Next-Gen Israeli Agtech Turns a Rooftop Into a Farm – Jewish Business News

Aleinu aeroponic farm plants seeds for a new social, environmental and educational model of agricultural sustainability.

Aleinu-overview-Israel Agriculture 1168x657

On the rooftop of the Mishor Adumim industrial park in the desert between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, an acre of herbs and lettuces provide employment for about 20 people representing the entire Israeli mosaic: Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, Israeli-born and immigrants.

“We all work together and value each other’s contribution,” says Bentsion Kabakov, a religious Russian immigrant who established the Aleinu Sustainable Aeroponic Greenhouse as a prototype six years ago.

“We are convinced that no matter how harsh the political challenges are, there is always a basis for mutual respect and coexistence. At Aleinu, that’s our guiding line.”

Women in hijabs chat easily with Ethiopian-Jewish women in the packing and labeling room. Everyone from pickers to technicians works in a comfortable, air-conditioned environment and goes home at a set time every day.

In all its social, business and environmental aspects, this is truly a farm of the future.

aleinu-packing Israel Agriculture

The word aleinu in Hebrew means both “above us” and “our leaves,” aptly conveying the concepts of rooftop farming and a shared sense of purpose.

Though rooftop and urban agriculture are becoming more widespread as the world’s population centers shift to cities, the system created by Kabakov and fellow engineers from the former Soviet Union is one of a kind, explains Shelley Brinn of Tour Adumim, who brings groups to see, smell and taste the produce of Aleinu and learn about its social, ecological and educational facets.

aleinu-lettuce Israel Agriculture

Based on the concept of aeroponics — growing plants in humid air rather than soil or water — Aleinu incorporates several proprietary technologies that bring an unprecedented level of automation and efficiency to the process while eliminating problems of conventional farming such as unpredictable weather, the expense of land and the need for long hours of outdoor toil by many workers.

As a result, this aeroponic greenhouse yields 50 times more produce per square meter than does a traditional farm, while consuming 20 times less water. Compared with other aeroponic greenhouses, Aleinu’s harvest is three times more abundant, according to Kabakov.

The 25 different greens and herbs — such as basil, lettuce, kale, arugula, parsley, chives, thyme, sage, mint and oregano – are certified insect-free and meet stringent international quality standards.

aleinu-founder Israel Agriculture

Seeds are sown one by one mechanically in blocks of sterile mineral wool (made from recycled industrial waste), which are placed in long plastic troughs (conduits) with holes.

Resting on a computer-controlled dynamic “field” of conveyor belts, the troughs are close together at first. As the plants grow, the distance between the troughs automatically adjusts as they move gradually from the planting end to the final harvesting end of the field.

aleinu-troughs Israel Agriculture

Misty air circulates inside of the troughs, providing the roots with water, nutrients and oxygen. Sensors in the field alert operators to any nutrient imbalances that can be corrected quickly by computer. A wet corrugated wall opposite a wall of fans keeps the entire space humid.

“In this controlled environment, the plants grow more quickly,” Brinn explains. “They have smaller roots because they get all the nutrition they need from above and can use their energy to grow upward.”

An overhead platform travels across the dynamic field, enabling just one or two workers — Brinn calls them “herbal cowboys” – to tend the troughs and crops as needed from above, so little floor space is wasted on walkways. Propellers mounted on the moving platform suck up bugs from the plants into huge nets.

aleinu-watering Israel Agriculture

Far fewer insects are attracted to an industrial rooftop than to a conventional farm. Aleinu uses natural pesticides sparingly, mostly relying on a patented system of various physical obstacles to prevent insects from coming into contact with the plants.

For now, the model farm sells three million packages of produce per year in Israeli supermarket chains.

However, Kabakov hopes that once people become more familiar with the Aleinu brand and mission, he will be able to establish a direct-to-consumer sales network. Only by shortening the time from field to plate can the vitamins in veggies be preserved, he tells ISRAEL21c.

An applied mathematician whose grandfather was a farmer, Kabakov envisions satellite locations and mini home and school versions of his farm supplying Israeli households with fresh-picked, locally grown,virtually bug-free and chemical-free produce.

aleinu-sticky Israel Agriculture

“Neighbors, families and friends can get together and turn rooftops, yards, balconies and even flights of stairs into sustainable urban mini-farms. Our technology and equipment are safe, user-friendly and easily accessible,” says Kabakov.

Aleinu offers workshops for professional farmers and others interested in starting aeroponic farms.

Kabakov welcomes inquiries from abroad and can provide tours in English, Hebrew, Russian or French. The day before ISRAEL21c visited, he hosted a delegation from China eager to learn more about his made-in-Israel technologies.

“We have four patents, and everything you see was made by our hands,” he says. “We continue to innovate new technologies in our R&D center.”

