In this episode Joe and Nick will cover the differences between hydroponics vs soil growing and the advantages of hydroponics growing.
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Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of the poly greens podcast. I'm Joe Swartz from AM. Hydro, along with Nick greens are the Nick greens grow team. And today we're going to talk to you, uh, as we're talking about controlled environment agriculture, we're going to talk about soil and we have a lot of questions.
People are always asking questions as it relates to, to production. Uh, you know, we get the question what's been. Uh, hydroponic, uh, production, soil production. And, uh, it's obviously, there's, there's a lot more to it than that. And certainly, um, there are advantages and disadvantages of both. So we're going to kind of break it down today a little bit.
We're gonna talk, um, about, uh, both types of production and different applications of both and, uh, what we can do to maximize a production, regardless of which way we can go. So, um, Nick, how's everything going today out in Shabbat? Things are going great. Um, you know, and I, and I want to make sure that people know that this is not a, um, a podcast about, um, hydroponic is better over soil.
I thought we would just do a podcast and just explain the differences and let people make the decision on what they want to choose. Um, I started off in soil. Um, so I am actually a soil grower too. Um, but I do soil indoors as well as hydroponic indoor. Um, I like the two, so I can't, you know, I'm, I'm gonna lean either way, depending on the situation, like we always talk about.
Yeah, yeah, sure. I'm a fourth generation farmer grew up here in Western, Massachusetts on a farm, uh, still farm to this day. Uh, so, so I grow using. Controlled environment, hydroponic technologies, and I use traditional what you would consider traditional field growing technologies and different levels of that.
So now your grandpa, your grandpa then definitely grew in soil then. Oh, absolutely. Um, my grandfather, uh, had a small dairy operation and gruesome, mixed vegetables. He grew tobacco, uh, onions. Um, then my dad and uncle were potato farmers. They grew potatoes here on the home farm, and then a lot of lent it rented land.
Around, uh, the, the county. And then, um, you know, when I took over the farm in the eighties, um, so I live in a college town, so we only had the home farm, which was 30 acres, which in, you know, most situations, it's a pretty small piece of land for commercial farming. And so, you know, the, the fact that I was limited by the size of the farm, we were in a college town, um, all the rented land that we used to rent for raising potatoes everywhere was lost to development.
I mean, there's substantial development. That's happened in the last 40 years, um, in Hampshire and ham Franklin county. So, uh, I knew I couldn't rely on the potential availability of rented land. So I had to make, do with what I had and that limitation on the size of my land was one of the things that pushed me into controlled environment ag and hydroponics.
And that's actually goes to one of the reasons that a lot of people look at hydroponics versus soil, but as you said, it certainly. It's up to the application because at the end of the day, we're all farmers and no matter what, you're growing, no matter where you're growing at we're growing plants, um, in sufficient quality and quantity that we can sell at a price point that allows us a reasonable profit.
And that's it. And so which tools we use are dictated really by a whole host of factors from our location to our skill, to our available budget. Yeah, budget for sure. Now I have a question though, that just hit my mind right now. Do you remember what age you were when you first worked? Or did they put you on a tractor when you were like, yeah, I was, uh, I was four.
I was in my first that he was in kindergarten when I was first going to school. Um, I was all excited about telling kids in my kindergarten class that we had my, my dad raised, uh, sweetcorn. And so he, he let me have one row of my own corn. So at five years old, you know, I was, uh, taking care of a row of corn.
Uh, or so I thought, and, uh, and, and certainly, you know, made me feel very connected. Um, it's amazing, you know, when you're a little kid and you're, you're interested in how plants grow and you're interested in kind of the natural processes, like so many kids are. It was amazing to watch, you know, I helped my father plant the seeds.
I watched them for a sprout, you know, that first time the corn plant pops through the soil, you know, it's such an exciting time and then watching it through the whole season and when it tassels and when the ears form, and then when we finally harvested corn, you know, my, uh, my dad picked the corn and oh, you know, I, as again, I was helping him air quotes, helping, um, And, uh, and we took a couple dozen years home and boil them up and had them for supper.
And of course I felt so grown up and accomplished, and I was a big time farmer at that point. So, um, but it really did, it was kind of one of my earliest memories and it instilled in me that love, uh, of a couple of things of, of kind of the natural process. You know, I was, you know, from a very early age, very aware here in Massachusetts.
The seasonality, you know, winter time, everything is dead and it's cold. And as spring comes and the, the, the snow melts and the weather becomes warm. All of a sudden, you know, animals and birds and insects are all coming alive. And then all of a sudden the plants and the. Uh, you know, the natural vegetation, all kind of Springs to life, then you follow that whole process through the summer, and then everything dies in the fall.
And on and on, I know as a controlled environment, ag growers, you know, some of those cycles have kind of been taken out or, or minimize, but still we do have those natural cycles and, um, a lot of our conversations about things like environmental control, seed varieties, production techniques. All of those really are hinged around, you know, the needs of the plant during the different growth cycles.
So, so I always have loved, and I always have gravitated kind of toward those natural cycles. And when you're a soil grower, you are really tight. So what was your first time going to attractor? I'm rolling. Well, against my father's wishes, my uncle popped me on to a tractor. I drove a tractor. I want to say I was 11 or 12.
