From orchids to greenhouse veggies, hydroponic strawberries, and plantable wrapping paper

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Annie White Stoffel Subscribe
Inside Grower

Orchids to Hydroponics
Greenhouse Strawberries
Salmonella in Tomatoes
LED Open House
Leafy Greens Safety
Plantable Wrapping Paper?

Water Regulations Inspire Orchid Grower to Pursue Hydroponic Vegetables

We’re hearing about more and more traditionally ornamental growers who are beginning to supplement their businesses with greenhouse vegetables, or occasionally, making a complete switch to growing edibles.

The year-round demand for local produce, even in northern climates, seems to be driving many growers to explore opportunities in greenhouse edibles. In southern California, one company is cutting back on floriculture and pursuing hydroponic vegetable production for another reason—water conservation. Their story was recently shared by Malka Geffen at

Photo Credit: Sundial Farms

South Coast Orchids is a family-owned 4.5-acre orchid nursery situated just north of San Diego. Operating in a place where water is a precious resource that continues to become scarcer and more carefully regulated, owner Dennis Keany and his family realized that they may need to change their ways.

The state advised growers to consider growing hydroponically as a water conservation measure, but according to Dennis, you can’t grow orchids hydroponically. The company decided to stop growing plants that required extensive overhead watering, such as Cymbidium, and start growing hydroponic vegetables, such as butter lettuce, kale and bok Choy. Delivering the exact amount of water needed by the plants directly to their root system, eliminates water that may otherwise run off and be wasted.

Making the move into hydroponics wasn’t easy for the company and Dennis said that Sundial Farm (the brand name that South Coast Orchid’s produce is sold under) is the product of several years of research and experimentation.

Photo Credit: Sundial Farms

"Hydroponics can be expensive to set up on your own, and it takes a few seasons to figure out your weather extremes," explained Dennis to Seedstock. "I would dig holes, buy heaters and chillers, plumb a whole system, plant the seeds and wait weeks to months to see the outcome. Then I’d try again. I ended up building about ten trial-and-error systems in different greenhouses to get it right, and we still make drastic changes to the setup we have now."

Today, Sundial Farm grows about 40,000 sq. ft. of hydroponic greenhouse vegetables and is making a profit. Their greens, tomatoes and cucumbers make their way to four farmers’ markets every week, several CSAs, small local stores, and of course, the Keany family itself.

Read the full Seedstock article HERE.

Growing Strawberries in the Arizona Desert

In the desert of Arizona, there’s a greenhouse dripping with humidity and bathed in bright diffused light. Plants are growing in special Styrofoam troughs from Japan, suspended by chains in long rows at waist height. Bright red strawberries droop down through the lush green foliage.

Photo Credit: Chieri Kubota

Growing hydroponic strawberries isn’t a common practice in the U.S., but University of Arizona Professor Chieri Kubota is determined to perfect techniques for growing strawberries hydroponically in greenhouses during the off-season. Her goal is to introduce sustainable strawberry cultivation to local greenhouse growers, who can then grow off-season berries locally for restaurants, high-end grocers and farmers markets.

Chieri’s strawberry sustainability research project was one of 18 in the nation selected for funding by the Walmart Foundation in 2013.

Chieri says this research is particularly valuable because there’s a lack of information available about growing greenhouse strawberries. If you’re looking for a manual, you won’t find much more than a book from New Zealand called "Hydroponic Strawberry Production," by Lynette Morgan and a thick tome of several hundred pages written in Japanese.

In the U.S., the majority of strawberries are field-grown in California. The cultivars are bred for yield, shelf life and disease resistance more so than flavor. Chieri’s research is exploring hydroponic strawberry production, which wouldn’t try to compete with California berries, but rather provide flavorful local strawberries during the off-season. "We want the strawberries to grow slower in the right conditions so they accumulate sugar in the fruit," said Chieri in an interview for a UA News article about her research. "Flavor is very important. We want to see flavor over shelf life," she added.

Photo Credit: Chieri Kubota

Chieri and the project’s co-principal investigator and research specialist Mark Kroggel, are experimenting with hydroponic strawberry growing in their greenhouse at the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. They note that at this point strawberries are a low-yield, high-maintenance crop, and are less predictable than other hydroponically grown crops.

