Hydroponic Farmers Federation farm tour – Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses

Hydroponic Farmers Federation of Victoiria Biennial hydroponic farmers conference and trade exhibition.

The Hydroponic Farmers Federation (HFF)  farm tour will visit Boomaroo Nursery, a world-class vegetable seedling producer, and Thoang’s farm, a truss tomato, strawberry and Lebanese cucumber hothouse producer. This farm tour option is available to registered delegates of the HFF Conference and Trade Exhibition, to be held at the Mantra Lorne Resort, Victoria, from 8-10 June 2016.

Boomaroo Nursery

Boomaroo supplies around 300 million seedlings to growers across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. The seedling producer is renowned for  high quality commercial seedlings and wholesale greenlife, and its capacity to deliver on time, every time.

The hallmark combination of high quality products, customer service and innovation in seedling production mean that much of the fresh vegetable produce available in supermarkets originates from Boomaroo seedlings, including lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, leek and onions. Located in Lara, Victoria, Boomaroo has 20 hectares under production.

The nursery also specialises in greenlife products, including potted colour (ornamental flowering plants), and are now one of Australia’s largest cyclamen producers.

Beginning as a small family business, Boomaroo was built on the passion of the three Jacometti brothers. Now with over 100 permanent employees, Boomaroo is one of Australia’s largest seedling suppliers and is recognised for its state-of-the-art technology and processes.

For more information on Boomaroo, visit website: http://www.boomaroo.com

Thoang’s farm

Thoang’s farm was established in 1985 by his parents who grew Asian vegetables such as khang kong, mint and bak choi, which were supplied to the Asian grocery shops around Melbourne.

Thoang took over the farming business in 2000. He started to grow tomatoes in a short crop. Along with the tomatoes, he thought he would try growing other crops also, including Chinese broccoli.

In 2012, Thoang decided to try a long crop with grafted plants from Trandos in his low-tech hothouses. The one crop rotation per year has saved him a lot of crop costings and down time.

Thoang's farm Thoang’s farm

This year because of poor tomato pricing, Thoang has invested in growing strawberries in his shade houses and Lebanese cucumbers in his hothouses. This was done because he wanted to diversify his business, in other words, “not to put all your eggs into one basket.” Still, it has been a learning curve for him, but the pricing has been rewarding and he looks forward to the challenge.

For further information and registration, email: eg@asnevents.net.au or visit website: https://members.asnevents.com.au/event/1423   O

Posted 11 May 2016

View the original article here

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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

Taking the next step – Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses

The 10th Hydroponic Farmers Federation (HFF) conference and exhibition recently held at the Lorne Mantra will be remembered for its beautiful location on the Surf Coast of Victoria, and a quality speaker program.

Unlike many other events on the Australian horticulture conference calendar, the HFF and Protected Cropping Australia (PCA) biennial events attract commercial growers in large numbers, new business start-ups, entrepreneurs, and allied trades. Held on alternate years, these two events are barometers to the health of the industry, pointers to the restraints and challenges for growers, indicators of technology up-take across a broad range of crops, and they present insights into current and future trends in the fresh food and flower markets. The participants represent the grass roots of the commercial hydroponic and greenhouse industry in Australia.

This year’s HFF event went to a new level with initiatives to broaden the attraction for delegates from all types of growing backgrounds. The event also engaged with community groups to reinforce the positive message that eating salads and vegetables is fun and enjoyable. It’s something the industry doesn’t do well—market itself to consumers—so it was refreshing to witness growers and consumers coming together to share and taste grower produce.

Overall, the health of the Australian industry is in good shape with growers and traders optimistic about the future. One bleak area is the Australian flower sector, which has felt the effects of cheap imports. It’s an issue that also affects growers of fresh vegetables and salads. Those who are surviving and striving in the flower industry are producers of niche products, high-tech producers who can provide volume and economies of scale, and growers who have diversified. Gerbera growers are doing nicely because they do not travel well from overseas, as well as lily growers because lilies are heavy for air travel. However, the downturn in the flower industry is not an Australian phenomena; it’s a global trend for reasons ranging from high labour and input costs to changing consumer behaviour. Areas of growing interest are organic flower production, edible flowers and petals, and freeze drying.

