Posts Tagged ‘ hydroponics ’

Say goodbye to the stress of inconsistent nutrient feeding

The majority of growers in horticulture and hydroponics understand that a crucial part of optimising crop performance and profit returns is by providing the correct balance of crop nutrition in the feed system. Without the correct nutrient balance, plants become stressed; growth is slowed and disease becomes prevalent. This can also result in fewer crop cycles per year.

Bluelab Corporation Limited, leaders in the manufacture of hydroponics measuring equipment, are always looking at new and better ways to make nutrient feeding for commercial growers an easy, stress-free and more accurate process.

The Bluelab Dosetronic® offers growers a simple solution for automatic dosing. Simply program the controller with the conductivity and pH values that you want your system to run at, and then tailor the dosing intervals to suit the size of your mixing tank. The Bluelab Dosetronic will then take care of the hard work for you.

The Bluelab Dosetronic has proven itself in the hydroponic market worldwide for over 30 years. Its no-fuss user interface and innovative design makes it one of the most feature-rich, yet simple, easy-to-use and robust controllers in its class.

Getting the temperature of the solution right is important. The wrong temperature can affect the growth rate and the structure of the plant. As well as accurately measuring and controlling conductivity and pH, the latest version of the Dosetronic also controls solution or air temperature.

The Bluelab Dosetronic is ideally suited for re-circulating hydroponic NFT systems. It provides continuous control of the conductivity and pH level of a solution by adding fertiliser and pH corrector into your mixing tank via peristaltic pumps. It will tirelessly control your system 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, 12-months a year.

The Bluelab Dosetronic can be purchased as a stand-alone unit, or as part of the Bluelab Dosetronic Peridoser Kit. The kit contains all equipment required to set up an accurate, easy-to-manage, automated nutrient management system for commercial growers.

To find out more about the Bluelab Dosetronic and the Bluelab Dosetronic Peridoser Kit visit their website (www.getbluelab.com). For free quotes to upgrade your growing system with the latest Dosetronic controller from Bluelab contact Accent Hydroponics.

For further information contact:
Accent Hydroponics Pty Ltd,
1/6 Northumberland Dr,
Caringbah, NSW 2229
Ph: (02) 9668-9577
Email: sales@accenthydroponics.com

In Conversation: Leigh Taig on grower education


Leigh Taig, Course Co-ordinator, Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE, gives an insight into grower education.

Svensson: The Fifth Season: Screens that control temperature and humidity.

Svensson, the fifth season. a technology review. The growth and development of plants using aluminium screens.

Australian protected cropping & hydroponics conference 2011

The 2011 biennial conference of Protected Cropping Australia (PCA) is to be held in Adelaide from Sunday 5 July to Wednesday 8 July 2011.

The AHGA had a recent name change to Protected Cropping Australia Ltd (PCA), because it is the national body representing the full range of crops grown under cover as well as in hydroponics. Adelaide was chosen in part because there has not been a conference there since 1999, but more particularly because it has the most concentrated area of greenhouses in Australia. These range from basic through to new high-tech glasshouses and plastic covered greenhouses.

The conference will be held at the Adelaide Convention Centre, a magnificent state-of-the-art conference centre. The Convention Centre is in the city, close to facilities and accommodation of all standards. The Adelaide Convention Centre prides itself on probably being the most environmentally responsible convention centre in Australia. The City of Adelaide has earned a well-deserved ‘green’ reputation, with a large number of environmentally friendly initiatives and visitor experiences. Renowned for its fine cuisine, South Australia also offers some of Australia’s best wines.

The conference will commence on the Sunday afternoon with the opening of the trade exhibition. In the evening there will be a welcoming function. Monday and Tuesday will consist of a wide range of lectures and workshops. Most of these will be run concurrently so delegates can choose the most appropriate sessions. Presentations will be first-class and up-to-date from experts from both Australian and overseas. This conference will feature presentations from current growers sharing their experiences.

On Wednesday the conference will finish with an optional day of farm visits. These will include high-tech farms as well as state-of-the-art research facilities.

The conference, and particularly the trade show, will provide unique opportunities for sponsors and industry representatives to demonstrate and showcase their products and services, projects and new developments. Conference and trade show updates will be posted on the rebadged website as they occur.

Celebrating more than 20 years as the peak body representing protected cropping and hydroponic growers, the high standard of conference presentations, informative trade exhibits and networking opportunities make this Australia’s premier industry event.

For further information contact:
Conference Organiser,
PO Box 120, Kurmond, NSW 2757 Australia
Ph (02) 4567-7960 Fax: (02) 8569-1064
Email: pcaconference@westnet.com.au
Website: www.protectedcroppingaustralia.com

Issue 94: Field Vs Glasshouse Tomatoes

May/June – 2007
Author: Graeme Smith

GRAEME SMITH compares production statistics for field-grown and glasshouse tomato production.

In response to a detailed article published in Good Fruit & Vegetables (January 2007) on growing field tomatoes in the Goulburn Valley, Victoria, for the fresh table market, the Australian Hydroponic & Greenhouse Association (AHGA) has made a direct comparison with tomato production in a modern glasshouse situated only a few kilometres away, therefore experiencing exactly the same climatic conditions.

The following actual production figures of both field and glasshouse are from the last growing season and are converted to a 1 hectare rate (10,000sqm) so that direct comparisons can be made.

As can be seen by these actual production figures, modern glasshouses using closed and controlled production systems are truly the modern face of horticulture and deliver far superior results in terms of quantity, quality, water use and market returns.

When reviewing the production figures, it appears on the surface that greenhouse production uses more water than field production, however it’s worth noting greenhouse production occurs over 111/2 months compared to 7 months for field production. The conservative greenhouse production figures also include all water used, not just that put on crops (i.e. fogging, roof sprinklers, hand washing, staff facilities, etc.). The important point is the conversion rate of water used to tomatoes produced, and it shows greenhouse production clearly in front (500%+).

The 500+% water efficiencies alone (grams fruit per litre of water) should encourage all tiers of government to invest in greenhouse R&D to better utilize our ever dwindling water resources for a vast range of greenhouse crops.

These figures clearly show why leading supermarket chains have signalled to industry their intention to increase greenhouse tomato sales from the current estimated 17% (of fresh table market), to 50% over the next 5 – 8 years. This is a tripling of one sector of the greenhouse industry alone!

Industry expects that the same growth pattern will occur for other greenhouse crops like capsicum, eggplant, cucumber, lettuce, Asian vegetables, strawberries, etc.

There are many reasons why growers should look to protected cropping as outlined here, but other compelling reasons include the following:
– Closed systems can deliver near zero waste water all year round.
– Smaller footprints, therefore less impact on the natural environment.
– Marginal land is not an issue.
– Grow foreign plants in local climates.
– Controlled environment allows better use of IPM and beneficial insects with much reduced sprays.
– Higher Brix (sugar) levels deliver sweeter flavoursome fruit and longer shelf life.
– Year-round supply of consistent quality and quantity to meet consumers needs.
– Environmentally sound and responsible growing system.
– No weeds, no weeding, no herbicides!
– Higher production per hectare (1ha glasshouse produces the same as 9.4ha field).
– Higher returns for farmers’ efforts.

All Australian growers should aim to grow important consumer products in the most productive, efficient and environmentally responsible way and protected cropping systems clearly shine as the best option for a range of common consumer crops.

