March 26, 2012 — Catawba River District Voices

After living on our farm for a couple of years, I vividly remember asking my husband when we’d be done building and expanding our operation. Chris looked at me with a puzzled expression and replied, “Never.” True to his word – true to his entrepreneur spirit – there is always something new going on at Rivendell Farms.

Some additions such as raising rabbits for meat have come and gone. It was hard to kill something so cute. On the other hand, raising grass-fed beef has been a great business for our boys. Last year we began growing hydroponic lettuce. This venture is also a keeper.

Hydroponic vegetables are grown in nutrient-rich water, not soil. We use a system called Nutrient Film Technique, which means the water is continually moving past the roots of the vegetables … in our case, lettuce. I call it lazy lettuce. In regular gardening, after a lettuce seed is planted in the soil, it germinates and then all of the plant’s energy goes into finding nutrients within the soil.

In a hydroponic system, the lettuce seed is first placed into a cube of rockwool medium and then placed into a channel which has water continually moving past it. The lettuce roots just need to absorb the nutrients from the water. In essence, the lettuce can just sit back and let the nutrients come to it, instead of having to go search for food. Thus, lazy lettuce.

On the other hand, the hydroponic operator can’t be lazy. There has been tons to learn concerning Ph levels, types of nutrients, cooling methods, etc. Lots of trial and error, but it’s been fun and rewarding.

To get a nice head of lettuce from the garden takes from 8-10 weeks. The hydroponic system will produce a head of lettuce in 6 weeks. There are also less bugs and diseases to deal with. In addition we can grow vegetables all year round in our greenhouse.

Just the other day I was thinking how great things were going with our hydroponics, and then Chris mentioned he thinks it’s time to expand our operation. Oh, life is always an adventure around here.