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Current, Powered by GE and Stockbridge Technology Centre Partner to Research the Farm of the Future

This article was originally posted on currentbyge.com

  • Stockbridge Technology Centre’s Vertical Farming Development Facility to enable growers to test and model their individual urban farm setup prior to investment
  • Aims to propel the success of the vertical farming industry, projected to be worth $13.9 billion USD in 20241 and generate more “farmable land” to address future global food production pressures
  • Current by GE’s Arize LED horticulture solution will help researchers test growth of crops such as leafy greens and herbs in different conditions

Continue reading Current, Powered by GE and Stockbridge Technology Centre Partner to Research the Farm of the Future

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Are you looking for an economical, effective way to incorporate dissolved oxygen into your irrigation water?

Incorporating air or oxygen into irrigation water using nanobubbles can improve crop yields and reduce susceptibility to disease pathogens.

What started out as a way of making wastewater treatment systems more efficient with oxygen enrichment has expanded to how nanobubble aeration technology can improve production of agricultural crops. Moleaer Inc. in Torrance, Calif., filed a patent on nanobubble aeration technology in 2016 with the intention of using it as a way to deliver gas in a number of different applications.

Continue reading Are you looking for an economical, effective way to incorporate dissolved oxygen into your irrigation water?

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Hort Americas looks to be a connector of products and knowledge for the horticulture industry

Whether growers are producing vegetables, ornamentals or other hydroponic crops, Hort Americas is working to provide its customers with the products and knowledge they need to be successful.

When Hort Americas in Bedford, Texas, started operating as a wholesale horticulture distributor in March 2009, the company had no existing customer base.

Continue reading Hort Americas looks to be a connector of products and knowledge for the horticulture industry

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Nanobubbler generator delivers dissolved oxygen for improved plant growth

Hort Americas is excited to announce that it has been appointed the exclusive distributor of the Moleaer Inc. nanoBoost Nanobubble Generator. The generator delivers a supplementary source of dissolved oxygen that can significantly increase plant growth, improve size uniformity, reduce stress and prevent root diseases under extreme production conditions. It is ideally suited for horticultural applications including hydroponics, greenhouse irrigation and pond management.

 

Real-world application

Hort Americas installed the 50-gallons-per-minute (GPM) nanoBoost in in its hydroponics demonstration greenhouse in Dallas, Texas, to improve the production of leafy greens and culinary herbs during the summer months when warm summer temperatures make production more difficult.

“Our thought was that if we enhance and maintain higher dissolved oxygen levels, we should be able to improve crop health and ultimately improve yield,” said Chris Higgins, general manager at Hort Americas. “We observed dissolved oxygen levels of 29 parts per million in water temperatures of roughly 90ºF. Not only did we achieve our highest level of dissolved oxygen, but our crop yields increased between 20 and 50 percent.”

 

Improving nutrient uptake and plant transpiration

The self-cleaning nanoBoost Nanobubble generator, which has no moving parts, produces oxygen-enriched nanobubbles that efficiently oxygenate an entire body of water and provides a reserve of oxygen encapsulated within the bubbles.

The generator delivers billions of nanobubbles with 200-times the inter-facial surface area when compared to micro bubbles, making them far superior in transporting valuable oxygen to the plants’ root system. The surface of the nanobubbles is negatively charged, attracting nutrient salts and enhancing nutrient uptake. Nanobubbles also increase the mobility of water molecules, potentially improving plant transpiration.

The generator is available in various flow rates and is fully encased in a durable, NEMA4-rated weather-tolerant PVC shell. The unit is self-cleaning and features plug-and-play installation with no moving parts, thus ensuring long-lasting durability with minimal maintenance. The generator can be configured with an integrated pump or retrofitted with a customer’s existing pump to maximize energy efficiency.

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Moleaer™ Launches nanoBoost™, the Oxygen Delivery Mechanism for Commercial Greenhouses

Moleaer announces commercial partnership with Hort Americas

PRESS RELEASE – LOS ANGELES

Moleaer Inc., the leading manufacturer of industrial scale nanobubble generators, expands its innovative product line with the new nanoBoost Nanobubble Generator, ideally suited for applications such as hydroponics, pond management, and irrigation.

Continue reading Moleaer™ Launches nanoBoost™, the Oxygen Delivery Mechanism for Commercial Greenhouses

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What are the optimum nutrient levels for hydroponic edible crops?

Trials with organic and conventional fertilizers in hydroponic production systems are showing it’s possible to produce edible crops at much lower nutrient levels.

How much different is it growing edible crops organically than it is with conventional production inputs? Hort Americas special projects manager Tyler Baras is studying the differences in trying to grow organically versus using conventional production methods.

Baras has been doing organic production research in a 12,000-square-foot greenhouse in Dallas, Texas, using four deep water culture ponds and a nutrient film technique system. The ponds measure 4-foot by 8-foot and are 10 inches deep. Baras said the ponds are smaller than what would be found in many commercial greenhouse operations, but said the pond size is common in vertical farm setups. Baras has been trialing commercial organic fertilizers including Pre-Empt and an experimental organic fertilizer. The organic fertilizers are being compared with crops grown with Hort Americas 9-7-37 hydroponic fertilizer with calcium nitrate and magnesium sulfate. All of the production systems have also been incorporated with the commercial microbial inoculant TerraBella. Crops being grown in the production systems include Italian basil, green butterhead and red butterhead lettuce.

Trials in Hort Americas demonstration greenhouse are comparing the growth of butterhead lettuce and Italian basil using organic and conventional fertilizers in hydroponic production systems.
Photos courtesy of Tyler Baras

Rethinking optimum nutrient levels

Baras said the deep water culture production results he has gotten with Pre-Empt organic fertilizer have been comparable to the crops grown with the conventional Hort Americas hydroponic fertilizer.

“With Pre-Empt we have been able to match the growth rates of the conventional salt fertilizer,” Baras said. “As a result of the growth rates we have gotten with the organic fertilizer, we have started to question the nutrient recipes that have been recommended for hydroponic edible crop production. Many of the traditional recipes for hydroponic production have a target level of 200 parts per million nitrogen. But we are seeing the same growth rates in the organic fertilizer ponds with 10 ppm nitrogen as the 200 ppm nitrogen conventional fertilizer pond.”

Baras said the electrical conductivity level in the organic fertilizer ponds has been as a low as 0.5 compared to 2.5 in the conventional fertilizer pond and the crops are coming out nearly identical in terms of production time and plant weight.

One difference between the organic- and conventional-grown crops is the time in propagation.

“The crops are finishing at the same time from transplant to harvest time, but we are keeping the plants an extra week in the seedling stage for the organic fertilizer,” Baras said. “We are running the seedlings for two weeks with the conventional fertilizer and about three weeks with the organic fertilizers.

“The organic plugs are started a week earlier, but they are transplanted on the same day as the conventional plugs. We want the roots coming out of the side of the plugs before we transplant them into the ponds. The seedlings are fairly similar in size when they are transplanted into the ponds.”

Plugs grown in organic substrates and fed with an organic fertilizer remain on the propagation bench one week longer than plugs receiving conventional fertilizer to ensure good root growth.

Once the organic and conventional plugs are placed into the ponds, they both spend the same amount of time there until the crops finish.

“The plants are coming out of the ponds with nearly identical weights,” Baras said. “Overall the seed to harvest time is faster with the conventional fertilizer, but that it is because we are able to transplant the plugs into the pond faster because the roots are coming out of the plugs sooner.”

Baras said the plants grown with the organic fertilizers have also shown they can be grown with lower levels of other nutrients. For example, with the conventional fertilizer the nutrient solution may contain 200 ppm potassium and the level is only 12 ppm with the organic fertilizers.

“Aquaponic growers have seen similar situations,” he said. “Some aquaponic growers may be running an EC of 0.7 with a relatively low nutrient level, but they are still seeing good growth.

We are seeing that as well with the organic fertilizers. There are low nutrient levels in the solution, but the crops are coming out the same and the leaf tissue analysis is nearly the same as well.

“For our trials the macronutrient uptake for the plants, even when they are grown in a low fertilizer concentration like 0.5 EC, they are still able to pull what they need out of the solution. Leaf sample analyses of butterhead lettuce and Italian basil grown in 0.5 EC organic fertilizer vs. 2.5 EC conventional fertilizer, most of the macronutrient levels in the leaves are very similar. It appears the plants are doing a good job of regulating the nutrient uptake to get what they need.”

 

Aging fertilizer solutions

Baras said letting the organic fertilizer solutions age in the ponds may have an impact on the availability of nutrients for some crops. The aging of the fertilizer solutions also has an impact on increasing the microbial population.

“We have definitely seen some differences in plant growth,” he said. “Our first crops of butterhead lettuce and basil did very well with Pre-Empt organic fertilizer. However, one of the other organic fertilizers we trialed grew a quality first crop of lettuce, but not the best looking basil. As we continued the trial with our second and third crops, the basil grown with the other organic fertilizer started doing much better. It appears the organic solutions in the ponds may need to age until the nutrients reach adequate levels.

“This is what we were seeing in a 9-month old Pre-Empt pond vs. a 2-month old Pre-Empt pond. A lot of nutrients have accumulated in the 9-month pond and are approaching the recommended nutrient levels that would be found in a conventional fertilizer system. Organic fertilizers like Pre-Empt don’t have a lot of magnesium in them. However, when the fertilizer is run in a pond system for 9 months the magnesium level rises and approaches what would be considered a conventional fertilizer target level for magnesium.”

Aging of the fertilizer solution also has had an impact on the root growth of the crops.

“When we compare how the roots look visually in the 9-month solution vs. the 2-month solution, the roots in the 9-month solution look much healthier,”Baras said. “The roots are very white, are longer and look really healthy and well-developed. There are also more roots on plants in the 9-month system.

“The root color is also significantly different. In the 2-month solution the roots look healthy, but there is some browning. They don’t have that crisp white look.”

 

Aging of the fertilizer solution can impact root growth. Plants (left) in a 9-month old organic fertilizer solution had more roots that looked healthy and well-developed compared to the root system of plants in a 2-month old organic fertilizer solution.

Rethinking optimum pH levels

Baras said he has been able to produce healthy crops in a pH range from as low as 4 up to 6.5.

“For hydroponic leafy greens the recommended pH ranges from 5.5 to 6.5,” he said. “We have basil and butterhead lettuce growing very well in organic systems at a pH of 4. On the other side of the pH range, I’ve heard of aquaponic growers growing these crops at a pH up to 7 without any problems. Based on our trial results some of the conventional recommendations for hydroponics for both pH and nutrient levels might need to be revisited.

“One of the biggest issues I see with hydroponic growers is overcompensating. For instance, they feel that they need to be constantly watching the pH. They may set up monitoring and dosing systems to ensure the pH doesn’t go below 6 or 5.5. They are investing in extra equipment because they think they need to keep the pH precisely in this range. It may be a case that the plants will do well outside this range.”

 

Impact on crop timing

Baras said one factor that could affect the optimum pH and nutrient range is the light level.

“If a grower is providing supplemental light, then the optimum pH and nutrient range may be different,” he said. “With the trials we are conducting we aren’t that far off from what most hydroponic growers are targeting for growth rates. Thirty-five days is a target number for a lot of lettuce growers. We have done 35-day crops. We want to be able to grow an organic crop in the same amount of time as a crop grown with conventional fertilizers.”

 


For more: Hort Americas, (469) 532-2383; info@hortamericas.com; https://hortamericas.com.

 

David Kuack is a freelance writer in Fort Worth, Texas; dkuack@gmail.com.

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AmericanHort technology tour to visit Hort Americas hydroponic research greenhouse

Tour of Hort Americas research and demonstration greenhouse in Dallas will show growers different hydroponic production systems for various vegetable crops.

Growers of hydroponic vegetables or those considering starting growing vegetables hydroponically should plan on attending the AmericanHort Production Technology Conference. Scheduled for Oct. 9-11 in Dallas, the conference begins with a Technology in Action Tour on Oct. 9 which will visit three local production operations: Hort Americas research and demonstration greenhouse, Seville Farms and Southwest Nursery.

