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3 Ways Hydroponics is a Closed-Loop Food Production System

There are many advantages of hydroponic gardening. The technology available today in soilless growing makes agriculture a more efficient process than we currently have in soil-based food production. One of the terms that’s often used to describe hydroponics is “closed-loop” food production system.

Here are some of the elements of hydroponic technology which make it a closed-loop food production system:

1. Water Reuse

Water is held in a reservoir and recirculated through pumps to continuously deliver a steady stream of nutrient solution to the plant’s roots. This means that less water is consumed and wasted.

2. Light Proofing

Using horticultural lights efficiently with the boost from ballasts and reflectors can not only provide the necessary growth requirement but can also provide heat benefits. A controlled environment mitigates heat and energy loss, and adds a dual purpose to the required grow lights.

3. Indoor Air Control

In an air-sealed growing room, air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and Co2 generators work together to recirculate the indoor air and adjust it to the right level for perfect plant growth. Proper control and monitoring means that the right air quality is always achievable with limited energy waste.

Learn more about the benefits of hydroponics as a closed-loop food production system here.

5 Ways to Use Grow Trays in Hydroponic Gardening

In any hydroponic system, plant roots need a support system of some kind due to the absence of soil. A common support system to house plant roots is the grow tray.

Grow trays can be used in several different hydroponic methods. Grow trays make it easy for the DIY gardener who opts to build an indoor garden from scratch.

Here are 5 ways a grow tray can be used in hydroponic systems:

  1. Wick System: trays are used to hold plants in this passive grow system to deliver the nutrient solution from the reservoir with a wick.
  2. Drip System: grow trays are used to hold plants. The submersed pump is used to drip a nutrient solution onto the base of each plant by a small drip line.
  3. Ebb and Flow: the ebb and flow system temporarily floods the grow tray with the nutrient solution and then the solution drains back into the reservoir.
  4. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT): nutrient solution is pumped into the growing tray that’s usually a tube and flows over the roots of the plants. This system also has the solution draining back into the reservoir.
  5. Deep Water Culture: doesn’t use grow trays, but rather a platform that holds the plants. The platform is usually made of Styrofoam and floats, with the roots submerged in the nutrient enriched solution.

Read more about Grow Trays and Flood Tables.

Advantages of Soilless Agriculture

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The industrial revolution gave way for a form of agriculture that sped up production in a way that had never previously been conceived possible. Traditional farming was accelerated thanks to fossil fuels and the discovery of eluvial land which could then be utilized to establish plots of land used to grow at maximum efficiency.

Over time industrial agriculture continued to innovate and create new economic opportunities. Biological research led to amazing discoveries in plant genetics that created disease-resistant breeds of plants that would ultimately maximize yields and as a result, feed more people.

The over-farming of the same land year after year led to the increased need for fertilizer and of course the necessity to protect crops from pests, weeds, and the elements. Agrichemicals were developed and sold to farmers as a vital component of their business. These chemicals became a huge overhead cost for farm operations across North America. These compounding costs combined with the effects of drought and climate change have negatively impacted the industrialized agriculture industry which is now faced with more challenges than ever before.

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Advantages of Soilless Agriculture vs. Land-Based Agriculture

Enter soilless agriculture. Soilless agriculture can be performed in controlled environments and established virtually anywhere as it isn’t dependent on land space and fertility. Soilless agriculture addresses many of the concerns we now have about traditional or industrial agriculture. This is why soilless agriculture is the way of future growing in so many parts of the world that have little to no arable land.

Environment

One of the biggest setbacks to traditional and industrialized agriculture is that it’s at the mercy of the elements. Drought, wind, floods, and climate change in general are affecting the business of agriculture and causing devastating losses to farmers and their families. In soilless agriculture, crops are grown indoors and protected from the potentially negative impacts of the elements.

Water

In land-based farming, water is absorbed into the ground and a significant portion of the water consumed isn’t actually benefiting the plant directly. In a controlled and soilless growing environment, the amount of water consumed can be not only monitored but controlled to efficiently utilize only what’s needed.

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Soilless agriculture technology offers many advantages. Image via Garden Design Plus.

