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decided to go into business

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decided to go into business

Post  bpbdrummer on 4/4/2010, 2:29 pm

Being that things at my job are kind of up in the air right now, long story, I work for an airline and we just voted in the Teamsters union, a few days later the company announced that they're contracting out the ground services in 7 of our current cities. We're not sure if they're going to cut more or not so as a backup plan I decided I need to create my own income.

After doing a lot of research on Hydroponics and Aquaponics I realized that it could be a pretty lucrative business, mainly by providing fresh herbs and vegetables to local restaurants. With a hydroponic system I could grow heads of gourmet organic lettuce in 4 weeks, lettuce is a big seller right next to basil, peppers and tomatoes.

I can set up a vertical growing system and produce even more than in a SFG and with even less space. This thread in a market garden forum has me convinced.

"Consider this: Just a quarter-acre of tomatoes grown properly, and
selling for only $.50 per pound, would yield $25,000 per year! Have I
got your attention? Let’s see how it’s done.

A quarter-acre, or 10,390 square feet, will accommodate 78 30-foot rows
of plants, grown in 4' X 30' Grow-Boxes, with 3 1/2' side aisles, and
5' end aisles. Planting 9" apart gives you 41 plants per bed or 3,198
total. Of course this requires growing vertically with T-Frames, and
pruning your plants. See the picture below.

By growing a tomato that averages 8 ounces (some varieties are even
bigger), and growing vertically, each plant should produce 16# of fruit
from July through October. How? Good varieties produce a cluster of 3-7
tomatoes every 5-7" up a 7' stem in 4 months of production. Using 4 per
cluster and 12 clusters gives 48 tomatoes, and at 8 ounces each, your
yield would be 24# per plant. Let’s reduce that by one third, to be
conservative.

This amounts to 51,168 pounds of tomatoes (16# X 41 X 78) - or $25,584
at $.50 per pound. Who said you couldn't live out of your garden! And
similar results can be achieved growing right in the soil.

Now there certainly are costs, including labor, as there are in any
serious endeavor. Start-up costs include 1) making and filling the
boxes, 2) making T-Frames, 3) wires or pipes, and baling-twine strings,
and 4) automating the watering. However these are one-time capital
expenditures and will be more than recovered in the first year.

Next, suppose you'd like to increase your yield even more. After all,
commercial hydroponic growers can produce 550,000 pounds of “plastic,”
tasteless tomatoes per year on one acre. Of course, they have large
investments in year-round greenhouses, automated systems, etc. By
simply putting an arched PVC roof over each of your Grow-Boxes,
covering them with 6-mil greenhouse plastic, and then adding just a
little heat on cold nights, you can lengthen your growing season by
another two months, or 50%!

Now you're looking at 75,000# of tomatoes per quarter-acre, or more
than half the yield of the expensive hydroponic growers! But you're
growing "in the dirt", because your boxes are open at the bottom, so
your plants get all the natural nutrients available from the soil
(producing better flavor). And you only use the plastic covering for
two or three months, so your plants benefit from direct sunlight as
well, further improving their flavor.

Do you think these numbers are hard to believe? Just visit a greenhouse
tomato operation and see tomato plants that are 20' and 30' long -
still producing after more than a year!"

these businesses seem very successful, heres a few articles I found

http://louisville.bizjournals.com/louisville/stories/2009/02/16/story3.html?page=1

http://www.daytondailynews.com/business/tac-enterprises-finds-its-success-with-hydroponics-610938.html


So I spoke to my wife and shes works for a high end assisted living facility, She asked the head chef if we started such a business would he be interested in purchasing from us and he said he definitely would but we would have to be state licensed i n order for them to do that.

I live in an area close to some very affluent people and high end restaurants, If I could market fresh herbs and veggies to local restaurants I think I could do very well.

So I decided I'm going to put together a small hydroponic system and see how it does. I can start by selling to friends/co-workers and work my way up from there.


