to the outside and be provided a fresh air supply for complete combustion. Fresh air must beprovided by an unobstructed chimney to avoid carbon dioxide buildup and production of ethylene, bothdetrimental to plants.Two warm-air distribution systems are popular for unit heaters: convection tubes and horizontal airflow.A convection tube is a polyethylene tube connected to the air outlet of the unit heater, running the lengthof the greenhouse and sealed at the other end. Warm air is distributed in the green- house through rows of2- to 3-inch diameter holes on each side of the tube. Horizontal airflow relies on a number of horizontallymounted fans 2 to 3 feet above the plants that circulate heat throughout the house. This system as well asconvection tubes may also be used at times when heating is not required, especially at night, to reducerelative humidity and discourage diseases.
Central boilers burn fuel in a fire box to heat water to 180 degrees F or to steam in a heat ex- changer.Exhaust smoke passes through a flue to a chimney that vents exhaust to the outside. The heated water orsteam is delivered to the green- house to exchange heat with the air through pipe coils, unit heaters, or acombination of both.Climate ControlTraditionally, the operation of heating, ventilating, and cooling equipment has been controlled bythermostats at plant level located close to the center of the greenhouse. This system is still usedeffectively in small operations, especially those with detached greenhouses. For accurate control,thermostats should be shaded from direct sunlight, preferably by mounting them in a plastic or wood boxventilated by a small blower. Thermostats have the advantages of being simple, inexpensive, and easy toinstall, but may be inaccurate and lack co- ordination with environmental control equipment.Step controllers and dedicated microprocessors overcome the limitations of thermostats by providingmore complex staging of heating and cooling systems and by coordinating the activities of heating,cooling, and ventilating equipment. These units generally cost from $800 to $2,500. Greenhouseenvironmental control computers add additional levels of control over greenhouse equipment along withweather sensing, environmental data logging and plotting, and other functions.So after learning the intricate nature of creating and constructing your greenhouse I just want to makesure you are still with us here. Right? Okay, now moving on we are going to talk about lifestyle and dayto day operations.Chapter 10 Day-to-Day OperationNo matter what crop you grow there daily, weekly, monthly and annual chores involved theoperation a hydroponic, controlled environment greenhouse. Fortunately, a controlledenvironment greenhouse is an excellent environment to work in. While working you aresurrounded by lush, healthy plants that, if treated right, will bear your annual income.Operating a hydroponic greenhouse does not require hard, difficult labor. It does, however,require vigilance, dedication and careful observation. This means that your entire lifestyle willchange.Daily, most commercial hydroponic growers test and monitor the pH and nutrient concentrationsof the source hydroponic solution and the solution of the reservoir. In addition, temperature,humidity and light levels are monitored. Based on the test results, the stage of growth of theplants and the amount of light available, alterations in fertilizer concentrations or ratios may benecessary.An efficient grower will record all of this information. This data is helpful when assessing theoverall health of the crop, diagnosing problems and ascertaining what factors may havepositively or negatively affected their crop. Entering this data in a spread sheet program is anexcellent way to maintain a record that you can easily access and study. This data can bevaluable in years to come when a grower is making decisions about feed solution concentrationsand the effects on a crop.The most important job of a commercial grower is to be observant, meticulous and organized.When a grower is in the greenhouse, they must closely look at the plants to see if there are anychanges, pests or disease that could threaten their crop. Daily observation is crucial in thegreenhouse and is the key to prevention of crop threatening problems.
A commercial greenhouse is a factory. Anyone considering starting in the greenhouse businessneeds a basic understanding of the greenhouse production process.If a new person asks what they need to know about greenhouse production, they are usually toldabout watering, fertilizing, insects and diseases—everything involved with the actual growing ofthe plants. All of these activities are important in producing a quality plant. But, they are only apart of the production process. The care as needed activities represent only a minor portion of thelabor required to produce a plant. Watering labor is minimal especially with automatic irrigation.Fertilizer is applied through the irrigation lines. With good basic cultural practices, insect anddisease control does not require large blocks of time. The activitiesOperations Managementwe think of as growing our product, the care as needed activities, typically account for onlyabout 25 percent of the total labor required in producing our product. Yet, these are the activitiesmost growers concentrate on.Potting, those activities involved with bringing all inputs together and onto the greenhousebench, accounts for another 20 to 25 percent of total direct labor. These are all productionactivities. They are all accomplished before we begin to grow our product. The manner in whichthey are done has a strong influence on the efficiency of the care as need- ed activities and thequality ofthe final product. Inconsistent media mixing, potting the plant too deep or too shallow and non-uniform spacing of plants on the bench will all affect labor utilization during care as neededactivities.In many greenhouse firms, labor activities associated with harvest are the most poorly managed.By harvest, the product has been produced, and we are no longer growing anything. As plantpeople, our focus has been on growing. Approximately 50 per- cent (+/-) of all direct labor isused in harvest activities. The area of greatest labor expense is often the area least managed, atleastas far as labor efficiency is concerned. Growers often fail to manage the labor used in thesystems of selecting, grooming, moving, handling, staging and delivering the plants.In commercial greenhouse production, labor is everything. If you manage labor you manageprofit. Labor is by far the single largest cost of production. If it is not properly managed, costs ofproduction will increase and quality will decrease.Plant CulturingIn addition to the daily monitoring of a crop, there are many culturing chores that a growerperforms to ensure the highest quality fruit and vegetables and the largest quantity harvest. Witha long-term fruiting crop, such as tomatoes, there is more daily culturing chores than with ashort-term crop, such as lettuce.How To Start and Succeed in the Hydroponics Business 39Lettuce and Herb ProductionMost lettuce and herb growers seed into an inert grow-cube in a nursery area and, when theseedling is of sufficient size, transplant it into an NFT tray or gully. Lettuce is a fast maturingcrop and the efforts of a hydroponic lettuce grower are focused on seeding, trans- planting andharvesting. An operation harvesting 3,000 heads of let- tuce per week will also need to seed andtransplant 3,300 plants to maintain continuous production. Over-seeding by 10% ensures asufficient quantity of seedlings for transplanting.