 

All things hydroponic

Hort Americas, a horticulture and agriculture wholesale supply company, has retrofitted a 12,000-square-foot floriculture greenhouse for the hydroponic production of vegetable crops. Tyler Baras, who is the special projects manager at Hort Americas, is overseeing the trialing of five different production systems along with the testing of potential products for the company’s online catalog. The production systems include: nutrient film technique (NFT), deep water culture floating raft, a vertical hydroponic tower system, a flood-and-drain vertical rack system and a new capillary mat manufactured in Europe. The greenhouse is being used to grow a wide variety of lettuces, leafy greens, herbs and microgreens.

During the AmericanHort Technology in Action Tour on Oct. 9, Tyler Baras, special projects manager at Hort Americas, will be talking about the five different hydroponic production systems he is trialing.
Photos courtesy of Tyler Baras

The NFT system uses a new channel design. Baras said the narrower channels allow for the aging of crops without having to physically move plants from nursery channels to finishing channels.

Hort America’s main floating raft deep water system is an in-house custom design that measures 32-feet by 28-feet.

“We have tried using a Venturi system to incorporate oxygen, but for the last two months we have been doing trials with compressed liquid oxygen,” Baras said. “We have been doing trials to see how plants respond to increased levels of dissolved oxygen. This deep water system hasn’t been flushed in over a year.

“We have been managing the nutrient solution with water tests and individual salts. Instead of using a standard N-P-K fertilizer like we have been using in the other production systems, we have really focused on water tests and making nutrient adjustments based on those tests. We have been trying to keep the nutrients within a target range and trying to run the system for as long as possible without having to flush any of the nutrient system. We are testing for all of the essential nutrients. We are also looking at sodium chloride levels and seeing how those accumulate. Also, we are tracking what essential nutrients accumulate over time and how we can adjust the fertilizer being added to accommodate the natural accumulation in the system.”

In addition to trialing crops in different hydroponic production systems, Tyler Baras is also studying a variety of crops grown with conventional and organic substrates and fertilizers.

 

Baras is also studying how the water source can contribute to the nutrient level.

“We are considering how source water may be a limitation to applying this no-flush technique,” he said. “Our source water is municipal water, but it has a high sulfur content of about 44 parts per million. So we are looking at cutting out all sulfur inputs. We are learning the challenges of trying to manage a no flush system.”

In addition to the main deep water system, Baras said tour attendees will also see several smaller deep water culture systems.

“In these smaller deep water culture systems we will be showing the use of three different organic fertilizers where we are comparing the growth between them,” he said. “We will also be showing a smaller scale deep water culture system receiving aeration compared to one with no aeration.”

 

Vertical production systems

Another hydroponic system that Baras is working with is a vertical tower commonly used by smaller growers.

“We have a lot of customers who use this system so we decided to install one in the greenhouse so we could look at some of the issues that they are dealing with,” he said. “We also were looking to answer some of the questions that our customers had about using the system. An example is can this system be used to grow organically? We’ve done both organic and conventional trials with this system.

“We’ve also been looking at what crops perform best in this vertical system. We’ve done a lot of variety trials as well as with the other systems we’ve installed.”

Hort Americas is also trialing a vertical Growrack from Growtainer.

“This is a flood-and-drain vertical rack system,” Baras said. “The rack has three levels, but it could be expanded. The rack has a 2-foot by 5-foot footprint. We have equipped it with GE LED lights. This would be the type of system used in a vertical farm setup.”

Although the Growrack hydroponic system can be used to grow full size crops, Tyler Baras is using it primarily for seedling propagation.

Baras said the Growrack system, which is set up in the greenhouse, has done well in warm conditions because its water reservoir is below the rack.

“The reservoir is usually stored underneath the racks so it is in shade,” he said. “The water isn’t always in the trays so it doesn’t collect the heat from the trays. It works well in warm climates.”

Although Baras has grown full size crops in the Growrack, it is being used now primarily for seedling propagation.

“The focus of the system is how it has enabled us to cut back on the amount of space that is needed for propagation,” he said. “We can easily grow enough seedlings in this system for a 10,000-square foot greenhouse.

“The system is also being used by a Central Market store in Dallas to finish crops for its Growtainer farm. We helped consult on the management of the system and showed store officials how it could grow crops from start to finish in the same Growracks. The store is growing fully mature butterhead lettuce and basil in the system. This system can definitely work in indoor vertical farms.”

Baras said he has grown both organically and conventionally with the Growrack system.

“We have done organic seedling propagation in it,” he said. “We have used a variety of conventional and organics substrates and fertilizers with it.”

 

LED studies

In addition to trialing LED lights vs. natural light for greenhouse seedling propagation and crop staging, Baras said he is also looking at using LEDs supplemental light throughout the production of butterhead lettuce in the floating raft system.

“We are looking at how LED light affects leaf texture and plant morphology of butterhead lettuce,” he said. We are trying supplemental lighting during the summer. We are pulling shade so the light isn’t very intense. It appears that intense light can lead to tip burn that damages the plants leading to a poor quality crop. So we pull shade cloth and then run a prototype high-output LED grow light provided by GE for almost 20 hours. We deliver a low intensity of light over a longer period so we can provide the plants the light they need without stressing them. We are trying to improve the quality by adding LED light in order to produce more compact growth that is associated with LEDs.

“Under greenhouse shade cloth the lettuce leaves look fragile. We are trying to grow the lettuce to hit a certain weight. If the plants are grown under shade they look fairly large and floppy and the head doesn’t have the right density at its core. By using the LEDs we can produce the more traditional morphology where the plants have a dense core. The leaves aren’t floppy and the plants look more like traditional butterhead should look.”

 

Matching plants and production systems

Baras said he is trialing a wide range of crops in all of the production systems he is using.

“Primarily we are focused on lettuce and basil, but we are trialing a lot of varieties,” he said. “We definitely see some systems are capable of growing some varieties that other systems are not. We want to be able to recommend what varieties grow best in what systems. We are preparing a book based on our research that will include an entire section on strategies for how to use these production systems. We will provide example situations in the book discussing location, climate, market, what crops are being requested by that market and how to use that information to determine what production system is most appropriate.

“We are looking at primarily butterhead, romaine and oakleaf lettuce and 20 different basil varieties. We are also doing trials with arugula, spinach, cilantro, kale, chard, Asian greens and microgreens. We are doing an extensive study of herb varieties. There are also some unusual crops like stevia, wasabi arugula, celeriac and sorrel. We are determining all of these plants growth habits in the different production systems. This information will be in the book along with the details and nuances of growing each crop.”

A vertical hydroponic tower commonly used by smaller growers has been installed to answer some of the questions that Hort Americas customers have about using the system.

Based on the trial results, Baras said the book will provide details on each plant variety and its performance in each system.

“The book will provide information on the growth a grower should expect in different environments based on the amount of light and temperature,” he said. “The book will offer projected production numbers a grower should be able to reach. These will be realistic targets for each of the production systems we have studied.”

 


For more: Hort Americas, (469) 532-2383; https://hortamericas.com.

 

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas; dkuack@gmail.com.

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GLASE consortium aims to improve greenhouse energy efficiency

Even though the Greenhouse Lighting and Systems Engineering (GLASE) consortium is New York-based, the research it is doing has the potential to impact controlled environment agriculture worldwide.

The Greenhouse Lighting and Systems Engineering (GLASE) consortium is a partnership between Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Albany, N.Y. The consortium will be conducting research to improve controlled environment agriculture (CEA) operations including reducing energy consumption.

 

 

The goal of the consortium is to create a more sustainable and profitable greenhouse industry. Although the focus of the research will be on greenhouse production, the findings should also have application to indoor CEA production including vertical farms and warehouses. Greenhouses, which can be electricity-intensive depending on the level of automation, cover 720 acres in New York State. The consortium is looking to reduce greenhouse electricity use and concomitant carbon emission by 70 percent and to increase crop yields by 2030.

Erico Mattos, who was appointed executive director of GLASE in June, said he has been hired as a subcontractor by Cornell University and will be working to recruit industry members to join the consortium.

“Currently I have a 50 percent time appointment with GLASE,” Mattos said. “My time with GLASE will increase as we bring in industry members. I am living in Georgia, but will be moving to upstate New York over the next year and will be located between RPI in Albany and Cornell University in Ithaca.”

Mattos said GLASE is a seven-year project which has received $5 million from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The money will be used to sponsor research between Cornell and RPI.

“The team leaders who will be doing the research are Neil Mattson at Cornell University and Tessa Pocock at RPI,” said Mattos. “They have a set of more than 300 milestones that their teams have to reach. They have already achieved some of these milestones.”

The research activities include improving lighting fixtures and systems that synergistically control lighting, ventilation, humidity and carbon dioxide, improving CEA operations and reducing energy consumption to create a more sustainable and profitable greenhouse industry.

“The teams at Cornell and RPI are well equipped with the resources they need to achieve the milestones of the core research proposal that has been sponsored by NYSERDA,” he said. “Even though the teams led by Neil and Tessa are completely self-sustainable, they may require some outside partnerships to achieve some of the goals.”

The GLASE consortium is headed by researchers Tessa Pocock at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Neil Mattson at Cornell University and GLASE executive director Erico Mattos.
Photo courtesy of GLASE

Mattos said in his role as executive director he will act as an intermediary between Cornell, RPI and NYSERDA making sure that the research is proceeding and that milestones are being completed on time.

“The most important part of my position is to create a consortium with industry members,” Mattos said. “The goal over the next seven years will be for the project to receive less money from NYSERDA and more money from industry members. We want to establish a consortium that is self-sustaining. By bringing in industry members we will have money to do our own-sponsored research, technology transfer, outreach, and market research, all these types of things and GLASE will be self-financing.

“My role as executive director is to ensure that the team moves in this direction. By bringing in industry members, offering them the project and making sure that we provide them with access to the technology that is developed by Cornell and RPI.”

 

Complementary research

Mattos said the research that will be done at Cornell and RPI is complementary and will not overlap.

“RPI will be doing more engineering-related research, such as looking at light fixtures and components including the drivers and controllers,” he said. “They are also looking at photobiology—how plants respond to different spectra as they grow and produce different nutritional compounds and changes in plant metabolism and morphology. The RPI research work is more engineering-related.

“The research at Cornell is going to be more applied in the greenhouse, such as interactions of carbon dioxide enrichment and lighting control studies. Cornell will implement some of the systems that have already been developed at Cornell. Cornell will also be looking at different systems and different crops. Initially the studies will be done with tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries and then will be extended as necessary.”

 

The research conducted at Cornell University will be more applied in the greenhouse, including carbon dioxide enrichment and lighting control studies.
Photo by Chris Kitchen, Cornel Univ. Marketing

Mattos said the research will be expanded to commercial size greenhouses in New York, which will be 6,000 square feet for a small scale greenhouse and 20,000 square feet for a large scale greenhouse.

“RPI will develop new systems and Cornell will implement the greenhouse tests and then move forward to a final demonstration,” he said.

Mattos said the researchers will also be working in partnership with A.J. Both at Rutgers University, who will be doing some of the energy efficacy and radiometric studies of the light fixtures.

“One of the milestones Cornell research associate Kale Harbick will be working on is modeling,” Mattos said. “This will involve trying to calculate in advance how much energy in a greenhouse is consumed and what happens if some of the variables are changed. The research will look at how these changes affect the general energy consumption of the greenhouse.”

 

Seeking industry support

Mattos said when GLASE was developed over 30 industry companies provided letters of support indicating they wanted to become part of the consortium as industry members. Since the consortium was started, many other companies have expressed their interest in becoming part of the consortium.

“Even though these companies signed letters of support that doesn’t mean they will all become consortium members,” he said. “Cornell and RPI are both already working in partnership with some companies to develop the core research. There is nothing official as industry members yet. We are looking to bring in other industry members and really make them a part of this consortium. We want to reach a broad range of industry members so this support could be both financial or it could be providing equipment to conduct the research. But the primary goal is to bring in financial support.”

Mattos said there will be a series of benefits that come with industry membership.