Another insight from the HFF conference was a grower’s reflection into having to do a nationwide product recall following an indication of Listeria in a batch of fresh herbs. The grower talked about the incident and the lessons learnt from that experience, which may help any grower faced with a similar situation. As it turned out, it was a false alarm and the brand escaped unharmed.

A presentation on turning the business around also captured a wide audience, as did the presentation on marketing trends and innovations, and the Love My Salad ‘Masterclass’ workshop conducted by award-winning chef Christopher Howe, which attracted members of the community and raised money for the Lorne Fire Brigade.

The exhibition area proved a popular meeting place during coffee breaks and lunching, and brought together existing, intending, and the next generation of growers and industry support people.

This grower-owned and managed organisation delivered on its promise to encourage and inspire a diverse range of growers to take the next step in their business operations. The next opportunity for growers and support industries to come together will be the APEX-Brinkman PCA conference to be held at the Adelaide Convention Centre, South Australia, from 9-12 July 2017. This event also promises to bring together delegates from all types of growing backgrounds and technical expertise. Mark your calendar!  O

Steven Carruthers

PH&G July 2016 / Issue 169

View the original article here

Taking the next step – Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses

The 10th Hydroponic Farmers Federation (HFF) conference and exhibition recently held at the Lorne Mantra will be remembered for its beautiful location on the Surf Coast of Victoria, and a quality speaker program.

Unlike many other events on the Australian horticulture conference calendar, the HFF and Protected Cropping Australia (PCA) biennial events attract commercial growers in large numbers, new business start-ups, entrepreneurs, and allied trades. Held on alternate years, these two events are barometers to the health of the industry, pointers to the restraints and challenges for growers, indicators of technology up-take across a broad range of crops, and they present insights into current and future trends in the fresh food and flower markets. The participants represent the grass roots of the commercial hydroponic and greenhouse industry in Australia.

This year’s HFF event went to a new level with initiatives to broaden the attraction for delegates from all types of growing backgrounds. The event also engaged with community groups to reinforce the positive message that eating salads and vegetables is fun and enjoyable. It’s something the industry doesn’t do well—market itself to consumers—so it was refreshing to witness growers and consumers coming together to share and taste grower produce.

Overall, the health of the Australian industry is in good shape with growers and traders optimistic about the future. One bleak area is the Australian flower sector, which has felt the effects of cheap imports. It’s an issue that also affects growers of fresh vegetables and salads. Those who are surviving and striving in the flower industry are producers of niche products, high-tech producers who can provide volume and economies of scale, and growers who have diversified. Gerbera growers are doing nicely because they do not travel well from overseas, as well as lily growers because lilies are heavy for air travel. However, the downturn in the flower industry is not an Australian phenomena; it’s a global trend for reasons ranging from high labour and input costs to changing consumer behaviour. Areas of growing interest are organic flower production, edible flowers and petals, and freeze drying.

Another insight from the HFF conference was a grower’s reflection into having to do a nationwide product recall following an indication of Listeria in a batch of fresh herbs. The grower talked about the incident and the lessons learnt from that experience, which may help any grower faced with a similar situation. As it turned out, it was a false alarm and the brand escaped unharmed.

A presentation on turning the business around also captured a wide audience, as did the presentation on marketing trends and innovations, and the Love My Salad ‘Masterclass’ workshop conducted by award-winning chef Christopher Howe, which attracted members of the community and raised money for the Lorne Fire Brigade.

The exhibition area proved a popular meeting place during coffee breaks and lunching, and brought together existing, intending, and the next generation of growers and industry support people.

This grower-owned and managed organisation delivered on its promise to encourage and inspire a diverse range of growers to take the next step in their business operations. The next opportunity for growers and support industries to come together will be the APEX-Brinkman PCA conference to be held at the Adelaide Convention Centre, South Australia, from 9-12 July 2017. This event also promises to bring together delegates from all types of growing backgrounds and technical expertise. Mark your calendar!  O

Steven Carruthers

PH&G July 2016 / Issue 169

View the original article here

Water quality needed for different hydroponic crops? – Part 2 – Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses

Following on from last month’s question on water quality, here are some more guidelines. These list the Dutch guidelines for the maximum levels of sodium that are acceptable in recirculating solutions for a range of crops.

