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Author Topic: Impressive Hydroponics Setup  (Read 5209 times)
BlueBee
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« on: September 21, 2011, 08:45:16 PM »

I got to tour an impressive hydroponics setup tonight.  Itís a local operation that primarily grows fresh strawberries all summer long.  Rows and rows of strawberries.  They also grow tomatoes and a few other vegetable in smaller quantities.

Iíve never tried hydroponics myself.  Anybody out there grow stuff with hydroponics?  What is the real benefit to gardening in this fashion?

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specialkayme
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« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2011, 10:38:44 PM »

I've tried my hand at hydroponics, although not to the scale of anything like what's in the picture. I've tried a number of different types of systems, including a flood and drain, drip, bato bucket, deep water culture, as well as an aeroponic system. It's a fun toy, especially when you build it yourself, but on the personal level it isn't economical.

When you are growing fruits and vegetables, for the personal use, it doesn't really justify the cost. You can buy a big box of tomatoes for $10 at the farmer's market, or you can spend $100 on the equipment plus $20 on the nutrients to grow the same amount of tomatoes.

But you really can notice the increased growth. Things grow much faster, and you are better able to manipulate the bloom periods of the plants, especially if you can put it under artificial light.

For me, the cost was more like a hobby, and if I got ANYTHING out of it I considered it a net gain. In the end I gave it up due to the maintenance requirements, and the cost. Everything needs constant scrubbing, sanatizing, and re-fertalizing (usually once or twice a week). It was painful to watch the store bought nutrients being flushed down the toilet every time I had to re-sanatize the reservoir.
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gailmo
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« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2011, 12:16:52 AM »

I have used an "ebb and flow" method of growing lettuce and herbs in my basement for years.  I use standard 4ft. shoplights and long white trays for the plants/nutrients.  I have a timer that turns on the "flow" about 4 times a day...and a small cheap pump in a 5 gallon bucket for the nutrient.  I switch the nutrient out once a month....and pour the old "stuff" outside on my garden or small trees in the yard. 

I grow enough lettuce for our family and once I get things established, I just plant new seeds when the old plant is finished.  As previous posters have said, it is more of a hobby (like my bees) but also has many positives of have a "local" source of organic lettuce year round.  I live in Missouri and in the summer it gets so hot that the lettuce bolts after a few weeks.  Inside it is cool...so the plants keep producing for a long time and never really go to seed because we eat it before it gets to that point.  The best time is in the winter when it is cold outside...and I can just trot downstairs and pull off a huge bowl of lettuce for dinner that night. 

I read in the NY Times a few months ago about a guy who has an old aquarium filled with trout as his "nutrient" source.  The fish produce the nutrients for the plants....and he gets to eat the fish once they get large.  I want to try this...but hubby is just a bit skeptical.
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BlueBee
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« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2011, 11:18:26 PM »

Cool, thanks for the feedback Gail and SpecialK.

There is another guy in town that does the hydroponics with the aquaponics.  I havenít seen his farm yet, but hopefully one of these days Iíll get to take a tour.  The outfit with the strawberries also has some big wind mills for generating power for the system.   There are some inventive people out there.

Gail, what type of bulbs are you using?  T12, T8, cool whites, or daylight spectrum?  4 or 6 tubes?

Iíve been thinking about trying to set a system up in the basement too.  Maybe a good winter project.
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BjornBee
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« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2011, 07:56:51 AM »

Most of the hydroponic operations I have seen in the north, were indoor operations, that focused on supplying quality fruits in times when they were not in season. Like growing strawberries and providing fresh berries throughout winter to restaurants, and high end markets. That was a huge part of their business model. And probably the only way they could stay in business, was to be growing year round.

Is the setup in the picture a true hydroponic setup. (one using no soil?) Just seems strange to me in the configuration of the setup and the outdoor system, which would be very limited in the growing season, seeing bluebee is from Michigan. To me it looks like just a drip system. But I can not tell from the pictures.
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BlueBee
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« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2011, 01:51:53 PM »

Yep, it was a pure soilless system.  I didnít get a photo of the pump house, but there were 55 gallon drums in there where they inject the desired amount of chemicals per unit of water (fertilizer, calcium nitrate, and ph balancer).  The growing medium was perlite and vermiculite with expanded clay balls as a diffuser.   Each stack of plants has a little drip like tube that feeds from the top and exhausts at the bottom.  What really struck me was the small volume of space in which the roots have to live.  Hereís a close up of a stack without plants.