By Israel21C

Read more about: aeroponics, Aleinu, environment, Israeli agriculture, organic vegetables, rooftop farm, Social Action, urban farm document.write(“”);

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ReGen Villages: Behind the Design of Self-Sustaining Eco-Communities – Sustainable Brands

The first Regen Village is scheduled to open this summer in Almere, The Netherlands, with 100 homes. | Images credit: EFFEKT

ReGen Villages is a tech-integrated real estate development company with purpose. The Dutch holding company, in collaboration with Danish architecture firm EFFEKT, was founded by serial entrepreneur James Ehrlich, who describes his brand as “engineering and facilitating the development of off-grid, integrated and resilient neighbourhoods that power and feed self-reliant families around the world.”

The model takes a holistic approach, combining innovative technologies that include energy-positive homes, renewable energy and energy storage, door-step high-yield organic food production, vertical farming, aquaponics/aeroponics, water management and waste-to-resource systems.

As EFFEKT co-founder Sinus Lynge recently told Stuff: “We like to think of ReGen as the Tesla of ecovillages. We want to make it easy, convenient and accessible to choose a sustainable lifestyle off the grid. We are simply applying already existing technologies into an integrated community design, providing clean energy, water and food right off your doorstep.”

The first Regen Village is scheduled to open this summer in Almere, The Netherlands, with 100 homes, followed by sites across Northern Europe in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany. Further plans include the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE, MENA, Malaysia, India, China, parts of Africa, the U.S. and Canada.

We recently spoke with Ehrlich to learn more about his concept for sustainable community living. First, how scalable is the current model and what’s been the biggest challenge to date?

“ReGen Villages is globally scalable, based on our years of research and now corroborated by the viral spread of our brand and concept that has spread to almost every corner of the planet,” Ehrlich said. “Scaling is not a matter of physics, so therefore anything is possible. Rather, all of the technologies, materials, components and design thinking are already proven, even if many of them have not yet been fully integrated with the others.

“Our greatest challenges will always be with the status quo, where government regulations (national, provincial, municipal) must be addressed with a new kind of forward thinking that puts the planet and people first,” he added. “Then we must compel the traditional real estate development, construction, material and labor conglomerates to look upon our redefinition of residential housing development through a new lens of profit through proliferation of doing things in a better way.”

While ReGen chose Almere for its upper-middleclass potential, the bigger prize is in developing countries as billions migrate from rural communities in search of better living conditions. Half the world’s population lives in cities today and projections are that 2.5 billion people will be moving to cities in the next 50 years.

“Our intent from the very beginning is global scale, and bringing thriving, regenerative and resilient platform design thinking into peri-urban and rural areas where it’s frankly needed the most,” Ehrlich said. “With the inclusion of high broadband access into each ReGen Villages, along with other managed services at the neighborhood scale, it is our ambition to encourage families to stay in their local villages, and eventually to attract city dwellers back into these areas, where we believe this is the base case for the future of humanity.”

ReGen Villages says its model “retrofits with local supply of all resources that will lift burdens on struggling municipal governments at both ends of the population spectrum.” We asked Ehrlich to elaborate.

“After the past several years of research, traveling all around the world, we discovered the same exact issues wherever we landed – the rural areas are emptying out and the big cities are overcrowding,” he said. “In the rural areas, the issues are profound in the loss of tax base and even demolition of infrastructure – where usually only elderly, very young and immigrant populations are residing. Conversely, the cities are being over burdened by populations they can’t possibly employ, house, power and feed, and deal with the externalaties of these populations falling directly into poverty.

“ReGen Villages is a steam valve to building regenerative and self-reliant small communities around the peri-urban and eventually rural areas that, in the aggregate, will reduce burdens on government through production of clean water, energy, food and waste mitigation.

“ReGen Villages also intends to bring curriculum and other managed services to each community through broadband Internet access, visiting researcher and scholar programs and developing new economic models, eventually – out of innovation labs that teach residents how to start thinking creatively and differently about their own self worth between themselves in community and expressed perhaps outward to the world.”

The company is raising monies from sovereign wealth funds looking to divest from fossil fuels into impact- and knowledge-based investments. ReGen acquires suitable land in collaboration with national and local municipalities and contracts with local architecture, construction and engineering firms to optimize village models to local environs.

We asked Ehrlich if his brand is selling a model or a consciousness – or both?

“Our brand is all about living close to nature in new ways that just make sense,” he told us. “Absolutely we represent a movement – a global subconscious epiphany, if you will – where families want to live in abundance and with agency to healthy and clean food, water, energy and mitigated waste into resources.

“ReGen Villages has hit a very powerful nerve with people who are searching for a better way of life that makes them feel secure in all these areas of regenerative living and more,” he asserted, “to feel connected to each other in multi-generational communities where the cycle of life is celebrated and people know what real hope and joy is all about.”