I have also included more recommendations as to different water sources, especially the collection of rainwater.

Answer by RICK DONNAN

The quality of the raw water going into a hydroponic system is very important, especially if the system is recirculating (‘closed’). The ion most likely to cause problems is sodium (Na+).

Build-up of non-essential ions at constant EC. Figure 1. Build-up of non-essential ions at constant EC.

Build-up of sodium
Most recirculating systems are managed on the basis of maintaining constant EC (electrical conductivity—a measure of solution strength) of the recirculating solution. However, EC tells you nothing about the individual ions that make up that solution. Unfortunately, when non-essential ions, such as Na, are added in with the raw water at strengths higher than the plants take up, then their concentration will rise. This is shown in Figure 1, which indicates their increase with time.

When this happens there is a double whammy. The non-essential ions, such as Na, are increasing towards toxic levels. At the same time, the effective nutrient content of the solution is shrinking. That is, the plants are heading towards a mixture of being both poisoned and starved. Not a good combination.

Table 1. Maximum level of Na recommended for recirculating systems. Table 1. Maximum level of Na recommended for recirculating systems.

Maximum Na level in recirculating solutions
Table 1 giving recommended maximum levels of sodium in recirculating solutions for different hydroponic crops is based upon information given in ‘Bemestingsadviestbasis Substraten’, published by Proefstation voor Bloemisterij en Glasgroente, The Netherlands.

The original information is given in molar units (millimole/litre). A mole is the molecular weight of a molecule expressed as gram/litre. For an atom such as Na, molecular weight is the same as atomic weight, which for Na is 23. Because ppm (parts per million), also expressed as milligram/litre), is the unit commonly used in Australia and some other countries, I have also converted the molar units to ppm.

Water source
In the previous issue, I mentioned using reverse osmosis to remove the ions from input raw water that had too high a content of unwanted ions, such as Na. There is another possible source of water sometimes pure enough to use. This is rainwater, but care needs to be taken, apart from availability, dependent upon the frequency and quantity of rainfall.

Excess salt accumulates in the tomato plant in the older leaves. Leaves turn yellow, and will eventually fall off. The plant is stunted and not vigorous, but other symptoms may be lacking. Tomatoes are relatively salt tolerant. (Image Texas A&M AgriLife Research) Excess salt accumulates in the tomato plant in the older leaves. Leaves turn yellow, and will eventually fall off. The plant is stunted and not vigorous, but other symptoms may be lacking. Tomatoes are relatively salt tolerant. (Image Texas A&M AgriLife Research)

Rainwater which has flowed over the ground could to be contaminated with soil borne pathogens. Consequently, it is dangerous to use stream or dam water without it being sterilised. Sometimes growers get away with not sterilising if they are in an area with no other horticultural or agricultural activity. Often, this may last for a year or two (the honeymoon period), but usually disaster eventually strikes.

Rain collected off greenhouse, etc, roofs is usually cleaner, but is still risky if not sterilised, especially if in a dusty area.

Other aspects to watch are that if near the sea, sea mist and drift can result in high levels of salt collecting in the rain water. Also, do not collect water from galvanised roofs—a little zinc dissolved from the galvanised layer can give levels of zinc in the water which are toxic to plants. O

PH&G July 2016 / Issue 169

View the original article here

Back to Eden – Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses

Hydroclimaponics ‘Hydroclimaponics’ vertical hydroponics system

In South Africa, one company has taken hydroponics to a new level. Its groundbreaking new vertical hydroponic system – Hydroclimaponics – facilitates control of the micro-environment of each individual plant’s carbon dioxide, temperature and humidity to deliver enhanced productivity.

By CHRISTINE BROWN-PAUL

One of the world’s foremost events in agriculture, agricultural Industry, environment, innovation, harvesting, organic agriculture and farming practices—the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA)—was held last year held at the International Convention Centre in Durban, South Africa. Among the exhibitors was Eden Green Hydroponics, which took the opportunity to showcase its innovative new vertical hydroponics system, Hydroclimaponics™—defined as a blending of hydroponics with microclimate control.

