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How to Plan a Harvest Schedule with Hydroponics

Planning a harvest schedule is a crucial part of running a successful hydroponic operation. Without it, growers may struggle to meet customer demand, maintain produce quality and stay up to date on cleaning and maintenance.

In this blog, we’ll cover the essentials you need to know about hydroponic harvest schedules, including why harvest schedules are important, what makes hydroponic harvests different from those in traditional agriculture, and provide you with some helpful tips to get you started with planning a harvest schedule.

What is a Harvest Schedule?

A harvest schedule is a plan developed before the grower plants seeds and begins cultivation. Harvest schedules help you meet future growing obligations.

It includes the planting and harvest dates and may even include notes about expected growth stages and harvest size.

A harvest schedule may also include basic financial information, including the cost of seeds and expected profit, helping plan future business revenues.

Why Do I Need a Harvest Schedule?

A sandwich shop needs weekly lettuce deliveries, an upscale restaurant needs a monthly supply of kale, and a senior living community’s kitchen needs regular shipments of basil.

As the grower, you need a plan to produce what your customers need, without producing more than you can sell. On top of this, you must slot in regular cleaning sessions, which need to happen when crops aren’t growing inside. That’s a lot to juggle! Without a harvest schedule, it would be impossible to confidently meet customers’ needs.

Once crops begin growing, you don’t have the flexibility to adjust on the fly. If anything is mistimed, it’s very difficult, if not impossible to fix while the system is actively growing crops.

Four men plan around a whiteboard in an office.
Planning is key to hydroponic success. Especially in larger operations, it’s necessary to plan out container farm production. Consider utilizing both a monthly and quarterly calendar to provide your team with both a short and long view

How does a Hydroponic Harvest Schedule Differ from Traditional Agriculture?

In hydroponics, the process of developing a harvest schedule has similarities to traditional agriculture, but there are a few things that differentiate them. Here’s some of the differences between the two:

Traditional Agriculture Harvest Schedules

  • Harvest schedules in traditional agriculture are seasonal, and farmers grow crops with consideration for climate conditions. Therefore, farmers planning a harvest schedule must pay close attention to weather patterns and seasonal changes.
  • Those farming in traditional agriculture must “fallow” fields, removing them from production and allowing the soil to regain fertility. It can take up to four years for the soil to recover.
  • Harvest schedules are seasonal, which demands the labor of temporary workers to harvest crops in a narrow window of quality and freshness for transport to grocers and consumers.
  • Because traditional agriculture can include a variety of climate conditions, it’s difficult to nail down the time it takes to complete the harvesting process. Harvest season typically takes place between September and November, but this depends on how large of a farm is being harvested. If weather conditions are too wet, this process can be extended further into the winter.

Hydroponic Harvest Schedules

  • In hydroponics, growers don’t have to worry about what’s happening outdoors. However, the system is a climate of its own, and requires careful management for peak performance.
  • Container farm harvests are limited by the number of grow sites inside the system.
  • Instead of seasons, hydroponic harvest schedules revolve around two main things: (1) The needs of customers, and (2) cleaning and maintenance requirements.
  • Harvesting a 40ft hydroponic container farm takes around 18 hours, with each rack taking about 3 hours (4 hours if combined with cleaning and packaging).

How to Create a Harvest Schedule

Here’s the information you’ll need to gather to make an effective harvest schedule:

  1. The planting dates for your crops
  2. The estimated number of days from plant to harvest
  3. The delivery dates to meet your customer obligations

At Pure Greens, our head grower uses a quarterly calendar to plan his production, writing down planting dates and obligations, and making notes as needed.

Some growers find it helpful to plan their harvest schedule out with computer programs like Microsoft Excel, creating Gantt charts that visualize the work time required.

Additionally, you can color sections to correspond with the growth stages of your plants, helping you identify if your crops are meeting your growth expectations. If you have multiple hydroponic systems running, a Gantt chart can be an essential tool for understanding what’s going on across your entire operation.

How to Plan Your System Cleaning into Your Harvest Schedule

Planning system cleaning is potentially the most important thing in coordinating a harvest schedule. Without proper cleaning, hydroponic systems begin to work less efficiently, affecting harvestable yield and damaging produce quality.

Because of this, it’s imperative to work your cleaning regiment into your annual and quarterly harvest schedule.

System cleaning provides you with “bookends” to your growing period. While the frequency of cleaning differs depending on the plants you grow, you should plan to do a deep cleaning once every 3-4 growing cycles.

Flowering crops like zucchini, melons and cucumbers can be messier than other crops, and may necessitate more regular cleaning.

A gloved hand pulls dried roots from the bottom of a hydroponic system.
System maintenance is one of the largest considerations that growers must plan into their hydroponic system schedules. Without regular maintenance, produce quality is negatively impacted, resulting in lower harvest yields.

Summary

To conclude, creating a well-defined hydroponic harvest schedule is the backbone of a successful and efficient hydroponic operation. By following the tips outlined in this blog, you can establish a system that ensures you meet customer demands, maintain high produce quality, and optimize your use of resources. With a little planning upfront, you can streamline your hydroponic growing process and set yourself up for long-term success.

Interested in learning more about how you can create and run a container farm? Pure Greens manufactures and sells hydroponic systems housed inside shipping containers. Contact us today for more information.

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