Forward thinking countries around the globe recognize and indeed utilize these technologies to great effect. Australian growers and politicians need to think beyond the square of traditional broad-acre farming and embrace this modern and efficient face of horticulture.

All farmers are encouraged to attend the 2007 biennial national AHGA conference in Launceston (24 -27 June – workshops, trade expo, farm visits) to discover how you too can enter this exciting and innovative industry.

About the author
Graeme Smith (CPAg) is the co-principal of Hydroponic Designs Pty Ltd, a Victorian-based national and international industry consultancy company, and President of the Australian Hydroponic & Greenhouse Association. Email: hydesign@bigpond.net.au

Issue 92: Herbs… More than just a bit on the side

January/February – 2007
Author: Lisa Crooks

LISA CROOKS reports on the Second Workshop of the Australian Herb and Spice Industry Association. A major outcome of the workshop was strong support for a Herb Levy for industry research, development and marketing.

Analysing the growth rate in comparison to many other vegetables, herbs in Australia have performed extremely competitively in the market place. With a touch of innovation and some new marketing strategies, there is a whole new playing field out there for the taking.

In early September, the Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association (AHSIA) held its second workshop at the beautiful Hahndorf Resort in South Australia. The workshop programme focused on the market place: “Where it is… and where it is going?”

Hahndorf Resort in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia.

Anita Watts, Glenelg River Rosemary Farm, and Vivek Bhat, Lawie Co Biological Services

Conference delegates Robert Hayes (AHSIA President), Jane Parker, Jude Bennison (UK), Rodger and Jo-Ann Aay, and Liz Minchinton.

The workshops
Tom Rafferty started off the day. Tom has 25 years experience in a wide range of supply chain and marketing roles in Ireland, the USA and Australia. He tells it as he sees it. The main message was: “You decide … get big, get niche, get marketing and supply chain savvy with branding, new channels, and export, or GET OUT!”

Diversity or value adding is a common phrase used today; but what options are out there for the growers? The best way to analyze this is to start with what the consumer is asking for. Does the consumer only want fresh quality Australian produce? Is it just to garnish, or an addition to their favourite dish? Is there a whole new market out there?

Patrick Haynes, marketing manager of Gourmet Garden, who has a role that spans seven countries with a distribution footprint covering 13,500 stores. Patrick pointed out that culinary herbs and spices contain high concentrations of antioxidants and phytonutrients, and provide long-term health benefits that outweigh their short-term taste sensations. So compelling is the evidence that leading Australian and American nutrition and health experts say “the forgotten foods” should be recognised as a food group and included in dietary guidelines and food models. Through their aromatic oils, herbs and spices deliver intense flavours and food satisfaction. Herbs and spices can replace fat, sugar and salt in our food, make vegetables and bland foods like grains and legumes tastier, and assist in weight management by making low fat food more appetizing.

Chinese herbs
To enhance what Patrick was saying we also heard from Brian May, the project officer for Chinese herbal farming, City of Whittlesea (RMIT), who pointed out most Chinese herbs are imported from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Japan. Some Chinese medicines are manufactured in Australia – mainly from imported produce. Most domestically produced herbal medicines that use Australian-grown herbs are aimed at the Western herbal market – few use Chinese herbs.

Chinese herbs are retailed via Asian grocery stores and supermarkets, specialist Chinese herb shops, prescriptions by Chinese medicine practitioners, health food stores, mail-order, and online. There are an increasing number of Chinese herbs being used by Western herbalists, naturopaths, and medical practitioners.

Functional foods
Currently, Professor James Chin is program leader for functional foods and immunology with NSW DPI and is also an industry consultant on prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics…development of new formulations for intestinal health. James looked at value-adding for the Herb and Spice Industry of Australia, and assigning health promoting functionalities of herbs/spices from being optional to becoming an essential food ingredient.

Mediherbs
Peter Purbrick has been with Mediherb for 19 years and highlighted the current focus for complementary medicine as being an aging population, weight loss, infertility, menopause, thyroid function, liver function, prostate support, immune functions, antioxidants, tiredness/stress conditions, inflammatory conditions, and tonics for males and females. He named the 22 high demand herbs, and also the 20 herbs they are trying to source within Australia.

Herbs in high demand
Celery Licorice
Ginger Bacopa
Chastetree Andrographis
Withania Gotu Kola
Goldenseal Calendula
Black Cohosh Valerian
Eyebright Bilberry
Damiana Gymnema
Chamomille Wild Yam
Saw Palmetto St Mary’s Thistle
Rosemary
Echinacea

Herbs MediHerb would like to source in Australia
Globe Artichoke Mexican Valerian
Skullcap Poke Root
Golden Rod True Unicorn
Passionflower St Mary’s Thistle Seed
Meadowsweet Sarsaparilla
Peppermint Baptisa
Pasque Flower Blue Flag
Ladies Mantle Gentian
Wood Betony Blue Cohosh
Grindellia

Latest developments
Ensuring your herb is grown with the best technology available, AHSIA also included in the Workshop the latest in research and development happening here and around the world.

Dr Elizabeth Minchinton, DPI, Knoxfield. Her principal area is plant pathology with special interests in bacteriology and bacterial diseases, disease management and control, foliar pathogens and diseases, and integrated pest/disease management. Liz presented her findings and outcomes of her parsley project and the book release, Guide to common diseases and disorders of parsley. She also announced that she has just received confirmation for her new project for controlling dieback in Queensland, looking also at salinity issues and biological and other chemical options including resistant and tolerant varieties.

James Altmann is director of Biological Services, a company that produces beneficial insects and mites for the biological control of horticultural pests. James is a partner in Fruit Doctors, a crop monitoring service operating in the Riverland, SA. James presented the Integrated Pest Management concept available to growers.

Jude Bennison is from ADAS, the UK’s largest provider of environment and rural solutions and policy advice. Jude is a world leader in the use of beneficial insects in protected herb crops in the UK. Jude took us through the issues for IPM on protected herbs, best practice guidelines project, and some problems with pests and diseases. She also highlighted biological/integrated control strategies. Her job is ensuring the message gets out to the growers.

Allan Norden (APVMA) and John Oakeshott.

Alan Norden has been involved in the assessment of crop protection products with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) for the past 12 years. Alan’s talk covered current issues relating specifically to AHSIA’s needs. He also outlined the reforms and initiatives being developed to assist minor use industries access safe and effective crop protection products. Herbs currently have 33 permits, with 41 applications under consideration – 10 identified as priority applications.

Towards the future
After a mentally stimulating day, we began the next challenge – looking towards the future for the herb industry in Australia. Herb levies: to be or not to be… After hearing from Stuart Burgess from Horticulture Australia about the procedures and also the pros and cons for creating a Herb Levy, this motion was put to a vote that achieved unanimous support. The Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association initiated the process leading to the introduction of a statutory levy to enable research, development and marketing for the industry. I have included the media release from Mr Robert Hayes, the President of AHSIA:

ASHIA Media release
The Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association (AHSIA) held its Annual General Meeting for 2006 following the annual Workshop, at Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills at 4pm on Monday September 4.

Apart from the usual formalities and after some considerable discussion a motion was carried unanimously, as follows: “That the Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association Ltd initiate the process leading to the introduction of a statutory levy to enable research and development and marketing for the industry.”

