Hydroponics & Sustainability

hydrosystem1We get asked all the time if our hydroponic produce is organic. It is not. But let me explain: Our fertilizer is a fully water soluble mix which contains salts which are immediately available to the plants. We don’t use additives, growth regulators, secret chemicals or tricks. We use a carefully balanced mix of common but expensive, fully-water-soluble fertilizer salts.

The large amounts of energy required to make nitrogen fertilizer is a sustainability issue for us all in agriculture. And a group of us continue to search for organic fertilizer sources which are suitable to hydroponics. While there are a handful of people working on it, it hasn’t happened yet.

While we fall short on sustainability with our nitrogen sources, we more than make up for it with our stewardship of water. We don’t waste a drop! In conventional agriculture, you can’t check every plant or know the moisture content of every square inch of soil. So you have to overwater. Farmers who grow in soil overwater and allow the run off to pollute the groundwater and the surrounding area. This is a big problem; especially with phosphorus fertilizer in the Great Lakes Region. Even organic farmers are not immune to this problem. The all have to water. And the soil is imperfect, non-uniform, and unpredictable.

In hydroponics, we don’t overwater. We don’t underwater either. In fact, every drop is recycled and fed to the plans again and again until there is not a drop remaining. This is the future of agriculture. It treats water like the precious resource that it is.

Our hydroponic strawberries live in specialized pots on long benches in Freedom, CA. They’re hydroponic because there’s no soil in the pots. The pots are filled with little clay balls. Unlike soil, the clay balls contain no fertilizer. So the everything the plant needs, except structural support, is supplied in the irrigation water. The water with the fertilizer dissolved in it, is pumped by drip irrigation over the plants, and then it drains back into a collection tank through a system of connecting pipes. As the water and fertilizer is used by the plants and lost to evaporation, it is automatically replaced and balanced by a computerized system.

Pictured are our peppers, just starting out, growing in Rockwool, a sterile fiberglass-like medium made specially for growing crops.IMG_1743