Mohamed Hage is a founder of Lufa Farms in Montreal. It appears at this time to be one of the North American rooftop hydroponics companies with staying power. I have a high regard for their marketing communications. It will be interesting to see if they not only expand in Montreal but also jump into the big pond here in New York City.
My belief is that the best thing you can have in business is good competition. Think of the expression "all boats rise on the incoming tide". New York has an "incoming tide" of hydroponics growers with BrightFarms and Gotham Greens.
They could all be market makers for hydroponically grown fresh local food. It's going to be fun to watch this market grow and mature not just in New York but also across the U.S. and Canada.
Mohamed Hage, an agriculture and technology enthusiast, is the founding president of Lufa Farms, a company that designs, builds and operates rooftop agricultural greenhouses. It was to provide fresh, local and responsible vegetables to montréalais consumers that he created the first commercial rooftop greenhouse in the world in the winter of 2011. Mohamed Hage supervises all of Lufa Farms' daily activities, but is particularly interested in research, planning, construction and operation of the greenhouse environment.
His present goal is to help this new agricultural model be progressively integrated into rooftops across major cities.
See the water flowing onto the plant bench (1 minute mark in the video)? See the plant pots sitting in water? This is an environmentally sound form of greenhouse sub-irrigation called ebb and flow. Since the water is recycled, there is no water run-off. Sub-irrigation is used in greenhouse growing all over the world.
If sub-irrigation is a professional method of watering potted plants, why isn't the USDA teaching it to consumers through the land-grant university Extension Program? All we hear is the steady drone of the drain hole mantra and nothing about modern methods like sub-irrigation.
Antiquated drain-hole based top watering wastes water, time and ultimately the plants. It is clearly an environmentally unsound practice propagandized by the USDA, a taxpayer supported institution.
Why is there no uproar about this? Why do houseplant hobbyists and gardeners seem to behave like sheep?
Compared to the 2500-year-old gardens at Ramat Rahel, that was just yesterday. Why then is our consumer horticultural education system still fixated on drain holes, sprinklers and other overhead irrigation systems that waste water when compared to sub-irrigation?
Add the fact that sub-irrigation increases yields and produces healthier plants and we have a mystery of the modern age of climate change, conservation and sustainability.
The garden relied on an advanced irrigation system, which collected rainwater and distributed it using artsy water installations, including pools, underground channels, tunnels and gutters.
These water installations ended up being the key to the team's new discovery; the researchers found grains of pollen that likely got trapped in plaster when the installations were renovated and the plaster still wet. The result was preserved pollen grains.
An ancient royal garden has come back into bloom in a way, as scientists have reconstructed what it would've looked like some 2,500 years ago in the kingdom of the biblical Judah.
Their reconstruction, which relied on analyses of excavated pollen, reveals a paradise of exotic plants.
The luxurious garden had been discovered at Ramat Rahel, an archaeological site located high above the modern city of Jerusalem, about midway between the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. This site was inhabited since the last century of the Kingdom of Judah (seventh century B.C.) until the early Muslim reign in Palestine (10th century), a period that saw many wars and exchanges of power, with the garden evolving under each civilization.
Since excavators discovered the garden, they could only imagine its leafy, flowery inhabitants. That is until now. Read more...
Martin Weijters will join Jennifer Nelkin of Gotham Greens in a small but growing group of academically trained and experienced controlled environment agriculture (CEA) professionals here in the Big Apple. He will be BrightFarms new Vice President of Agriculture.
Netherlands education and Houwelings work experience for Martin and University of Arizona graduate program in CEA plus the Science Barge and Gotham Greens for Jennifer are high-level credentials. It looks to me that New York is finally on the move towards urban agriculture modernity. I believe it will have a ripple affect in the home gardening and consumer market.
It is not well known in lay circles how prestigious the job title "grower" is in the greenhouse growing industry. A grower is the equivalent of a factory manager in industry. If you want to succeed in this business, you had better have a top-notch grower. You cannot find better than those from the Netherlands. It is a horticultural Mecca.
It looks to me that BrightFarms has made a very big step in convincing Martin Weijters to leave sunny California. I know all about that having lived there for 32 years.
NEW YORK, April 20, 2012 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- It was announced today that Martin Weijters, Senior Grower at Houweling's Tomatoes, is joining BrightFarms, Inc. as Vice President of Agriculture. BrightFarms finances, builds, and operates hydroponic greenhouses at supermarkets.