The rationale behind the motion was simple – AHSIA is undertaking research and development on behalf of all who participate in the industry, now and into the future. Crucial work such as the applications for minor use permits for crop protectants for herbs, minor use applications for new softer and more effective crop protectants, and the development of new biocontrol agents, are central to all growers and other supply chain participants – wholesalers, retailers (small and large) and ultimately, to the consumer. Allied with this is the need to develop crop specific Integrated Pest Management techniques and protocols and contribute to IPM research. Our domestic crop protection regime also needs to be referenced and where possible harmonised to International Standards so as to enable herb and processed herb exports. As the industry grows and matures, marketing will also become an issue.

This is vital research, fundamental to the industry’s future, and yet it is being carried by a relatively few active players in the industry who contribute both financially and with their time. This situation is not sustainable in the long term, with the introduction of a statutory levy providing a way for the whole of the industry to fund the research and development required, as well as the organization itself. With a professionally run organization, participation from the industry will be far more attractive, than is the current situation where much is done on a voluntary basis, and a few carry the load.

Horticulture Australia Ltd (HAL) made a short presentation to the Workshop and were present at the meeting. HAL is the agency which receives matching government funding and manages the total levy pool on behalf of the Industry. We understand that it is possible for AHSIA to maintain the direction of how the levy funds raised shall be spent – in other words, the industry retains direct control over how the available funds are to be expended. It is possible to have the only currently levied herb, parsley, included in the proposed Herb Levy. The rate of the levy can also be at the industry’s discretion initially, and then requires a further vote for any alteration.

In short, it is possible for AHSIA to seek the introduction of a levy structured in a way and for purposes it sees as the most appropriate for its needs, and retain control of the direction of those funds. It would not have to become a part of the Veg Levy and be lost in the larger industry.

The process for the introduction of a statutory levy involves a number of steps including; a detailed consultation process with the industry, the development of a “voting roll”, an industry vote, developing the “case” for the introduction of a levy and presenting a detailed proposal to the Minister. The proposal is then advertised and objections invited for a 60-day period. Only then will the Minister consider whether to introduce a Herb Levy.

Such a process will take at least 12 to 18 months and perhaps longer if other recent industry experience is any guide. AHSIA cannot simply ask the Minister to introduce a levy, and the Minister may ultimately reject any proposal despite the proposal going through the entire process.

Despite the uncertainties, AHSIA is convinced that the industry urgently needs an industry levy for research, development and marketing. We believe the industry now has sufficient critical mass to fund, via a levy, and with the matching $ for $ government assistance, its current and future R&D and marketing needs. It will ultimately be decided by the Industry and by the Minister – AHSIA’s role will be one of championing and facilitating the process, and that direction has been set by its members. This association is the only active peak industry body representing the interests of the Australian herb industry to Government and taking an active role in shaping your industry’s future growth. AHSIA will now commence the process of developing a proposal to establish a national levy on herbs to be put to industry and then the Minister.

We ask all participants in the industry to join AHSIA or at least participate in the debate along the way. We welcome constructive criticism and input and look forward to your response as the process unfolds.

Robert Hayes
President Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association Ltd

Farm tours
By this stage of the day, we were ready for a drink or two topped off with a delightful dinner served at the Sterling Hotel, while being entertained by the very vibrant local foodie and radio personality, Cath Kerry.

The staff were as friendly as the owners at Murray Bridge – one of 300 glasshouses.

This was just one of the 300 glasshouses; some herbs were in-ground, others were grown in styrene boxes on the ground.

The farm tour the following day took us to two of Aay’s fresh herb farms. Roger and Jo-ann Aay are second-generation farmers that have planted a future for their children. The Murray Bridge farm is where it began – a 20-acre property which now holds 300 glasshouses altogether. In July this year they started the organic certification process for the farm at Monarrto, which is 150 acres and grows 24 different types of herbs.

Chris Weir representing the Murraylands Regional Development Board.

The 150 acre farm at Monarrto in the early start of the organic certification process.

We also met up with Chris Weir of the Murraylands Regional Development Board, who summarised what is happening within South Australia:

Food SA has 12 regions through South Australia. Food SA is a SA Government Agency responsible for food industry development – working with food businesses of all sizes in all regions. It concentrates on implementing the State Food Plan, which outlines the strategic issues of the food industry.

The network is industry driven with ‘food groups’ around the state representing their own region and working on developing their capabilities, but using the whole State to solve issues. Chairs of food groups regularly meet together with the Premier’s Food Council to discuss regional and State issues. Food officers in each region exist as part of the State Plan and regularly meet to discuss issues, develop food groups and regional strategies, and integration of food industry plans into regional economic development plans. There must be a core of passionate, strategically minded people involved in the food groups to get them going and keep them going. Food groups must be run like a business with business and financial plans, vision and a constant stream of energetic people to renew the group.

The Murraylands
The Murraylands Regional Development Board (MRDB) covers a region of some 27,000 square kilometres and produces 40% of the state’s potatoes and onions, 30% of the carrots, and a staggering 50% of milk production, with a new focus on pig production and slaughter. The area is concentrated on large-scale businesses, many dealing with large corporations such as Coles/Bi Lo and Woolworths. Agri-food businesses are worth $816 million per year to the region. Membership-driven programs run in conjunction with five regional councils and Food SA. Large and small businesses, but the large ones are very focused on large clients, and exporting.

There is a specialist manufacturing sector in the region. ‘Exporting the Murraylands’ is working to increase business capabilities as well as working with the other regions to achieve the State Food Plan. A regional brand is in development for use in the project.

The MRDB and Food SA act as conduits to assist the businesses rather than to drive the growth, as this must come from the business within each region but also work with the tourism industry.

The intensive animal industry has identified the Murraylands as one of the key areas in South Australia for growth. The dairy industry commissioned a study to look at farming in the Mallee where there is plenty of quality ground water and cheap land.

The Clifford Report identified prospects for 3,000 jobs conservatively over the next two years in the region with business growth, which includes Aays herbs in Monarrto.

Challenges for the region will include: labour availability, water accessibility for farm operations, and assistance in development of new industries. Future opportunities will include targeting and marketing of regional brands, pig industry development, value-adding particularly in horticulture, and the possible introduction of a regional hub for storage and distribution.

Final remarks
Another milestone change for AHSIA. We now have a talented quality assurance manager that brings his wealth of knowledge onboard to better the industry. Mr Allan Bugg from Barden Fresh Produce, a Sydney-based produce company, stands in my place as one of the Directors for AHSIA. I offer my support and congratulations to Allan. I decided to stand down this year as director for AHSIA as along with the farms and my husband; I have two young boys who still need their mum while they grow into young men. While I will not carry the role of director, I still have a strong desire to help the industry grow and will still very much be involved in many different aspects of the industry.

I look forward to next year’s workshop, although this one will be hard to beat. This conference proved that herbs are more than just a bit on the side.

ASHIA Media release
The Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association (AHSIA) held its Annual General Meeting for 2006 following the annual Workshop, at Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills at 4pm on Monday September 4. Apart from the usual formalities and after some considerable discussion a motion was carried unanimously, as follows:

“That the Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association Ltd initiate the process leading to the introduction of a statutory levy to enable research and development and marketing for the industry.”