Chemicals

The use of agrichemicals in industrialized agriculture is a major concern to consumers today. The uncertainty of the side effects of consuming these chemicals has people around the world looking towards alternate food choices. In soilless agriculture there is less or no need for potentially toxic pesticides and chemicals because the crops are protected indoors. Being grown indoors reduces the risk of a plant’s exposure to pests.

Health & Nutritional Value

There are more and more people today who want to not only know where their food is coming from, but how it’s produced too. In land-based and industrialized agriculture, there has been a lack of transparency in the production process as well as the distribution and supply chain of the food. Consumers today are skeptical of the actual nutritional value contained in their food due to both the production and transportation methods of food. Soilless agriculture provides consumers with a food option that is thought to contain higher nutritional value in terms of vitamins and antioxidants. Additionally, the minimized use of chemicals and the shorter supply chain is considered a better choice for both personal and environmental health.

The demand for food is never going to decrease. What is changing however, is the demand for the means by which food is produced. Consumer power is dictating the necessary changes that must occur in industrialized agriculture in order to protect human health and our surrounding ecosystems. Thanks to advancements in soilless agriculture technology, consumers now have more options and the awareness of the impact of their choices is that much greater as well.

Feature Image: Soilless agriculture in a controlled environment. Image via PunkToad, Flickr.

Changing The Landscape Through Hydroponic Technology

Companies like BrightFarms are changing our urban landscapes and feeding people locally.

Hydroponic Produce

Countries such as Canada grow and ship hydroponic produce. In fact, Canada happens to be one of the most important suppliers of hydroponic produce. The United States is the beneficiary of he majority of hydroponic produce grown by Canada. Tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers that are grown using hydroponic technology are available in supermarkets in the USA. These come from hydroponic greenhouses such as BC Hot House suppliers. Canada has an abundant supply of water and produces high-quality fruits and vegetables in state of the art indoor hydroponic farms.

Holland is also recognized for their ability to use hydroponic technology resources and produce some of the top hydroponic crops.

Hydroponically grown tomatoes using Hydroponic Technology. Image BCHotHouse.com.

Hydroponic Technology

Hydroponic technology is transforming and has become more common than most people may realize.  Through hydroponic technology, climates, seasons, and even balancing time between work and pleasure, are no longer limiting our ability to grow food. We now have the technology to monitor systems and control growing environments to grow practically anywhere and at any time of the year.

Hydroponic systems are becoming more accessible, affordable, and improving endlessly. We have transformed the landscape of agriculture and made healthy food available. We now have the freedom to grow where we choose, even incorporating personal systems which add value to our lifestyle.

Hydroponic technology has given us:

  • Scalable and robust solutions for growing food
  • A changing landscape of automated growing systems
  • Solutions for filling an increasing consumer demand for local and sustainable food

Out of all of the links in the chain that sustains us, our food source – agriculture – is the most critical.

BrightFarms’ rooftop hydroponic farming system. Image via Owen Walz Design.

Changing Landscape

Technology has a large number investors interested in the future of renewable energies and agriculture.  Everyone is paying more attention. It’s no longer a surprise when investors are interested in issues around health, climate change, and sustainability. It’s more surprising when they are not.

Hydroponic farming produces up to eight times more produce per square meter as compared to producing using traditional agricultural methods.

Models from existing industries are being applied to hydroponic growing. For example, BrightFarms borrowed their model state-of-the-art greenhouse farms from the energy business – the solar business more specifically. By signing long-term agreements with retailers for 70 million dollars’ worth of produce it enabled the organization to attract financing for the greenhouses and leading them to scale quickly.

These massive investments in hydroponic technology will become more prolific as awareness increases surrounding the efficiencies of controlled environment agriculture. Hydroponic technology investments being made today are going to allow us to have positive, sustainable results for generations to come.Feature Image: BrightFarms rooftop farm rendering. Image via BrightFarms.com.

Foodies and Chefs Feast on This

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The noticeable shift in society’s relationship with food and an increased appetite for organic and nutritious choices has made ‘knowing where your food is coming from’ top of mind. Realizing that we have lost control of where our food comes from, and the growing process itself, has made us more aware and has invoked action to do something about it. Individuals and families are increasingly aware of their role in feeding themselves and are looking for solutions that are local and within their control.