“They would pay for a membership and then they would get a series of benefits. We are now working with a marketing media company to promote the consortium and the opportunity for membership.

“We want to bring in large manufacturing companies, but we also want to address the other end of the spectrum and work with small growers. The growers will benefit the most from this research.”

 

Academic collaborators, information hub

Mattos said it is the intension of the consortium to expand with researchers from outside New York.

“We intend to establish future academic collaborations to develop new research projects partially funded by GLASE through industry membership funds and new research grants,” he said.

Another goal of GLASE is to create a hub for greenhouse lighting and systems engineering which includes the centralization of information.

“We will create a central database to indicate the academic research currently on-going in the U.S. (what, where and who) to facilitate the interaction between the industry and academia,” he said.

 

Impact on greenhouse, plant systems

The crops that are to be studied initially by Cornell and RPI researchers are tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries.

“These are commercially relevant crops,” Mattos said “I went to Ithaca and met some of the members of Neil’s team, including graduate students Jonathan Allred and Erica Hernandez and research technician Matthew Moghaddam, who have been working with tomatoes and strawberries. Lettuce is also one of the most commonly produced greenhouse crops.

“Part of the milestones that Tessa will be working on will be done in environmentally controlled growth chambers and growth rooms. Tessa does not have a greenhouse. Most of the research that she will be doing is related to photobiology. Everything that she will be doing has application to warehouse production even though she is not doing the research in a warehouse. This research will look at nutritional compounds and pigment production. The research in the growth chambers will be compared with greenhouse studies.”

The research conducted at RPI will be done in growth chambers and growth rooms, which should have application to commercial warehouse production.
Photo courtesy of GLASE

Although the RPI research is not targeted for commercial indoor farms, Mattos said the results could be used to support that type of production.

“The proposal is to reduce greenhouse crop production energy consumption by 70 percent in seven years,” he said. “The economic factor and the majority of the research will be looking at greenhouse systems and how to integrate them. Economically we are focused on greenhouses. But we will be doing studies in growth chambers that may have application to support indoor farm production.

“Tessa will be looking especially at biological efficacy. Everybody talks about the efficacy of the light fixtures themselves. A lot of people are looking at that. Getting less attention is the biological efficacy, which is if there is a different spectrum, the same amount of photons or micromoles, can have a different impact on plants. Not only the morphology, but also the pigments, the chemical pathways. This is the biological efficacy.”

 


For more: Erico Mattos, Greenhouse Lighting and Systems Engineering (GLASE) consortium; (302) 290-1560; erico.bioenergy@hotmail.com; https://glase.cals.cornell.edu.

 

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas; dkuack@gmail.com.

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Be aware of the challenges of using loose substrates in hydroponic production systems

If you’re going to use a loose substrate in a hydroponic production system, you may have to change how you handle starter plants and the treatment of recycled water.

Many growers of ornamental plants including annuals and perennials traditionally use a peat-based substrate such as 70 percent peat, 30 percent perlite. The growers, who produce these crops in containers, will often use the same substrates if they expand their crop offerings to include hydroponically-grown edible crops, including lettuces and leafy greens.

Continue reading Be aware of the challenges of using loose substrates in hydroponic production systems

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Are you maintaining the proper oxygen levels in your hydroponic production system?

Growers have affordable options for ensuring plants receive sufficient oxygen in hydroponic production systems to maximize growth and to reduce the chances of disease.

 

Oxygen is critical in the development and growth of edible crops grown in hydroponic systems such as nutrient film technique (NFT) and deep water raft culture. Tyler Baras, special projects manager at Hort Americas, is studying methods of adding oxygen to both conventional and organic hydroponic production systems in the company’s 12,000-square-foot research and demonstration greenhouse in Dallas, Texas.

“One of the big differences is how growers add oxygen,” Baras said. “A lot of times in conventional hydroponics, growers use air pumps and air stones to add oxygen. In organic systems these tend to be hot spots for biofilm development. We have removed all air pumps and air stones from the organic systems we are trialing.

Tyler Baras, special projects manager at Hort Americas, is studying methods of adding oxygen to both conventional and organic hydroponic production systems.
Photos courtesy of Tyler Baras

 

In the conventional production systems Baras is studying he has installed water pumps with a Venturi attachment to add oxygen to the nutrient solution reservoir.

“The pumps aren’t injecting air into the irrigation lines, but simply into the reservoir to circulate the water and to create a circular flow within the fertilizer reservoir,” he said. “As the pumps operate they draw in air through a ¼-inch emitter. There is the benefit of moving around the solution and the air being drawn in increases the level of dissolved oxygen.”

A method that organic growers use to increase oxygen levels is cascading the water when it returns to the reservoir. As water returns it is allowed to fall and break the surface of the reservoir so that the water can pull in oxygen.

“This can also be done in vertical farms where the water will fall down large return pipes to the reservoir,” Baras said. “This can happen in multiple stages where the water will drop several times. This is an effective method for increasing dissolved oxygen.

“For NFT, it appears more oxygen can be delivered to plant roots when the flow rate is increased per channel. As the flow rate increases, more oxygen is delivered to the roots so water isn’t sitting in the channel as long. This allows freshly oxygenated water to be delivered quickly to the roots. In conventional hydroponic NFT systems the flow rate is about ½ liter per minute. In our hydroponic NFT system I have been aiming for about 1-2 liters per minute.”

 

Adequate oxygen levels

Baras said oxygen is necessary for plant roots to perform metabolic processes.

“Most of the water uptake in plants is passive,” he said. “But there is a stage where the plants use energy to actively pull up water through the roots. This requires oxygen. If there isn’t any oxygen in the root zone no water will make it up through the roots to the top of the plant. Low oxygen in the root zone can appear as wilting at the top of the plants. This can seem counterintuitive in a hydroponic system because the roots are sitting in water, but the tops of the plants look like their wilting if there isn’t any oxygen in that water.”

As the flow rate increases in a NFT system, more oxygen is delivered to the roots so water isn’t sitting in the channel as long.

 

Baras said the need for oxygen in an organic hydroponic system is even more important because of the presence of living microbes in the fertilizer solution reservoir.

“These microbes also require oxygen,” he said. “The oxygen demand is often higher in organic systems than conventional systems because not only do the plant roots need oxygen, but the microbes need oxygen as well. In an organic hydroponic system one of the best ways of keeping biofilm in check is to keep the beneficial microbes happy.”

Baras said most of the oxygen measurements he has been taking in his research have been showing very similar oxygen levels for both conventional and organic production systems when the crops are performing well.

“I have been aiming for a level of 7-12 parts per million (ppm) dissolved oxygen, but generally the readings fall between 7-9 ppm,” he said. “I’m using a ProODO meter from YSI that is a very sensitive piece of equipment that accurately measures dissolved oxygen.”

Although most hydroponic growers are concerned with maintaining adequate oxygen levels, Baras said if too much oxygen is added to the solution it can cause root stunting.

“I haven’t reached that threshold yet in my trials,” he said. “It’s crop dependent on what that level is. When there is too much oxygen the roots have less motivation to grow larger because they are getting everything they need with a smaller surface area. That can then translate to the plants producing less biomass resulting in less leaf tissue. So at some point too much oxygen can actually cause less growth. For crops like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers the whole plant would be stunted.

“The only way growers could reach excessive oxygen levels that damage the plants are when liquid oxygen or possibly ozone is used. Using air pumps or air stones to add oxygen, the levels won’t be high enough to stunt plant growth. To reach higher oxygen levels of 15-16 ppm, a grower would have to use other methods like liquid oxygen and ozone. It’s very difficult to reach high oxygen levels above 10 ppm unless an alternative method is used beyond air pumps, Venturis and cascades. I haven’t seen any growers go much higher than 8-9 ppm using the conventional methods.”

Baras said growers using a deep water raft system could try increasing turbulence in the pond to increase oxygen level. However, too much turbulence can sometimes cause damage to the roots.

Increasing turbulence in a deep water raft system can increase the oxygen level. But too much turbulence can damage roots.

 

“The roots in the turbulent areas are the ones that often times grow poorly,” he said. “The plants that are near the irrigation outlets where the currents are stronger, they have the poorest root growth. Sometimes growers will use air pumps in their ponds and those plants directly above where the air stones are located grow poorly.”

For more: Hort Americas, (469) 532-2383; https://hortamericas.com.

 

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas; dkuack@gmail.com.

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Organic vs. traditional hydroponic production: the top 3 differences

When it comes to changing from conventional to organic hydroponic production methods, there are three main areas that growers find most challenging.

Tyler Baras, special projects manager at Hort Americas in Bedford, Texas, said growers are increasingly inquiring about organic hydroponic production. Baras is running hydroponic production trials comparing organic and conventional production methods in a 12,000-square-foot research and demonstration greenhouse in Dallas.

“We’re doing the research because of market demand,” he said. “A lot of growers are getting feedback from their customers that they would prefer to have produce that is certified organic. Produce suppliers and brokers hear from the grocery stores and then they bring those requests to the growers.

 

Tyler Baras, special projects manager at Hort Americas, is comparing organic and conventional hydroponic production methods using a variety of edible crops.
Photos courtesy of Tyler Baras

 

“We don’t necessarily believe that produce grown with organic production methods is superior. We believe in conventional production methods as well. What we are trying to do is provide as many options to our customers as possible.”

Baras said that organic production is a whole system that includes substrates, fertilizers and pest management. But most of the questions coming from growers about organic production are related to fertilizers.

 

  1. Inoculants and tank culturing

Baras said an advantage of traditional fertilizers is all of the research that has been conducted on them has enabled growers to target exact nutrient profiles for specific crops.

“Research has enabled traditional fertilizers to come down to fairly exact levels,” he said. “Growers are able to figure out exactly how many parts per million of each nutrient they want to put into nutrient solutions. The chemistry allows them to be that exact.

“Organic fertilizers are a little trickier because there isn’t the precision targeting each nutrient. Generally there are inputs that are going to have several nutrients in them. Growers don’t have the ability to adjust individual nutrients as easily.”

Another issue with many commercial organic fertilizers is they are animal-derived. These organic fertilizers include manures, bone meal, blood meal and feather meal.

“These animal-based organic fertilizers don’t mix well with water,” Baras said. “If growers are using recirculating hydroponic systems, these animal-based fertilizers tend to start going rancid and smell in a few days. These fertilizers can also form a sludge that can clog irrigation lines and emitters.”

Baras has focused his research trials on Pre-Empt, a plant-derived organic fertilizer which has blackstrap molasses as its major component. He has been comparing organic vs. traditional fertilizers in several hydroponic production systems, including flood-and-drain grow racks, two different nutrient film technique (NFT) systems, deep water culture floating rafts and a ZipGrow Tower system.

“We have successfully grown butterhead lettuce and basil in all of these systems using organic inputs,” he said. “We have several other crops that we are running through these systems in smaller trials, including spinach, cilantro, arugula, strawberries and other lettuce and herb varieties. Most of research is still focused on butterhead lettuce and basil.

“We currently don’t have any trials going with microgreens, but some of our first trials were with microgreens under LED lights using organic substrates and organic fertilizers. We definitely proved that is a viable production system.”

Baras said he knows of growers using Pre-Empt organic fertilizer who haven’t flushed their nutrient solution tanks for five months.

“The key is the slow development of the fertilizer tank,” he said. “Some growers have immediately added the organic fertilizer to their reservoir at full strength and they quickly notice that their tank starts to foam at the top and starts to smell similar to what happens with animal-based organic fertilizers. We’ve found if an initial charge, about half the target rate, is added first, along with a microbial inoculant at the same time, these issues can be avoided. We are using Terra Bella as the microbial inoculant because it has an extensive profile of different microbes.”

Baras said the half rate of fertilizer and microbial inoculant are run through the system for about two weeks.

“Once the microbial population becomes established, the nutrient solution in the tank can be brought up to full strength without any foaming or odors,” he said.

 

  1. Nutrient solution pH management

Baras said one of the major issues with the organic nutrient solution during the first two weeks is pH swings.