The rationale behind the motion was simple – AHSIA is undertaking research and development on behalf of all who participate in the industry, now and into the future. Crucial work such as the applications for minor use permits for crop protectants for herbs, minor use applications for new softer and more effective crop protectants, and the development of new biocontrol agents, are central to all growers and other supply chain participants – wholesalers, retailers (small and large) and ultimately, to the consumer. Allied with this is the need to develop crop specific Integrated Pest Management techniques and protocols and contribute to IPM research. Our domestic crop protection regime also needs to be referenced and where possible harmonised to International Standards so as to enable herb and processed herb exports. As the industry grows and matures, marketing will also become an issue.

This is vital research, fundamental to the industry’s future, and yet it is being carried by a relatively few active players in the industry who contribute both financially and with their time. This situation is not sustainable in the long term, with the introduction of a statutory levy providing a way for the whole of the industry to fund the research and development required, as well as the organization itself. With a professionally run organization, participation from the industry will be far more attractive, than is the current situation where much is done on a voluntary basis, and a few carry the load.

Horticulture Australia Ltd (HAL) made a short presentation to the Workshop and were present at the meeting. HAL is the agency which receives matching government funding and manages the total levy pool on behalf of the Industry. We understand that it is possible for AHSIA to maintain the direction of how the levy funds raised shall be spent – in other words, the industry retains direct control over how the available funds are to be expended. It is possible to have the only currently levied herb, parsley, included in the proposed Herb Levy. The rate of the levy can also be at the industry’s discretion initially, and then requires a further vote for any alteration.

In short, it is possible for AHSIA to seek the introduction of a levy structured in a way and for purposes it sees as the most appropriate for its needs, and retain control of the direction of those funds. It would not have to become a part of the Veg Levy and be lost in the larger industry.

The process for the introduction of a statutory levy involves a number of steps including; a detailed consultation process with the industry, the development of a “voting roll”, an industry vote, developing the “case” for the introduction of a levy and presenting a detailed proposal to the Minister. The proposal is then advertised and objections invited for a 60-day period. Only then will the Minister consider whether to introduce a Herb Levy. Such a process will take at least 12 to 18 months and perhaps longer if other recent industry experience is any guide. AHSIA cannot simply ask the Minister to introduce a levy, and the Minister may ultimately reject any proposal despite the proposal going through the entire process.

Despite the uncertainties, AHSIA is convinced that the industry urgently needs an industry levy for research, development and marketing. We believe the industry now has sufficient critical mass to fund, via a levy, and with the matching $ for $ government assistance, its current and future R&D and marketing needs. It will ultimately be decided by the Industry and by the Minister – AHSIA’s role will be one of championing and facilitating the process, and that direction has been set by its members. This association is the only active peak industry body representing the interests of the Australian herb industry to Government and taking an active role in shaping your industry’s future growth. AHSIA will now commence the process of developing a proposal to establish a national levy on herbs to be put to industry and then the Minister.

We ask all participants in the industry to join AHSIA or at least participate in the debate along the way. We welcome constructive criticism and input and look forward to your response as the process unfolds.

Robert Hayes
President
Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association Ltd

Issue 89: Blue-Banded Bees Pass the First Hurdle

July/August – 2006
Author: Steven Carruthers

Blue Banded Bee on basil flower. Photo courtesy David Radel.

STEVEN CARRUTHERS looks at the latest published research to develop the native blue-banded bee as an alternative to bumblebees for pollinating greenhouse tomatoes. He writes that while some progress has been made, researchers are still many years away from reaching a commercial outcome.

Commercially reared bumblebees are used safely in over 30 countries to pollinate greenhouse tomato crops, but this technology is not available in Australia. Pressure from NZ imports, with recent approval for importation of Dutch tomatoes, and with Chinese imports on the horizon, means that if the industry hopes to match production standards with its international competitors, all of which use bumblebees, then access to this technology can no longer be ignored.

Following a three-year Environmental Impact Study on Tasmania’s flora and fauna, where bumblebees were inadvertently introduced in 1992, the Australian Hydroponic & Greenhouse Association (AHGA) can find no reason why bumblebees should not be allowed to be imported onto the Australian mainland to pollinate greenhouse tomato crops. Despite the gloom and doom scenario painted by a few individuals, bumblebees have had no adverse effects in the island State. Additionally, an independent CLIMEX modelling study only found limited opportunities for bumblebees to establish on the mainland should they escape to the wild. Subsequently, the AHGA applied to the Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH) to allow their import onto the Australian mainland.

In the meantime, blue-banded bee researchers have been working around the clock over the past four years to develop an economical and viable alternative to bumblebee technology. A newly published study assessing the ability of the native bluebanded bee Amegilla holmesi to buzz pollinate tomato plants does little to reassure growers that blue-banded bees are an economical and viable alternative to proven bumblebee technology. The single experiment, using only four bees, was conducted in a small greenhouse with two chambers to compare blue-banded bee pollination with mechanical pollination and with control plants with no supplementary pollination. The study, recently published in the Journal of Economic Entomology, concludes that the percentage of fruit set of bee-pollinated plants was not significantly different from the percentage fruit set of mechanically pollinated plants. So far so good. This research was conducted in 2002-03.

The experiment was conducted in two adjacent chambers in a glasshouse at the University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury Campus, NSW, during summer from December 2002 to April 2003. The chambers measured 5.25 x 3 x 4.3m (22.58sqm) and were illuminated by ambient light. The temperature was maintained for optimum tomato production at 23°C during the day and 17°C at night.

Six nesting bricks were stacked in two columns on top of hollow, concrete Besser blocks at the end of each chamber for bees to nest. Mud collected from a site where Amegillanaturally nested was used to construct the nests in the Besser block.

Bees used in this investigation were collected from the wild as prepupae and allowed to develop in an incubator to the winged stage. When the bees were ready to hatch, two females and two males were randomly selected and placed on the nesting blocks in each chamber for emergence. The bees were observed daily and immediately replaced if mortality occurred. The study does not indicate the mortality rate or reason(s) for mortality. Because tomato flowers produce little or no nectar, the bees were provided with sucrose-water solution supplied on blue sponges.

Thirty tomato plants grown to first truss stage were placed in each chamber and arranged in four rows of seven to eight plants with a metre-wide aisle between the inner rows. Plants were randomly allocated to the three treatments – bee pollination, mechanical pollination (with a vibrating wand), and control (no supplementary pollination). As trusses developed they were pruned to four flower buds. Those receiving mechanical pollination or no supplementary pollination were bagged before the flowers opened. Pollination bags were removed as soon as the last flower was set. Trusses receiving mechanical pollination were vibrated with a commercial electric pollinator every second day between 10:00 am and 2:00pm.

Pest and diseases were controlled using methods safe for bees. Encarsia formosawere introduced every two weeks to control greenhouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum), and plants were sprayed with 1% petroleum oil every two to three weeks to control aphids and powdery mildew.

Tomatoes were harvested when the fruit were orange-red and considered mature, then weighed using an electronic scale, and their maximum and minimum diameters measured with digital vernier callipers. Seeds from individual fruit were separated from fruit pulp, air-dried then counted. Only fruit grown on trusses 2-6 were used to determine the pollination efficacy.

The study reports both blue-banded bee and mechanical pollination treatments significantly influenced all the parameters assessed – fruit set, weight, roundness and number of seeds – but they did not differ significantly from each other (Table 1). The pollination treatments resulted in 94% fruit set, which was significantly greater than the 82% fruit set for the control treatment, but reported erroneously as notsignificantly different. The fruit was also heavier and had larger min/max diameters than those produced from flowers in the control treatment. Flowers pollinated by bees and mechanical vibrator also produced fruit that was significantly rounder and seedier than those fruits produced with no supplementary pollination.