“We have applied for a trademark on the concept, which we call Hydroclimaponics. This is a method of utilising a highly efficient, environmentally friendly and economical production facility, which comprises of an automated, closed loop, vertical dual-piping system for growing pristine plants,” said Richard Venn, CEO of Timolux (Pty) Ltd, a company that holds the first and original patent of the growing system. Richard is also CEO Asia and International Investor relations for Eden Green, the holding company, which plans to implement the system worldwide.

Other principals in Eden Green include Jacques van Buuren, inventor and Chairman; his brother, Eugene van Buuren, inventor and Technical Director; Gerhard Ehlers, COO and; Theo Cilliers, CEO Netherlands.

So how does the system work?
Vertical hydroponic systems are not new, however, the van Buuren brothers and Gerhard Ehlers have introduced a provisionally patented air circulation system into the growing tubes, which in effect acts as a tailored air conditioner for each plant.

Tiny jets of air circulate continuously across the leaves of each plant, providing them with the optimum airflow and humidity for transpiration and rapid growth. Traditional greenhouse systems require the entire volume of greenhouse air to be managed, which is energy intensive and expensive. With the Eden Green system, climate control takes place directly at the micro or plant level, significantly reducing these costs. Many other input costs are either eliminated or reduced using the system.

The process involves setting up a vertical stack system through which nutrients are piped to individual plantings. The computerised system is able to monitor temperature, humidity and nutrient levels.

“The plants are able to grow faster because they get the exact nutrients they need. Using this process, a plant grows in four to five weeks, depending on the temperatures and the seasons. During winter, growing time is longer than during summer,” Jacques said.

“The system is fully automated and reads the environment inside the greenhouse,” said Jacques who has spent more than 10,000 hours studying and developing the system to suit different plants.

Unique features
Richard Venn says that there are many key differences between the Hydroclimaponics system and other vertical growing systems on the market and that the system offers unique features.

“Hydroclimaponics is the art and science of getting all the elements required for growth in concert together with a complete macro and micro system that delivers all necessary elements to the plant as and when the plant needs it,” Richard said.

“We seek to manage the environment, continuously monitoring critical factors and automatically anticipating and meeting the plant’s needs such as fertigation, humidity, temperature control, pathogen control, etc.

“Our risk management approach includes designing and engineering to exceed worst-case scenarios,” he said.
“We segregate critical elements to manage the potential for contagion, and utilise advanced methods to remedy any adverse influence.

“With the rapid growth rate, crops can be replaced with little impact on the production,” Richard said.

Key features of the Eden Green system include:
• High yield per square metre.
• Carbon neutral footprint.
• Uses less than 5% of the water used in traditional farming.
• Uses a fraction of the overall energy of traditional farming.
• Far less greenhouse gases than land-based farms because of shortened shipping cycle.
• Virtually eliminates environmental damage from chemical run-off caused by traditional outdoor farming methods.
• Can produce a crop in less than five weeks and produce it consistently year round.
• Uses virtually no chemicals or pesticides.
• Controls the micro-environment of each plant.
• Can grow a wide variety of crops including leafy vegetables, flowers, herbs, and some berries.

Richard said that after looking at various companies around the world involved in hydroponics, he found that most companies make use of traditional NFT systems with improvements to fully automate the systems to reduce human handling, with a subsequent reduction in labour costs.

“A number of new development companies use rotational/mechanical systems either in a frame or cylindrical form. The only other competitive vertical pipe design and format, is used by a company in America, which has similar standalone vertical units, but utilise greater physical spacing, are manual in operation, and appear to generate lower yields,” Richard said.

“Eden Green’s unique vertical pipe technology is lower in capital cost, mechanically simpler to install and operate, has lower running costs, and yields are considerably higher.”
According to Richard, future improvements are already in development.

Challenges and benefits
Getting the Hydroclimaponics system to its present state has not been without its challenges.

“It has taken six years to develop through trials, redesigning the pipes and finding solutions to root-zone cooling,” Richard said.

“The entire system might seem like just another pipe, however, there are approximately 85 different components and elements used to get to the optimum solution—this is the art and science of getting all the elements required for growth in concert and keeping the plant in the optimum state of happiness.

