For many people, growing hydroponic crops is just a hobby: it helps them relax, have reliable access to fresh produce, and better understand what makes plants thrive. For the head grower at Pure Greens, hydroponics is a part of his daily life. He works with a vast variety of plants, from lettuce to basil, strawberries and jalapeños. During his work hours, he finds himself immersed in an Eden of vibrant greenery at our headquarters in Phoenix. He leads the hydroponic testing of new crops and maintains three container farms we have on-site. He has a long history of farming, with memories of working on his parents’ farm in Washington state. In this blog, we discuss what it takes to be a successful grower, and our grower shares growing tips for hydroponic producers so they can hit the ground running.
A Long History of Farming
Our grower has more than 15 years of experience with hydroponic growing systems. One of his first memories of the practice was running alongside a pickup, harvesting barley and then tossing it into the truck bed in bales. He was just 8 years old, but he says he learned some valuable lessons by farming at a young age.
He says that his family was proud to do the work, knowing that the produce they grew benefited their local community.
Growing Tips for Cultivating ‘Happy Plants’
Our grower strives to grow “happy plants.” When he says this, he explains that when someone’s been a grower for a long time, they understand what makes their plants comfortable.
The right amount of light, the right mixture of nutrients and the right care are all necessary to ensure happy plants for your container farm. Happy plants are productive and healthy plants.
Our grower says “getting it right” takes time and experience, but if a grower puts effort into improving, they can have happy plants too.
“You need to have humility and listen to what the plants say,” he said. “You can’t be stubborn or have a big head. Getting a big head keeps you from becoming better.”
What’s It Like to Be a Grower?
So, what does working in a hydroponic container farm actually look like?
He starts each day by checking the inside climate of his container farms. With a few taps on his smartphone, he has all the information he needs to successfully direct plant growth. From nutrient solution composition to temperature and humidity information, he can monitor the growing environment remotely from any location.
When our grower gets to work at the Pure Greens headquarters, he checks in to ensure that his plants have been developing as expected. He might readjust the nutrient solution, clone new seedlings, or harvest fully grown crops.
Our grower admits that there is “a lot of cleaning” but said what he does for the hydroponic systems inside a Pure Greens container farm is considerably less than what he used to do in traditional agriculture. He tries to do a full clean of the container farm every 10-14 days to make the habit stick.
Growing Resources for New Container Farmers
Our grower recommends several resources for new growers but says the most influential resource is the grower’s local community. Neighbors, friends and acquaintances can provide helpful support and advice, especially if those people are green thumbs themselves! Here are three of our growers’ favorite vertical farming resources:
1. Future Farmers of America
The first resource our grower recommends is the National FFA Organization. The FFA is a national 501(c)(3) youth organization that offers training programs for students looking to pursue a future in agriculture. It is probably best known as “Future Farmers of America.” The organization was founded in 1928 and received a formal charter from Congress in 1950, establishing it as a keystone in the American agriculture landscape.
FFA started as an organization for high school students but has since expanded into middle schools. Today, the organization boasts over 850,000 members, ages 12-21. The organization has grown beyond being an organization for only farmers, including a variety of careers connected to agriculture, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Today, the organization presents an excellent opportunity for any young person interested in agricultural science.
Our grower was a member of FFA while in school and says that it helped him to develop a professional mentality for his agricultural career.
“It allowed me to do work as a student that normally would be taught as a trade and gave me the chance to work alongside farmers and ag workers of different kinds,” he said. “[FFA] helped me gain confidence in doing that kind of work and taught me how to carry myself professionally amongst other farmers.”
2. Local Farmers Market
A local farmers market can be a terrific place to meet and connect with local farmers and fresh produce consumers. Farmers are a social bunch; there’s nothing they love more than seeing a new farmer succeed.
If you have questions or seek growing tips from experienced professionals, you can likely get them answered by local people at your farmers market. If you reside in a larger, urban community, there may be several, giving you an opportunity to meet and greet more people who might be able to help you on your journey.
3. Local Agricultural Authorities
Finally, our grower recommends new growers reach out to their local farming departments and regulatory bodies to see if there are any requirements for farmers in your area. Local authorities might also offer support for farmers and growers. While they might not offer growing tips, they might host local training courses that can help improve farm operations and enhance your knowledge of agriculture systems.
In addition, they might have other sources of information that offer more local assistance or advice. It’s worth researching the organizations in your territory to access these essential materials.
Farming is for Everyone
Our grower says it can seem daunting at first to expand your hydroponic operation, but all you need is the right system and a desire to learn.
That’s one thing that he tries to emphasize: that the practice of growing plants can be difficult at times. But when that happy plant grows full and rich in nutrients, it’s all worth it.
“Anyone can do [hydroponics],” he said. “But they need the commitment to follow through when it gets difficult.”