As of May 1, 2012, Weijters will oversee BrightFarms' current and future greenhouses. Weijters was immediately drawn to BrightFarms' innovative business model and bold vision for sustainable agriculture. By building greenhouses at supermarkets and distribution centers, BrightFarms reduces the costs—financial and environmental—associated with trucking produce across the country.
In 1996, Weijters immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands, where he studied and practiced horticulture and greenhouse management. For the past 16 years, Weijters has served as Senior Grower of Houweling's Tomatoes, a world renown and environmentally friendly greenhouse tomato grower with facilities in California and British Columbia. Weijters manages Houweling's 125 acre California facility and has been central to building the company's reputation as an industry leader in quality, quantity, and sustainability. Read more...
Eric Michael Johnson for The New York Times - An old Navy warehouse in Sunset Park will be home to a hydroponic greenhouse of up to 100,000 square feet. The developer says it will be the largest such greenhouse in the country.
A NY Times article about the BrightFarms announcement contained the following information about Gotham Greens. This interesting information about their planned expansion was tagged on at the very end of the article. It is becoming apparent that controlled environment hydroponics is going to play a very big role in local food production here in New York City.
The Bright Farms greenhouse will join a half-dozen commercial rooftop farms in New York City. Brooklyn Grange already runs a one-acre operation in Long Island City, Queens, and Gotham Greens, another company, has a hydroponic rooftop garden in the Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Next year, Gotham Greens plans to open three new rooftop greenhouses in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx; added to the 20,000-square-foot Greenpoint greenhouse, the new sites, which will be hydroponic, would raise the company’s total production to 200,000 square feet.
My excitement about this trend is its relationship to personal food production, which is the primary subject of this blog. My belief is that media buzz about commercial hydroponics will help to generate ancillary publicity and acceptance of modern food growing methods by home gardeners as well.
Commercial greenhouse activity will help to motivate individuals to learn about systems such as hydroponics and aquaponics. These are new job sources. Many of these people will become much-needed educators for consumers.
As it is now the word "garden" is virtually synonymous with dirt, or in-ground growing. Although not a synonym, the word hydroponics has all too often been connected to clandestine marijuana growing. This will change. In the process, hydroponics will become family friendly and home “gardening” will enjoy a much wider definition.
Speaking of definitions, it is not widely known that planters employing sub-irrigation (known by many as SIPs) are actually a very simplified form of hydroponics. The key difference is that they do not require air pumps and electric power. Once you get the hang of them, they are very simple systems. Even young children can easily manage them.
Regardless of definition, sub-irrigated planters are arguably the most simple and versatile way of growing personal food in the city. They are a perfect solution for nomadic renters on the move.
Brooklyn is fast becoming the borough of farms. On Thursday, Bright Farms, a private company that develops greenhouses, announced plans to create a sprawling greenhouse on a roof in Sunset Park that is expected to yield a million pounds of produce a year — without using any dirt.
The hydroponic greenhouse, at a former Navy warehouse that the city’s Economic Development Corporation acquired last year, will occupy up to 100,000 square feet of rooftop space. Construction is scheduled to start in the fall, with the first harvest expected next spring. Read more...
Here is yet another Larry Hall type rain gutter sub-irrigation system. Note the cloth wick instead of a hydroponics net cup. I would do it in a different way but I like this idea. It is my belief that threading a cloth wick up through the growing media will help capillary action.
Think of the cloth wick as sort of like a candlewick. Cloth wicking could be a way to facilitate capillary action in heavier media with a higher percentage of aged compost. One of the objectives is to reduce the cost of the growing media in SIP systems.
Instead of the knotted cloth wick I would use two strips (2-4” wide) of polyester batting (Pellon for example) or polyester felt hooked together in U shapes.
It would require making two slots in the middle of the of the container bottom (about 4-6" apart). Use a hot knife or make a series of small holes with a drill, or use a sabre saw or reciprocating saw if you have one.
One U shaped wick would be threaded through the slots and go down into the rain gutter. The other U shaped strip would be threaded (hooked) through the “water wick” (like a chain link) and go up into the soil media. I'll add photos to illustrate later.
This video is of how I adapted the rain gutter grow system to my needs. I put a wick in the bucket and let the wick go up into the mix. Hopefully, the plants won't have to work to hard to get water during the hot summer. The mixture is similar to Larry Hall's recipe, but again I changed it a little. I might put a float valve on the system as time goes, but for now I'll try it like it is. Have fun gardening!