“The uniqueness of Hydroclimaponics lies in the monitoring, controlling and enhancing the micro-environment of each plant within a controlled macro-environment that is herbicide and pesticide free,” he said.

“Hydroclimaponics is designed to be robust to provide intensive production at low cost in virtually any environment. It uses a supply of re-circulated, nutrient-rich, UV-filtered water that is continuously temperature controlled as a growing medium to the roots of the plant.

“Hydroclimaponics adjusts the micro environment around each individual plant automatically according to pre-set parameters for optimum humidity, temperature, CO2 and a number of other elements,” Richard said.

“In the Hydroclimaponics technology one can plant over 4,000 plants a day. The system is 600 square metres with 10,000 plants of which you harvest 10 times in a year. The system needs very little water, less than 2,000 litres of water in a month. The plants take a minimum of a month for you to start harvesting.

“Plants grown through this Hydroclimaponics method to our standards are branded Eden Pristine as it achieves optimal nutritional values, longer shelf life and flavoursome taste,” he said.

Growing yields and costs
Jacques van Buuren says that plants thrive on stability and by giving them a programmed, consistent growing environment, yields are dramatically increased.

Under conventional farming, a typical annual yield will be approximately 45 plants per square metre. Standard hydroponic systems will increase this to about 240. According to Mr van Buuren, the Eden Green system will ramp the yield up to 700.

“Typical water use under conventional farming is around 50L per kg of vegetables produced. A hydroponic system will reduce water usage to 8-12L; the Eden Green system uses just 5L,” he said.

Eden Green growing yields and costs:
• Plants at growth spacing of 25cm apart, 3m high in a 520m² facility.
• Current greenhouse can house 43 512 plants in one cycle
• Yield per m² is 87 plants per cycle
• Yield per m² is 701 saleable plants per year
• Total cost per plant (nutrients, seedlings, power etc): $0.23 per plant.

Comparative Yields – Sky Green Singapore:
• A 3m high A-frame would hold approximately nine grow trays. According to Richard Venn, if such a system were installed in the same area as Eden Green’s (520m²), it would fit 13 A-frames in total.
• Total number of plants = 21,996
• Yield per m² based on 520m² area = 42
Comparative yields using NFT system (used by most competitors):
• In similar space of 520m², NFT will be 32 grow sections, 40m long, each 40cm wide. Each growth section holds 160 plants.
• Total number of plants = 5,120
• Yield per m2 based on 520m² area = 10

“Essentially, our technology produces higher yields at a lower capital cost,” Richard said.

Cost comparison table Table 1. Conventional farming and hydroponics v Eden Green system (click table to enlarge).

According to Jacques van Buuren, Hydroclimaponics is especially suited for growing leafy vegetables, herbs, flowers and medicinal plants.

Worldwide rollout
Richard says that Eden Green Hydroponics has a worldwide implementation and rollout plan in place for growers, produce retailers and wholesalers, and investors.

“We are in the process of rolling out a number of production units worldwide that produce for retailers and wholesalers. Currently, we are already supplying to a similar retailer,” he said.

“Eden Green has also concluded licence and agent agreements for various countries and regions in the world that allows partners to promote our Hydroclimaponics in that market.

“We are interested in discussing potential joint venture opportunities for downstream processing of our produce in juicing, pestos and other applications, and we are also in the process of launching a home system as well as one that will be suitable for smaller community or retail applications such as rooftop gardens, restaurants, household greenhouses and office parks.”

Final thoughts
According to the United Nations (UN), the world’s population is set to increase from its current 7.2 billion to an estimated 9.6 billion by 2050. With food security now and into the future top of the agenda for most countries, the Eden Green system would seem well placed to contribute towards global food security.

(Eden Green Hydroponics has produced several YouTube videos that explain various aspects of the Hydroclimaponics system.)

For more information please contact: Richard Venn; Ph: +27 (0)82 447 0584; email: richardv@hydroclimaponics.com or richardvenn@telkomsa.net; Skype: richard.venn7).

About the author
Christine Brown-Paul is a Sydney-based journalist and a regular contributor to PH&G, with a special interest in the environment and sustainable technology.
Email: c.brown.paul@gmail.com O

June 2016 / Issue 168

View the original article here