“The pH of the nutrient solution on the first day the organic fertilizer is added to the tank is in a good range around 6-6.5,” he said. “Within a couple days of adding the fertilizer, the nutrient solution pH shoots up to around 8.0. There are a lot of plants that do not like a high pH. Iron-inefficient crops like basil have a hard time taking up iron at a high pH. There will be a lot of chlorosis at the top of the plants. This happens within a couple days of the pH going above 7.

“During the second week the pH drops to between 4 to 5. The plants continue to grow, there are a lot of nutrients in the solution, but the quality is very different. During the third week the pH stabilizes. As the microbial population stabilizes, the pH stabilizes around 5.5-6.5, which is ideal for leafy greens.”

Baras said growers have taken two routes to stabilize the nutrient solution pH.

“There are growers who will let the solution go for this two-week swing and let the solution stabilize similar to what we have been doing,” he said. “Other growers are trying to control the pH with inputs. When the pH goes up they will add citric acid. When the pH starts to drop they will add sodium bicarbonate.

“The inputs to adjust the pH are very limited. The main downfall with citric acid is that it is anti-microbial. So although a grower is able to lower the pH, it’s not good for the microbial population. Another option is vinegar, but most commercial growers are using citric acid for controlling pH for organic production.”

Baras said the options for raising the pH are also limited.

“Growers would like to use potassium bicarbonate, but potassium bicarbonate is not allowed for pH management under the organic rules,” he said. “Potassium bicarbonate can be used to control powdery mildew, but it can’t be used to control pH in the nutrient solution tank. What growers are left with is sodium bicarbonate or baking soda. The pH can be raised, but over time sodium accumulates. Once a certain threshold of sodium is reached then problems start to occur including nutrient disorders.”

Baras said another issue with using citric acid and sodium bicarbonate for pH management is the longevity of the nutrient tank solution is shortened.

“It could be a couple months, but at some point the sodium levels are so high that either the whole solution or part of the solution is going to have to be dumped,” he said. “The tank is going to have to be flushed. The amount of citric acid and sodium bicarbonate added can be done in small increments, but it is the accumulation that causes problems.”

Baras said once the nutrient solution stabilizes, the swings in pH won’t be as drastic when additional water and fertilizer are added to the tank.

Another option for controlling pH includes adding more water or fertilizer.

“Depending on the water source, adding water to the tank can sometimes raise the pH,” Baras said. “Also, the Pre-Empt fertilizer is somewhat acidic and that could be used to lower the pH simply by adding more fertilizer.”

 

  1. EC targets and nutrient analysis

Baras said growers who switch to organic production systems should continue to measure the electrical conductivity (EC) of the nutrient solution to determine soluble salts levels.

“A lot of the nutrients in organic fertilizers won’t register on EC readings because of the forms they are in,” he said. “They aren’t yet broken down into simple salts. If growers are basing their feedings solely on EC readings, the EC of the nutrient solution will probably read much lower even when sufficient nutrients are being provided to the crop.

“The specific makeup of the nutrient profile, how many parts per million of each nutrient, for organic and conventional fertilizers are not the same. I don’t target the same nutrient profile for an organic nutrient solution that I do with conventional nutrient solutions.”

 

Butterhead lettuce and basil have been grown successfully in Hort Americas’ research greenhouse using several hydroponic production systems and organic inputs.

 

 

Baras said plants are fairly flexible on many of the nutrients, which can be maintained within a fairly wide range.

“With organics, sometimes the calcium level may only be 100 parts per million where with conventional fertilizers the target calcium level for most leafy greens is around 200 ppm,” he said. “But even at 100 ppm calcium with an organic fertilizer, we are not seeing the issues that we would expect from having a low calcium level.”

Baras said for fruiting crops like tomatoes, calcium can be an issue with organic production.

“Calcium sulfate is an amendment that can be used to correct calcium deficiency,” he said. “Another nutrient that can be low with plant-based organic fertilizers is magnesium. What we have found is nutrients like calcium and magnesium that are usually lacking in the organic fertilizer we are using, they are generally found in the source water of most growers.

“In our research greenhouse the source water contains 30 ppm magnesium and 30 ppm calcium. Those can make a fairly significant contribution to the nutrient solution, especially with calcium that isn’t taken up as quickly as other nutrients. Over time the calcium level accumulates in the fertilizer tank. As the organic nutrient solution is used over several months, the calcium level rises and nearly reaches the conventional target of 200 ppm calcium. Like calcium, magnesium generally rises over time with source water contributions.”

 

Measuring changing EC levels

Baras said that he uses an EC meter to get an estimate of the soluble salts level in the organic nutrient solution.

“For lettuce the EC of the nutrient solution in the greenhouse for conventional production is usually run at 2-2.3,” he said. “For organic lettuce production I typically run an EC between 1.2-1.6. I make sure that the crop has the nutrients close to the target range by sending water samples to a testing lab to get an exact analysis. But even that has some issues with organic production.

“I’ve found that the amount of time a nutrient solution sample sits after it is sent out can affect the nutrient analysis from the lab. Since nutrient solution microbes are constantly active, changes can occur within the sample. Initially a sample sent to a lab may have 100 ppm nitrogen. But a few days later the same sample may indicate there is 150 ppm nitrogen.”

Baras has sent the same samples to multiple labs and he has received analyses with significant variations, especially with nitrogen. He suggests growers stick with one lab.

“If there is a lab that is relatively close to a grower’s operation, this can help ensure that results are returned relatively quickly,” he said. “The best practice is for growers to create their own archive of the nutrient analyses so that they can compare test results to previous notes. Lab test results are likely mimicking what is happening in the nutrient solution tank. The microbes’ activities are also affected by temperature the solution is stored at as well. The readings could come out higher or lower.

“There are different factors that can affect the EC including the temperature and the crop stage when a water sample is taken. Crop age, whether plants are young or mature, whether there is a well-developed root system along with the crop itself, impact the interaction with the nutrient solution. These can affect the form the nutrients are in and how that would read out on a nutrient analysis.”

Baras said how often an EC analysis should be done depends on how large the reservoir is and how often water is added to the reservoir.

“A small reservoir that is frequently amended with water should be tested fairly often,” he said. “Nutrients can quickly accumulate in a small reservoir. Growers with a small reservoir might be testing every week. With a large reservoir used for deep water culture that may contain 8,000 gallons of water, it is not as urgent to test as frequently.”

For more: Hort Americas, (469) 532-2383; https://hortamericas.com.

 

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas; dkuack@gmail.com.

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Substrate trials look to assist hydroponic growers avoid propagation-related issues

Substrate trials in Hort Americas’ research greenhouse are looking at conventional and organic propagation substrates along with different irrigation strategies for producing healthy starter plugs for hydroponic production systems.

Hort Americas has retrofitted a 12,000-square-foot greenhouse in Dallas, Texas, for the purpose of studying edible crop production in a variety of hydroponic production systems. The greenhouse is also being used to demonstrate products offered in the company’s online catalog.

Tyler Baras, who is the company’s special projects manager, is overseeing the trialing of conventional and organic substrates in different production systems.

Tyler Baras, special projects manager at Hort Americas, is overseeing the trialing of leafy greens and herbs propagated in conventional and organic substrates. The seedlings are transplanted into a deep water culture, NFT or vertical tower production system.
Photos courtesy of Tyler Baras, Hort Americas

“The trials I am focusing on are organic substrates vs. conventional substrates,” Baras said. “I’m primarily using stonewool or rockwool as the conventional propagation substrate. I am also starting to trial some loose substrates, including peat and perlite.

“The seedlings are never moved into another substrate. The seed is sown into plugs and then the rooted seedlings are moved into a deep water culture, NFT (nutrient film technique), or vertical tower production system. The plugs are really only useful for the first two weeks in propagation. Then it is really about getting the roots to grow outside the plugs so the roots grow directly in the water.”

For the organic production systems, Baras is working primarily with expandable coco plugs. He has also started working with some organic loose substrates including coco peat and perlite.

For the substrate studies Baras is working with two standard hydroponic crops, basil and lettuce, primarily butterhead lettuce.

“When I’m testing the lettuce I use either raw or pelleted seed,” he said. “With basil it’s all raw seed. Basil tends to germinate relatively easily, whether the seed is planted into a dibbled hole or sown on top of the substrate.”

Focused on irrigation strategies

A primary objective of the substrate trials is to determine the best irrigation strategies for both organic and conventional substrates.

“This is probably more important with some of the organic substrates than the conventional substrates because the organic substrates tend to hold more water,” Baras said. “One of the big challenges that organic hydroponic growers run into is overwatering their plugs because coco holds more water than conventional substrate plugs that growers are used to. Coco plugs hold more water than stonewool, phenolic foam and polymer-based peat plugs. These other plugs dry out faster than coco plugs.”

closed-bottom-organic-plug-hydroponic-substrates-growing-system
For the substrate trials, rooted seedling plugs are finished in a deep water culture, NFT (nutrient film technique) or vertical tower production system.

Baras said growers who are moving from conventional to organic production tend to use the same irrigation techniques they employed with their conventional propagation program.
“The growers will continue to irrigate the plugs a couple times per day,” he said. “With a lot of the organic plugs, when the seed is sown, they only need to be irrigated once every three days. If the plugs are overirrigated the roots don’t have an incentive to search out the water when they are planted into the production system. The search for water is what drives the seedling roots down to the bottom and out of the plugs.

“The goal of planting into plugs is to have the seedling roots grow outside of the plugs into the water of the deep water culture or NFT system. If the plugs are overwatered as young seedlings, the roots don’t make it down to the bottom of the plugs so it takes longer to start the seedlings and sometimes they just end up rotting because the plugs remain too wet.”

Type of irrigation system

In addition to looking at the irrigation frequency of plugs during propagation, Baras is studying the impact of different methods of irrigation during propagation, including overhead and subirrigation.

“When deciding whether to use overhead or subirrigation, it depends on whether raw or pelleted seed is being sown,” he said. “If pelleted seed is going to be used, a lot of times it’s advantageous to use overhead irrigation because it helps to dissolve the coating surrounding the seed. This helps to ensure the seed has better contact with the substrate. Sometimes it’s almost a little easier to get good germination with subirrigation if raw seed is used because of the direct contact with the substrate.

hydroponic-production-system-hydroponic-herbs-grodan
Growers need to avoid overwatering young seedling plugs or their roots may not make it down to the bottom of the plugs, which could delay transplanting into the production system.

“Smaller indoor growers often use subirrigation for germination. A lot of the large growers, especially those coming from the ornamental plant side such as bedding plants, usually have overhead irrigation systems installed. These growers have propagation areas set up with overhead irrigation, which can be used to start their hydroponic vegetable crops.”

Baras said most indoor warehouse growers are not going to be using watering wands or overhead irrigation in their operations.

“Most of the warehouse growers will be using subirrigation, such as flood tables,” he said. “For them it is going to be important that they select the right kind of seed to get good germination. They may have to try other techniques like using a deeper dibble or covering the seed with some kind of loose organic substrate such as perlite or vermiculite. Growers using overhead irrigation can usually sow pelleted seed without having to dibble the substrate.

“Many growers tend to have issues when they are using pelleted bibb lettuce seed with subirrigation. We are looking at ways of increasing the germination rate using dibbling with the pelleted seed or increasing the dibble size or covering the seed.”

Baras said growers who are using automation, including mechanized seeders and dibblers, prefer to use pelleted seed.

“With pelleted seed it’s easier to be more precise so that there is only one seed planted per plug cell,” he said. “I have seen automation used with raw basil seed. I have also seen organic production done where automation was used just to dibble the plug trays. Dibbling seems to be one of the biggest factors when it comes to getting good even germination.

 

Need for good seed-substrate contact

Baras said occasionally with tightly packed coco plugs, if the seed is not pushed down into the plug the emerging radicle may have issues penetrating the substrate.

“This helps push the radicle down so it contacts the substrate and establishes more easily,” he said. “When subirrigation is used it can be advantageous to cover the seed with vermiculite or just brush the top of the coco plug after the seed is planted to get some coverage of the seed.

