Hydroponic greenhouse pros and cons

WTVC - Joan Jones owns and operates Lee and Gordon Greens, a hydroponic greenhouse in Chickamauga.

For the week's Homegrown, we take a look at some of the issues that can pop up while growing food in a greenhouse, without using soil.

"This is a curly leaf that we sell a lot of for sandwiches," Joan Jones says as she showed us a popular type of lettuce she grows.

She owns and operates Lee and Gordon Greens in Chickamauga. It's a greenhouse that grows several types of lettuce and herbs.

"We have a hydroponic greenhouse which means we grow everything in water, there is no dirt," Jones said. "The nutrients are supplied through mineral salts that are injected into the system. We plant in a material called rockwool, which is spun, volcanic rock."

A big benefit to this type of farming is the ability to grow year round, and produce more crops with less space.

"What we can grow in here it would take about five times the land to grow this amount at one time."

But, hydroponic growing still comes with its challenges.

"We still fight a lot of the things that the farmers do, just in a different way."

Over the years Joan has dealt with the electricity going out for extended periods of time, diseases, rodents, bugs, fungus and mildew.

"One of the common misconceptions is that we don't fight bugs, but we do," Jones said. "There are cracks and crevices in a nine year old structure that you can't constantly be filling."

The right temperature has to be maintained inside the greenhouse regardless of the weather, plus the right amount of water and nutrients need supplied throughout the different stages of growth.

"We are real conservative with our water. We get 500 gallons at a time and we use that 500 gallons for about 10 days. It constantly recycles itself and recirculates and then it gets drained off, then we get 500 more gallons."

She relies on technology to help keep track of all the plants, but technology can't replace human insight when things go wrong.

"It's a lot of hard work because you have to be able to look at the plant and tell what the heck is going wrong with it. I've gotten to where now I can almost touch it and say there's something wrong, it feels too tough or if the leaves are leathery or if there's a white film on it."

When Joan started nine years ago, she says she had no farming experience. But now, she walks through her greenhouse armed with knowledge about the plants.

"We've been through a lot of bumps in the road, just a lot of bumps. There's a lot of things out here that break. There's a lot of things that go wrong mechanically."

That can be frustrating, but she's thankful for extra help when things do break down.

"Over the years I've had people come out and offer support and help and fix the problem, help us fix what's wrong and move on."

Joan sells her lettuce at the Chattanooga Market on Sundays.

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