The study concludes that these results are similar to those reported for bumblebee pollination (Banda and Paxton 1991, Ravestijn and van der Sande 1991, Pressman et al. 1999), and for stingless bee pollination (Cauich et al. 2004).

When interpreting the results of the study, it should be remembered that this is a single experiment conducted in a small greenhouse with two chambers of 22.58sqm using only four bees.

There were 30 plants at first truss stage placed in each chamber, with 10 plants per treatment in each. They were grown through to 6 trusses. The treatments were (i) two female and two male blue-banded bees per chamber, (ii) manual pollination and (iii) self-pollination. Trusses were bagged for the two last treatments so the bees only had access to 10 plants with flower trusses in each chamber.

Trusses were pruned to four flower buds, so the total number of flowers per chamber available to blue-banded bees is 240 flowers (6 x 4 x 10) over a period of 3-5 months (actual dates are not given, only December 2002 – April 2003). If we take a minimum of 90 days, this is 2.7 flowers/day available for two female blue-banded bees, or 1.35 flowers per day per bee (only female bees collect pollen; two males were included with the two females in each chamber to ensure that they were fertilised and therefore collecting pollen). As the only source of food other than artificial nectar, one might guess that this would not only be inadequate for brood production, but is a very high stocking rate per flower: perhaps a starvation diet.

The researchers report only 2-6 trusses were used in the analysis. There are vague comments in the discussion section about bees initially only collecting nectar for brood cell construction, which suggests that the first truss was not adequately pollinated. Why was the first truss omitted from the analysis?

Data for each plant for trusses 2-6 was combined before the treatment analysis, thus obscuring any difference relating to truss position. These differences could be quite informative.

Some bees died and were replaced, but the researchers do not elaborate on their mortality; only that the majority of female bees survived for the duration. There is no mention of brood production and new bees, so presumably we are only dealing with four bees in total?

It’s also worth noting that the bees were confined to an area of 22.58sqm per chamber, so they had very limited distance to travel to find flowers.

There are several reporting errors in Table 1. Percentage fruit set is given as 13.7% for both mechanical and blue-banded bee pollination. Presumably, this should be 93.7%. There are also conflicting claims that there is or is not a significant difference from the control treatment.

The researchers calculate from Morandin et al.’s Canadian data that one bumblebee can pollinate 11-24sqm of greenhouse tomatoes, and they compare this with one blue-banded bee able to pollinate 7.9sqm. An enigma is how they arrived at this calculation from a 22.58sqm chamber. The study ignores the fact that there were only 1.35 flowers/7.9sqm/day = 0.17 flowers/sqm/day per blue-banded bee available. In a commercial situation, bumblebees pollinate 5-7 flowers/sqm/day (D. Griffiths, pers. comm.). Also, we should not forget the substantial differences in travelling distance.

Clearly, this study needs to be replicated on a much larger scale to be credible. The only claim that can be made is that in a small-scale experiment, blue-banded bees were able to pollinate greenhouse tomatoes and achieve comparable fruit set to manual pollination every two days. While some progress has been made, researchers are still many years away from reaching a commercial outcome.

Some facts about bumblebee stocking rates
The number of hives needed at any one time will vary with crop type (cherry tomatoes have more flowers than beefsteak), the season (more needed in summer), crop density, greenhouse covering material (bees work best under high UV light), greenhouse size, Bombus species and sub-species etc. For Bombus terrestris, it is generally recommended that about 5-15 colonies, each with 50-60 worker bees and one queen, are employed initially per hectare, with a colony life of 8-10 weeks. On average, this is one bee per 20sqm, but some bees are tending the nest so only a percentage of workers are actually foraging in the crop.

In Ontario, for Bombus impatiens, it has been calculated that 2000 bee trips/ha/day give sufficient pollination of tomatoes (Morandin et al. 2001). Under high UV light, which was optimal, there were 4.8 trips per bee per day.

The stocking rate of one bee per 20m2 contrasts with claims that a worker bumblebee can pollinate at least 500 tomato plants or 250sqm per day (van Ravestijn and van der Sande, 1991), but might be so if only some of the bees are collecting pollen.

References
Bell, M.C., Spooner-Hart, R.N. & Haigh, A.M.
Pollination of greenhouse tomatoes by the Australian Bluebanded bee Amegilla (Zonamegilla) holmesi (Hymenoptera: Apidae).
Journal of Economic Entomology99: 437-442.

Morandin, L.A., Laverty, T.M. and Kevan, P.G.
2001 Bumblebee (Hymenoptera: Apidae) activity and pollination levels in commercial greenhouses.
Journal of Economic Entomology94: 462-467.

About the author
Steven Carruthers is the Managing Editor of Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses magazine and Vice-President of the Australian Hydroponic & Greenhouse Association. Email: casper@hydroponics.com.au

Issue 85: Challenges Faced by the Hydroponics Industry Worldwide

November/December – 2005
Author: Steven Carruthers

International Conference & Exhibition on Soilless Culture 2005
Fort Canning Gallery, Singapore, 5-10 September

Identifying the challenges faced by the hydroponics industry worldwide is like forecasting the future and requires some ‘strategic thinking’. In the business world, strategic thinking is a process whereby you learn how to make your business vision a reality by developing your abilities in team work, problem solving, and critical thinking. It is a tool used to help you confront change, plan for and make transitions, and envision new possibilities and opportunities. By engaging in some strategic thinking, I hope I can point to some of the challenges ahead for the hydroponics industry.

The sustainable development of the planet and the way we feed and clothe the population are major issues confronting the world today. As a global community, we need to advance our expertise in plant production, food technology, sustainable management of natural resources, as well as how we use the natural environment for recreational activities.

Agriculture and horticulture specialists will face some of the greatest challenges in the 21st century. They will need to assist in the supply of food and fibre products for a growing population that is expected to number 8.9 billion people by 2050 (USAID, 2004). The main challenge will be to supply safe products that are needed for a quality of life while maintaining a healthy planet.

Hydroponic and greenhouse technology, aquaculture and aquaponics, organic and urban farming technologies are intensive plant production systems that are all well placed to meet the challenges ahead. However, the growing systems of tomorrow will be vastly different to those used today. The present day systems, while a step in the right direction, are unsustainable and in the future it will be necessary to develop alternative production systems that are more efficient in terms of water, energy and labour use. Driving the challenges ahead are consumer and government pressures to produce safe, nutritious food in a way that is sustainable and does not harm the environment.

The new global economy and the advent of free trade agreements pose significant challenges for the hydroponics industry worldwide. Cheap products flooding international markets take away livelihoods, threaten the stability of existing fresh food markets, and increase the risk of exotic new pests and diseases establishing in countries where they previously didn’t exist, with serious impacts on important commercial crops and natural ecosystems.

The world is littered with accidental and inadvertent pest and disease introductions owing to bad grower practices, dubious Import Risk Assessments, inadequate management protocols and quarantine inspection failures. For example, the recent arrival of potato spindle virus in Western Australia had the potential to cripple the Australian greenhouse industry had it found its way into the green waste.