I mean, I literally could barely reach the pedals. Um, yeah, I probably went to trach about that same time, the farm equipment, and, you know, likewise, I've always been fascinated with the equipment and the tools, you know, whether we're, you know, growing, you know, on a tractor, uh, whether I'm out in the field using.
Cultivator or even a hand implement like a ho or a computer or a high level greenhouse environmental management system. So tutors, the reason why I asked that is I went to my first tractor pulled this past weekend. Oh, no kidding. Yeah. Yeah. Fun. I never knew that, that, that was like a huge thing for the town, you know?
Yeah. I mean, people are really, there's a lot of people that really enjoy it. And it's funny. I know so many people that, that have never been, or, or hadn't been and laughed about it. I thought it was the goofiest thing. We have a yearly fair, um, not far from us. And when we were all in high school, you know, the kids used to joke about, oh, the trucks are pools.
Okay. And I know a number of people that went and they loved it. They thought it was the coolest thing ever. So, yeah. So the equipment, um, regardless of what type of growing, there's so many cool pieces of equipment out there and, uh, and then yeah, a little fascinating stuff. So you enjoyed yourself and had a good time.
Yeah, I did actually. I really enjoyed it and you know, I'm, I'm, I think I was built for the country. I seriously am a big believer. I was built for the country, even though I was raised in the south. Uh, you know, the concrete jungle. Um, I don't miss it at all. Well next year, we'll get your craftsman riding lawnmower, and you'll can enter that in the tractor pull.
So anyway, so we get a lot of questions about soil, about soil S growing. And so we'll break it down a little bit today. Um, first of all, when we talk about soil growing, obviously this is our, our, our traditional long time, you know, as long as we have been farming, um, commercially. Um, this is how we grow in soil.
So first of all, we, we want to stop and step back and look at soil. Now, what is soil actually provide to plant growth? So, so first and foremost, the soil provides, um, a ideal germination. So, um, if you have a garden, let's say, um, this year you've got some tomatoes growing in your garden and tomato falls on the ground splits open, and these tomato seeds are now incorporated into the garden.
Um, once in a while, a few tomato seeds will, will actually start to sprout, but usually what happens is the seeds go dormant. And then next year, when you're telling up your garden, all of a sudden in the spring, all these little tomato plants are starting to grow. And that happens to me all the time. And, and the reason being is, is that seeds have a genetic predisposition.
So when they are incorporated in the soil, when they're, when they're shed from say their fruit, so a tomato or a pepper or cucumber, when those seeds, whether they're removed mechanically by say someone growing seed, um, or. Just in nature where the, uh, the fruit is eaten by an animal where the seeds are then deposited somewhere, um, or, uh, they just fall on the ground.
So the seeds usually go most seed types, go dormant for a certain amount of time because, you know, nature in its infinite wisdom. Doesn't want the plants to try to grow again at the end of the season. So the plants, the seeds will go dormant and they will usually somehow get incorporated into the soil.
And in a lot of climates, like the upper Midwest and new England at all. The, um, the winter, the freezes and thaws and the snow cover, help incorporate that into the soil. And then in the spring, when the temperature is right, when the level of moisture is right, then the seeds will then germinate. And that's, that's our natural process.
That's the nature in operation, but whether we're growing soil, us, uh, and so in soil or soil, us. The, the ideal conditions we, you know, are either provided by nature or we have to mimic them. So, so looking at that moisture level, that correct temperature level, all those parameters to make your specific variety germinate properly, our soil is.
And, and as CA growers, we're, we're doing that artificially, but we're still, that's a very important part. So, so of course, first and foremost, soil is providing a good environment conditions for, for proper germination and early growth. So what else does the soil provide to the plant? Well, the, the plant of course, um, requires physical support.
So the root system of a plant. Penetrates into the soil and provides physical support for that plant. So it doesn't tip over blow away or whatever. Um, it also provides available obviously available water irrigation. So the plants derive all of their, their moisture, uh, directly from the soil. Um, and it also, the soil also provides dissolve nutrients.
Now this is a misnomer, so people think of hydroponics. So the plants are absorbing liquids. Nutrient solution they're they're, they're absorbing liquid nutrients. Whereas in the soil, they're not, they're absorbing kind of solid minerals. That's not true. The plants can only absorb nutrient when the nutrient is dissolved in liquid.
So in hydroponics, obviously we mix nutrient, uh, concentrates into water, provide that nutrient solution, but in soil, The nutrients that are in the soil are dissolved into the moisture of the soil. So the plants are absorbing the exact same liquid nutrients, um, in, in that condition other than, or the same as in a hydroponic system.
So, so whether we're growing hydroponically or in soil, These were, were providing dissolve nutrients. And of course the dissolve nutrients are provided by that soil. And lastly is soil provides beneficial microbes is many different roles that beneficial fungus and bacteria play in, in crop growth from, um, the acting as antagonists to, um, fungal and bacterial pathogens.
So, so blocking out diseases or, or limiting disease organisms. Um, to, um, metabolizing waste products from the plant roots to helping break down those nutrients in the soil so that the plants can, can use them. And of course there's also, um, a beneficial or a synergy where a microbial activity can actually stimulate.
