Red October

In Australia, the bushfire season has arrived early with devastating property losses across New South Wales. It’s a miracle casualties and property losses were not higher, but for improved bushfire warnings, pre-determined evacuation plans, and the State Rural Fire Service, whose volunteer firefighters are among the best in the world. Weather experts say Australia is headed for another record hot year, even if temperatures are average for the remainder of 2013, which is unlikely.

For greenhouse growers, ventilation and cooling, and protecting infrastructure from indiscriminate bushfires will be the challenge. Thus, it seems appropriate to revisit greenhouse ventilation and cooling in this issue, and to take a look at innovative shade and thermal screens, including those with flame retardent properties. Following the tragic NSW bushfires of the 1990s, I was amazed to witness greenhouses covered with flame retardent plastic still standing, although the plants inside did not fare as well in the intense heat. Since then, innovative flame retardent shade and thermal screens have been developed, although the developers did not have Australian growers in mind. Such screens have a place across the Australian horticulture landscape. Crops can be replanted, but replacing costly infrastructure takes longer. The new Abbott Government’s quick response to offer financial aid to those families and business operations impacted by the recent ‘Red October’ bushfires’, is commendable.

In this issue there is also a strong focus on aquaponics, including a realistic review of the technology to clarify where aquaponics can be scientifically proven. Since its emergence as a new growing technology, there have been many unproven claims that aquaponics is sustainable; but is it? Unlike hydroponics, where nutrition and consistent quality can be controlled, aquaponics is not a precise science, where the nutritional needs of plants are dependent on fish numbers, and stage of growth of both plants and fish. While the potential of aquaponics technology is bleedingly obvious, researchers, marketeers and devotees have a long way to go to live up to organic, quality and sustainability claims. Apart from the potential to meet the protein needs of humans in the decades ahead, what I find exciting about aquaponics technology is the potential to discover how bacteria and micro-organisms work to produce healthy plants and fish, studies that could prove beneficial to human health.

At the other end of the scale is our story on urban aquaponics, where the issue of sustainability is over-ridden by the desire to grow your own herbs, vegetables and protein-rich fish in small spaces, such as a backyard, using discarded materials. In my northern beaches area of NSW, it’s an activity gaining popularity among urban dwellers, brought to their attention by demonstration gardens at the local refuse tip and schools. Helping to drive this interest is the benefit of using less water. The aquaponic concept is marketed as a simple no fuss system that occupies a small space to grow fresh fish, herbs and vegetables for the dinner table.

Finally, our story WaterSmart Hydroponics is another example of commercial growers adopting innovative technology that reduces water consumption by 35% and halves fertiliser inputs.

Enjoy the read!

Steven Carruthers

November 2013 / Issue 137