Fortunately, it was discovered early and eradicated. Other countries have not been so lucky. Pepino Mosaic Virus (PepMV), which was detected in greenhouse tomatoes in Europe a decade ago, has now appeared in North American greenhouse tomatoes. Other tomato diseases galloping across the globe that threaten commercial greenhouse industries include Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus (TYLCV), which has jumped from Cuba to Florida, and now Morocco, and Tomato Infectious Chlorosis Virus (TICV), which was discovered in tomatoes in California, and has now turned up in Italy.

Closer to home, back in the early 1990’s, western flower thrips found its way into Australia and is now widespread and creating havoc, while more recently lettuce aphid originating from northern Europe, has found its way to New Zealand and brought that country’s lettuce industry to its knees. The lettuce aphid has since made its way to Tasmania, and was recently detected on the mainland, threatening Australia’s lettuce industry.

Quarantine issues will be major obstacles for free trade agreements in fresh food commodities between countries such as Australia and New Zealand that have strict import and food safety regulations. There will be increasing pressure on exporting countries for growers to meet the same exacting standards as Australian and New Zealand growers to ensure the food chain remains ‘clean and green’.

Operators of farming enterprises can no longer see their contribution as a ‘way of life’. They must operate their enterprises as a business, becoming aware of competition, and adapt accordingly. Globalisation is important as producers look to other parts of the world to export their products. As countries develop and more people become educated, the attentions of those people are turned towards ‘quality of life’ issues, which include the quality of the food they eat.

With the rising power of supermarket chains in developing countries replacing the traditional markets for fresh fruit and vegetables, demands are increasing for ‘clean and green’ produce. Consumers demand to know what pesticides and other chemicals have been used to produce their food. In the future, crops will need to be grown without the use of pesticides and fungicides.

Scientists and educators worldwide have responded to this challenge by developing alternative ways of managing pests and diseases in agricultural and horticultural products, such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and gene technology, also known as biotechnology.

A major challenge ahead for industry will be to grow crops with a minimal use of safe pesticides. This means developing more disease-resistant plant varieties, discovering a wider range of beneficial insects and other biological control agents, and developing management protocols to control pest and disease problems. Most countries still have a long way to go, including Australia. For example, while there are greater than 30 biological control agents routinely used against about 20 key pests by commercial greenhouse growers in Europe and North America, Australia has less than 10 against the same number of major pests. Strict import regulations means that Australian biocontrol researchers need to identify beneficial insects from within their own environment, and to rear them in commercial quantities at an economical price, a process that can take a decade or more once a prospective beneficial insect has been discovered as the industry can best be described as fledgling. Australia is making progress with the recent discovery of two native thrips predators, which are currently being commercialised for the Australian hydroponic and greenhouse industry. These beneficial insects may also have benefits for other horticultural sectors, especially where western flower thrips is a problem.

Biotechnology will play an important role in developing disease-resistant plant varieties. Gene technology is also being increasingly used to develop fresh food products high in beneficial nutrients that slow or prevent disease. For example, tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which is known to slow aging, prevent heart disease and reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Specialised tomatoes high in lycopene are now available in North America supermarkets. Biotechnology will be used to develop other food crops loaded with beneficial nutrients that promote good human health.

Although recent surveys show consumer sentiment against GM foods is moderating, the debate for and against genetically modified plants is still emotive. Genetically modified foods both attract and terrify us, but the reality is we have been genetically modifying food since two weed species were brought together to produce wheat. The Dutch currently use GM technologies to check the make-up of genes, which lets them advance their breeding selections that would otherwise take many years. GM technology makes plant breeding easier and quicker.

In the 21st century, biotechnology will play an increasing role to produce what is known as ‘functional’ foods. Genetically modified foods may also carry other useful components such as genes to vaccinate consumers against important diseases.

The quantity and quality of water available for farming and, for that matter, urban populations throughout the world, is an important issue. In Australia, water is a scarce resource – the continent is one of the driest in the world. Management of our water resources is paramount to the success of agricultural and horticultural enterprises. Australia can play an important part in determining the most efficient ways of using this resource. Issues such as salinity and water reuse are being confronted, and cooperation from users to policy-makers is being sought.

Hydroponic and greenhouse production systems are water-efficient. Comparative analyses of water consumption show that it takes 160,000 litres of water to produce AU$100 of cotton, compared to 600 litres (best practice) of water to produce AU$100 worth of hydroponically grown produce.

Table 1: Water use efficiencies

Agriculture Sector Litres of water per $100 of output
Rice – 470,000
Cotton – 160,000
Dairy Milk – 147,000
Sugar – 123,900
Beef Cattle – 81,200
Vegetables & Fruit – 37,900
Wheat & Grain – 24,500
Hydroponic Crops – 600

There is also a significant reduction in fertiliser wastage. Using closed systems that recycle more than 95% of the water used, the hydroponics and greenhouse industry has a recognised track record for low water use compared to other agricultural and horticultural sectors. Unfortunately, less than one-third of hydroponic production systems worldwide are closed with most growers still running to waste to minimise disease problems. The challenge for these growers is to modify their systems to recycling technology, and to adopt better practices to manage their crops. Of course, this will also increase the cost of capitalisation, but consumers have shown they are willing to pay a higher price for high quality, safe products.

The export of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the world is increasing. The concern in Australia is that cheap imports don’t meet the same rigorous standards that Australian growers are required to meet. There is clear evidence some imported produce coming in has traces of dieldrin, DDT and cancer-causing organochlorides. There is also a concern about untreated organic waste such as night soil and pig waste being used as fertilisers on vegetables grown in countries such as China for export to Australia.

Industries and governments worldwide are highly concerned about food safety and the harmonisation of agricultural production systems with the environment, and production of future food in enclosed hydroponic production systems seems to offer many advantages. However, recognition and support by governments, or should I say the lack of recognition and support by governments, is a major impediment to the industry’s growth in many developed and developing countries.

Strategic thinking tells us we must look to the Netherlands as the best industry model in order to identify the challenges ahead for hydroponics worldwide. Holland has the most developed hydroponic and greenhouse industry in the world. However, the changing market environment has brought with it many challenges. Until 10 years ago, Dutch growers and their grower organisations under-estimated the dynamic power of the Spanish vegetable industry when it joined the European Community (EC). From 1992 to 1999, Spanish vegetable exports jumped 10% or more per annum. At the same time, the market was changing from a producer-orientated market, where the produce was presented by the producer, to a demand-orientated market in response to the rising power of supermarkets. It has taken a difficult decade for Dutch growers to fight their way back to market dominance.

Under the Dutch auction system, Dutch growers were unable to meet the new market demands until around the mid 1990’s. The Dutch auction system meant supermarkets could only buy uniform products in uniform packaging for a daily changing price that was about the same for every buyer. Spanish producers/exporters were much more flexible, had better packing facilities, and had more direct contact with their clients.

There are many similarities between Spain and Mexico as the cheap producing countries for their northern markets. US and Canadian growers have had to deal with the fast-growing imports from Mexico. In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia is under siege from cheap imported vegetables from China.

The smashing Spanish success of the 1990’s had its origin in good climate conditions, growing long-life tomatoes to acceptable quality using cheap growing techniques in plastic greenhouses and cheap labour. The growing season was also longer. The much lower cost of production compared to Holland, combined with large EU subsidies and the constant devaluation of the Spanish peseta, also made for cheaper Spanish exports.