Chieri plans to hold a half-day course on growing strawberries hydroponically in greenhouses sometime in February, 2014, at the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center in Tucson. Stayed tuned for the date.

Read more about this research in the UA News HERE.

Salmonella in Post-Harvest Tomatoes

Researchers at the University of Florida have gained new insight into produce-associated salmonella outbreaks.

A new study, published in the journal PLoS One, shows that tomato variety and weather can combine to make what the researchers call a "perfect storm" for salmonella to proliferate in harvested tomatoes.

Research Assistant Professor Massimiliano Marvasi, the study’s first author, says the so-called perfect storm doesn’t happen often, but can be damaging to public health and the food-crop business when it does.

The team of researchers, all faculty members at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, were motivated to find out which crop production factors are associated with tomato salmonella outbreaks. Specifically, they wanted to know how irrigation levels, waterlogged tomatoes and crop and pathogen genotypes affect salmonella’s ability to multiply in the fruit.

They grew three types of tomatoes – Bonny Best, Florida-47 and Solar Fire − during three production seasons over two years. Tomatoes were harvested and injected with seven strains of salmonella for the study.

The research showed that particular cultivars combined with drier, sunnier conditions work together to increase the chances that salmonella will spread post-harvest.

"It is now clear that salmonella and other human pathogens can contaminate produce at any stage of the production cycle, from farm to fork," the study says.

It remains unclear how much each contributes to salmonella’s spread, but the scientists say understanding the process is key to eventually curbing produce-associated outbreaks.

To read the full research paper, Factors That Affect Proliferation of Salmonella in Tomatoes Post-Harvest: The Roles of Seasonal Effects, Irrigation Regime, Crop and Pathogen Genotype, click HERE.

Purdue to Host LED Open House

Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, has been conducting some interesting research in LED lighting for both floriculture and high-wire tomato crops. Industry members will have the chance to see it up close and in person during a special open house on January 31, 2014 from 1 – 5 p.m.

You’ll see tower intra-canopy supplemental LED lighting of tomatoes, supplemental and sole-source (multilayer chamber) LED lighting of plugs, LED photoperiodic lighting of annuals, and end-of-production LED lighting to enhance foliage color.

To register, click HERE. (Registration deadline is January 20, 2014.)

The open house is sponsored by Purdue Extension, the Purdue Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative, HortAmericas and Philips Lighting. Questions? Contact

USDA Terminates Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) quietly terminated the process for developing a national leafy greens marketing agreement (NLGMA).

In 2009, members of the produce industry petitioned AMS to begin a process for establishing a national agreement modeled off of existing state-based agreements in California and Arizona.

Under the proposal, farmers would be required to follow certain food safety standards in order to sell to handlers participating in the agreement.

The termination comes as little surprise, as new food safety standards for leafy green growers (and all produce growers) are now being developed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as part of the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The two programs, although both aiming to increase produce safety, could lead to overlapping and potentially inconsistent requirements.

AMS acknowledged this issue in its notice about the termination. They said that given the ongoing FSMA rulemaking, it was appropriate to terminate the process of establishing a national leafy greens marketing agreement.

Growing Veggies from Used Holiday Wrapping Paper?

The holiday season is a jolly time of year for many, but it comes at a cost for our landfills. After the gifts are opened, most of that wrapping paper becomes waste. Eden’s Paper is trying to give wrapping paper an unusual eco-makeover, enabling used paper to be turned into veggies rather than waste.

Eden’s Paper was developed by a UK-based creative agency and is currently available in five veggie varieties including tomato, onion, carrot, broccoli and chili pepper. The paper designs visually reflecting the kind of seeds embedded within them. The paper is made from 100% recycled materials and biodegradable tissue, which contains the seeds. The paper design is printed with organic vegetable ink and no glue is used. Instead of tossing that used holiday wrapping paper, people can bury their Eden Paper in their gardens or containers and grow fresh veggies.

The company is in the final few days of a Kickstarter campaign to raise start-up funds for the project. By supporting their campaign on Kickstarter, backers will be sent some hot-off-the-press plantable wrapping paper to try.

Click HERE to view Eden Paper’s Kickstarter campaign.

That's all for this week. As always, feel free to email me at with comments, questions, news and views.

Until next time,

Annie White
Inside Grower

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