We can thank Jose Luis Castañeda in Guadalajara, Mexico for giving us a link to photos of his rooftop garden. He has done a great job using Larry Hall's rain gutter sub-irrigation system. His pristine white bucket planters in perfect alignment on the rain gutter reservoirs have a pleasing look even without decorative concealment.
If these were on my patio, it wouldn't bother me at all to look at them. I also wouldn't be bothered by having to water them individually since the rain gutter float valve makes watering automatic.
Note in the bottom photo that he is also experimenting with sack planters on the rain gutter system. He also shows a bucket planter with side planting holes a la sack gardens. I'm not sure if it is irrigated on the rain gutter system.
I related to Jose's comment about the difficulty in changing embedded human habits. This is particularly true in home gardening when so many of its practices are based on folklore and family tradition often passed down from mother to daughter.
Since January 2010 i've been teaching people in Guadalajara, Mexico about sub-irrigation and believe me, hasn't been easy. At first, people don't understand the system, later they do, but they keep skeptical, finally they don't put into practice what they have learned, maybe i'm not that good at teaching. What i mean is that is hard to remove the idea of top watering and drain holes, i'm guessing this paradigm is worldwide.
Following is one of many examples demonstrating the failure of the USDA/Land Grant University Extension Program to provide consumers with up to date information about growing local food. See prior post.
A gardening article in a Canton, Illinois paper written by an Extension educator links to this Watch Your Garden Grow guide. The authors are Extension educators, one from Cook County including Chicago.
It is significant to note that the tutorial contains no usable information about sub-irrigation or any other modern method of growing local food. The ludicrous assumption appears to be that the word garden is synonymous with dirt or drain holes.
Following below is what the guide has to say about container gardening. Note the reference to "the earthbox". EarthBox, of course, is a trade name not a generic name.
Sub-irrigated planters (SIPs) like the EarthBox are self-contained. There is no water wasted due to drainage. Note what the tutorial has to say about drainage.
"All containers, whether plastic or clay must have drainage."
"Containers with no drainage will cause your vegetables to develop root rot."
I see statements like this in Extension guides all the time. It is factually incorrect. Anyone who knows about SIPs can easily prove it.
Those who grow in SIPs know that they produce very healthy plants free of root rot. If anything, they prevent root due to the combination water and oxygen reservoir.
What is particularly deplorable is that one of the authors is deeply involved in the use of SIPs at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It is one of the finest examples of hardscaped urban gardening in the country. There are more than 70 EarthBox type SIPs on the granite steps of the museum as well as the upper deck of the Smart Home exhibit.
Why isn't valuable information like this included in this gardening guide and many other Extension guides? This major question continues to go unanswered by the Extension program. The public deserves better.
If you don't have space in your backyard or only have access to a sunny balcony or patio, you can still grow vegetables in containers. A container for vegetables can be as simple as a bushel basket lined with plastic, a hanging basket or a self contained growing unit like the earthbox.
All containers, whether plastic or clay must have drainage. Soil in containers will dry out quickly, so frequent watering is necessary. Containers with no drainage will cause your vegetables to develop root rot. Use a sterilized, soil less mix for your container garden. Soilless mixes are light and contain some organic matter. Fertilize with a slow-release vegetable garden fertilizer that is applied in the spring and will provide nutrients for your veggies throughout the growing season. Read more...
When I took the time to study the cutaway drawing of this sub-irrigated (called "self-watering") flower box from almost 90 years ago, I realized it was the same basic construction as the tote box sub-irrigated planter (SIP) below.
There is a fill pipe, connected to reservoir pipes at the bottom. The soil between the pipes acts as the wick. I'm not sure about the need for gravel. The only thing missing (or not mentioned) is an overflow drain hole. Note the mention of an "air supply".
How is that we have these SIPs from around a century ago and we still have millions of new and potential gardeners who know nothing about them. Even experienced gardeners think the EarthBox was the invention that started SIP growing. As archival information demonstrates, this is obviously not true.
Is there any doubt that we have a horticultural education problem when millions of people are brainwashed to believe that you must have a pot with drain holes to grow plants? Or, that a raised bed needs to connect to the ground below for drainage.
When are we going to demand that institutions like the USDA Extension Program fix the problem by modernizing their consumer education? In my view, it is simply a matter of getting these educators to tell the truth about what they already know.