Route, uh, approach. Uh, also the, the micros can also, uh, take, um, nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil as well. There are certain yeah. Nitrogen fixing bacteria. Um, certainly most definitely. So, so that's, yeah, that's what the plants get from soil. So proper germination conditions, physical support, water dissolve nutrients, and beneficial microbes.
So when we look at controlled environment agriculture, now that's what we're providing. That's what we're looking at. And, um, none of the conversations that Nick and I and many of our guests have had relates to providing those in the, in the best way possible. And the lawyer, the best way I can describe this is.
Those people are not feeding the plants. You know how someone says I'm feeding my plants. Well, technically that is not true. People don't feed the plants. When you feed your soil, the soil gives the food to the plants in a liquid form, correct? Yep. And when you're doing it hydroponically, it's the water that's provided.
That same nutrients without the soil and the man and the beneficial microbes people. Again, that's another misnomer is that people think well, um, and this is kind of the, some of the debate that we'll talk about today, where people, you know, always are asking what's what's better soil or hydroponics. Well, in soil, one of the arguments is that, well, soil has, um, this whole, uh, Microbial flora, this abandoned soil is teaming with beneficial microbes, a properly run hydroponic system is providing exactly that as well.
Um, you know, because we can't see the microbes, uh, we tend to forget about what's going on in the root zone, but every place you put up a system or you grow in soil, The, the, the population of the micros are gonna vary, right? The difference of micros vary. That's why you can grow wine grapes in California and you can't grow them in Arizona.
Well, the, my, yeah, absolutely. The microbes that are in soil are influenced by many things and things like salinity. Temperature pH. And of course, soils are very unique region to region, place to place. Um, there are many different types of soils and compositions and soils. So, um, yeah, the, the, the type of microbes, the, the populations, the vigor and strength of the different microbes are all influenced by the number of those facts.
Yeah. And also what, what's the nighttime temperature compared to the daytime temperature that also works. We'll determine the micro population. Exactly. It's not like streptomyces like to live in Arizona because of the tax benefits. They're, they're more, they're more, um, you know, apps to be in soil conditions, you know, with certain temperatures, with certain humidities, uh, excuse me, moisture levels or pH levels.
Um, you know, the, the, uh, The type of hydroponic systems that we have, you know, obviously there are many different types, but we all we always have in our nutrient solution and in our root zone, a very, very biased, logically active microbial life. And we want to add to that. We want to stimulate that and we want to manage that.
And, and that's part of our nutritional and environmental man. So, so, whereas as you say, the, you know, certain microbial activity that's going on in soils, in you wine country, um, you know, we want to look at what is best for our lettuce crop in the greenhouse or our teammate. And so many of the, both nutritional and, um, root zone environment, um, can, you know, can be manipulated specifically to also enhance that microbial growth.
So, so certainly. The, the notion that hydroponics is sterile or somehow super ultra clean, it is ultra clean in terms of insects, in terms of, um, pathogenic or harmful, um, uh, pathogens. But yeah. You know, we have a very, very active biology going on in our root systems or at least we do if we're managing them properly.
And that's where the crop quality and nutritional, uh, uh, content really, you know, is enhanced a lot. So, um, Where, where we grow. Obviously we always think of the physical climate. You know, why are we drawing most of our leafy greens out in California and Arizona? Well, the climate is favorable to that. So when we look at a hydroponic technology or CA we're growing indoors, where we're now manipulating that, so we really now have to start looking at the root zone and the nutritional environment or the nutritional management.
And we have to look at our crops. We have to look at the different, uh, parameters that we're, we're, um, supplying for the, for the system. But again, there are certain advantages and disadvantages to both, and Nick has actually written a great article, I think is coming out. Uh, this one it's coming out. Uh, yeah, they can go look at it.
Now it should be published by the time this saw this. Yeah. Yeah. And I liked the title because it stimulates that those questions hydroponics versus soil, which growing method is better. And as we've talked about, and if you've ever listened to the podcast in any way, you, you realize that there are many different ways to grow properly and there is no one right way or wrong way, but Nick kind of breaks it down.
And maybe Nick, you want to kind of walk through a little bit. Well, the first thing is that what I noticed when I switched from soil, you know, like I said, I started with solar. Um, I was doing soil in, in the sun, sunlight with soil. And when I switched over to the hydroponics, I noticed the first thing, um, that, that I had is that hydroponics required less space.
Um, I was able to pack more plants inside a room than, than, than I ever. Uh, with, with the hydroponics, it was just allow me to space everything vertically and everything. And with soil was just a little bit harder to create a system to do that. So soil you're limited on how you can arrange the plants or manage the population.
If you're growing big plants, then you got huge amounts of soil. So that that's also taken up a bunch of space when you're growing, you know, uh, plants and water. Um, you're, you're, uh, Your, your medium that it's sitting at can be a lot smaller than the soil. Yeah, the space issue also speaks to the economics.
A lot of times people ask me, well, Hey, can I grow hydroponic sweet corn? Or how about hydroponic wheat? Absolutely. You can, you can grow very high quality. The problem is that some of these crops are very land intensive. For the amount of saleable product, but so you sweetcorn for the amount of saleable product of sweet corn, basically with a sweet corn plant, you'd get one or two years of corn on a plant, but that plant takes up a lot of space.
So you need a lot of space. And when we start talking about economics of the, of the space, it will become more clear, but basically in a controlled environment, ag situation, That space is very expensive and you can't space them closer together. So the ability to get a higher economic return, uh, over soil is difficult.
