As many of you will know—either by reading this column or through the community grapevine—my wife and I are always working in agriculture, be it with vegetables or livestock. Very …
As many of you will know—either by reading this column or through the community grapevine—my wife and I are always working in agriculture, be it with vegetables or livestock. Very recently, we began running the vegetable stand on the Beach Lake Highway, which had previously been run by the Mueller vegetable farm. They were our neighbors up until this past year when they retired and moved south. Fortunately for us, although we lost some of the best neighbors we may ever have, we are able to remain in touch and pick up some of the farm work that they left behind. Keeping that farm stand stocked with fresh veggies throughout the week is no small task in itself. And given the volume of work that goes into growing crops, it doesn’t hurt to start working smarter, in whatever way that we can.
For a long time, I’ve been fascinated with engineered solutions for enhanced agricultural productivity, i.e. hydroponics and aquaponics. You may be familiar with hydroponics as the method of growing food in sand gravel or primarily liquid without the use of soil. However, most people haven’t heard of aquaponics: the use of fish farming to create additional nutrients for the water to replenish the plants, which filters and cycles the water back to the fish. In both systems, there are very similar setups for how the plants are grown, most commonly in rafts atop the water, or in gutters called Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) gutters. NFT describes how plants that are grown in openings in the top of the gutter receive nutrients, which travel in a buoyant film across the water that passes through the roots of the plants. Air is important as well, of course, which is why this method is so common. Since the plant roots reach down to the water, there is open air and space between the plant and the water, allowing carbon dioxide and other needed gasses to be absorbed by the exposed root. My goal is to eventually construct a large aquaponic system to farm not only the vegetables that we currently grow but also a sustainable and consistent harvest of fish. In the meantime, it’s important to take small steps towards progress like this and learn what is necessary to get to where you want to be.
With this is mind, I purchased three small hydroponic racks that, again, do not include fish. I planted some leafy greens that we will eventually begin selling at the farm stand. As a precursor to this step, my wife and I enjoyed growing a small supply of herbs indoors over the winter months using a smaller apparatus that essentially functions the same way. With just a small water pump and a three-level rack of pipes designed to allow gravity to do the work, over a hundred plants can be grown on just one of these racks at a time. My son decided they looked like fun and was very helpful in removing the seedlings as they were placed in each planting site. With a little correction, he soon became distracted and proceeded to watch the water get pumped up from the bottom reservoir into the gutters.
We have a few weeks left to see how this next step will turn out, but with the exception of harvest, there is no more exciting time than when putting new seeds in the ground, or in this case, the water.
The way out here, we still have the same goals we always have: grow food, survive, build on our skills and teach our children. We may have new techniques and methods to do these things, thanks to some simple technology, but at the core of our family, our business and our way of life, are these same objectives.