Commercial hydroponic growing can be an excellent way to get into the produce business. Such systems allow you to produce high-quality produce nearly all year long, enabling you to offer buyers a consistent price no matter what the season. It is important that you approach commercial hydroponics as you would any other business venture, and be sure that the investment will be worth it for you.
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Things you need
- Hydroponic growing system, drip feed, with pump, tank and pipes
- Pots containing perlite or clay pellets
Evaluate your local market area. One of the advantages of commercial hydroponics is that crops can be harvested right before you sell them, resulting in a better tasting, fresher product. If you live near a city of at least 100,000 people, your hydroponics business may have a large enough market. Create a business plan with free mentoring and plan templates available from SCORE and advice about funding from the Small Business Administration.
Set up a greenhouse for your hydroponics operation. In some areas you can grow without using a greenhouse, but because of the equipment involved, hydroponics systems are best used inside a greenhouse. The easiest and most affordable greenhouse to start with uses metal framework that you erect according to the manufacturer's instructions. The frame is then covered with a plastic film that provides a controlled temperature environment for your plants.
Place your growing containers at regular intervals in the greenhouse. There are many different options for how plants are supported, but one of the most common uses rows of pots to hold the plants. These buckets are filled with an inert medium such as perlite or clay pellets. Then they are arranged in rows in the greenhouse with enough space between the individual pots for the plants to grow, and enough space between the rows for you to walk comfortably in between them.
Install your hydroponic equipment. At least six different basic types of hydroponic systems can give you a lot of variables. Essentially you must install the holding tank for the liquid nutrient solution, the pump that circulates the solution and the pipes that convey the solution to the plants. In many systems each plant will have a drip feeder that delivers nutrient solution directly into the pot. The solution then drains out the bottom of the pot and is either recycled or discarded.
Put a plant in each pot in the system. It is common to use seedlings that have been started in another hydroponic system, and move them to the greenhouse when they are well-established. Place each plant in the inert support medium and immediately turn on the feeding system.
Harvest the plants when they are at their prime. Hydroponic plants grow much more quickly than those grown in soil, so you will get several harvests per year of most produce.
Clean the equipment, pots and medium completely before beginning another growing cycle. This will reduce the chance of any kind of contamination affecting a new planting of crops.
Tips and warnings
- Start small and make sure you understand the basics of hydroponic growing before investing a large amount of money in a system. Some colleges, agriculture extension services and various manufacturers offer classes that will help you grasp the essentials. Talk with other hydroponic growers and attend educational workshops.
- Be sure before you invest that you will be able to sell what you grow. Otherwise you may end up losing your money.
- Develop a business plan that includes a marketing plan to sell your produce. Review it with a SCORE mentor.
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