So that's why we look at certain crops. So the space regarding, or the use of space regarding hydroponics versus soil, you know, does allow you to, to utilize that space and CA much more effectively anything indoor, whether it's greenhouse warehouse, basement, growing kitchen, growing. I just hands down, uh, hydroponic winds with space, for sure.
Sure. So what's next, uh, Waterson saving on water, which is we been knowing, and this has been preaching for quite some time. Now, have you take that same, um, corn that you're growing outdoors in the soil and if you do bring it. Indoors just for fun and bring it in doors and grow it indoors. Um, you are going to waste less water growing it indoors, hydroponically than soil.
Yeah, the real hydroponic systems obviously allow us recirculation. Um, whereas we don't the soil, it depends on the crop. It depends on the area. It depends on the area irrigation type, uh, and technology, but basically, um, in field crop production, most of the water that's applied to two commercial field crops.
Um, doesn't go directly to them. And then also the water's not exposed to the air as well. So there's less evaporation going on in hydroponic systems because a lot of the they're contained the water is contained in PVC, pipes and channels. Yeah, and that water is not coming down in the form of rain. So it's not wetting the foliage, which again goes to potentially inhibiting any kind of disease pathogen.
So keeping the foliage dry, um, as opposed to okay. Between the plants as well. Uh, you know, some hard rains when they're smaller can damage some crops as well. Outdoors. Yeah. Yeah. So using hydroponics systems allows us to use not only our space more effectively, but also conserve our water. Yeah. That's, that is a huge thing as well.
You know, especially, you know, there's, there's water shortage. I mean, throughout the world, we're just having problems with water right now and droughts. And so this definitely makes sense of your in those regions for sure. Um, and another thing, I think the third thing is no weeds. I mean, you're not, you're not bringing, you're not weeding your garden, right.
I love it. Number three, say goodbye to weeds. Yeah. I still have scars on my knees from weeding onions as a Dallas. That was one of the things when I was looking at hydroponics, uh, it was very attractive to me is that you're not dealing with weeds at all. Maybe once in a while, you'll get a mustard seed.
And some lettuce batch or something like that, but that's not the weeds. It's just a mixture of the, uh, seeds getting in with other seeds. Yeah. Yeah. But, but, uh, for all my greenhouse growers out there, um, every year I'm in someone's greenhouse, where there are weeds growing up in the greenhouse, somewhere in the corners or against this guy.
And I always yell at them, keep your greenhouse clean folks. You're not dealing with weeds in your crop, but, um, you know, most greenhouses, especially. Where the, uh, floor covering meets the, the side of the greenhouse or on the end walls, weeds will always find a way and they'll start popping up, especially, especially if you're like me.
Right. Um, when, when I, um, weed, when I go weed, my, my outdoor garden are outside. I sometimes leave some of the weeds because they look. I don't want to, I don't want to take them out, but I can't, I can't think that way. I know I can't, I actually, about a month and a half ago, I visited a grower and, um, you know, small, double, poly house, beautiful crops, and there they were growing.
Right. And there were some weeds along the back end wall by the cooling pads. I'm like, what are you doing? And I walk them over and you know, they're laughing about it, but they're like, look, it's a couple of ways, no big deal. It doesn't hurt anything. It's not affecting my production. And I went over and there were a couple of grasses growing in there and I pulled the grasses back and the undersides of a couple of the plans were completely covered with aphids.
And I said, what do you think these are? And where do you think they're going to end up? So, um, the, the weeds that you might allow into your greenhouse, um, can be great vectors for different insects and diseases. Um, so yeah, was one of those weed plants can be sick and be a host. Oh, absolutely. Yeah. It's a, it's a little insect and disease incubator.
So, um, aside from the fact that it just. W, you know, lousy to have weeds growing up against your end wall, but, uh, yeah, it can cause you a potential problems. So, so even though in hydroponics, we don't generally have weeds. You still have to watch out for them. Yeah. Yeah. And then, and then, you know, you get less chances of pests.
And, uh, you know, I mean, once, you know, I mean, I just want everybody to understand, uh, you know, someone told me how can I completely get rid of these flies and bugs? And I'm just like, you were never going to have zero bugs in your greenhouse there. It just doesn't, it doesn't work that way. You are going to find a couple flying in there.
Uh, what, what matters is that your plants are not sick, so they don't become a host. Uh, uh, a bug is not there to attack healthy plants. They're there to take out the weak plants. That's their job. That's what they do. But you will have, uh, insect and disease issues always to look at, uh, after, especially fully or foliar, uh, diseases, right.
Indoors. Uh, oh, sure. Yeah, we hear that a lot, you know, especially with indoor farming, you know, it's indoors, there's no insects, no diseases. Stop myself in the head. Um, you know, when you do have a perfect or near perfect growing environment for plants, you're also creating a great environment for most insect and disease pathogens.
Now think about is when you're outdoors, right? Uh, what, what are, what are some of the wind, uh, miles per hour, 20 miles per hour winds, 30 miles per hour winds. You are never going to have 30 mile per hour winds inside your greenhouse. I hope not anyway. Well, yeah, yeah, you don't want to, but what I'm trying to get to is I think that the 30 mile per hour winds.