Foodies and chefs are optimizing food awareness through their acute desire to always prepare the best using the finest ingredients. Foodies, chefs, and families care about dietary health and the quality of their produce. The barriers to grow your own food are being eliminated one by one and innovation is offering up choices. Thanks to innovative individuals and teams, new products and concepts are popping up everywhere. Restaurants, grocery stores, and chefs are also concerned and are offering alternatives by taking the growing process back into their own hands.

Locally grown, pesticide-free, fresh, nutrition-packed products are trending and bringing an awareness about the health benefits of micro-greens. Micro-greens are nutrient-rich helping us to fight fatigue, improve mental alertness, reduce allergies, lower cholesterol, and fight infection.


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Zero Mile Diet​

Urban Cultivator trademarked the ‘Zero Mile Diet’. Most produce travels 1,500-2,000 miles to reach the average dinner table. Food travel adds to the food industry’s contribution to harmful greenhouse gas emissions and the travel process causes significant nutrient loss in most produce. Spearheaded by foodies, chefs, and advocates for freshly grown, sustainable food, urban farming and local hydroponics eliminate shipping costs and lower energy consumption from transporting food thousands of miles. Trading in fuel to “grow your own greens” will shave off the harmful gas emissions and will instead create a path to a green, healthy, sustainable future.

Extended Growing Season

Winters are long and the elements can minimize growing opportunities. Units such as the Urban Cultivator, an innovative and sophisticated piece of hydroponic equipment, provide a solution for optimal growing conditions 365 days a year. This is a controlled environment agriculture micro-unit that successfully replicates the optimal growing environment for many herbs and micro-greens. It provides consumers with clean eating options, and the availability of nutritious foods year-round.

Controlled Environment Micro-Technology

The most advanced and finest hydroponic growing technology has been packaged in an attractive high-quality appliance. It’s pre-programmed with optimal growing cycles that automatically control the light, fan and watering of your indoor garden.

Automatic Air Circulation

The Urban Cultivator has automated air circulation that ensures the humidity and temperature of your indoor garden are perfect for your plants, and that your greens get enough CO2 to grow well and stay happy.

Automated Flood Watering

The Urban Cultivator automatically waters your plants by following the feeding schedule you choose. It starts by pumping the water and nutrient mixture from its main reservoir, then “flooding” your garden’s trays the way nature intended. The Urban Cultivator drains the water from the trays in order to allow your plants’ roots to develop and grow.

Custom Formulated Organic Plant Food

The Urban Cultivator comes wit custom-formulated plant food designed specifically for this feeding system. The nutrients are 100% organic so you can be sure you aren’t adding any nasty chemicals to your greens. Foodies and chefs will harvest lush, fresh greens every time.

Green Thumb Not Required

Many readers contact PowerHouse Hydroponics about starting an urban farming business – so we found one. The Urban Cultivator has come up with a system that can provide you with a means for growing fresh greens for your community as a store front and smoothie bar. The design uses the latest and best in hydroponic growing technology, and packages it in an attractive high-quality appliance. The Living Produce Isle is like the coolers in your groceries store. Search you favorite produce in the growth stage and buy.

More information on The Urban Cultivator:

Celebrity Endorsements

Arlene Dickinson investor on the Dragons Den, became a partner in the Urban Cultivator.

Martha Stewart continues to promote the Urban Cultivator through her website and show.

The Jamie Oliver Foundation actively endorsed The Urban Cultivator.

Ned Bell, executive chef at Yew, is an advocate and early adopter of the Urban Cultivator.

How to Detect & Treat Plant Nutrient Deficiency

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Just like humans, plants need food to survive and maintain healthy growth. As a grower, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your plants are receiving a well-rounded diet. This diet comes in the form of nutrients.

If your plant is low on any of the three essential nutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) then you’ll notice certain symptoms. It’s possible to confuse a nutrient deficiency with the signs of over or underwatering. If you notice anything off in the color or health of the leaves, you’ll want to first ensure your water levels have been adequate and consistent.

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Symptoms of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium nutrient deficiencies in plants. Image via TheHydroCultivator.com

Nitrogen Deficiency

Nitrogen is a nutrient that initiates photosynthesis which is why it’s absolutely essential that your plants receive enough of it. Without a sufficient supply of Nitrogen, your plants’ leaves will become discolored, either brown or yellow. This is called chlorosis and is the result of a lack of chlorophyll production. The plant itself will likely not continue to grow or will grow slowly.