I looked into the first company in those articles and they have some press from when they first started, it was a pretty large operation to begin with but in 2000 an article said "The greenhouse company cost about $130,000 to get started, including
construction. Graft said he expects to generate $120,000 a year in
revenue once the company is fully operational."

now move ahead to last year "Not only is Grateful Greens’ business maxed out in a recession, the
business is expanding, tripling its size with a new location The company is investing about $460,000 — $250,000 to buy the land and
about $210,000 to build an additional 20,000 square feet of greenhouses. Graft doesn’t have the capacity to keep up with demand."

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  Retired Member 1 on 4/4/2010, 4:08 pm

Takes guts these days to go out on your own in any kind of business. But folks have to eat, so you just might be able to fill a nitch in the high-end food market. But be prepared for lots of work -- harvesting alone will take you a lot of time. Then again working with living, growing entities is so rewarding. Good luck on your endeavour.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  bpbdrummer on 4/4/2010, 4:50 pm

yeh, it will be lots of work but right now (and for 16+yrs) I load aircraft, summer is brutal, 30 mins to turn a flight and it's about 140 degrees in the cargo bin, not to mention your body takes a beating after all those years. At least if this works out I can be at home in my garden working for myself.

I'm just going to start slow, make a small system, try it out and go from there. If it works , great if not , well I tried LOL.

there is only one competitor and i dont even know if they are local, but i do
have their price list:
examples
1 lb of basil $8.75
1lb chives $14
1lb oregano $13
Hydroponic Arugula 3lbs $22

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  titans01 on 4/4/2010, 7:06 pm

I guess my question is how much is the startup costs and how much labor is involved in tending & pruning over 3,000 tomato plants. Obviously you wouldn't be doing all tomatoes but it does seem like a lot of work. I'd love to see your setup for this too so pics please when you get started. Good luck.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  bpbdrummer on 4/4/2010, 10:10 pm

Well as far as startup costs, like I said, I'm going to try a small system first.
something like this
but instead of the vinyl posts running parallel to each other I'll build a vertical frame and stack them up and let gravity move the water from top to bottom

estimated costs:

frame
2 4x4x8 posts -$18
10 2x4x8 boards -$30

system:
1 pond pump (700 GPH) -$80
rubbermade tote (reservoir) -$40 unless I can find a sturdy one for free.
4 vinyl fence posts and endcaps - $120
misc tubing and bulkhead fittings - $50
3" net cups (48) - $25
rockwool starter cubes - $15
EC/PH tester - $70
nutrients - $50

so a round about guess to set up the system about $500
that would give me a continuous flow system with 48 planting spaces

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  titans01 on 4/5/2010, 12:59 am

Definately sounds interesting. Keep us informed how it goes. I might want to try it this fall.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  JonRigby2005 on 4/14/2010, 9:24 pm

Keep in mind that high resevoir temperatures could (most likely would) cause root rot, and lowers the amount of disolved oxygen in the water. Running a closed loop in the hot florida sun may be tough, without some way to keep resevoir temps under 70, maybe aquarium chiller. Though it may be more cost efficient to just drain to waste, or collect and use to water soil gardens.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  bpbdrummer on 4/14/2010, 9:39 pm

yeh thats one of my main concerns, if I do an aquaponic system I'll be building a large above ground pond system which should hold enough water to keep the temp down under 80, i could go ghetto style and use a large kiddie pool, I had one of the 3' x12' pools and a few weeks ago I gave it to my neighbor because we got a 24' above ground, figures, now i could use that little pool.

anyway, right now it's not quite hot enough for the reservoir to be an issue but it wont be long. I put a few plants in my test system, one had been in my micro/coffee can DWC experiment and was doing really well. the others were started in soil so I'm not sure how they'll do. At first they all wilted and werent looking good but after a few hours they perked up and look fine.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  JonRigby2005 on 4/16/2010, 5:08 pm

I'm gonna be going to a hydroponic u-pick strawberry farm in st. pete. I can get all the strawberrys i want for free, but i am very interested in their commercial scale hydroponics systems. I will be asking lots of questions, hopefully they don't mind answering. In a few days I'll let you know what i have learned from those doing it. While I don't think it gets much better than organically grown, there is something about hydroponics that intrigues me, the control over ph, and ec is awesome, and so are the growth rates.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  bpbdrummer on 4/21/2010, 9:17 pm

working on a website
http://hookedonponix.com/

I started with a
few plants in my system, two tomato and a jalapeno plant.
The
tomatoes are doing ok, the roots are growing like crazy and they're pure
white so they are healthy, the foliage is iffy, I need to get a PPM
meter to test the nutrient solution. They may have gotten a little
higher dosage of nutrients than they should have at the beginning stage.