Sheila Shayon, President of Third Eye Media, is a senior media executive with twenty five plus years in television and new media including expertise in programming, production, broadband, start-up models, creative and branding strategies, digital content and social networking. 

[Read more about Sheila Shayon]

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US supports hydroponics to revitalize Mideast food, water and security – Green Prophet

Visit to an hydroponic bell pepper farm

Growing crops without soil, otherwise known as hydroponic agriculture, is not a recent innovation. In fact, it can be traced back to ancient times and kingdoms like Babylonia, whose Hanging Gardens were said to have been created and nurtured by use of hydroponics.

The modern day Middle East, especially water-deprived countries like Jordan and Syria, has had on-going problems in that local agriculture cannot provide sufficient amounts of local food due to lack of sufficient water and arable land to grow crops. Other resource-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates see hydroponics as the only solution for providing hyper local, fresh, nutritious food.

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As a result of this water scarcity problem, Jordan sees potential in hydroponic agricultural projects, which are said to use as much as 90 percent less water over conventional soil-based agriculture.

The Kingdom of Jordan is seeing commercial opportunities for local hydroponic farming and is getting some help from the USAID Hydroponic Green Farming Initiative (HGFI). Hydroponic agricultural projects growing vegetables by both hydroponic and organic methods were the subject of an event held in May 2015, where US Ambassador to Jordan Alice Wells featured these vegetables in an event with Jordanian governmental officials and local producers.

The event was aimed at showing how use of hydroponic growing techniques not only saves water resources but produces high quality yields as well. Ambassador Wells told the participants:

“The future of hydroponic farming techniques is bright in Jordan. Hydroponic farming techniques are well-suited toward maximizing Jordan’s scarce supply of water. From my visits to hydroponic farms in the Jordan Valley, I’ve seen that the potential to grow more produce through hydroponic techniques is significant, given the minimal additional investment required to implement them.”

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She added that hydroponic agriculture maximizes Jordan’s scarce water supplies. Her visits to hydroponic projects in the Jordan Valley indicate a good potential for this type of agriculture, with just a minimal additional investment required.

Chefs who attended the event were able to see the quality of the hydroponically-grown produce, which often uses no pesticides. Um Ali, who heads a woman’s agricultural cooperative in the north of Jordan, told the gathering that production of herbs like thyme is much better using hydroponic agriculture than by traditional soil methods:

“Our thyme production from hydroponic farming is far better than traditional soil farming. It uses much less water, which is scarce in Jordan. Our production is clean from soil diseases,” she said.

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Building reliable markets for hydroponically-grown produce is equally important. The USAID program is designed to build greater awareness of the advantages of hydroponically-grown produce, and the chefs in attendance at the reception were able to experience first-hand the quality of produce from hydroponic fields. Developing strong domestic markets for produce will assist farmers in balancing the cyclical nature of produce grown for export.

Developing tools and an industry for hydroponics in the Middle East is just as important. Consider this super cool American company flux from New York powering up the entire industry by providing powerful monitors and controls for hydroponic farms, in the same way that Mobileye enables self-driving Tesla cars. The global market flux is tapping into will grow from about $19 billion today to $27 billion in 4 years. It’s a massive opportunity since there are few global players with no dominant, affordable solution for new businesses.

Jordan can and should be a part of that.

More about hydroponic agriculture in the Middle East:
Hydroponics in Qatar
Saudi Arabia’s OAXIS hydroponic food belt
Khalifa hydroponic farms paying off
Grow fresh food in the middle of Manhattan?
Hanging gardens of Babylon inspire water farming called hydroponics

Maurice Picow grew up in Oklahoma City, U.S.A., where he received a B.S. Degree in Business Administration. Following graduation, Maurice embarked on a career as a real estate broker before making the decision to make Aliyah to Israel. After arriving in Israel, he came involved in the insurance agency business and later in the moving and international relocation fields. Maurice became interested in writing news and commentary articles in the late 1990’s, and now writes feature articles for the The Jerusalem Post as well as being a regular contributor to Green Prophet. He has also written a non-fiction study on Islam, a two volume adventure novel, and is completing a romance novel about a forbidden love affair. Writing topics of particular interest for Green Prophet are those dealing with global warming and climate change, as well as clean technology – particularly electric cars. Maurice can be reached at maurice (at) greenprophet (dot) com.

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New York to get the world's biggest vertical farm which can produce 2m pounds of food a year – Daily Mail

The US loses at least 1.5 million acres of productive farmland to urbanization every year.

In order to combat the loss of land, AeroFarms builds indoor vertical farms and is set to open its ninth facility in Newark, New Jersey – one hour outside of Manhattan.

Believed to be the world’s largest vertical farm, this 70,000-square-foot facility has the potential to harvest 2 million pounds of food a year and will use 95 percent less water than field farmed-food.