“What usually affects the way that coco plugs work is the size of the coco particles. There is really fine coco. There is coco fiber, which can be mixed into the plug to help with aeration and increase drainage. We are looking at various plugs with some increased fiber content trying to aerate the plugs in order to speed up the drainage.”

hydroponic-cilantro-grodan-rockwool-deep-water-culture-grodan-ao-hydroponic-production-system-herbs
Stonewool or rockwool is the primary conventional propagation substrate in the trials. Other loose substrates, including peat and perlite, are also starting to be trialed.

Baras is also looking at using loose substrates in different ratios in plugs and then transplanting them into deep water culture, NFT, and vertical tower systems.

“One of the issues with hydroponic systems and loose substrates is these substrates can enter the production system and clog up the irrigation lines,” he said. “The trick is trying to avoid having any loose substrate enter the system. We are looking at using loose substrates and allowing the seedlings to establish longer in the plug cell during propagation before transplanting them into the production system. This enables the seedlings to develop a larger root system, which can prevent loose substrate from falling into the system.”

 

For more: Hort Americas, (469) 532-2383; https://hortamericas.com.

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas; dkuack@gmail.com.

 

Products being used in greenhouse trials

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Fertilizer trials look at leafy greens, herb growth in hydroponic production systems

Early results from fertilizer trials in Hort Americas’ research greenhouse show knowing the levels of nutrients in fertilizer solutions can go a long way in avoiding problems with deficiencies and toxicities.

Hort Americas has retrofitted a 12,000-square-foot greenhouse in Dallas, Texas, for the purpose of studying edible crop production in a variety of hydroponic production systems. The greenhouse is also being used to demonstrate products offered in the company’s online catalog.

Tyler Baras, who is the company’s special projects manager, is overseeing the trialing of leafy greens and herbs in five different production systems.

“We’ve got a deep water culture or raft system using Hort Americas’ fertilizer blend with calcium nitrate and magnesium sulfate,” Baras said. “We are using that same nutrient mix in a nutrient film technique (NFT) system and a capillary mat system.

“I’m using Terra Genesis organic fertilizer in a vertical grow tower. I’m also using the same organic fertilizer for all of the seedling propagation in a flood-and-drain vertical rack.”

Tyler Baras, special projects manager at Hort Americas, is overseeing the trialing of leafy greens and herbs in different production systems, including deep water culture and nutrient film technique. Photos courtesy of Tyler Baras, Hort Americas
Tyler Baras, special projects manager at Hort Americas, is overseeing the trialing of leafy greens and herbs in different production systems, including deep water culture and nutrient film technique.
Photos courtesy of Tyler Baras, Hort Americas

Baras said the fertilizer recipe he is using in the deep water culture and NFT systems is based on general recommendations from Cornell University and the University of Arizona for leafy greens crop production.

Differences in nutrient levels

The deep water culture system has been running for three months. The water reservoir for the system is 8,000 gallons.

“Even if water evaporates, since it is such a large body of water, the electrical conductivity (EC) doesn’t really move much,” Baras said. “The EC has been very stable during the three months it has been operating. The reading has barely moved.”

The first trial with the NFT system, which has a reservoir of about 140 gallons, lasted for three months.

“Every week I added an additional 40 gallons of water on average to the NFT reservoir,” Baras said. “The water is evaporating and the salts are accumulating a lot faster in the NFT reservoir than in the deep water culture system. Because the NFT system has a smaller water reservoir, the quicker evaporation rate and the water replacement in the reservoir, has caused the EC to shift a lot more.”

One of the goals of the fertilizer trials is to see what salts are accumulating in the NFT system and to see how long the system can run before it has to be flushed.
One of the goals of the fertilizer trials is to see what salts are accumulating in the NFT system and to see how long the system can run before it has to be flushed.

Baras said even with the changes in nutrient levels all of the plants have been performing well.

“I haven’t seen any nutrient deficiencies or toxicities even as the fertilizer recipe has shifted over time. We have been trialing a wide range of crops, including butterhead and romaine lettuces, kale, spring mixes and basil. I’m trialing a lot of crops to figure out when these crops start to be impacted by possibly too much salt accumulation. I haven’t seen anything yet that is alarming.

“One of the things that I have seen over the years working with fertilizers is how wide the acceptable range is for plants to grow well. Between the NFT and deep water culture, the NFT is using half the nitrogen and the plants are performing very similarly. There are recommendations for EC, but none of these fertilizer levels are set. I have some systems that have 20 parts per million phosphorus and some that have 50 ppm and the plants look the same. Most general recommendations say 40-50 ppm. I’ll have some solutions that have 3 ppm iron and others that have 6 ppm iron. It is interesting to see how wide the range is for a lot of these nutrients and the crops are performing the same.”

During the three months that the deep water culture system has been running the electrical conductivity (EC) has been very stable with plants showing no signs of nutrient deficiencies or toxicities.
During the three months that the deep water culture system has been running the electrical conductivity (EC) has been very stable with plants showing no signs of nutrient deficiencies or toxicities.

Baras said he has seen a slowing of plant growth in the NFT system.

“I’m not seeing any deficiencies or toxicities, but the crops have slowed down about a week over the deep water culture,” he said. “Depending on the crop, it’s taking a week longer to reach either the plants’ salable weight or height.

“The slowing in growth could be related to the nutrients. This could be useful information for growers. If they are checking the EC, which may have been 2.3 when a crop was started, if there is a slowing of growth, growers may want to have a water test done. The test could show that the amount of nutrients might be changing.”

Identifying what makes up the EC

During the three months that Baras had been running the NFT system he never flushed the system.

“All that I’ve done with the NFT system is add water and additional fertilizer to maintain a targeted EC,” he said. “One of the goals of the trials is to see what ions are accumulating in the system and to see how long I can run the system before it has to be flushed. When I started the target EC was 2.2-2.3. I still achieved the target EC at three months, but the composition of what was actually in the water changed.

“Originally the NFT fertilizer solution contained about 185 parts per million nitrogen. At the end of the trial the EC was the same but there was only 108 ppm nitrogen in the solution. The calcium concentration was originally 250 ppm and ended at 338 ppm. Sulphur was originally at 80 ppm and rose to 250 ppm. Nutrients have accumulated as the water evaporated. Solely going by the EC meter reading doesn’t tell the full story of what is in that water. The EC of the fertilizer solution that I started with is the same as the EC for the fertilizer solution three months later. The difference is the ions that are making up that ending EC.”

Herb production with organic fertilizer

Baras is growing a variety of cut herbs in vertical grow towers. The plants are fertilized with Terra Genesis, a molasses-based organic fertilizer. He said Hort Americas has been hearing from tower growers who are interested in trying to grow organically.

“What we are seeing is the organic fertilizer solution can change a lot over time,” he said. “The fertilizer tank solution matures as time goes on. With the organic fertilizer, the nutrients tend to balance out as the solution is run longer.

“Our city water contains calcium and some magnesium. These elements are actually the nutrients that the organic fertilizer is slightly low in. So as I run the system longer, through the addition of city water, I actually start to see an accumulation of both calcium and magnesium, which actually helps balance out the total fertilizer recipe. The balance of the nutrients has improved over time.

A variety of cut herbs are being grown in vertical grow towers and fertilized with Terra Genesis, a molasses-based organic fertilizer.
A variety of cut herbs are being grown in vertical grow towers and fertilized with Terra Genesis, a molasses-based organic fertilizer.

The pH was fairly unstable as it seemed to be going through several biological waves. It was moving rapidly between high and low. As I run the tank solution longer the total alkalinity has increased, which has stabilized it. The biological activity has also started to stabilize. The pH has stabilized in the upper 5 range. For the plants grown organically I have seen deficiencies pop up. The deficiencies were reduced as the fertilizer tank solution ran longer. The deficiencies appear to have balanced out.”

Baras said one noticeable difference between the NFT, deep water and vertical grow towers is how much slower the plants grow in the towers.

“I don’t know what to contribute the slower growth to yet,” he said. “It could be trying to determine the best fertilizer rate for the fertilizer. It could be the crop selection, because most of the crops in the towers are different from what I’m growing in the NFT and deep water culture.

“I’m going to start a deep water culture and NFT trial using organic fertilizer. I’ll have three different organic production systems running simultaneously so I will be able to compare the plant growth in each system. I’ll also be able to compare the growth of the same crops grown with organic or conventional fertilizers.”

Controlling biofilm, disease pathogens

Baras said one of the issues that can arise with using organic fertilizer is the development of biofilm in the irrigation lines that can cause emitters to clog.

“I am incorporating a product called TerraBella, which contains beneficial microbes,” he said. “These microbes help mobilize certain nutrients, like phosphorus, which can promote the formation of biofilms. This biofilm buildup is usually more of a problem with high water temperatures.

“About every six weeks I add a booster application of the beneficial microbes depending on the production system. The deep water culture system has a larger reservoir so I am not replacing evaporated water as often. For the other productions systems, like the NFT and grow towers, where I am replacing the water, I am incorporating the beneficials more often. For these systems, the fresh city water that is added dilutes the fertilizer solution. Also, there is chlorine in the city water that possibly could negatively impact some of the beneficial microbes.

For more: Hort Americas, (469) 532-2383; https://hortamericas.com.

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas; dkuack@gmail.com.

 

Products being used in greenhouse trials

 

 

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Hort Americas retrofits greenhouse for trialing hydroponic growing systems, products

Hort Americas’ special projects manager Tyler Baras is using a 12,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse to teach company staff and customers what it takes to economically grow leafy greens and herbs.

Tyler Baras is a well-traveled grower. He has worked in Florida and Colorado growing hydroponic greenhouse vegetables, including organic crops. He is now taking the knowledge and experience he has gained from those growing operations and putting it to use in a 12,000-square-foot demonstration and research greenhouse in Dallas, Texas.

Baras, who is the special projects manager at Hort Americas, is overseeing the trialing of leafy greens and herbs in five different production systems along with the testing of potential products for the company’s online catalog.

“Chris Higgins, the general manager at Hort Americas, brought me to the greenhouse and asked if I would be interested in running a demonstration and research facility,” Baras said. “He was also interested in collecting data and writing a book about leafy greens production.

“After I agreed to accept the position, I drew up blueprints of the greenhouse, preparing a design of the production systems, writing a budget and proposals on how it was going to look, and how much it was going to cost to operate, including projected sales from the produce that was grown.”

Tyler Baras, special projects manager at Hort Americas, is overseeing the trialing of leafy greens and herbs in five different production systems. Photos courtesy of Tyler Baras, Hort Americas
Tyler Baras, special projects manager at Hort Americas, is overseeing the trialing of leafy greens and herbs in five different hydroponic production systems.
Photos courtesy of Tyler Baras, Hort Americas

The retrofitted greenhouse is located behind a grocery store and prominent Dallas garden center. The grocery store and garden center will allow Baras to test his projected budgets and produce sales.

“The greenhouse was originally built for growing bedding and flowering plants,” Baras said. “It was built with passive ventilation and was not designed for leafy greens production. We had to make some major modifications. Renovations included leveling the floor, adding a vestibule air lock, upgrading the electrical system, installing evaporative cooling pads, insect screening and landscape fabric, and upgrading the motors for the shade system along with installing new shade cloth. We have been growing in the greenhouse since September.”

Hort Americas, which is a horticulture and agriculture wholesale supply company, provided the materials for the retrofit along with the hydroponic production systems that Baras will be using. The production systems include a capillary mat system, a deep water culture floating raft system, a nutrient film technique (NFT) system, a hydroponic tower system and grow racks. Hort Americas has also provided a variety of equipment and products, including substrates, fertilizers, LED lights and other products it offers to its wholesale customers.

Collecting, disseminating production data

Dallas was chosen for the research location because it is one of the hardest places to grow hydroponic leafy greens. Baras will be trialing primarily leafy greens, including a variety of lettuces (bibb and Romaine), kale, bok choy, basil and other herbs.

“We believe that if leafy greens can be grown here then they can be grown nearly anywhere by everyone,” he said. “Year-round production here is difficult. We know that we will be able to grow during the fall, winter and spring. The tricky part is going to come during the summer when there are high temperatures and high humidity. The project will take a minimum of a year to collect the data.”