Have less, uh, foliar diseases when you grow outdoors. Absolutely. If you have an area with good air movement, certainly. Um, that's why in our greenhouses, well, you know, horizontally airflow fans, um, vertical fans, um, poly tubes, um, air movement is. Critically important. Um, sometimes people fall into that trap, you know, on a, on a nice day when the greenhouse environment is really ideal, they feel like they don't have to move air.
I don't have to, I don't have to heat the greenhouse. I don't have to cool it. So I don't need to run any fans. No, I mean, you always need to have air movement. You need to be able to. Um, to disturb that micro climate around the plants, you need to be able to dry off moisture on the plans. You need to be able to stimulate transpiration by air, moving across the stomates and the plant.
Um, yeah, that air movement is, is important. And of course, obviously in nature, under most situations, you do have a decent amount of natural air movement. Obviously saying some regions, uh, more air movement than others. But certainly, but I do, I do want to warn people that, you know, when you are growing indoors, greenhouses or indoor spaces is that your is control.
Your insect control needs to be as intensive as anywhere else now. In an enclosed environment, our greenhouses, for example, we have the physical barriers that we can put in such as insect screening, such as a vestibule, which is a, uh, intermediate room. So you're going from outside into the vestibule, maybe putting on clean clothes and then going in the greenhouse, having a foot bath, having.
Um, sticky traps. Those are all things that really we can do with indoor growing. W that's very difficult, if not impossible to do in a field, I would love to put a giant insect screen around my whole farm, but not very practical. So, yeah. So with some wine wine, Oh, yeah. Yeah, they do the birds, right? So the birds don't eat the grapes.
I think you can, you can put on a burden netting. Um, a lot of Berry crops, uh, raspberries, blueberries, um, a lot of growers up here use Renae this, uh, the spun BA uh, bonded row covering over like their early spinach or their early salad greens keeps the flea beetles out. It keeps the cabbage loopers out.
So yeah, so you can outdoors use physical barriers like that, but obviously. Uh, controlling the environment. Ag has a lot, a lot more tools if you will, um, to keep things contained and, and, and to your point, it is much more straight forward in a greenhouse or grow room where you can raise high quality crops, removing any weaker crops, disease, crops, damaged crops.
So you are creating less appeal for those insects, but certainly, you know, for example, you get aprons or thrips, you can have. Perfect high quality lettuce, and that's what's in there to eat those aphids and thrips will go after that lettuce. So, so a real intensive biological insect control program is warranted regardless of where you are.
But obviously when compared to outdoor production, you have many more tools at your disposal. I know one thing that I didn't put here is, um, cost, right? Like when you're running hydroponic over solar, Uh, there's a cost factor. Right. Um, and I, and I believe that, um, actually you're, you're saving more money, right.
Doing hydroponic first off on the fertilizer, um, you know, the, how you're feeding the plant. Um, you're not running big tractors outdoors. Uh, you know, so I think you save on some energy, but then you lose on the lighting and then, uh, the HVAC systems and stuff like that. So I think there's, uh, it's, it's, it's head to it's it's there even off, I think.
Yeah. You, you touch on an excellent point. So people tend to look at comparing hydroponics to soil and they say, well, look, a one acre high level greenhouse with all the systems and infrastructure that's going to cost over a million and a half dollars. I can buy one acre of farm land for $10,000. It's a no brainer.
Um, so that's, unfortunately not all there is, uh, to the puzzle. And, and to your point, the, the tools that you need in the field, the tractors, the cultivators, the irrigation equipment, um, those are, those are. Important factors. And in the greenhouse, obviously the environmental management systems and the nutrient control systems and the automation.
And, and so the, the costs to start to the infrastructure, I was going to start a one acre vegetable farm outdoors, and a one acre greenhouse farm. Obviously my upfront costs are going to be substantially more, excuse me, in the green. Yeah. But then we started looking at the operational costs. Then we start looking at the productivity.
So if I can produce 40,000 heads of lettuce in my one acre field, but I can produce 1.6 million heads of lettuce in my one acre greenhouse. Then the, the productivity versus a cost that equation starts to get skewed. So as you said, there's really no right answer here. It's not, but when you're doing the outdoor, how many crops can you get turnover in a year?
Yeah, no, that's an excellent question. So in some cases you only have one, in some cases with leafy greens, you can get two, maybe three, depending on if you have an Indian summer, right. You can do so. So that's a, that's a big factor. Let's talk about tomatoes real quick. So we have a greenhouse tomato growers there.
Their tomatoes are started in October, November, they're in the greenhouse in January. They're harvesting by, by April, March, or April, and then they're harvesting all the way through the end of the year. So they may have 7, 8, 9, 10 months of harvest period. Um, whereas you know, that, that, that's what we call the startup period or the veggies.
Period. So when you take a tomato plant and you plant it, whether it's in the greenhouse or in the soil, it has anywhere from, you know, eight to 20 weeks where it has to grow before it begins producing marketable fruit and in the greenhouse. You you go through that same period, but now you have the ability to extend your harvest season.
Whereas if I'm growing tomatoes, outdoors here in Massachusetts, I may be harvesting tomatoes by late July, but by mid-September it's done. So your harvest window is also shrunk. So that productivity, how many pounds of tomatoes. Per acre or how many heads of lettuce per acre, that that's skewed by a number of factors.