Scroll down for video 

In order to combat the loss of land, AeroFarms builds indoor vertical farms and is set to open its ninth facility in Newark, New Jersey – one hour outside of Manhattan. Dubbed the world’s largest vertical farm, this 70,000-square-foot facility has the potential to harvest 2 million pounds of food a year

AeroFarms has been on a mission to combat the global food crisis since 2004 using its aeroponic growing systems.

This technology providers ‘faster harvest cycles, predictable results, superior food safety and less environmental impact,’ AeroFarms explains on the website.

Not only will this massive farm produce millions of pounds of nutritious greens and herbs, it will produce 75 percent more yield than a traditional outdoor farm that is the same size, reports Urbanist.

AeroFarms is able to achieve this by staggering crops, a strategy that allows them to switch between 22 crops per year – regardless of the season.

The cutting-edge farming systems that are used in all of the facilities do not contribute to the effects of soil erosion, pesticides, water overuse and carbon emissions are heavily reduced – and sometimes completely eliminated. 

The facility in Newark will be be 70,000-square-foot with the potential to harvest 2 million pounds of food a year and will use 95 percent less water than field farmed-food.

Specialized LED lights and climate controls have been specifically designed to grow a 250 variety of greens, all without the need for sunlight or soil.

These unique lights allow AeroFarms to control size, shape, texture, colour, flavor and nutrition of the leafy greens and herbs grown in the facilities.

AeroFarms uses aeroponic growing systems that mist the roots of the greens with 40% less hydroponics and zero pesticides.

Plant scientists monitor more than 30,000 data points from every harvest at each facility.

During this event, researchers will review, test and use predictive analytics to better improve the systems.

The firm has also developed a patented, reusable cloth medium for seeding, germinating, growing and harvesting.

Each cloth is developed using 24 post-consumer, recycled plastic water bottles, which can be fully sanitized after every harvest.

AeroFarms is able to achieve this by staggering crops, a strategy that allows them to switch between 22 crops per year during, including baby kale, regardless of the season. The aeroponic system is a closed loop system, using 95% less water than field farming, 40% less than hydroponics, and zero pesticides AeroFarms is able to achieve this by staggering crops, a strategy that allows them to switch between 22 crops per year during, including baby kale, regardless of the season. The aeroponic system is a closed loop system, using 95% less water than field farming, 40% less than hydroponics, and zero pesticides

Specialized LED lights and climate controls have been specifically designed to grow a 250 variety of greens, all without the need for sunlight or soil.

These unique lights allow AeroFarms to control size, shape, texture, colour, flavor and nutrition of the leafy greens and herbs grown in the facilities.

‘We use aeroponics to mist the roots of our greens with nutrients, water, and oxygen,’ explains AeroFarms.

‘Our aeroponic system is a closed loop system, using 95% less water than field farming, 40% less than hydroponics, and zero pesticides.’

The facility is getting closer to completion after a year of construction and the firm is opening up areas that are ready for operation. 

The aisles are filled with tall shelves that can only be accessed using a forklift crane and farmers must suit up before getting close to the produce – gloves, lab coat hairnet and disinfected shoes are mandatory attire. 

‘We are building the world’s largest indoor vertical farm in Newark, New Jersey, and we have farms in development on four continents,’ said AeroFarms.

‘There has never been a greater need for safe, dependable, nutritious food.’

‘That is why we are committed to growing locally on a global scale.’

The firm says the proximity to Manhattan will cut costs for transportation and holds a large market that is eager for fresh locally grown produce.

Plant scientists monitor more than 30,000 data points from every harvest at each facility.

During this event, researchers will review, test and use predictive analytics to better improve the systems.

‘With remote monitoring and controls in place, we have minimized the typical risks associated with traditional agriculture,’ explained AeroFarms.

The firm has also developed a patented, reusable cloth medium for seeding, germinating, growing and harvesting.

The firm uses specialized LED lights and climate controls, all without the need for sunlight or soil. These unique lights allow AeroFarms to control size, shape, texture, colour, flavor and nutrition of the leafy greens and herbs grown in the facilities The firm uses specialized LED lights and climate controls, all without the need for sunlight or soil. These unique lights allow AeroFarms to control size, shape, texture, colour, flavor and nutrition of the leafy greens and herbs grown in the facilities

'We are building the world's largest indoor vertical farm in Newark, New Jersey, and we have farms in development on four continents,' said AeroFarms. The firm says the proximity to Manhattan will cut costs for transportation and holds a large market that is eager for fresh locally grown produce ‘We are building the world’s largest indoor vertical farm in Newark, New Jersey, and we have farms in development on four continents,’ said AeroFarms. The firm says the proximity to Manhattan will cut costs for transportation and holds a large market that is eager for fresh locally grown produce

Each cloth is developed using 24 post-consumer, recycled plastic water bottles, which can be fully sanitized after every harvest.