Baras said he will be collecting a lot of data including: cost per plant size, how much does it cost over the production cycle to operate each system and the labor costs involved with operating each system.

The 12,000-square-foot demonstration and research greenhouse contains five different production systems including a deep water culture floating raft system.
The 12,000-square-foot demonstration and research greenhouse contains five different production systems including a deep water culture floating raft system.

“The goal is to collect data that can be used by everyone,” he said. “We are going to collect data that includes the total light delivered. If growers in more northern latitudes are dealing with lower light, they can look at the light levels we maintained in the greenhouse and reach those same levels using supplemental light so that they can mimic the exact same conditions.

“The data collected will be available to whoever has an interest in reading about it. This will enable growers to be knowledgeable about making decisions about these production systems and operating them. They will also have access to some real world baseline data from trials so they will know if they are achieving the proper metrics. For example, we will share the data of how long it took to grow a certain size head of lettuce or a certain weight of basil using specific inputs. Growers will be able to look at real world environmental conditions under which a crop was grown.”

Preliminary results

Baras said based on initial production results what makes most financial sense at this time is growing basil and lettuce.

“Our initial metrics from the data that we have collected have been good,” he said. “We are producing 8- to10-ounce heads of bibb lettuce in 38 days and we are harvesting commercial size sleeved basil in 26 days from seed.

“Most commercial standards for lettuce in the U.S. are between 6 and 10 ounces. For basil there is a wide range in regards to the standard size for weight. Generally it is done by size or by what fills up a 10-inch tall sleeve. We have been able to fill a 10-inch sleeve and make it look really good.”

Preliminary production results include harvesting commercial size sleeved basil in 26 days from seed.
Preliminary production results include harvesting commercial size sleeved basil in 26 days from seed.

Having experienced a warmer than normal October, Baras said the water temperature in most of the production systems has been 85ºF or warmer.

“Generally the water temperature for most hydroponic crops is between 65ºF-70ºF,” he said. “The water temperature here is definitely warm, but we are still having really great growth. So far it is looking like we can grow a crop during the summer. But we haven’t gone through a full summer yet and that is going to be the real test.
Baras said they want to try to avoid chilling the water and will only use this production technique as the last resort.”

“We are trying to find ways around having to chill the water, including increasing the level of dissolved oxygen in the water using a variety of methods. This includes using Venturi aerators, and if needed, injecting liquid oxygen. These methods are less costly than running chillers. Chillers can be expensive and they use a lot of energy.
“We really want to find a model that is going to be acceptable to small scale growers. We are trying to keep the inputs to a minimum and still achieve our production goals.”

Teaching and trialing

Baras said the greenhouse has already been used for onsite training.

“That is one of our main goals with the site,” he said. “We want to be able to bring in people and provide them with hands-on training, both our customers and the Hort Americas staff. For example, we want to be able to show them how to blend fertilizer, what the process looks like for moving seedlings through a hydroponic system, how to measure light levels in a greenhouse and best pest control methods.

“We want to be able to assist customers who are starting to build a greenhouse and are looking to install hydroponic equipment. The greenhouse will enable them to see what is involved before they make any purchases.”

Dallas Grown
The greenhouse will be used to provide training to Hort Americas’ customers and staff, as well as the trialing of new products.

The greenhouse will also be used for trialing new products.

“Companies often approach Hort Americas about carrying their products, the greenhouse will enable us to put them through real world trials before they’re put in our online catalog,” Baras said. “Some of the products we plan to trial include dosing systems, monitoring systems for greenhouse environmental control and meters for measuring pH and EC. We are open to looking at other equipment and other automation technology.”

For more: Hort Americas, (469) 532-2383; https://hortamericas.com.

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas; dkuack@gmail.com.

 

Products being used in greenhouse trials

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Colorado State University’s new horticulture center will focus on research with LEDs

An agreement between Colorado State University and Philips Lighting to equip its new 27,000-square-foot horticulture center with LEDs will put the focus on using the lights for improving ornamental and vegetable plant production.

When officials at Colorado State University went looking for property to build a new football stadium they didn’t have to look far. They decided that the land on which the 65-year-old W.D. Holley Plant Environment Research Center resided was the perfect location for the new stadium.

“The old horticulture facility, which had been built in 1949, was considered a hot property by school officials,” said Steve Newman, who is greenhouse crops extension specialist and professor of floriculture. “To replace the old site, the university provided the department with a new $7.5 million 27,000-square-foot research and teaching facility. There is also a 3-acre outdoor area for plant trials.

“The horticulture center was built in eight months. The university facilities team that I worked with to design and build the center was awesome.”

Greenhouse specs

The horticulture center’s new greenhouse is a Nexus Vail model frame which is covered with Thermaglas polycarbonate. It is equipped with Ludvig Svensson retractable heat curtains and Wadsworth Control vents, Modine Effinity 93 natural gas unit heaters and American Coolair fan boxes. The control technology is all Wadsworth Control Systems.

 

Colorado State University’s 65-year-old W.D. Holley Plant Environment Research Center has been replaced with a new $7.5 million 27,000- square-foot research and teaching facility.
Colorado State University’s 65-year-old W.D. Holley Plant Environment Research Center has been replaced with a new $7.5 million 27,000-square-foot research and teaching facility.

 

The 21,000-square-foot greenhouse is divided into six bays. All of the bays are connected by a ventilation corridor that has a 20-foot high gutter line. One bay will contain a Crop King NFT trough system consisting of six modules. The other half of the bay will be equipped with a traditional raft culture set up that has six 5-foot by 10-foot rafts.

“I’m a hard core supporter of Colorado companies,” Newman said. “We are also trying to make the greenhouse as energy efficient as we can.”

Perfect timing

In December 2014, Ron DeKok, North America director of business development, Philips Horticulture LED Solutions, visited Newman to discuss supporting LED research at Colorado State.

“Ron visited me on the same day I was given permission to talk about the budget for the center,” Newman said. “The timing was perfect. He asked me what kind of LED research CSU wanted to do and I asked him how committed Philips was to supporting LED research at the university. He said let’s equip the facility with Philips lighting and we’ll do research projects together.

“The greenhouse is being equipped with the latest Philips horticulture LED fixtures, including top lighting, interlighting and flowering lamps. One house will have suspended interlighting modules for high wire vegetables. We are looking at being able to do all kinds of ornamental and vegetable plant research using different combinations of the fixtures.”

Crops to be studied

Newman said it hasn’t been determined yet how much of the greenhouse space will be dedicated to ornamental and vegetables crops.

 

Steve Newman, who is Colorado State’s greenhouse crops extension specialist and professor of floriculture, said the new horticulture center will be used for research, teaching and training.
Steve Newman, who is Colorado State’s greenhouse crops extension specialist and professor of floriculture, said the new horticulture center will be used for research, teaching and training.

 

“I expect the research is going to be about 60 percent ornamentals and 40 percent vegetables, but that could change,” he said. “Initially the greenhouse vegetable production will be used primarily for teaching and demonstration. We will get into the vegetable research later.

“Our primary focus initially is going to be on ornamental plug production and reducing plant bench time after transplanting. This includes whether we can grow better quality plugs using LEDs with less plant growth regulators. We will be looking at root development under LED lights, trying to increase rooting and production efficiency. This includes trying to improve rooting of stage 4 tissue culture propagules coming out of overseas production.”

Newman said fellow researcher and horticulture professor Bill Bauerle is planning to use the greenhouse’s corridor to study hops production using LEDs.

“Northern Colorado is becoming a central location for craft breweries,” Newman said. “There is a lot of interest in locally grown hops for the craft breweries.

“The 20-foot high ventilation corridor is ideal for growing hops. We are redesigning and reconfiguring to install the LED interlighting in order to get good vegetative growth. The hops plants will receive natural light from above and the LED interlighting between the rows. The local craft brewers are very interested in the hops research that we are planning to do.”

Collaborative research

Newman said that Philips has some of its own research agenda items that it would like to study in the horticulture center.

“The research that the company wants to do is not that different than the research that we want to do,” he said. “What Philips is planning to look at fits in with everything else that we are doing in many ways. The company will be making some specific requests. The company will be funding those project directly just like any other research program.

“The Philips research team I’m working with is very grower-oriented. The company is interested in finding out how many LED lights does it take to produce a bedding plant crop more

efficiently. How LEDs can be used to produce better quality plants. Meanwhile we will be doing our own research taking advantage of the lights. The hops research was not an agenda item for the company four months ago. Bauerle went to company officials and said let’s do this hops research and they agreed that it was worth doing.”

 

Philips Lighting has some of its own research agenda items that it would like to study in Colorado State’s horticulture center, but the research is not much different than what university scientists want to do.
Philips Lighting has some of its own research items that it would like to study in Colorado State’s horticulture center, but the research is not much different than what university scientists want to do.

 

Newman said that Philips is interested in looking at vegetable production for the warehouse farming market, which it refers to as its city farming program.

“Unfortunately we don’t have the type of facility set up to do the warehouse style growing on site,” Newman said. “I would like to see us go into that type of production eventually. Initially with our vegetable crops we will look at biomass production. We will be putting in NFT lettuce trials.

“We also want to study nutraceutical compounds, including vitamins, and if LEDs can increase the production of nutraceuticals in vegetables. I am working with my colleagues in the horticulture and food science departments looking at the mouth feel in regards to high quality lettuce production. We will also probably look at tomatoes to increase production efficiency, plant yield, and lycopene development in the fruit. We will probably start looking to do that research in the fall.”

Future plans

Newman said he is in negotiations with the university’s dining services department to produce vegetables for its dining centers.

“I am in negotiations with dining services, which is looking to start vegan salad bars in the dining halls,” he said. “Dining services wants to put in salad bars with as much produce as possible grown in Colorado. They would like to have a certain percentage of that produce be CSU student grown. We are going to redo our student farm to try to accomplish that during the growing season. We will also be trying to grow as much of the leafy greens in this new facility to provide to the dining services’ salad bars.

“I am also working very closely with a university environmental hygiene staff person. We have to be sure that we are in compliance so that whatever produce we sell to the dining halls is as safe as it needs to be. We have to set up a good agricultural practices (GAP) plan and to review the guidelines of the Food Safety Modernization Act that just went into effect. The students who are growing the produce have to be trained in the exact practices they need to follow to deliver quality, safe food. The students have to be taught the proper ways of growing and handling food from the greenhouse to the table. All of the practices that we have to incorporate are the same as if we were going to sell the produce to a retail grocery store.”

 

For more: Steve Newman, Colorado State University, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture; (970) 491-7118; Steven.Newman@ColoState.edu.

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas; dkuack@gmail.com.

Photos courtesy of Steve Newman, Colo. St. Univ.

 

 

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Indoor Harvest Corp Provides Update on CLARA Vertical Farm Project in Pasadena, Texas

Houston, Texas, June 25, 2015 — Indoor Harvest Corp (OTCQB:INQD), through its brand name Indoor Harvest™, is a design build contractor, developer, marketer and direct-seller of commercial grade aeroponic and hydroponic fixtures and supporting systems for use in urban Controlled Environment Agriculture and Building Integrated Agriculture. The Company is pleased to provide an update on the Pasadena, Texas Community Located Agricultural Research Area (“CLARA”) project.

On March 31, 2015 the Company announced the signing of a LOI with the City of Pasadena, Texas to fund the establishment and provisioning of an indoor agricultural facility (vertical farm) to be located in Pasadena, Texas. Under the LOI, the City was to provide Indoor Harvest, or a partner of their designation with City approval, with two facilities owned by the City for the sum of ten dollars ($10.00) per annum for a period not to exceed twenty (20) years as well as provide tax abatements on these properties for use in a CLARA project. In addition, the Pasadena Second Century Corp. (economic development entity for the City of Pasadena) has been asked by City officials to consider a budgetary proposal of $500,000 as seed money for the project’s economic development portion in north Pasadena.

