by Eileen Weber
Certainly, nothing beats fresh produce. But, some of what’s available in the supermarkets leaves a little bit to be desired. The tomatoes, in particular, are hard, barely ripened escapees from far away places.
But some of those little red beauties come from greenhouses that are relatively local and use an innovative method of growth. Tomatoes, lettuces, herbs and sometimes cucumbers are grown using hydroponics.
Hydroponics, from the Greek words meaning “water” and “labor”, is a method of growing plants, mainly fruits and vegetables, without soil. The plants are placed in trays or inserted into tubing over a container of water with a submergible pump. The pump circulates the water making traditional gardening methods unnecessary. Sometimes, a different medium such as clay pellets, sand, or peat is used to support the plant. But the water filtration is the key to growth.
“Hydroponics is a clean, above-ground, pesticide-free way of growing such a variety of plants,” said Christpoher Todd Blossom, founder of Hartford Fresh, Inc., at Hartford Farms. “It’s year-round cultivation. You can space plants as they grow and it’s 25 times as productive [as traditional gardening].”
Blossom uses a system he calls a “suitcase garden” that includes a 16-gallon reservoir and plants about a month old to get you started. The whole unit sets up in about 10 minutes. Blossom not only sells what he grows, he also uses the gardens to teach at schools and community organizations. He even gives tours of his 13,000 square-foot greenhouse in the spring. The farm’s biggest sellers are Bibb lettuce sold with the roots and watercress.
There are many benefits to a system like this. Because there is no soil, the plants are not subjected to the typical dangers like parasites, fungus, and other diseases. The hydroponic system provides a constant supply of nutrients. Leaves tend to be more succulent and thicker; plants remain clean, as there is no dirt to cling; they are easy to transplant and space out as they grow.
Joe Donato and his wife, Sue, own Donato’s Hydroponic House of Greens in Woodbury. They’ve started growing lettuce, some tomatoes, basil, parsley, and arugula in July. They designed their own tables using inexpensive gutters. Now, they grow up to a few hundred heads of lettuce per week. “We’re having trouble keeping up [with the demand],” said Donato.
Donato also uses an integrated pest management system. “You bring in ‘good’ insects like ladybugs,” he said, “to eat the ‘bad’ ones like aphids. It’s completely organic and we use no pesticides.”
Two Guys from Woodbridge has been hydroponically growing various greens and other vegetables for several years. According to the Connecticut Grown web site, the company started out in a 900 square foot greenhouse built in Woodbridge. They are now producing certified organic vegetables in four greenhouses totaling 12,400 square feet. They frequently sell their produce at local farmers markets.
For some, when hydroponics comes to mind, they think of growing pot. While I’m certainly not suggesting a new hobby in pot growing, plants that grow quickly and easily in an inexpensive portable system sounds like a great idea if you’re a drug dealer. But more to the point, it’s a great idea even if you’re not.