It's a work in progress and a learning curve but it's coming
along.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  JonRigby2005 on 4/21/2010, 9:52 pm

You NEED tds/ec meter, and I would highly recommend a ph meter. I love hydroponics, please ask any ?'s you can think of. You probobly burned them you need to be very easy on nutrients in the begining, raise weekly until you see problems, then you know your limit. Ph is a major factor also, some mediums can effect it as well as nutrients. Always get nutrient ppms where you want them before testing/adjusting ph. You may want to drain to waste being that it is outside due to heat probs. If running a loop, I would highly recommend ebb and flow(very forgiving) and keeping resevoir inside or out of direct sun, maybe partly bury to help with temps. You have to have plenty of dissolved oxygen in water to get the benifits of hydroponics, 65-70 degrees is optimal, as it gets higher the water holds less and less oxygen. What kind of system are you running? What medium? What nutrients? What is the ppm/ec of your water to begin with?

I just finished a major remodel doing all the work myself, so I haven't had time to garden the last 2 years. But i will be back to hydroponic experiments in the fall, we'll have to keep in touch, and continue to learn from each other. I know it sounds bad but you can find all the hydroponic knowlege on marijuana grow websites. When i started my research that is mostly what poped up on google, and let me tell you there are some very knowlegable gardeners on those sites.

I wish I had pictures of my last go around, I had a habanero pepper in an NFT system outside that was absolutely huge, the growth rates are phenomenal when you get the hang of it. I did nft so I could drain to waste, but collected runoff to water my dirt gardens veggies and flowers. I have been to scared of heat to run a loop outside, but will try this fall. I like having control, and hydroponics gives you a lot of it. I've done tomatoes, peppers, strawberrys, and lettuces in hydroponics, and looking to add more in the future. Good luck with your endeavors.

Oh, in general your ph in hydroponics will be a little lower than what you would have in soil. So if your tomatoes are at 6.5 or so, try 5.8-6, if your leaves look twisted at all you may have ph problem.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  JonRigby2005 on 4/21/2010, 9:59 pm

The farm by me that does vertical hydroponic strawberries, fills their system with a mix of perlite and vermiculite. Just wanted to let you know that as well, they are in st pete and have a web site, google hydro u-pick farm st pete and check it out.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  bpbdrummer on 4/21/2010, 10:22 pm

@JonRigby2005 wrote:You NEED tds/ec meter, and I would highly recommend a ph meter.

I'll be picking one up when i get paid this week. I have a ph test kit right now, my well water has a natural ph of around 7 so I had to drop it just a little.

@JonRigby2005 wrote:I love hydroponics, please ask any ?'s you can think of. You probobly burned them you need to be very easy on nutrients in the begining, raise weekly until you see problems, then you know your limit. Ph is a major factor also, some mediums can effect it as well as nutrients. Always get nutrient ppms where you want them before testing/adjusting ph. You may want to drain to waste being that it is outside due to heat probs. If running a loop, I would highly recommend ebb and flow(very forgiving) and keeping resevoir inside or out of direct sun, maybe partly bury to help with temps. You have to have plenty of dissolved oxygen in water to get the benifits of hydroponics, 65-70 degrees is optimal, as it gets higher the water holds less and less oxygen. What kind of system are you running? What medium? What nutrients? What is the ppm/ec of your water to begin with?