In 1996, most vegetable auctions in Holland united under Greenery International with the objective of changing the traditional auction system to one where growers are able to influence the selling policy and prices. Those that didn’t join Greenery formed grower associations that sold their own products under specific marketing brands of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplant. These groups were the first to introduce ‘tracing and tracking’ and are still the most active in the market.

A third group of Dutch growers made delivery arrangements with large exporters on a yearly basis. Some of these exporters also formed grower associations to take advantage of EU subsidies for marketing activities.

As a consequence of the European over-production, Dutch growers and exporters searched for new products and far away markets. Rather than focusing on long-shelf life, they started breeding for taste, which led to the development of ‘truss’ or ‘cluster’ tomatoes and coloured peppers now present in North American and Japanese markets. The improved ‘clean and green’ image of Dutch products using Integrated Pest Management strategies has put pressure on Spanish imports, which are now seen to be not so careful with Ag chemicals.

Since 1996, Dutch growers and exporters have developed fixed relationships with clients. By decreasing the number of links in the chain, costs have been reduced. Production costs have also been reduced by enlarging the scale of greenhouse production with improvements in energy consumption. Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand have followed the European trend to enlarge greenhouse operations to supply high quality truss tomatoes to supermarkets all year-round. In Australia, the major growers and wholesalers have formed strategic alliances to spread production over a wide climatic zone to guarantee reliable supply to the important east-coast markets all year-round.

Today, many independent grower associations and groups in the Netherlands have since joined Greenery International. While Dutch growers are more divided than before, they still co-operate in exchanging information and experience. Research is no longer supported by government, but funded by grower groups. The Dutch financing infrastructure is good, and specialised banks understand the vegetable sector and stimulate growth with investments. Dutch growers are now able to meet the requirements of the most demanding European supermarkets. They are also more flexible with year-round and last minute delivery, high quality standards, safe food, certification and ‘tracing and tracking’.

However, there are still many challenges ahead for the Dutch industry. Cost price is still high and productivity increases only by high investments. Dutch growers are also hindered by many rules and regulations imposed on them by the Dutch government and the EU. And of course, with a shortage of locations to build new greenhouses, there is a need to re-organise older greenhouses.

After a decade of reorganisation and redirections, the Dutch greenhouse vegetable industry is on its way back to the top. While Spain still has lower production costs, growers now need to invest in better technology and knowledge to meet the increasing market requirements demanded by supermarkets. This will drive their production costs upward as they feel the threat of cheaper imports from Morocco and Turkey once they have free access to the EU markets. Turkey and Morocco have similar climate conditions to Spain, they have significant low-tech greenhouse industries, and are working hard to meet the requirements to enter the EU. Like the Dutch a decade earlier, it’s now up to Spain to change its direction. Unless Spanish growers change, they will not be able to distinguish their product from the cheaper imports from Morocco or Turkey.

As a global industry, countries with developed hydroponic and greenhouse industries need to share aspects of their technology with less developed countries to produce safe fruits and vegetables in sustainable growing systems. Investments in high technology greenhouses in Spain by Dutch organisations, and similar investments in the Mexican greenhouse industry by Canadian and US growers to fill seasonal gaps in high quality tomato products, points the way for investment opportunities for Australian and New Zealand industry stakeholders to share their technology with less developed industries in Asia.

So, the challenge ahead for hydroponic growers worldwide is to develop water-efficient, sustainable growing systems to supply high quality, safe products that are needed for a quality of life while maintaining a healthy planet. To achieve this goal, the hydroponics industry worldwide needs to:

– adopt recycling technology which offsets the need for soil, water and energy to produce crops and dramatically reduce natural resource use;
– develop new sustainable pest and disease control practices, without pesticides and fungicides;
– invest in food technology research, including biotechnology;
– develop more efficient production systems with smaller footprints and demands on natural resources;
– develop better greenhouse designs and construction materials that optimise climate control;
– invest in renewable energy resources, such as the development of cheaper plastic solar cells;
– encourage industry recognition and support by governments; share technology with less developed hydroponic and greenhouse industries, and.
– develop market access for ‘clean and green’ products.

References:
Leanne Griffin,
Challenging times for vegetable growers
Australian Vegetable Review 2005, AUSVEG.

Roberta Cook,
Emerging Hothouse Industry Poses Challenges for California’s Fresh Tomato Industry
Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, University of California, Davis.

Dr Mike Nichols,
Greenhouse Designs and Function in the Future
8th Biennial Conference of the Australian Hydroponic & Greenhouse Association (AHGA), Bundaberg, 2005.

Dr Mike Nichols,
Genetically Modified Foods
Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses, January/February 2005, Issue 80.

Louise Jackson,
Horticulture and Sustainable Food Systems
Dept. of Land, Air and Water Resources, University of California, Davis, 2004.

Bob Johnson,
Hydroponic Hurrah: Popularity is growing for produce grown without soil
Vegetable Production and Marketing News, Texas

Agricultural Extension Service
The Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas, 2005.

Dr Ian Porter,
Impact of global market drivers on the future role of hydroponics in world food production
Hydroponics Farmers Federation Conference, Bendigo, Victoria, July 2004.

Dan Cantliffe and John Vansickle,
Mexican Competition: Now from the Greenhouse
Food and Resource Economics, University of Florida, Gainesville, 2004.

Joe Elbustani,
Science tackles problems for the greenhouse industry
Australian Vegetable Review 2005, AUSVEG 2005

Gerard F.J.
Significant changes in the European greenhouse vegetable industry
Boonekamp (Editor Weekblad Groenten & Fruit),
Canadian Greenhouse Conference, Toronto, Canada, 9 October 2004.

US Agency for International Development (USAID).

About the author
Steven Carruthers is the Managing Editor of Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses, a bi-monthly magazine published in Sydney, Australia, and Vice-President of the Australian Hydroponics & Greenhouse Association (AHGA), Australia’s peak industry body. Steven is the recipient of the Australian Business and Specialist Publishers Association (ABSP) Bell Award for ‘Best Small Publisher of the Year’ in 1998, 2000 and 2001 and was highly commended in 1999. Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses is the recipient of the ABSP’s Bell Award for ‘Best Specialist Magazine of the Year’ in 2000 and 2001. Steven is also an affiliated member of the International Federation of the Periodical Press and author of several books including the bestseller, Hydroponic Gardening published by Lothian Press.

Issue 74: Simplified Hydroponics for Kindergartens

January/February – 2004
Author: Martin Caldeyro Stajano (M. Sc.)

Hydroponics has become a valuable educational tool to stimulate learning and improve the nutrition of four and five-year-old children in this Uraguayan kindergarten.

At the Kindergarten of The British Schools, in Uruguay, there is a continuing interest in finding new ways to improve the educational system. The kindergarten experimented with a traditional garden plot with little results, due to several factors – limited space; mud prevented the children from keeping clean; the large number of children participating in the activities has not allowed the direct handling of tools; watering has been too complex for them to carry out ;and last, the crop has not been worth it, taking into account the big effort made by the group.

Therefore, when they had the opportunity to learn about the hydroponics technique at AQUAFOOD (where teachers and children are exposed to an audio-visual and direct contact with a different and innovative way to cultivate plants), there was great interest amongst the teachers. After observing the enthusiasm of the children and their involvement, the idea was born of integrating this technique at school.

Simplified Hydroponics is hygienic and does not require a lot of space, and it offers direct and individualised participation by children. It allows children to observe plant roots without pulling the plant out of its environment, and to watch as plants grow relatively quickly.

