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Growing crops without soil

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Water certainly helps plants to grow, but hydroponics places a greater emphasis on the water and its quality.

Bermuda Gardens on Luke’s Pond Road, Southampton provides a large portion of the Island’s tomatoes and English cucumbers. Both are grown hydroponically, in five large greenhouses that are temperature-controlled in a constantly-monitored environment.

It is the only system of farming used by Bermuda Gardens and production is high in order to meet the demand, explained Paul Henry, who runs the facility.

“Consumers like these types of tomatoes,” he said. “Right now they are on embargo so they can’t import them. It’s a really big demand, right now we are going out with over 200 12lb-cases twice a week to supermarkets and wholesalers.

“We just do tomatoes and cucumbers. We started the tomato crop on October 1 and it will go until July. One of these tomato plants grow more than 20ft tall. If you plant tomatoes outdoors you can’t get it like this. The cucumbers have been growing about six months now. Cucumbers are all year round, but tomatoes are different. Cucumbers last about six months and then we cut it out and put in a new crop.”

Hydroponics is a pure, clean method of cultivation with the seeds placed in rockwool cubes and coconut fibre using a drip irrigation system to feed the plants. And while the temperature inside Bermuda Gardens’ greenhouses is now quite comfortable, the heat will become extreme during the summer months even with the eight 52-inch fans they use for temperature control. They also have five tanks, carrying a total of 75,000 gallons of water.

“In the morning two fans will come on and when it gets a little warmer two more fans will come on and when it gets hotter still two more fans will come on,” said Mr Henry. The five greenhouses total about 50,000 sq ft.

The water is turned on at the beginning of the day to provide the appropriate amounts of acidity and alkalinity and also electrical conductivity to the plants. They check such levels every two days. If they are not maintained at the appropriate level nutrient deficiencies and toxicity will occur.

“It’s a seven-days-a-week job for me, but on Saturdays and Sundays we get a half a day off,” said Mr Henry.

“Somebody has to be here at all times; the plants have to get watered. You need to know when to turn on the water and when to turn it off and how much water it is supposed to get. It can’t get too much or too little water. We need some good rain right now.”

At nearby Wadson’s Farm, a similar hydroponic technique is being used to grow a few herbs and various types of lettuce. Loy DeGuito runs the 150-feet by 37-feet greenhouse where the lettuce and herbs are grown.

“The primary function of this house is lettuce production and a few herbs,” said farm owner Tom Wadson who admits it is a challenge keeping up with demand for the product.

“We grow about seven varieties of lettuce in here. We seed them in that seeding machine and over here they are fed water from underneath, not just water but a solution. We use a matting called Sure to Grow (in the trays) which is like fleece and I’m getting about 15 uses out of it.

“The maturity is about 28 days, we don’t grow real big heads in here. We try to grow lettuce deeper into the summer than anybody else does just to feed our shop. There is a solution in there and Loy has to balance that every day and check the pH. There is some water usage, we collect water on the roof and send it through to the big holding tanks. And it’s got to be the right type of water.”

Again, heat is a major consideration for this greenhouse operation and Mr Wadson says this particular operation will shut down during the summer months. “We’re probably going to shut it down towards the end of June, just because it is so oppressively hot,” he revealed.

“We’ve kept it running year round for eight or nine years now, but we’re revisiting that with the energy costs. But there are a lot of benefits in it. We were always into lettuce but I don’t plant anything like the lettuce I used to. We used to crack out 30,000 heads of iceberg lettuce a year. We used to do it all out in the field but we got into this because we wanted to stretch out the season. Now we are having to look at the energy numbers and that sort of stuff.”

Lolito DeGuito trims leaves from tomato plants at Bermuda Gardens in Southampton.
One of the several types of lettuce grown hydroponically at Wadson?s Farm.
English cucumbers growing at Bermuda Gardens using the hydroponic system.
Hydroponics farming


Some of the reasons why hydroponic farming is being adapted around the world for food production:

No soil is needed;l

The water stays in the system and can be reused thus, lower water costs;l

It is possible to control the nutrition levels in their entirety thus, lower nutrition costs;l

No nutrition pollution is released into the environment because of the controlled system;l

Stable and high yields;l

Pests and diseases are easier to get rid of than in soil because of the container’s mobility;l

It is easier to harvest;l

No pesticide damage.l

Today, hydroponics is an established branch of agronomy. Progress has been rapid, and results obtained in various countries have proved it to be thoroughly practical and to have very definite advantages over conventional methods of horticulture.

There are two chief merits of the soil-less cultivation of plants. First, hydroponics may potentially produce much higher crop yields. Also, hydroponics can be used in places where in-ground agriculture or gardening is not possible.


Without soil as a buffer, any failure to the hydroponic system leads to rapid plant death.

Other disadvantages include:

Pathogen attacks such as damp-off due to Verticillium wilt caused by the high moisture levels associated with hydroponics and over watering of soil-based plants;l

Many hydroponic plants require different fertilisers and containment systems. To produce the mineral wool and the fertilisers that are needed to use this method, a large amount of energy is required.


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Published March 16, 2012 at 2:00 am (Updated March 16, 2012 at 9:23 am)

Growing crops without soil

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