This system also acts as a barrier between the mist and the plants, allowing the firm to harvest a clean, dry and ready to eat product. 

AeroFarms is able to grow over 250 different varieties of leafy greens and herbs, which they has has a longer shelf life and highest highest possible food safety controls from seed to package.

Chief Marketing Officer Marc Oshima (left) laid out the reasons why New Jersey is the perfect place to grow our company and even had governer Chris Christie (left center) stop in for a visit. Oshima (right) also took visitors on a tour of the new facility in Newark sometime in March 2016, dressed in the proper mandatory attire Chief Marketing Officer Marc Oshima (left) laid out the reasons why New Jersey is the perfect place to grow our company and even had governer Chris Christie (left center) stop in for a visit. Oshima (right) also took visitors on a tour of the new facility in Newark sometime in March 2016, dressed in the proper mandatory attire Chief Marketing Officer Marc Oshima (left) laid out the reasons why New Jersey is the perfect place to grow our company and even had governer Chris Christie (left center) stop in for a visit. Oshima (right) also took visitors on a tour of the new facility in Newark sometime in March 2016, dressed in the proper mandatory attire

AeroFarms has been on a mission to combat the global food crisis since 2004 using its aeroponic growing systems. It has also developed a patented, reusable cloth medium for seeding, germinating, growing and harvesting  The aisles are filled with tall shelves that can only be accessed using a forklift crane and farmers must suit up before getting close to the produce AeroFarms has been on a mission to combat the global food crisis since 2004 using its aeroponic growing systems. It has also developed a patented, reusable cloth medium for seeding, germinating, growing and harvesting  The aisles are filled with tall shelves that can only be accessed using a forklift crane and farmers must suit up before getting close to the produce AeroFarms has been on a mission to combat the global food crisis since 2004 using its aeroponic growing systems. It has also developed a patented, reusable cloth medium for seeding, germinating, growing and harvesting  The aisles are filled with tall shelves that can only be accessed using a forklift crane and farmers must suit up before getting close to the produce

The firm doesn’t just aims to make up for the farm loss in the US, but help combat the global food shortage.

The World Bank predicts that there will be a global population of 9 billion by 2050, which will require at least 50 percent more food than is needed today.

And climate change is also expected to cut crop yields by more than 25 percent over this time period, which is said to hit the poorest areas of the world the hardest. 

AeroFarms is able to grow over 250 different varieties of leafy greens and herbs, which they has has a longer shelf life and highest highest possible food safety controls from seed to package. Plant scientists monitor more than 30,000 data points from every harvest at each facility. During this event, researchers will review, test and use predictive analytics to better improve the systems AeroFarms is able to grow over 250 different varieties of leafy greens and herbs, which they has has a longer shelf life and highest highest possible food safety controls from seed to package. Plant scientists monitor more than 30,000 data points from every harvest at each facility. During this event, researchers will review, test and use predictive analytics to better improve the systems

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Hydroponics Unlimited – A Pioneer In Indoor Gardening Since 2005 – KHTS Radio

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Americas Best Garden CenterThough hydroponics is a relatively new growing method, its history is rooted in water-based horticulture.

For example, the mythical Hanging Gardens of Babylon supposedly irrigated its trees and shrubs with water channels.

And in 1100 AD, Mesoamericans created artificial islands called “chinampas” near modern-day Mexico City that are still in use today.

Modern hydroponics was developed in the late 1920s and tested as a source of fresh food for the U.S. Air Force during World War II.  A few decades of technology improvement later, a fasmily can now grow their own hydroponic vegetables and herbs at home.

Paul, the owner and founder of Hydroponics Unlimited, started gardening outdoors in high school.  His journey in indoor gardening began several years later in 1988.

“The first hydroponics store to open in the entire country wasn’t far from my home,” Paul said. “It was there I received my first lessons in hydroponics and bought everything I needed to start my own hydroponics system.”

Paul’s interest in hydroponics persisted for the next 18 years. With his friends’ encouragement, he opened Palmdale Hydroponics in 2006.

Paul was the sole employee of Palmdale Hydroponics until 2007, when his wife, Victoria, joined the company. In 2009, Paul and Victoria launched HydroponicsUnlimited.com. The online store allows them to reach out to customers all over the United States.

In 2010, the store moved to a larger location and changed its name to America’s Best Hydroponics and Garden Center.

Since then, America’s Best Hydroponics has provided thousands of products and the latest education to the local hydroponics community. Paul and his knowledgeable crew are ready to help beginner and veteran growers yield a successful crop.

America’s Best Hydroponics and Garden Center is located at 641 West Palmdale Blvd., Unit D in Palmdale.

Visit America’s Best Hydroponics and Garden Center’s online store at http://hydroponicsunlimited.com. Learn more about the company at http://palmdalehydroponics.com and http://americasbesthydroponics.com.  Or call them at (661) 266-3906.