So again, it speaks to the individuality, it speaks to the unique application. So, so for anyone listening, if you're growing outdoors, or if you're growing in a greenhouse, your particular situation, um, there's a certain similarities that, you know, you, maybe you're in Northern Minnesota, you have maybe some similarities to some grower in The Bahamas.
Um, but there are many different. So, so those are all factors and I don't mean to make it sound more confusing, but there are a lot of factors. So it really is not an apples to apples competitor. Well, then the end, the last thing that, uh, uh, is the coolest part about this is when you're doing a hydroponic over soil, you are in control, uh, when you are doing soil outdoors.
Hmm. Mother nature. Yes. Yes. She's in control 100%. And, uh, and when you're indoors, you are in control. You, you make a mistake, you forget the water. You forget to turn a fan on you. Forget. You know, there's floods. There's. I mean, there's so many problems that we've occurred that that can happen. But if you're on top of that, I, I would say that, um, hydroponic is looking better than solar.
But once again, we go back to, it depends on what you're growing. If you're growing sweet corn or fields are feed corn, then you want to do that and soil outdoors. Yeah, yeah, yeah, for sure. And, um, to your point that when you're comparing soil grown to CA hydroponic grown, um, it is the opportunity for. That has a much higher level of control is there.
So you're able to, to control your nutrients better, you'll be able to control your physical environment better, but also to your point is it is much less forgiving. Um, you, you, my, my field of lettuce, if for some reason, I leave for two days. Um, but I come back for the most part that lead is, should still be there and should be fine.
Uh, I lived at greenhouse on attendant for two days and very bad things happen. Yeah. Your temperature of your water is 85 degrees. Yeah. Yeah. Right now, if a pump goes down, you know, people are in the greenhouse all the time. There's alarms in place, the pump goes down, it can be repaired or replaced very, very quickly without any losses.
Of production. Um, yeah. As long as you have flow meters, uh, calculating the flow on the pumps, that's what I usually love the install, uh, as flow meters, just because then I know daily on how, how that pump is flowing, because sometimes you have to clean the filter out daily or every other day. And the way I can know when to clean out a filter is by looking at the flow rate.
Great point. And also two centrifical pumps, which are pretty much the standard type of pumping, almost all hydroponic systems. Um, they have certain performance characteristics. So if you have a pump that's producing, let's say it's pumping 80 gallons. When that pumps and the pumps are very reliable, don't get me wrong.
But occasionally you do have a pump that will fail. Um, whether it's just through time or abuse or, you know, a defect, but that pump may start failing weeks before it actually shuts down. And sometimes you don't notice that the pump is going down. Um, why was tell growers to put their hand on their pump and the pump feels exceptionally hot, then it's working too hard and it's a good time to replace.
Um, your flow meter. That's an excellent way because if you start noticing your flow starts dropping dramatically, you still hear the pump running. It's still running. So it sounds like it's okay, but that's the time to replace it. It's not the time to replace it when it's 90 degrees and the pump shuts off and you've been, you know, down the road at the store for a few hours and you don't know that the pump has gone.
So, so it's a very good indicator. Of what's going on with of times it's not even the pump going down, it could be just the buildup of salts or minerals all over the magnetics. So the magnets are not really conducting well. Um, I noticed that. So when I see my flow drop, I'll clean out my pump, soak it in bleach water, clean it out to get some of the clunk out and then put it back in and then see my flow rate jump right back.
Absolutely. Yeah, we should have talked about that. When we talked about our, our issue on, we talked about maintenance, but we could do a whole, one about pumps and stuff like that. For sure. Yeah. Circulation, those are all really great points and really great things to think about. So when you're looking at your particular application, there is no one right way.
And that's one of the things Nick, as a consultant and I, as a consultant and am hydro does as a company, we help you look at your own individual situation. So certainly we encourage you to reach out. Um, Nick, I got a couple of questions. If we have a minute, uh, um, I'll give you the first one. Um, How much light do I need to grow my microgreens.
And do I need different types of light for different kinds of crops? Um, actually, no, you don't need different lights for different crops. Uh, when it comes down to it, it comes down to DLI. Um, I usually try to hit about a 10 or 11. And the way you calculate that deal line is you take your micromole, uh, and you times that by the hours that you have it on, or is it times, or is it divided?
It's one of those, but the formula, you can look at the formula up online, and then, and then you just come out with your DLI and that's kind of like, I try to hit around a 10 or 11 at the minute. Um, and right now I'm growing in two different, uh, lightings. I got one, that's a blue lights targeting, mainly the blue spectrum.
And then I got another light that I just bought from, um, from a home Depot when they're just regular shop lights. Uh, and I got like two of them. So I got one bar on one roll and two bars on another row. And they're both looking the same. I mean, they, they both look the same. They're both hitting the same deal.
I. You know, um, the only thing that I see different is the color, uh, with the blue, you get a little bit more darker, a darker like bluish green. And then with the white lighting, you're getting like a more, a greenish green. Yeah, and we, uh, we have coming up in an upcoming episode, we're going to dig into environmental, um, parameters of much more deeply.
We're going to talk about things as soon as people don't talk about DLI daily, light, integer, um, vapor pressure deficit, um, higher level, nutritional management, all those things that really impact our growth. We're going to talk about, um, you know, at a much higher level, but the, the DLI that Nick was referring to his daily light integer, and basically, yeah.