Yeh i think i learned my lesson on the nutes and burning, I'm using foxfarms growbig single part grow formula right now. I followed the chart and added 2 tsp per gallon but what i didnt take into consideration was that i had started those plants in soil.
I thought they were going to die at first but they pulled through and i did a reservoir change and cut the nutes.

I'm running a sort of hybrid NFT/DWC system, meaning that it's a constant flow system just like NFT but the solution is a bit deeper, the plants are in Hydroton and 3" net pots.

@JonRigby2005 wrote:I just finished a major remodel doing all the work myself, so I haven't had time to garden the last 2 years. But i will be back to hydroponic experiments in the fall, we'll have to keep in touch, and continue to learn from each other. I know it sounds bad but you can find all the hydroponic knowlege on marijuana grow websites. When i started my research that is mostly what poped up on google, and let me tell you there are some very knowlegable gardeners on those sites.

thats pretty7 much where i learned everything about hydroponics, well that and the aquaponics websites. But yeh, those guys know their plants and systems.

Thanks for the help and info, I know that place your talking about in St pete, I've seen the website. It's a pretty cool little business.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  JonRigby2005 on 4/22/2010, 8:11 am

instead of cleaning soil off the roots and adding to system, root a cutting off the soil plant to avoid soil born bacteria and fungi in your system. The nutes will lower the ph, I would still recommend a good digital ph meter over drops/litmus. Don't go by dosing on nute bottle they want you to run out and buy more, like I said work your way up start around 300-400 ppm, your plant will let you know when it's gotten to high.

You could take cuttings off a donor plant 10 weeks before outdoor planting. Grow them in the same net pots set in an ebb and flow setup, then when the weather is ready outside simply lift out the net pot and add to your nft/dwc. If you try this make sure the system doesn't allow the roots to tangle (like putting 4 plants in one dwc), or you will damage the roots when you take em outside.

I like the idea of a hybrid nft/dwc. If power goes out in nft alone you are screwed, that standing water will buy you much more time, but eventually will need oxygenation.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  bpbdrummer on 4/23/2010, 5:00 pm

Thanks for all the tips Jon, I went out today and scored a 27 gallon heavy duty tote on sale at lowes for $9, picked up 4 light timers on clearance for $3.50/ea. I also picked up a TDS meter and some PH Down solution.

my small 10 gallon cheap tote reservoir wasnt cutting it, I checked the TDS and temp and the temp was showing 32 Celsius, so 90+F, not cool. TDS was about 350 and the plants are doing real well, I filled the new res and set the nutes to about 500ppm, I have some yellow spots on the tomato leaves so I think they arent getting enough nitrogen. I'll see how they do at 500 and maybe up it a little more and keep pushing it up as they grow. AFAIK, they like a TDS of 1500-1800.

Heres some pics..


Roots growing well and nice and white, a few days ago there was just one tiny root just barely sticking out of the bottom of the pot.


Here is my little test system, the round tubes are for the next system. I tested them out yesterday, they work great, nice depth and flow and no leaks.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  JonRigby2005 on 4/26/2010, 11:58 pm

If you can't get the temps down, in the resevoir under 70 degrees. I think maybe using some SM90 in res might help. Now this is just a guess, as I've never had my res. temps too terribly high. Though this stuff will kill beneficial bacteria as well, I think it may be the price you got to pay, to kill the bad stuff.

Oh, I don't know if i said it before, but you said your water is right at 7ph. These hydroponic nutrients, are designed to lower ph, so make sure you are testing ph after nutrients have been well mixed, you may not need any ph down. But it is good to both up and down on hand just in case.

If the yellow spots you speak of are on the leaf tips, your nutrient ppm's may still be too high too soon.

Also if your leaves look twisted at all, you probly having ph issues.