Hydroponics Unlimited has been serving the Antelope Valley, Santa Clarita and Kern County since 2006 as one of the leading hydroponics and gardening stores in Southern California. One of the Hydroponics Unlimited family of companies serving residents of Santa Clarita, Antelope Valley, Lancaster, Palmdale and Kern County since 2006, America’s Best Hydroponics and Garden Center has the latest tools, products, literature and everything else needed to build and take care of an indoor or outdoor garden. Their owners are hands on experts, sharing their years of knowledge and expertise. Visit them in their Palmdale location at 641West Palmdale Blvd., Unit D, Palmdale, CA. 93551, or call Hydroponics Unlimited at (661) 266-3906. You may also visit their on-line store at http://www.hydroponicsunlimited.com

Do you have a news tip? Call us at (661) 298-1220, or drop us a line at community@hometownstation.com.

KHTS AM 1220 - Santa Clarita Radio

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Hydroponic Sorghum – Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses

Sorghum Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor).

The list of crops which can be grown hydroponically is endless. Theoretically, any plant that can be grown in soil can also be grown in a soilless system. Most hobbyists and commercial growers tend to focus on practical or high-value crops that are strongly suited to hydroponics. There are of course some unconventional crops, which can also be profitably grown in a soilless set-up, however impractical they may be. While these crops might not be ideally suited to hydroponics, the applications are sometimes worth pursuing.

By CLIF DROKE

One such crop is sorghum (Sorghum bicolor). Sorghum is in the grass family and is an extremely versatile crop. It can be easily germinated from seed and the plant will tolerate a variety of growing conditions. One of sorghum’s most attractive traits is its tolerance to drought. But while sorghum grows well in arid growing conditions, it absolutely thrives in a hydroponic system in which water and nutrients are constantly available.

There are 25 species of sorghum worldwide, 17 of which are native to Australia. One species is grown for grain while many others are used for animal fodder. The heads of grain sorghum plants can be used to make flour or a nutritious hot cereal, which is valued in less developed countries. Certain types of sorghum seeds can even be popped like popcorn. The plant has also been used in the production of biofuels such as ethanol, and as a sweetener.

My interest in sorghum began with a winter trip to Florida. While driving across the central part of the state just south of Lake Okeechobee, I had the pleasure of witnessing the state’s vast sugar cane fields. Each year I make it my goal to grow something challenging or unusual in one of my hydroponic set ups. This year I was inspired to try sugar cane.

I typically start my plants from seed and was disappointed to find that sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum) is propagated via ‘seed cane’, which involves taking a cut section of the fully mature stalk and planting it in the ground. I was determined to harvest my own sugar cane juice and was upset at the prospects of having to abandon my plans. That’s when I discovered sorghum.

One of the most popular uses of the plant is the ‘sweet cane’ variety of sorghum, which is a close relative of sugar cane. Unlike sugar cane, sweet sorghum can be grown from seed and reaches heights comparable to that of sugar cane, which is anywhere from 12-14 feet at maturity. At harvest, the cane is crushed and yields a juice virtually identical to sugar cane juice in taste and appearance. A little known benefit of sweet cane juice is that it is nature’s perfect energy drink, full of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and chlorophyll. The natural sugar contained in sweet cane is both delicious and energising. What’s more, it contains less than 15% of the sugar found in the refined version of table sugar we’re all familiar with. Cane juice can also be boiled down into a tasty syrup, known as sorghum molasses.

You might be thinking how cumbersome it would be trying to grow a tall cane-type plant in an outdoor soilless system, let alone an indoor hydroponic system. This doesn’t have to be the case, however. My experiments growing sorghum were surprisingly well suited for both indoor and outdoor crop development. I also found that sorghum plants grew thicker canes and developed faster when grown in soilless media such as rockwool or hydroton than when grown in soil. I also discovered that by harvesting the plants before full maturity I could eliminate the need for using an expensive crushing machine to extract the juice.

I further discovered that by growing certain varieties of sweet sorghum one can even grow the plants indoors under artificial lights from seed to harvest. The ‘Black Amber’ variety is a dwarf-type sorghum, which typically attains a height of six to eight feet, making it practical for greenhouse trials and small-scale indoor applications. It was grown by early American colonists and is still prized today for its sweet golden syrup.

Sweet sorghum sprouted in rockwool cubes. Sweet sorghum sprouted in rockwool cubes.

The type I decided to grow was ‘Red Sweet’ sorghum. I planted the seeds in both Jiffy peat pellets and rockwool cubes. My germination success rate was about 75%. The plants seeded in Jiffy develop faster in the initial stage of growth, but the rockwool seeded plants outperformed in the latter stages of development. Germination occurred in two to four days for most seeds.

