Hydroponic Lettuce Growing. One Month after transplant.
| 5 WEEKS SINCE GERMINATION |
It’s been near one month since we started documenting this grow trial, since of first article, where we we transplanted our lettuce varieties into our NFT growing channels (amhydro.com). The heads are nearing maturity, and we have learned a lot from this, our first ever, hydroponic lettuce crop. The NFT (nutrient film technique) system has been working great for hydroponic lettuce growing, and is situated in a sunny back yard setting during summer months on Vancouver Island, BC.
We have had the best luck of the three seed lettuce varieties with Tom Thumb, although we have yet to see how people respond to the more compact and dense looking head versus typical butterhead lettuce varieties. At maturity, it is loosely described to resemble an emerald soft-ball sized gob of buttery sweet lettuce. The red sails variety seemed a little finickier to establish, and while a very popular choice, we didn’t have much luck with the Black Seeded Simpson variety. Keep in mind we are growing a hydroponic (no soil) crop for the first time-and it prefers cooler temperatures while we attempt to grow it during the hottest part of the year. Once we got our transplants into the system, and they got big enough to avoid predation by…still a mystery, but it’s either ants, a squirrel or both they took off like rockets-and no bolting!
Most other growing methods this time of year, and our lettuce would “bolt”, ie go to seed, stretching into a tall bitter plant that you may not recognize as the lettuce usually found on your plate. We were managing to keep reservoir temperatures below 75 Deg F for a period, but then the heat really came on-we were alarmed at seeing higher temps for prolonged periods and simply don’t have time to fuss around with the purge method we had been using to drop temps a few degrees during peak heat. We had access to a saltwater aquarium.hydroponic chiller unit, and opted to run it. It uses about 185 watts of power when cycling, and on average, operates about 10 minutes per hour every 24 hours, keeping the reservoir at a near perfect 72 deg F.
Since, we have learned from NFT growing expert Michael Christian of AmHydro, that while cooler temperatures are better, that we could have kept on going, even as high as 80 Deg F solution temperatures during the day’s peak heat with typically little chance of problems using lots of aeration and good quality hydroponic fertilizers.
So the lesson here is that you don’t necessarily need a chiller, even in summer, when growing your lettuce via NFT with good quality nutes and lots of O2 to prevent bolting or plant root diseases occurrence from infections via pythium.
We are serious about learning what we need to know to propagate and grow out suitable hydroponics crops like gourmet lettuce or herbs and grow them commercially, for profit and to live “the farm life”. It’s been a fun activity for all of us involved; and have found it to be a great “family” activity.
Once we have developed a local market for our produce and our “brand”-still in the works-we can adapt our model to a larger scale, which could include things like large scale greenhouse or shade structures. We still have the ability to add onto our existing system, using the space that is already available to us.
Cooler and poorly lit months are coming, so a greenhouse and supplemental crop lighting may be an area we endvor too. Not so much to make money from (it takes a few lettuce crops to amortize a structure and related gear), rather, gain and share the valuable knowledge so that we can apply it to a professional scale growing operation once we are comfortable in taking the next step (look out, it can be a big one!) and give Grozine followers a model they can adapt to their own for growing independence. Gardening your way to independence is a worthwhile aspiration.
Betty Crocker didn’t make a million boxes of cake mix the first time she baked a cake, afterall!
The hydroponic lettuce growing system NFT reservoir is now fully automated for pH and nutrient dosing via Grohaus-Automation. Because we use a one part, complete, base fertilizer intended for hydroponic use means that we can use the other doser pumps supplied for pH control and a nutrient supplement. In our case we use food grade phosphoric acid for lowering pH levels (same stuff as in Coca Cola) and a calcium,magnesium, iron supplement that packs a little Nitrogen along with it.
This level of automation is overkill for the size of system we are growing in for crops like lettuce, BUT, we don’t expect to make any money growing lettuce on this scale-it is 100% an exploratory phase of a larger venture possibility.
If we can keep our labor down and crop production high with the help of automation, we stand a better chance of developing some numbers that can work, ie take to the bank and get an agricultural loan for things like land, structures and equipment. Betty Crocker didn’t make a million boxes of cake mix the first time she baked a cake, after all!
This is and will likely continue to be the trend in global agriculture: There are fewer farms to feed more people; and the farms are getting bigger and bigger, ie “corporate”. However, with hydroponics growing systems and automation, a single person, or certainly a family has the opportunity to earn a living from growing and selling crops; with one big exception:
hydroponics growing is a more sustainable practice over conventional traditional field agricultural methods and could be of great benefit as a means of providing fresh and nutritious food affordably to local markets.
We are especially excited about our next planned crop through the system, where we take what we have learned on our test run and apply it like it really counts–let’s see what it brings, shall we?
Too dumb to quit:)
In our upcoming Groize Issue 13, for release soon, you can expect to see some great articles from leading industry experts on the subject of existing practical automation technology you can put to work for you in hydroponics or soilless growing indoors or in greenhouses-or even in your back yard, like we have.
Erik Biksa has been writing about and discussing hydroponics growing, related technologies and cropping methods since 1999 in a variety of professional publications and platforms globally Erik has travelled the world learning and teaching modern growing techniques and technologies and is appreciated by many growers for his informative yet hands on approaches. Presently, he is the Editor at Grozine Hydroponics Mag.