Jon

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  bpbdrummer on 4/30/2010, 6:07 pm

So heres an update on the system. The yellowing must have been mineral deficiency. I slowly upped the nutrients to around 900ppm, PH is between 6-6.5 and the tomatoes are doing great. heres a few pics, as you can tell i also switched over to my larger pvc tubes


root growth is excellent and very healthy


I have some more seedlings started and i need to work up the nutrient level so i can move them to the main system

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  JonRigby2005 on 5/16/2010, 9:27 pm

So, how is it going, it sure is getting hot out there. Based on your last post things seem to be doing good. I got a small suggestion, If you decide you like the nft system and expand in the future, get the square tube pvc they use for pcv privacy fences. The squared bottom will give you more surface area, better oxygenating the water as it flows through the pipe.

I am curious about one thing as well, I have always seen hydro grows with ph about 1 point below what the same plant would want in soil. I know tomatoes, like 6.5ish in soil. Have you tried ph around 5.5-5.8? If not I wouldnt go change it as your plants look healthy, but maybe if you can setup a small system to run side by side with a lower ph and see which looks better.

A system like this you can almost watch em grow it should be so fast

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  bpbdrummer on 5/16/2010, 9:49 pm

It's going really well, you can check my website for some pics and all that.
heres the latest from that little tomato plant




I havent posted much but I've been busy working on the business.
I now have a business adviser as well as a financial adviser. I contacted SCORE.org (service council of retired executives) and got in touch with a local councilor, he came over yesterday, went over the business plan, gave me some advice on how to proceed and he and the financial guy will be helping me with setting goals for the future and working towards those.

I am starting to run into some issues, the roots on the tomato are so long they run almost the entire length of the nft, they are literally 4ft long ,i just moved it again today because the roots were growing down the drain tube. I tried the square tubing, didnt like it, it was a pain to try and seal up tight.

my PH is 6 and I'm growing cukes, tomatoes, snap beans and peas all in the same system, nutes are right at 1500 ppm now and most of it is doing really well.
I havent had problems with the heat yet but it was blazing today so thats a concern. I have had some issues with the cukes and beans, but they are fungus isues, rust on the snap bean leaves and mildew on the cukes.

so my plan for the business is to grow tomatoes and cukes in coir slabs with a drip line, raft system for lettuce, NFT basil and crops with shorter root systems.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  JonRigby2005 on 5/16/2010, 10:23 pm

Don't be scared to trim your roots back, don't let them clog your drain. Trimming them is fine, here and there. Sounds great, I wish you the best in your endeavors.

Oh, I think I like a ph of 6 better. Remember too that different nutrients are taken and blocked at diferent ph. I like to drop down to 5.5, then let it drift to right around 6-6.2, before adjusting.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  bpbdrummer on 5/16/2010, 10:43 pm

Thanks Jon, I started foliar feeding the tomato plant with tiger bloom nutes yesterday, today I went out and it has started to bloom. I cant switch the res to bloom because of the other plants in the system but spraying it with the bloom nutes seems to be working fine. man, i did some supercropping (pinch the stem and bend it over), i was so nervous that I was going to kill it but it really worked the next day it was upright again and the stem was thicker and stronger. I did it about 4-5 times along the main stem over the course of a few days

and just for those keeping track...this is the same tomato plant april 23rd


and here it is may 11th ... 2 weeks later




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Re: decided to go into business

Post  MeyerLemon on 5/18/2010, 6:04 pm

I love this idea! Last year I thought about selling off some of my extra produce, but ran into the same issue with state licensing.

I'm in California, and I again have a massive bumper citrus crop, so I may look into getting licensed.

Keep us updated and good luck!!

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  bpbdrummer on 5/18/2010, 6:16 pm

well if the citrus industry in cali is anything like it it here, the state keeps a tight reign on the citrus producers.

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  bpbdrummer on 6/2/2010, 11:57 pm

just a quick update on the system, it's doing very well even with the heat.
I have a few tomatoes growing on the vine and the squash has taken over the lower section and they have a ton of blooms on them.





also unrelated but really cool, one of our hens hatched 5 baby chicks the other day
3 days old

1 day old

teaching the babies to scratch for food

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Re: decided to go into business

Post  SFGHQSTAFF on 6/17/2010, 12:43 pm

Hey, I have enjoyed this experiment. Please keep us up to date on your progress, and thanks for the pictures they tell a great story!.

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