Phosphorus Deficiency

Phosphorus is a nutrient that helps the plant by strengthening its roots and seeds therefore leading to an overall healthier reproduction. In the case of a Phosphorus deficiency, you’re going to notice a darkening of the leaves.

Potassium Deficiency

Potassium is a nutrient ultimately responsible for growth and health. Potassium helps a plant’s immune system which is important even in indoor gardening. If the leaves have begun to discolor at the edges or the plant isn’t blooming how it should, then this is likely a sign of a Potassium deficiency.

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Nutrient deficiency diagram show common symptoms in new and old growth leaves. Image via AquariumForum.com

Treating Nutrient Deficiency

It’s easy enough to treat and reverse the signs of a nutrient deficiency by ensuring you’re adding in fertilizer. As with anything, you’ll want to use as close to a natural product as possible. There are many organic fertilizers available today which are better alternatives to chemical fertilizer options.

Other Nutrient Inhibitors

Nutrient deficiencies can be amplified if any of these conditions are not ideal:

  • Nutrient EC and the frequency of feeding
  • Humidity levels are too high or low (prevents even nutrient distribution)
  • Nutrient solution isn’t being changed out often enough in a recirculating system
  • Nutrient pH level isn’t correct (prevents nutrient uptake through plant roots)

Ensuring all of your growing conditions are appropriate will of course boost your plants’ abilities to absorb nutrients. These conditions should be monitored regularly and if they are properly maintained then over time it will reduce the risk of losing your plants as they will grow healthier and stronger.

For a full list of nutrient deficiency symptoms check out this chart from Flairform.

LED Lighting Technology in Controlled Environments

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The innovation and advancement of LED lighting technology has brought with it a host of other important benefits. The field of plant growth research has been able to advance substantially due to the advantages that LED lights provide through full spectrum lighting. Plant science and LED lighting technology work hand in hand to discover the most important aspects of plant growth which provides optimal solutions for greenhouse and controlled environment growers.

In controlled growing environments, LED lighting technology is ideal because its effects are able to be closely monitored and adjusted which not only grows healthier plants and maximizes yields, but it also improves operating costs through energy savings. LED lighting technology can also be tailored to meet the spectrum needs of specific plants. This further increases output and delivers the best possible plant yields at a far more efficient level.

In commercial facilities, LED’s can be used as the primary light source, or they can act as supplemental light if the facility is conducive to sunlight exposure as in greenhouses, or glass vertical farms. In controlled environments, LED’s don’t require reflectors like some other forms of lighting, which means that by nature, LED’s are directing their complete output onto the plant itself. Additionally, LED’s are less radiant and therefore can be placed closer to the plant. This type of precision only further adds to the efficiency and sustainability of the complete grow environment.

LED’s are starting to become a leading lighting source choice for vertical farming operations, as controlled environment agriculture becomes more widespread. Because the science and research behind LED’s is now more widely accepted and known, this form of lighting is now further in demand which makes them more viable in consumer markets.

As greater research and communication regarding the specifics of plant growth become more available through awareness, so too will the innovation and technology drive behind horticultural lighting. Like with any new product, it took early adopters to be the risk-takers and test out new forms of grow lighting. This has in large part determined LED lighting technology’s viability today.

As further research unfolds regarding plant science and the specific needs of diverse vegetation types, the technology will advance along with it which indicates a positive future for efficient and safe food production.

Feature Image: LED lighting technology used at The Plant, a vertical farm operation in Chicago. Image via Conservation Magazine.

How to Recognize and Prevent Plant Stress

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Plants are a lot like humans. They need stability in order to function at their optimal levels. This includes consistent states of health and limited stress inducers. Yes, plants get stressed too. If growing conditions are even altered slightly, plants can be sent into shock, become toxic, or will just slowly wither away.

In order to prevent plants from even getting to this point, it’s important to establish a proper growing environment right from the beginning. This is proactive way to ensure the best possible plant growth. It’s especially important for growing food-producing plants, because your garden should be considered an investment.