One advantage of sprouting sorghum in soilless media is that it can be started several weeks before seeds are usually sown in spring. Consequently, indoor-grown sorghum germinated in the winter will mature months before the sorghum traditionally sown outdoors in spring.

Sorghum Sorghum starts in organic soil (L) and five-inch rockwool cubes (R). This photo was taken approximately one month after germination.

My seeds were germinated in January (our winter here in the US) in my kitchen using a heat mat and a plastic dome tray. Once the seedlings were established I transplanted them either to a soilless potting mix in plastic pots (for the Jiffy pellets) or to larger rockwool cubes. The plants were nursed under 23-Watt CFL lights for several weeks before finally being moved under HID lighting after six weeks. Sorghum can be theoretically grown with full-spectrum fluorescent lights, provided that coverage is adequate for the length of the plant (e.g. three-foot T5 strip lights, both vertical and overhead). Metal halide lamps are the preferred light source, however.

For the nutrient solution I used water-soluble MaxiGro fertiliser (NPK analysis 10-5-14) from General Hydroponics. The solution can be pH adjusted to a 6.5 level of acidity, which allows for maximum uptake of all macro and micro nutrients in sorghum. As the sorghum plant grows it can be transplanted to a bigger pot. Sorghum can be grown to full maturity in a three-gallon (11.4L) plastic pot using a rockwool/hydroton media combination.

The nutrient solution can be hand watered or delivered via automatic irrigation tubes at timed intervals. As sorghum is a very hardy and forgiving plant, the leaves will curl inward when the root zone goes dry, allowing the plant to survive several days before dying. In my experience, a once-daily application of nutrient solution that completely soaks the root zone of a three-gallon pot is all that is required to keep the plants healthy.

Sorghum Potted sorghum plants after three-and-a-half months.

Sorghum grown for syrup should be harvested when the seeds are fully in the dough stage, which is usually about five-and-a-half to six months after seeding. Outdoor harvesting should be done before a killing frost if possible; if not, the crop should be harvested immediately after the freeze. Leaves should be stripped off before the freeze to lessen the damage. Stalks can be juiced using a traditional sugar cane juicer or, if the stalks aren’t too thick, a roller-type pasta maker can be used to extract juice from the cane. The resulting juice can be consumed raw as a refreshing beverage or boiled down further into syrup.

Sweet sorghum is a valuable but overlooked crop in many Western nations, especially the US. While it was once prized by farmers for its hardiness and variety of uses, it has since been supplanted by sugar cane which is valuable only when grown in extremely high volumes. Sorghum is far easier to grow and should be a staple of every serious gardener’s crop lineup. For the hydroponics enthusiast, sorghum offers endless possibilities for experimenting with the technique and viability of soilless production.

About the Author
Clif Droke lives in Topsail Beach, North Carolina, USA, where he has been involved in hydroponics for 13 years. He is the author of the book, Year ‘Round Micro Gardening (ISBN 097925727).  O

PH&G July 2016 / Issue 169

View the original article here

Hydroponic Sorghum – Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses

Sorghum Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor).

The list of crops which can be grown hydroponically is endless. Theoretically, any plant that can be grown in soil can also be grown in a soilless system. Most hobbyists and commercial growers tend to focus on practical or high-value crops that are strongly suited to hydroponics. There are of course some unconventional crops, which can also be profitably grown in a soilless set-up, however impractical they may be. While these crops might not be ideally suited to hydroponics, the applications are sometimes worth pursuing.

By CLIF DROKE

One such crop is sorghum (Sorghum bicolor). Sorghum is in the grass family and is an extremely versatile crop. It can be easily germinated from seed and the plant will tolerate a variety of growing conditions. One of sorghum’s most attractive traits is its tolerance to drought. But while sorghum grows well in arid growing conditions, it absolutely thrives in a hydroponic system in which water and nutrients are constantly available.

There are 25 species of sorghum worldwide, 17 of which are native to Australia. One species is grown for grain while many others are used for animal fodder. The heads of grain sorghum plants can be used to make flour or a nutritious hot cereal, which is valued in less developed countries. Certain types of sorghum seeds can even be popped like popcorn. The plant has also been used in the production of biofuels such as ethanol, and as a sweetener.

My interest in sorghum began with a winter trip to Florida. While driving across the central part of the state just south of Lake Okeechobee, I had the pleasure of witnessing the state’s vast sugar cane fields. Each year I make it my goal to grow something challenging or unusual in one of my hydroponic set ups. This year I was inspired to try sugar cane.

I typically start my plants from seed and was disappointed to find that sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum) is propagated via ‘seed cane’, which involves taking a cut section of the fully mature stalk and planting it in the ground. I was determined to harvest my own sugar cane juice and was upset at the prospects of having to abandon my plans. That’s when I discovered sorghum.