A, in a nutshell in English, it's in a 24 hour period, the amount of light usable par light, or photosynthetically active radiation, that's coming into the plant. And so we measure that in a certain value. So 10, obviously that level, um, would be. More than sufficient for micro grains. If we're growing tomatoes 10 isn't enough to do much of anything.
So, so different crops have different needs. Um, so we'll be discussing that in greater detail. But when Nick is talking about a certain DLI level, he's talking about the light that's required for those specific crops. So, so again, when you're talking to Nick about what types of lights to use, you know, what crops you're growing and the growing methods that you, uh, are using, those are questions that next kind of want to ask you, and he's going to.
Make recommendations a few. And if you don't have a light meter, uh, the best tool to have is your eyes. If you're watching those plants grow from the beginning stages, especially micro greens or baby greens, you're going through a lot of beginning stages with microgreen. So you kind of become an expert.
And is my plant getting too much light. And the best way to tell is your plant will stretch. It will start getting really, really long stem. And then you'll see that the are the true leaf is not even growing well. It's just stem is just growing and growing. And that will determine that you don't have enough light or the light is not close enough, so you can adjust those to at another bar light at a stronger light are just a closer until you start seeing your plant.
Amount of stretch know, we always talk to the growers. And when they're looking at especially indoor vertical farms, they say, well, this looks great because we see all this, this green growth and they say, well, stop and take a closer look. And we're looking at an indoor farm would let us look at the heads of lettuce on those actually.
Um, you know, marketable market, competitive heads, and usually they look close and they say, oh, wow, that it's just a thin little stringy. You know, when you look at the individual heads of lettuce, they're thin and small, and it's specifically related to the light issues that Nick was talking about. So, so your crop performance, and as you, as you're a grower, um, it becomes much more intuitive.
So you'll be able to see even without a, a light meter, you'll be able to see how that light is impacting your crops in. Nick was correct in saying when you were starting to have CDs the first time. Awesome. Now, you know what it looks like to stretch a planet. Yeah. Beautiful. Yeah. That's cool. Ironically, this kind of speaks to some of the things we talked about.
One of the things we were talking about today, I've got an NFT, so. Do I run the pumps continuously or do I turn them on and off? Excellent question. Yes. And what I mean by that is that there are many different ways to grow and we do have to have the pump is on completely. That is a true NFT system. Yeah, but I mean, it can be with an intermittent system as well.
So that'd be considered almost like an ebb and flow NFT if it's coming out. Well, tell you technically. Yes, because NFT, obviously nutrient film technique. Well, there always has to be flowing and it to be an NFT. True. Right. So, so why would we not run the pumps all the time? Well, there's a few reasons. So we do have many growers, um, running the pumps 24 7, and that's perfectly acceptable.
Um, providing that the nutrient solution as well, oxygenated and the nutrition and PHR are in the right levels. Your plants are basically getting a continuous non-stop supply of all those critical components and doing very, very well. One of the downsides is obviously the, the electrical cost is going to be higher.
The wear and tear on a pump is going to be higher. Um, some growers opt to having a cycle. So maybe the NFT system is on for 10 minutes and it's off for 10 or 15 minutes. People get scared with NFT. They, they, they will tend to say, oh, if an NFT, if your pump goes down, you know, in five minutes, your whole crop will be dead.
And that's absolutely not true. So, so what happens is now if you're running a 24 hour. Continuous cycle. And then suddenly you, you stopped for 15 or 20 minutes at a time. The plants is going to suffer for a little bit until they can grow additional routes or, um, in, uh, in a deep water culture systems.
There's a system called the dry hydroponic system where some of the roots are completely immersed in a nutrient solution. And the, the. Growing cube is held a little bit above the nutrient and it grows what we call air roots. So these are our short routes, very heavily branch there specifically to help take in actual oxygen or atmospheric oxygen.
So you're kind of getting the best of both worlds. You're getting nutrient and water absorption, but you're also getting really good aeration and cycling. The NFT systems works in very much the same way. So personally myself, um, all of our NFC systems, and we've done this for over 30 years. Is that, um, the system shuts down about an hour after sun set.
So basically the plants physiologically now have shut down the system shuts off. Now there is sufficient solution and sufficient moisture in the nutrient, uh, in the nutrient channel that over the course of the night, though, the plans are not transpiring. Like they are during the day. They're not absorbing water nutrients like they do.
And so. That having that pump down, you're just not running the water. You're not contributing maybe more moisture to the environment. Um, and so then the system comes back on about an hour before sunrise. So the plants are already getting fresh oxygen and nutrients. Um, prior to any. Growth activity or photosynthetic activity.
And then, um, with our systems, we have them on a cycle timer. So they run them all four minutes and then they're off for about 15 minutes and then they run for four and they, and they cycle. Now what we've seen, we've gotten much better pump life and much lower energy usage. But we've also gotten a little bit more of a robust root system and some growers are critical and say, well, you don't want the plant putting any much energy into root growth.
But what we've found is that, that when we cycle our system for leaf crops for lettuce for Bazell, is that basically we get a little bit more of a robust root system with more of those root hairs and those air roots, if you will. Where they're actually. And so we get better oxygenation, we get lower incidence of disease.