However, mistakes happen in gardening. It is after all, a science. As an urban gardener, you should be able to recognize the signs of plant stress and take immediate actions to rectify the problems. By restoring your hydroponic garden back to a stable environment, you can de-stress your plants.

What is Plant Stress?

Plant stress is the state in which plants adapt into based on several different environmental variables. Essentially, this “survival mode” for plants means they are likely no longer performing their main functions, like blooming and producing food. They’re simply spending their remaining energy trying to survive. In order to prevent plant stress from happening, you must be able to know when your plants are actually in stress.

Signs of Plant Stress

  1. Bleached spots
  2. Dark patches
  3. Wilting leaves
  4. Ragged leaves
  5. No blooming
  6. Dried edges on leaves

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How to Prevent Plant Stress

The best way to prevent plant stress is to keep a stable growing environment. This should include:

  1. Not withholding water – maintain water levels at a constant, including temperature and pH levels
  2. Avoid breaking stems and remove dead leaves regularly
  3. Not keeping plants under too low or high light intensity
  4. Maintaining constant appropriate nutrient levels
  5. Maintaining ambient conditions – proper ventilation, air temperatures, humidity levels.
  6. Preventing pests and mold and dealing with them immediately as they arise. Stressed plants invite in further pests and disease.
  7. Ensuring proper Co2 levels are available for plants to perform photosynthesis

By adding organic bio-stimulants to your hydroponic nutrient solution, you’ll help your plants in multiple ways. You’ll help plant roots better uptake the nutrient solution and increase the plant’s resistance to pests and disease. Both of these improvements will better equip your plants to deal with stress when it does occur. These improved conditions also lead to greater yields.

Hydro News: USDA Calls for Hydroponics Task Force

Hydroponic Farmers Maintain a Large Commercial Greenhouse

In March 2015, The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) published a Federal Register Notice calling for nominees for a new task force on aquaponics and hydroponics. This new task force will report to the National Organic Standards Board, describing current organic production methods and assess whether they align with the Organic Foods Production Act and USDA organic regulations. The task force will be comprised of a group of individuals that have relevant experience and knowledge, enabling the agency to provide valuable contributions to the process.

Hydroponics and Organic Regulations

Currently, organic hydroponic production is allowed in commercial agriculture as long as producers can demonstrate compliance with USDA organic regulations. However, in 2010, the National Organics Standards Board filed a report to the USDA titled Production Standards for Terrestrial Plants in Containers and Enclosures (Greenhouses), which recommended disallowing organic hydroponic production on the basis that it’s not soil-based.

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Commercial food production could greatly benefit from USDA hydroponics support.

A divide was created between supporters of this report and emerging technologies in hydroponic and aquaponic production. For this exact reason, AMS has decided to create the Organic Aquaponics and Hydroponics Task Force. The task force will examine hydroponic production methods and assess whether they comply with USDA regulations and The Service is seeking the opinions of industry experts before acting on the Organic Standards Board’s recommendation. The nomination window will close on May 8th. The USDA expects the task force to present its completed report to the Organic Standards Board in Spring 2016.

The Federal Register Notice requires that candidates have at least three years of demonstrable work experience in hydroponic, aquaponic, or aeroponic production in a variety of roles related to the industry (i.e. researcher, producer, conservationist, etc.). If you are interested in entering, refer to the official Federal Register Notice for full submission details.

3 Ways to Measure Water pH Levels

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Regular testing of your nutrient solution’s pH level is important. Having a proper pH level between 5.5 and 6.5 in your hydroponic gardening system will ensure that your plants are receiving the correct level of nutrients to support their healthy growth. A correct pH balance helps the plants with their absorption abilities.

Here are three ways to measure water pH levels no matter what level of expertise you’re at:

Beginner
Use a paper strip coated in a pH indicating dye. Dip the strip into the water and wait for the strip to change color. Then compare the color against a pH color chart to determine the corresponding pH level number.
Intermediate
Use a pH testing kit for liquids. This is a dye that you drop into the water which will change color. Again, use a pH color chart to get a reading of the pH level.
Advanced
A digital pH meter can be used to obtain the most accurate reading of the pH level. These digital meters are available at your local indoor gardening supplier.

Read more about measuring pH levels in hydroponics.