In 1999, a team of teachers joined with author to plan a simple hydroponic project for the 70 children who attend the kindergarten every day. This was the first time hydroponics had been adopted as a learning aid at a pre-school in Uruguay. The objectives of the project were to:

– Facilitate an understanding of the life cycle of plants.
– Facilitate an understanding of plant functions.
– Participate in the process of food production.
– Contribute to the development of healthy eating habits.
– Develop teamwork among children in group projects.
– Motivate respect and values for life in nature.

Teacher teamwork and resources
There were four teachers and one coordinator who worked with two groups of 35 children, morning and afternoon. The materials used were sand, rice skulls, nutrients, water, plastic, logs, ice-cream containers, plastic pots, PVC pipe and seeds.

A small greenhouse shelter was built in the backyard corner of the kindergarten. Supported by wooden posts, the roof was covered with plastic and a sun-shade screen to protect the plants from the sun, rain and wind. The plants were placed on long wooden planks, elevated above the floor. Small boxes wrapped in plastic were filled with sand and rice skulls and used as nursery beds. The growing systems also included a large floating system, and PVC pipe attached to the side wall.

Kindergarten activities
Preparation
Hydroponic cultivation was integrated into the kindergarten curriculum as part of the unit “Plants”, and included the following elements:

– Parts of the plant.
– Growing requirements.
– Functions of the plant.
– Life cycle of the plant.
– Parts of the plants that can be eaten.

Theory-practice
During the second term (mid-August to the beginning of November), a series of visits to AQUAFOOD were carried out to develop the following activities:

Motivational talk – A talk with slides to introduce this alternative way of planting to children, inviting them to cultivate their own plants.

Nursery – Observation of seeds with magnifying glasses, and sowing seeds in the nursery. Afterwards, observation of the germination process, and the development of small plants.

Transplanting vegetables – Transplanting small plants to containers and adding water and nutrients. Each child transplanted two lettuce to an individual box. Lettuce varieties included butterhead, red and crisp lettuce. Each child also transplanted basil and parsley into a small plastic pot filled with solid growing media.

Transplanting flowers – Transplanting marigold to a small plastic pot filled with solid growing media.

Transplanting a variety of vegetables – Transplanting lettuce, radish, strawberries, cabbage, herbs, etc. , to the PVC pipe system. This activity was carried out collectively.

Caring for the plants
There were many visits to the kindergarten to teach the technical aspects of Simplified Hydroponics. The children inspected their own plants periodically (water level, water colour, root aspect and plants leaves), always in the company of the teachers, who continued reinforcing concepts and instructing them about the control and growing of plants. As an agronomist, I taught the teachers how to prepare the nutrients, so the children could refill their containers when needed. I also monitored the childrens’ plants to ensure the best conditions were achieved for optimum growth.

The educational process
A talk was given to parents, family and members of the school. It was open to everyone who was interested. The purpose of the talk was to relate the experience seen from an educational point of view, and evaluate the experience at the kindergarten. The whole process was illustrated with photographs. In this way, it was possible to help parents understand the educational process their children experienced.

Tasting and eating
When it was ready to harvest, some of the produce was collected (lettuce, chives, radish, basil, etc. ) by the children, and washed and prepared in a salad with oil, vinegar, lemon and salt. This was always done under the supervision of a teacher. Snack tables were laid and the children encouraged to taste or eat the salads. The message was:”I taste, if I don’t like it, I may leave it”, which was very effective. The children felt free to satisfy their curiosity, and the message stimulated their willingness to explore. In this way, it became an adventure for the children who experienced new tastes, including a hot radish, which was fun to watch at times. Ninety per cent of the children tasted the different types of produce, and many confessed they liked it more than when they were younger. A large number of children simply devoured the offerings.

The vegetables arrive home
When the plants were ready for harvest, they were given to thechildren to take home to eat with their family. A note with instructions for parents was written in their school communications book (diary), to be sure the plants arrived safely home. Each child took home:

– One box with two varieties of lettuce grown in water.
– One basil or parsley plant, and a flower plant, all cultivated in solid growing media. These plants were to be transplanted in soil at home, encouraging the child and family to continue the growing process during summer.

Visit to a supermarket
The objective of the visit to a supermarket was so the children could understand the process involved for vegetables and fruit once they are harvested;from the moment they arrive at the supermarket until they are placed in the stalls for sale. The children saw the entire process:the trucks, unloading of boxes, the cold rooms, packing, weighing and price sticking, and the way the fruit and vegetables were placed in the stall and sold.

Results
The children
From hands-on experience, the children had direct observation of plant development, with continued involvement until the plants were ready to eat, the final experience for each child.

With regards to knowledge, they learnt about the needs and functions of plants, and understood the importance of human intervention in the growing process. In the different areas of learning, the children also related the experience to mathematics, natural science, literacy, art and music.

Developing values
The hydroponic project encouraged a commitment from the children to look after their plants during the growth cycle, from seed to harvest. It also gave the children a respect for life sciences, and helped develop self-esteem for having been part of a project as producers of food, or decorative flowers. The hydroponic project not only taught the children how to work together as a team, but helped them develop healthy eating habits.

Dietary Habits
At the age of four and five years, eating habits are still developing. A significant benefit of the project was the improved eating habits of the children and their families. Over a three-month period, the acceptance of vegetables in their diet went from 51% to 74%, an increase of 23%.

The family
The hydroponic project promoted dialogue between the family and children, and parents followed their progress with interest. Parents also questioned teachers about how it had been done, and commented that their children had shown more knowledge about science facts. Some children asked for more plants and participated in the maintenance of the gardens. Other children started garden pots at home, and asked for seeds. Some children asked their parents to bring plants to school (such as sunflowers and strawberries), and to bring tomatoes or other uncommon fruit for snack time.

The children showed more interest in food, especially fruit and vegetables, and became more involved in the preparation of meals. Parents hold the hope that it is possible to change the diet of their children to include healthy food. They realised that the experience was a valid way to improve the nutrition of their children.

At the end of the experience, the children took their high quality plants home, and there is a special moment when the lettuce comes to the table. It is, somehow, a ceremony, where the child becomes the most important person in the home. Everyone acknowledges the child as someone who is valued for their own knowledge and experience, which the rest of the family do not have.

Final evaluation by parents
In 93% of cases, parents observed that the hydroponic experience motivated their sons and daughters. The finalproducts grown by the children and taken home were considered of excellent quality. Of the children, 78% were motivated to cultivate plants in their homes. Of the parents, 90% said it was very important to continue these activities to promote the wellbeing of their children.

Conclusion
It is evident that Simplified Hydroponics is a valuable tool in the education process, because it arouses curiosity in young children and stimulates their learning. It also brings them nearer to nature, and increases their self-esteem and personal satisfaction when they become aware of their achievements over a short period of time.

This has been a most rewarding experience for all those who have been involved in the project. While the project started at school, developing knowledge and better eating habits in children, it ended by passing its “fruit” on to the family itself. As an educational tool, Simplified Hydroponics should be adopted in other education centres in Latin America.

About the author
Martin Caldeyro Stajano Ing. (M. Sc. ) is President of the Uruguayan Hydroponics Society (Asociacion Urugauya de Hidroponia), and the principal of AQUAFOOD, which plays an important role in the education and practical application of hydroponic technologies throughout Latin America. Email: asudhi@chasque.net

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