We have a more stout root system. So we don't have long stringy roots that when you're packaging lettuce, you need to clip off. Um, and it, it produces in my opinion, a better product. Um, so how often you cycle them? Or if you make the decision to cycle it or not is completely dependent on your location, your environment, your systems, your personal preference.
So again, like everything, there's no really one right way, but that is certainly an option for many growers. It's one that we've used a lot. And so it fit into our discussion today. Uh, one more, I've got one, one for Nick. Um, when I'm growing micro grains, who should I treat my microgreen seed with bleach or hydrogen peroxide before growing?
And if, and if not say don't, don't treat no seeds unless you're having problems. If you don't have problems when you're growing, microgreens there's no reason to, to, to, to, uh, to sterilize the seeds just because, uh, the FA the, the companies that produce the seeds and manufacture them and process them, I guess they have to sterilize them.
They have to meet standards of the seed. Companies run so many tests. And data tests because they're required by the USDA, um, to run tests on that. So they're always checking for pathogens and checking for diseases and checking for things that are in the seeds. And they have to have a certain amount of level of that in the seeds.
So I would say it's a waste of time, but if, I mean, it doesn't hurt to put a little bit of a, you know, um, some kind of maybe bacteria when you're spraying, germinating them. Um, that's what I do. I just add more beneficial bacteria. And then just wish for the best and the seed of the scene, uh, treatment or the, well, the seed treatments been around for a very long time, but that, that attention to testing seed and maintaining the purity, that's reasonably new.
Um, with the past several years that has really ramped up and, and a lot of the seed companies are really doing a great job with that. So, yeah. So as it relates to disease issues, um, people always ask, well, you know, I have to keep out. I, I can't get Pythium into my growing system. Well Pythium is everywhere and it will be in your growing system regardless.
So the only real challenge that you have is, is plants or root systems that are weakened where the creates the opportunity. So growing them, of course, at, at maximum productivity, at maximum quality, with the right environment, the right nutrition, critically important to growing high quality, healthy plants that are much more disease resistant.
And as Nick had said, Uh, the most seeds are not a problem. Now, there are occasionally issues. Um, we had, in fact, we were, the, our farm was, uh, had the distinction of being the first farm in the United States to be diagnosed with, um, a few cerium wilt in sweet Bazell back in the early 1990. By Dr. Robert at the, at the university of Massachusetts.
Um, and, um, we did everything to manage our environment correctly, manage our nutrition. And yet we kept having problems in Bazell with, if you cerium wealth, which is a, a fungal pathogen that gets into root system. Was that in the genetics? Was that in the genetics then? Well, that's no. So we, we were looking at our systems.
We were looking at a process and, um, what happens is, is it gets in the fungus, gets into the vascular tissue of the plant. Plugs it up. So basically the plants start becoming nutritional deficient, and then they start wilting because they just cannot get water and nutrients into the leaf tissues. And we were very frustrated with it.
And we finally found out after a lot of testing is that the seed sources were contained. And so then we, we went into, we looked at, we tried, uh, we trialed a number of different seed treatments. We did hydrogen peroxide, hydrogen dioxide. We also use chlorine bleach. We actually got the most effective results using hot water treatment, 120 to 125 degrees.
For 10 minutes and that killed not only the pathogens on the outside of the seed coat, which is where most, if you have infected seed, usually that's where it is, but they actually found infection inside the endo sperm of the seed. So this was a genetic problem. This was a few cerium world had been in the seed fields for a long time.
And it was, we've been having this problem with the rugala for years now, too, as well. Yeah, I am rural is very prone to bacterial speck, which again can be seaborne. Um, so we're, we're, we're looking at how water treatment is not always the right, uh, way, but we've had really good luck with it because you need to heat the seed enough to kill the pathogens or severe limit the pathogen.
Without harming the seed or harming the germination rate of the seed. And that's the balance. So you can't just throw in hot water and hope for the best. Um, we did a lot of trials and, um, a lot of folks at university of Massachusetts that a great job developing that protocol. How, how long should you treat it and at what temperature?
So, um, yeah, so, so using chlorine bleach has been used forever, um, in the cut flower industry and the seed industry. So certainly. Um, it's, uh, those are tools and options available, but, but yeah, as Nick had said, there's also some stuff that I use called high growth design. It's it's absolutely spectacular.
Joe. It's, it's a medial cleaner. It's actually supposed to clean the medium and break down the roots and break down everything faster, uh, to keep things clean. Um, I've been using it in the, in, inside the grow room. And when I started using this, I really don't worry when it comes to germination. When I use it.
Beautiful. It's all about the results. Correct. So, anyway, hopefully you got some Woodstock out of that, where we talked a little bit about soil and hydroponics and what might make the most sense for you. So hopefully you'll be able to take some of that information and apply it to your own personal situation, but.
Of course, we always invite you to send us more questions, comments. Um, we've got a couple really cool guests coming up in the next few weeks. We've got some higher level discussions talking about greenhouse structures, environmental management, nutritional management. And we'd also want to talk a little bit more about produce marketing and how to get your products into the hands of the consumer.
So we've got a lot of cool stuff coming up. We look forward to having more conversations with you. So we appreciate your time today. And, uh, we hope that you have a really good day and we'll talk to you again very soon.