One of the most popular uses of the plant is the ‘sweet cane’ variety of sorghum, which is a close relative of sugar cane. Unlike sugar cane, sweet sorghum can be grown from seed and reaches heights comparable to that of sugar cane, which is anywhere from 12-14 feet at maturity. At harvest, the cane is crushed and yields a juice virtually identical to sugar cane juice in taste and appearance. A little known benefit of sweet cane juice is that it is nature’s perfect energy drink, full of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and chlorophyll. The natural sugar contained in sweet cane is both delicious and energising. What’s more, it contains less than 15% of the sugar found in the refined version of table sugar we’re all familiar with. Cane juice can also be boiled down into a tasty syrup, known as sorghum molasses.

You might be thinking how cumbersome it would be trying to grow a tall cane-type plant in an outdoor soilless system, let alone an indoor hydroponic system. This doesn’t have to be the case, however. My experiments growing sorghum were surprisingly well suited for both indoor and outdoor crop development. I also found that sorghum plants grew thicker canes and developed faster when grown in soilless media such as rockwool or hydroton than when grown in soil. I also discovered that by harvesting the plants before full maturity I could eliminate the need for using an expensive crushing machine to extract the juice.

I further discovered that by growing certain varieties of sweet sorghum one can even grow the plants indoors under artificial lights from seed to harvest. The ‘Black Amber’ variety is a dwarf-type sorghum, which typically attains a height of six to eight feet, making it practical for greenhouse trials and small-scale indoor applications. It was grown by early American colonists and is still prized today for its sweet golden syrup.

Sweet sorghum sprouted in rockwool cubes. Sweet sorghum sprouted in rockwool cubes.

The type I decided to grow was ‘Red Sweet’ sorghum. I planted the seeds in both Jiffy peat pellets and rockwool cubes. My germination success rate was about 75%. The plants seeded in Jiffy develop faster in the initial stage of growth, but the rockwool seeded plants outperformed in the latter stages of development. Germination occurred in two to four days for most seeds.

One advantage of sprouting sorghum in soilless media is that it can be started several weeks before seeds are usually sown in spring. Consequently, indoor-grown sorghum germinated in the winter will mature months before the sorghum traditionally sown outdoors in spring.

Sorghum Sorghum starts in organic soil (L) and five-inch rockwool cubes (R). This photo was taken approximately one month after germination.

My seeds were germinated in January (our winter here in the US) in my kitchen using a heat mat and a plastic dome tray. Once the seedlings were established I transplanted them either to a soilless potting mix in plastic pots (for the Jiffy pellets) or to larger rockwool cubes. The plants were nursed under 23-Watt CFL lights for several weeks before finally being moved under HID lighting after six weeks. Sorghum can be theoretically grown with full-spectrum fluorescent lights, provided that coverage is adequate for the length of the plant (e.g. three-foot T5 strip lights, both vertical and overhead). Metal halide lamps are the preferred light source, however.

For the nutrient solution I used water-soluble MaxiGro fertiliser (NPK analysis 10-5-14) from General Hydroponics. The solution can be pH adjusted to a 6.5 level of acidity, which allows for maximum uptake of all macro and micro nutrients in sorghum. As the sorghum plant grows it can be transplanted to a bigger pot. Sorghum can be grown to full maturity in a three-gallon (11.4L) plastic pot using a rockwool/hydroton media combination.

The nutrient solution can be hand watered or delivered via automatic irrigation tubes at timed intervals. As sorghum is a very hardy and forgiving plant, the leaves will curl inward when the root zone goes dry, allowing the plant to survive several days before dying. In my experience, a once-daily application of nutrient solution that completely soaks the root zone of a three-gallon pot is all that is required to keep the plants healthy.

Sorghum Potted sorghum plants after three-and-a-half months.

Sorghum grown for syrup should be harvested when the seeds are fully in the dough stage, which is usually about five-and-a-half to six months after seeding. Outdoor harvesting should be done before a killing frost if possible; if not, the crop should be harvested immediately after the freeze. Leaves should be stripped off before the freeze to lessen the damage. Stalks can be juiced using a traditional sugar cane juicer or, if the stalks aren’t too thick, a roller-type pasta maker can be used to extract juice from the cane. The resulting juice can be consumed raw as a refreshing beverage or boiled down further into syrup.

Sweet sorghum is a valuable but overlooked crop in many Western nations, especially the US. While it was once prized by farmers for its hardiness and variety of uses, it has since been supplanted by sugar cane which is valuable only when grown in extremely high volumes. Sorghum is far easier to grow and should be a staple of every serious gardener’s crop lineup. For the hydroponics enthusiast, sorghum offers endless possibilities for experimenting with the technique and viability of soilless production.

About the Author
Clif Droke lives in Topsail Beach, North Carolina, USA, where he has been involved in hydroponics for 13 years. He is the author of the book, Year ‘Round Micro Gardening (ISBN 097925727).  O

PH&G July 2016 / Issue 169

View the original article here