Mr. Chad Sykes, Chief Executive Officer of Indoor Harvest, stated, “We’ve received a timeline for the project through the City. We’re currently in the final stages of drafting the MOU and expect to be in a position to begin work on the project as soon as August, based on the timeline provided by the City. All of the parties involved are working together to create an agriculture campus in Pasadena that we hope will become a model for the rest of the nation. By combining agricultural research, education and commercial operations in one campus, we’re working to build a foundation to turn North Pasadena into a leader in new, innovative agricultural trends. We’ve also begun discussions with several potential commercial partners and investors interested in locating operations at the CLARA campus. Although we don’t have any binding agreements, interest seems to be significant given the background and history of groups with whom we are discussing the project.”

The CLARA project, based on current negotiations, is expected to be divided into two phases. Phase One will focus on developing the non-profit aspects of the project and is envisioned to include the construction of a 6,000 sq. ft. vertical farm R&D facility and 6,000 sq. ft. of classroom and office space.  Phase Two is envisioned to support a commercial retail operation with greenhouses built on approximately two acres of land adjacent to the vertical farm and education centers.

The Phase One vertical farm facility is intended to serve dual roles, with Indoor Harvest using the facility as a demonstration farm and R&D facility and Harris County BUILD Partnership, a non-profit group, using the facility for educational and charitable purposes.  It is anticipated that the crops grown will be donated, or sold at cost, to provide fresh produce to low income families in the North Pasadena area.  The entire proposed campus area, almost two city blocks, will be designed and built to allow the flow of tourists without impacting operations. The City has been asked to develop a project overview to be presented in August to department heads at the Pasadena Independent School District’s Kirk Lewis Career & Technical High School and the Continuing and Professional Development Department of San Jacinto College regarding academic curriculum development to be located at the CLARA campus.

The Harris County BUILD Partnership was established in January 2015 to eliminate the conditions that cause food insecurity in north Pasadena by launching a new healthy, accessible, and community-supported local food system.  The conveners of the BUILD Partnership are the Houston Food Bank, the Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services (“HCPHES”) and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Additional members of the BUILD Partnership include CHI St. Luke’s Health, Memorial Hermann Health System, Brighter Bites, CAN DO Houston, City of Pasadena, Neighborhood Centers Inc., Pasadena Health Center and the U.T. School of Public Health.

The BUILD Partnership is an extension of Healthy Living Matters (HLM), a county-wide collaborative of over 80 organizations chartered in 2011 to address childhood obesity in Harris County. There is also a Pasadena-specific version of HLM called the HLM-Pasadena Community Task Force that has 23 members local to the Pasadena community.

On June 9, 2015, the Harris County BUILD Health Partnership was selected as one of seven projects out of over 300 applicants nationwide, to receive a $250,000 grant from the inaugural BUILD Health Challenge class. The announcement was made live from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., featuring Karen DeSalvo, Acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and was followed by a congratulatory letter from LaMar Hasbrouck, MD, MPH and executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials who remarked, “I look forward to tracking your progress and learning more about your projects’ best practices and challenges.” A portion of this grant funding will be used towards setting up the academic and non-profit portion of the CLARA project.

The Phase One initial project meeting has already been held. Caleb Harper, the Principal Investigator and Director of MITCityFarm, attended the meeting. As part of the non-profit academic portion of the CLARA project, all research would be made open source. The MIT Media Lab’s Open Agriculture (OpenAG) Initiative seeks to make agricultural research and data more available to researchers through an innovative cloud based system. Indoor Harvest is excited to continue its relationship with MITCityFarm by looking at ways to deploy the Open Ag platform at the CLARA research facility.

Chris Higgins from HortAmericas, a company involved in horticulture product distribution, consulting and services, also attended the meeting. Indoor Harvest has selected HortAmericas as a project consultant to the CLARA project. HortAmericas will assist the project by evaluating methods and process and providing feedback through the design phase as well as assisting in preparation of standard operating procedures.

It is expected that the project MOU will be finalized and property lease executed by August 2015 based on an existing timeline provided by the City. Construction on Phase One is planned for completion June 2016.

Phase Two of the project is anticipated to be developed on two acres of land currently available adjacent to the existing properties being provided by the City. Indoor Harvest, as the primary developer of the campus, expects to be able to provide commercial operators who build on the CLARA campus a unique group of incentives and key advantages in regards to distribution, manufacturing intelligence and access to resourcing and key agricultural production talent. Phase Two timeline will be dependent upon securing commercial partners who have adequate funding and approval by the City. The Company is currently in talks with several commercial parties interested in building on the CLARA campus.

In addition, the City of Pasadena is currently considering creating a tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) in the immediate area surrounding the CLARA campus.  A TIRZ is a public financing structure that Texas law allows to target tax revenue helping to support redevelopment in underserved areas. Such a zone, if created, could provide an additional economic incentive for tangential services to locate on the project site.  As of now, the City is not obligated to create a TIRZ zone and no such zone may ever come to fruition.

Consistent with the SEC’s April 2013 guidance on using social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter to make corporate disclosures and announce key information in compliance with Regulation FD, Indoor Harvest is alerting investors and other members of the general public that Indoor Harvest will provide weekly updates on operations and progress through its social media on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Investors, potential investors and individuals interested in our company are encouraged to keep informed by following us on Twitter, Youtube or Facebook.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/indoorharvest

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/indoorharvest

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/indoorharvest

ABOUT INDOOR HARVEST CORP

Indoor Harvest Corp, through its brand name Indoor Harvest™, is an emerging design build contractor and OEM manufacturer of commercial aeroponic and hydroponic system fixtures and framing systems for use in Controlled Environment Agriculture and Building Integrated Agriculture. Our patent pending aeroponic fixtures are based upon a modular concept in which primary components are interchangeable. We are developing our aeroponic and hydroponic systems for use by both horticulture enthusiasts and commercial operators who seek to utilize aeroponic and hydroponic vertical farming methods within a controlled indoor environment. Please visit our website at http://www.indoorharvest.com for more information about our Company.

FORWARD LOOKING STATEMENTS

 

This release contains certain “forward-looking statements” relating to the business of Indoor Harvest and its subsidiary companies, which can be identified by the use of forward-looking terminology such as “estimates,” “believes,” “anticipates,” “intends,” expects”and similar expressions. Such forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results to be materially different from those described herein as anticipated, believed, estimated or expected. Certain of these risks and uncertainties are or will be described in greater detail in our filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. These forward-looking statements are based on Indoor Harvest’s current expectations and beliefs concerning future developments and their potential effects on Indoor Harvest. There can be no assurance that future developments affecting Indoor Harvest will be those anticipated by Indoor Harvest. These forward-looking statements involve a number of risks, uncertainties (some of which are beyond the control of the Company) or other assumptions that may cause actual results or performance to be materially different from those expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. Indoor Harvest undertakes no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as may be required under applicable securities laws.

Contacts:

Indoor Harvest Corp

CEO, Mr. Chad Sykes

713-410-7903

 

ccsykes@indoorharvest.com

Posted on

Nepris

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William
Butler Yeats

What led you to where you are today?  Chances are someone or something, somewhere,
influenced you to make a series of life choices that have led you to where you
are today.  For some, it is a high school
class that inspires them to pursue their career.  For me it was an after school job during high
school.  One persons’ desire to grow
tomatoes during the winter in North Central Kansas ultimately led me to pursue
a PhD in plant science. 

At some point in your professional career you’ll most
likely be asked to speak in front of an audience.  Speaking engagements for industry
professionals are generally reserved for industry trade shows and
conferences.  Sometimes, we’re invited to
speak to a group of college students during what is formally known as “seminar”.  Informally, it is known as nap-time! 

What if you could make a potentially long-lasting
impression to a younger demographic?  One
where the majority of the audience chooses a high tech career during their
middle or high school years?  And you
could do this without leaving your office. 
Enter, Nepris…

What is Nepris?  Technically, Nepris is “an online platform
that makes it easier for teachers to connect with industry experts to bring the
real world to the classroom.”  According
to their website “57% of boys and 68% of girls who chose a high tech career say
they were inspired by one person, or one event, or one class during the middle
or high school years (STEM Perceptions study by Microsoft).  What is STEM? STEM is an acronym for Science,
Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. 
You can learn more about STEM, here.

Basically, the Nepris platform allows educators to post a
curriculum topic to the Nepris platform and then assists by finding an industry
expert to show and tell how that topic is applied in practice.  Industry experts must also create an
account.  The process is simple and there
are plenty of tools to help you build your presentation framework.  I should also stress that the team at Nepris
is VERY helpful.

In January, Hort Americas (yours truly) was given the
opportunity to engage high school students of an advanced biotechnology class in
TX.  The students are working on individual
class projects and many of them chose the topic of hydroponics.  Their teacher knew little about the subject
of hydroponics and elected to utilize Nepris to help the students learn from an
industry expert. The presentation title (selected by the teacher) was “Growing
Crops with Hydroponics”.  The process was
very simple.  I created my online
account, found the topic, read the description and signed up as the
speaker.  There were a few dates and
times to choose from, so I selected the one that best fit my busy
schedule.  The Nepris team reached out to
me immediately and we set aside 30 minutes to go over the process and content
of the presentation and that was it until the day of the presentation.  When the day of the presentation arrived, I
logged into my account 10 minutes early, made introductions and gave the
presentation.  This particular class
repeats, so students can remain enrolled in the class over multiple semesters.
This means that some of the experiments may continue over a longer period of
time.  I offered my knowledge and
services to the class, so there is the potential of creating a long-lasting
impact on some of the students.  Who
knows, perhaps one of them will become one of our industry’s next leaders.  You never know. 

So what’s the point? 
OUTREACH!  Participating in this
platform allows us to tell our story to more people.  It also allows us to explain the breadth of
our industry.  Think about it, greenhouse
agriculture has it all. Not only does it include STEM, but it also includes
business, sales, marketing, architecture, nutrition, culinary arts and so
on.  If you’re interested please check
out the Nepris website and
create an account.  Then find a
presentation, tell students how cool your job is and expose them to the “real
world”. 

Article written by Hort America’s Technical manager, Dr. Johann Buck. 

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

Posted on

Creating the ”perfect” vegetable plants through grafting

Controlled-environment growers have long known the
benefits of grafted plants. Field growers are quickly learning them too.

By David Kuack

Plant grafting of plants has been done for thousands of
years. Preparing and using grafted vegetable plants is common in Asia, Europe
and other regions and is gaining use in North American production systems. North
American greenhouse and high tunnel growers were the first to use grafting most
routinely, but field vegetable growers are showing increased interest in the
benefits grafting has to offer.

Grafting joins the root system of one variety to the
shoot of another variety to create one “hybrid” plant. The plant used for its
roots is called the rootstock. The plant used for its stems and leaves to
produce marketable fruit is the scion.

Matt Kleinhenz, professor and extension vegetable
specialist at Ohio State University-OARDC in Wooster, Ohio, said the number of
vegetable crops that are being grafted is steadily climbing.

“Currently the core crops include tomato, watermelon,
cantaloupe, pepper, cucumber and eggplant,” Kleinhenz said. “These crops are
grafted for various reasons, including their financial value and because their
production can be limited by issues that grafting can address.”

 
Advantages of
grafted plants

Kleinhenz said there are a number of potential benefits
provided by grafting. These benefits apply to both the person who creates the
grafted plants and the one using them.

“The broadest description of the benefits of grafting may
be that it makes better use of genetics in production,” he said. “Single commercial
fruiting varieties are often hybrids. When developing them, the breeder attempts
to incorporate most or all of the traits that matter into each one. That
process is resource demanding. It takes time and money. It’s technically
challenging and it always involves compromise. Each and every variety is
imperfect in some way. A variety may be better than its predecessors, but it is
still imperfect in some way.”

Kleinhenz said there a number of ways in which hybrid varieties
can be imperfect. They can be less resistant to soil-borne diseases or
deleterious nematodes. They can use water or nutrients inefficiently. They can
be susceptible to various forms of abiotic (nonliving) stresses including cold,
heat or salinity.