Iíll have to agree with you BjornBee, I have a hard time seeing the economics in this, but I donít know the business.  They are growing day neutral strawberries whereas most in ground strawberries here are spring or ďJuneĒ strawberries.  A big crop in June to flood the market and then theyíre done.  The rest of the season, evidently most stores in Michigan import from California.  These hydroponics come into season when the in ground berries are done.  I believe this system also reduces their labor costs because the berries can be picked much easier than if there were sprawling out over acres of land.

They also have a mist line above the berries to extend the season in the fall and for evaporative cooling when we get a hot spell.  This system allows them to grow strawberries well into October here.
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marktrl
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« Reply #6 on: December 12, 2011, 10:58:02 PM »

The economics of this system is the "foot print". He's growing 20 plants per stack, that's 20 plants in the same space as 1 or 2 plants. So he is producing 20 times as much fruit in same space. And has better control over the growing process.
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Country Heart
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« Reply #7 on: December 14, 2011, 01:26:18 AM »

Like the concept. 

And

The best time is in the winter when it is cold outside...and I can just trot downstairs and pull off a huge bowl of lettuce for dinner that night. 

    Yum!   Smiley
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BlueBee
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« Reply #8 on: December 28, 2011, 11:50:05 PM »

I drove past these strawberries the other day.  Rows and columns of dead berry plants! 

Another problem I see with the economics of this system in Michigan is our winters get cold enough to kill the strawberry plants in these hydroponic pots.  If planted in the soil, the roots are not exposed to as much cold. 

Every spring these guys have been REPLANTING thousands of new berry plants!  They have to deal with the labor of ripping out the old plants, the labor of potting the new plants, and the $$$ for buying the new berry sprigs.  I guess the $$ for the new sprigs is pretty cheap. 

Land isnít at such a premium up here that youíre saving a lot of dollars by going vertical IMO.  People are leaving Michigan faster than new ones are born. 

Got me baffled how this ends up on the positive side of the balance sheet.
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BjornBee
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« Reply #9 on: December 29, 2011, 02:10:11 PM »

Maybe it's like many other businesses out there.

You get a 100,000 small business loan, pocket the money for the first 5 years while claiming nothing on your taxes, filter off the assets out the back door while not paying off your vendors, then filed bankruptcy. In the end, it's probably good for a cool quarter million in the pocket.   grin

If you do it right, you can walk away clean and then do it again somewhere else.

I hear a solar company just did that with some guy named Obama loaning out close to 500 billion.  lau

And some other guy from New Jersey "lost" 1.4 billion right before they closed the door to the company he was in charge of.

It happens on all levels.
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specialkayme
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« Reply #10 on: December 29, 2011, 11:08:13 PM »

You get a 100,000 small business loan, pocket the money for the first 5 years while claiming nothing on your taxes, filter off the assets out the back door while not paying off your vendors, then filed bankruptcy. In the end, it's probably good for a cool quarter million in the pocket.   grin

If you do it right, you can walk away clean and then do it again somewhere else.


Um, not exactly.

As someone who is a bankruptcy attorney, and deals with Chapter 11 Restructures and Business Bankruptcies on a daily basis, I can tell you that you have a mis-conception about bankruptcy.

There is something called a "fraudulent transfer." It prevents you from doing exactly what you mentioned. There are a few other terms, such as "insider trading", "breach of fiduciary duties", and "preferences" that also stop someone from doing what you are talking about. It's technical, and I don't have the time to go into the specifics. In the end, if someone is syphoning off cash away from the company, and they file bankruptcy, the estate can bring that cash back in and go against the individual for damages, not to mention jail time for fraud.

Oh, and tax evasion isn't something the Feds laugh about.
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deknow
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« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2011, 07:40:58 AM »

Such systems are common (and profitable) most especially when the crop is sold by the ounce (or gram) .
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BlueBee
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« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2011, 01:27:45 PM »

LOL, deknow, you're probably right with regards to many hydroponic setups!

These folks with the strawberry hydroponics here have been upstanding residents in the community for decades and I am sure they are legit both financially and otherwise.  They are trying to pioneer new ideas and that is always a costly endeavor.  Theyíre really into green living too.  They have spent 10s of thousands of dollars on a few large windmllls.  The windmills have had their own set of costly problems including catching fire and burning down one of their homes!  Try getting money from the Chinese for defective hardware when that happens  Sad    
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