“Instead of incorporating all of the desirable traits
into one variety, grafting creates an instant combination of two varieties,” he
said. “The attributes of the two varieties are specifically chosen, but there
is no attempt to blend them into one particular genotype, as in traditional
hybrid development. Instead, grafting provides the best of both varieties by
splicing them together. Through that splicing a new “physical” hybrid is
created for use in that production season only.”
Grafting provides the best of two plant varieties by splicing
them together.
Photos courtesy of Matt Kleinhenz, Ohio State University-OARDC

Kleinhenz said traditional development of a standard
hybrid must overcome barriers to the crossing of the parents, the movement of
traits from one plant to another and the possibility that bad traits tag along.

“In grafting, two varieties must be compatible to be
grafted,” he said. “Grafting allows for the bypassing of difficult and
time-consuming steps that are required to create a superior variety that is
good from top to bottom. For this reason, grafting may increase both the range
of traits available to growers and the speed into which they come onto the
farm.”

Kleinhenz said in those systems that rely heavily on
grafting, scion varieties are bred to produce high quality fruit and rootstock
varieties are bred to power the scion. The scion does not need to resist or
tolerate soil-borne stresses and the rootstock does not have to produce
marketable fruit.

He said grafting combines two excellent varieties in a
matter of seconds. However, an average of two to three weeks may be required to
prepare the seedlings to be grafted and to allow newly grafted plants to heal
before transplanting them.
An average of two to three weeks may be required for newly
grafted plants to heal before they are ready to transplant.
Grafting potential

“Grafted plants are primarily used to limit losses due to
soil-borne diseases and deleterious nematodes,” Kleinhenz said. “Grafted plants
have shown the ability to limit losses caused by organisms that attack the root
system or the lowest shoots just above the soil line. Grafted plants are not
widely used to combat foliar or fruit diseases such as late blight of tomato
that essentially attack the shoot well above the soil line. Foliar disease
management is still primarily the responsibility of the scion.”

Kleinhenz said grafted plants have also performed well under
less than ideal growing conditions.

“Tests completed where soil salinity was high, where soil
moisture was excessive, and when soil temperatures were low have demonstrated
the high potential of grafted plants,” he said. “Grafted plants have also
out-yielded ungrafted ones when conditions were good and they have been able to
use water and fertilizer inputs more efficiently. Researchers and farmers are
testing the performance of grafted plants worldwide under many conditions to
discover where and when using them makes the most sense.”
The performance of grafted plants is being tested under many
conditions worldwide to discover where and when using them
makes the most sense.

Kleinhenz said the preparation and use of grafted plants
is market-driven.

“If users see the benefits, suppliers will offer them,”
he said. “Potential suppliers will be reluctant to prepare large quantities of
grafted plants until they are confident people will buy them.

“I recommend that potential users try them. Local
suppliers and extension personnel can assist in getting started. Growers can
also prepare their own grafted plants with just a little practice. Hands-on and
free web-based training guides are widely available.”

Playing catch up

The use of grafted vegetable plants in soil-based
production systems is much more common outside North America.

“The current cost of grafted plants, unfamiliarity with
the full benefits of using them, not being sure how to use them and their
occasionally inconsistent performance may explain the situation,” Kleinhenz said.
“Early adopters are already fairly convinced. Others are taking a more
wait-and-see approach. Adoption curves for new practices and technologies tend
to be similar. The benefits have to be clear, consistent and compelling to a
core group of growers. Then, word spreads.”

Kleinhenz said even though grafting is not new, until
recently there have been limited resources available in North America for
widespread and intense evaluation.

“The demand for alternative disease management strategies
and vigorous and resource-efficient crops is high,” he said. “New rootstock
varieties are available. More and more people have at least heard of grafting,
grafted plants themselves and/or grown grafted plants. And, the pool of
research-based information to aid growers is expanding.”

For more: Matt
Kleinhenz, Ohio State University-OARDC, Vegetable Production Systems
Laboratory; kleinhenz.1@osu.edu; http://hcs.osu.edu/vpslab.

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort
Worth, Texas; dkuack@gmail.com.
 

Learning how to graft
The “Grafting Guide,”
available from Ohio State University-OARDC, offers a detailed, easy-to-follow
look at the entire process of grafting. It would be of interest to both
inexperienced and experienced grafters.
This comprehensive pictorial guide discusses the splice-and-cleft
graft method for tomato and pepper. It provides information on selecting
rootstocks and how to evaluate the suitability of grafted plants for use in
field and high tunnel production.
Included in the guide are a tomato rootstock table, seeding
calculator, stem diameter chart, seed treatment fact sheet, healing chamber
design and other reference materials. New additions to the guide will be
prepared as experience and research-based information become available.

Grafting symposium scheduled for Nov. 6

The 2nd annual Vegetable Grafting Symposium will be held Nov. 6, 2013, in San Diego, Calif. The event is being convened by
a USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative-Supported University-USDA-Industry
Team hosted by the Annual International Research Conference on Methyl Bromide
Alternatives and Emissions Reductions.

The symposium’s objectives include:

1. Summarizing the current status and expected future of
grafting as a technology for enhancing U.S. vegetable production systems
related to profit, resource efficiency and sustainability.
2. Increase the understanding of challenges and
opportunities associated with preparing and using grafted vegetable plants.
3. Strengthen and diversify partnerships required to
widen the application of vegetable grafting as cornerstone technology.
4. Describe the USDA-Industry Team’s goals and approaches.

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Posted on

Greenhouse research shifting focus to food crops

To meet the interest and needs of students and a changing
greenhouse industry, the horticulture department at the University of Arkansas is
shifting its focus to the controlled environment production of new and
underused food crops.

By David Kuack

An increasing number of students majoring in horticulture
at the University of Arkansas are focused on food crop production. Horticulture
professor Mike Evans said there has been a shift in interest by the students
from greenhouse-grown floriculture crops to greenhouse-grown food crops. Evans
said that except for turf management, students interested in food crop
production make up the majority of students majoring in horticulture at the
university.

“More and more students who are interested in greenhouse
production want to learn about growing food crops. To accommodate this
interest, we are starting a new class in which we are teaching about the
production of tomatoes, cucumbers, greens and other food crops. We are putting
in different kinds of production systems including hydroponics. The students
will have a really well outfitted lab where they can go in and they will be
raising various food crops with different systems. It will be hands-on.”

Evans said the growing interest in greenhouse food crops
has rejuvenated him and his program.

University of Arkansas horticulture professor
Mike Evans (right) is working with other professors
to develop a program on greenhouse food production
for both students and commercial growers. 

“As the ornamental side of the greenhouse industry has
been undergoing consolidation with fewer but larger operations, we have seen an
increased interest from the industry in growing greenhouse food crops,” he said.
“The number of emails and phone calls related to greenhouse food crops have
greatly increased.

“There are a lot of people growing tomatoes, peppers and
cucumbers in greenhouses. So I started looking at greenhouse food production
and found the area of herbs and greens in many respects has been neglected.
There are people out there doing these crops, but if you look for referenced
research or talk to people, there is a lot less solid research on greens and
herbs.”

Evans has started working with fellow university
horticulture assistant professor and breeder Ainong Shi.

“We are interested in looking at new species of fresh greens
and the breeding of greens,” Evans said. “We are particularly interested in
developing crops that can take Southern hot climates. By converting our
facilities to focus on greenhouse food crops we are looking to become a central
institution to study new species of greens, developing new crops, breeding new
cultivars, and developing production protocols for these crops.”

Developing greenhouse
food crops

Evans said the agriculture industry in the United States
has been largely field-based, but there are signs that changes are occurring
when it comes to controlled environment food production.

“Much of Europe and many parts of Canada and Japan are
significantly ahead of the U.S. when it comes to the development of controlled
environment food production systems,” he said. “We are very much in a catch-up
mode.”

One of the crops that Evans will be looking at regarding
new species is fresh greens.

“Most of the greens research, including breeding, being
done in this country, by-and-large, is for field production,” he said. “Those
same varieties that were originally evaluated in the field are then taken and
grown in the greenhouse. We typically have not bred varieties for greenhouse
production.

“We want to find greens that have lower inputs, that
don’t need much water or fertilizer. They also shouldn’t have many pest
problems, have a rapid production cycle and can especially take heat.”

Evans said the issue with heat is a major obstacle for
greens grown in the southern United States.

“The problem that growers in the southern half of the
U.S. run into during the summer is what kind of greens can they produce? Greens
in the South are more of an early spring and late fall crop. The question is
can we develop greens that can be grown in the heat of summer?”

Mike Evans said he is looking for fresh greens that have lower
inputs, including water and fertilizer, few pest problems, a rapid
production cycle and can do well in hot temperatures.


One of the crops that University of Arkansas researchers
are working on is to develop a heat-resistant spinach.

“We had a breeder here, Teddy Morelock, who did a lot of
spinach breeding,” Evans said. “He passed away, but left us with hundreds
of spinach lines. We’re trying to figure out what we’ve got. Teddy never conducted
greenhouse trials or evaluated the germplasm for production in greenhouses. All
of his evaluations were done in the field. We might be sitting on the best
spinach variety to grow in a greenhouse.”

Another crop that Evans is excited about studying is
dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).

“Dandelion has a higher nutritional value than spinach,”
he said. “It is loaded with iron, vitamins A and C and beta-carotene. It was
considered a medicinal plant. The early immigrants to America brought
dandelions with them for food. A lot of people suffered vitamin deficiencies
and developed scurvy. So they brought the dandelions with them.”

Evans said dandelions can be grown quickly, don’t need a
lot of inputs and are very heat tolerant.

“They are short day plants so they might need some night
interruption lighting,” he said. “That’s not real a concern because the plants
would probably be harvested before they flower.

“There is a great deal of genetic diversity in dandelions
because they are spread worldwide and are segregated. There are a lot of flavors and
traits. We are going to be collecting germplasm from all over the world. We are
going to be breeding dandelions so that they develop into what we want them to
be.”

Setting up a strawberry
cam

As part of the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative, Evans will be working with professor
Elena Garcia, who is the university’s fruit specialist. The research they will
be doing is part of a program funded by the Walmart Foundation, which is being
administered by the university’s Center for Agricultural and Rural
Sustainability.

“We want to demonstrate and teach growers about various
types of hydroponic systems for strawberry production,” Evans said. “Those
systems might include NFT troughs, gutters, Dutch buckets, etc. There are
various types of hydroponic systems that we feel bring some significant
advantages to the production of strawberries and help to promote a number of
sustainability goals in the program’s guidelines.”

Evans said the type of structures used to grow the
strawberries will also be discussed.

“If a grower considers using high tunnels, he can extend
the season,” Evans said. “Or a grower might consider using drop wall
greenhouses. There is the possibility of providing heat, which could result in
year-round production. There are a lot of possible benefits for our growers.”

Evans and Garcia have been traveling around the state and
meeting with growers talking to them about the different production systems and
explaining how they can be used for strawberry production. Evans said many of
the growers that he and Garcia have met with didn’t know about the differences
in the production systems and didn’t understand the differences.

University of Arkansas professors Mike Evans and Elena Garcia
will be teaching growers in their state about various types
of hydroponic systems for strawberry production.

Evans has renovated two of the university greenhouses in which various strawberry production
systems will be installed and used to produce crops. About 4,000 square feet
has been converted to hydroponic food production with about 1,600 square feet
devoted to strawberries and the remaining used for greens.

“Our
goal is to put in several different systems and to shoot video of what we are
doing from the beginning to end,” he said. “We will shoot video of the assembly
of the different systems as well as the production of the strawberries in each
system. We will film and document in detail everything we do. The videos will
walk the growers through all aspects of design, build, manage, maintain and
grow the strawberries using a specific system.”

Evans said the videos will be used as an educational tool
allowing growers to look at the different production systems and to see the
advantages and disadvantages of each system.
Evans has also been working with University of Arizona
horticulture professor Chieri Kubota and research specialist Mark Kroggel to
prepare videos on the strawberry production research they have been conducting
at the university’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center.

“Not every system is perfect for everyone,” Evans said.
“Everyone has to look at what they are growing or planning to grow and what is
their market. We want to use the videos as a way to demonstrate these systems
to teach growers how to effectively select one and how to effectively use it.”

For more: Mike
Evans, University of Arkansas, Department of Horticulture; (479) 575-3179; mrevans@uark.edu.

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort
Worth, Texas; dkuack@gmail.com.

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