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Interview with Hydroponics Pioneer Dr. Howard Resh

Dr Resh showing NFT hydroponic system

Dr Resh showing NFT hydroponic system

DR. Howard M. Resh, PhD is a universally known hydroponics researcher, author and practitioner and one of the world’s true pioneers in the field of hydroponics. He has incorporated commercial greenhouses from Agra Tech, Inc., one of the world’s leading manufacturers of greenhouses and considered a leader in the field, into several of his projects over the years and was kind enough to be interviewed for this article.

Well-known for implementing and managing commercial hydroponics operations worldwide, Dr. Resh has been the pivotal force behind successful hydroponics farming ventures in Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, in addition to his efforts throughout North America. While he was a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, B.C beginning in the early 1970s, Dr. Resh developed plant cultural techniques and three-part nutrient formulations for the growing of vegetable crops in greenhouses, many of which are designed and built by Agra Tech, Inc.

In 1999, Dr. Resh started a hydroponics farm on the island of Anguilla, B.W.I, in the Eastern Caribbean where he farms today, featuring an Agra Tech commercial greenhouse to grow more than 60 types of vegetables and other plants. Since 2007, Dr. Resh and his colleagues have been intensely studying hydroponic greenhouse issues in temperate and tropical regions on the planet, including Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii.

Known as an urban horticulturist, Dr. Resh strongly believes that progressive farming can take place at a high level of productivity in even the most crowded cities in the world. He acts as a consultant on a wide range of commercial hydroponic projects and has received numerous accolades for his work, lauded for being an author and an amazing educator at the university level. Many of his students have gone on to excel in the hydroponics greenhouse farming industry all over the globe, and utilizing greenhouses made by Agra Tech, in many instances.

In mid-1999, Resh became Hydroponic Greenhouse Farm Manager for the first Hydroponic Farm associated with a tourist resort: the Cuisinart Resort & Spa, in Anguilla, B.W.I. in the northeastern Caribbean. The project, which uses multiple greenhouses manufactured by Agra Tech, Inc., the Cuisinart hydroponic farm is the only one in the world owned by a resort growing its own fresh salad crops and herbs exclusively for the resort.

We sat down recently with Dr. Resh to find out what he’s currently working on while maintaining and developing new crops at the Cuisinart hydroponics greenhouse farm.

Q: Hello doctor. What are some of the newest and most intriguing developments within the hydroponics greenhouse growing field that you’re working on?

DR:  It’s definitely an exciting time within this industry. Now the hydroponics culture is being applied under many extreme conditions that were never even remotely considered by anyone before. For example, hydroponics is being performed successfully at a space station under zero gravity using water culture systems, and implemented in the growing of fresh salad crops in Antarctica.

Q:  I know you’re working on the creation of hydroponic farms on rooftops of buildings in cities?

DR: Yes, it’s a concept that isn’t new. We created a rooftop farm in Taipei, Taiwan in the mid-1980s. We’re very excited about these rooftop farms, because they can be used in the middle of some of the busiest and most crowded municipalities in the world. This is one of my real passions right now, because it is green and can help city dwellers to get fresh produce that is local, regional and sustainable.

 Q: People of all backgrounds are entering this industry and encountering great success, in many cases. Why do you think it’s grown at an explosive rate especially during the last decade?

DR: Hydroponics is a very unique form of agriculture that can be applied either on a very simple basic level all the way to extremely sophisticated scenarios, from a backyard hobbyist to growing crops using hydroponics in a space station, for example. People from former in-ground farming backgrounds have embraced this form of farming and are purchasing commercial greenhouses from companies such as Agra Tech in California. The keys to this form of farming are climate control, quality crops and more production, as opposed to conventional types of farming. It has opened the industry to a whole new group of participants and has introduced more science into the art of hydroponic growing. Also, it’s a green approach–saving water, soil and electricity in many cases—so people gravitate toward it for these reasons too.

Q:  I understand that you’re using Agra Tech greenhouses in your Cuisinart hydroponic farm?

DR: Yes, we do use a greenhouse from Agra Tech, designed to withstand hurricanes, because that is an issue here in Anguilla. We grow cherry and beef tomatoes, radishes, basil, large plants, European cucumbers, red, yellow and orange peppers, all types of lettuce, micro greens, mint, thyme, rosemary, lavender and everything we need for the hotels and restaurants at the resort. For more information and photos of this farm, you can visit my web site at: www.howardresh.com. The guests here appreciate the fresh vegetables and it’s been a very successful farm.

Q: What is the most innovative hydroponic greenhouse farming project you’re working on now?

DR: Farms like this one here in Anguilla will soon be sprouting up all over the world, I believe. I’m presently working on one in Mexico and another in Puerto Rico. Hopefully these two will be happening later this year.

Q: All kinds of people are getting into this business (retirees, military veterans, job changers, etc.) and making substantial profits. Why do you think so many former non-farmers are attracted to these hydroponic farms in greenhouse environments?

DR:  It appeals to a lot of retirees, especially if they’re semi-technical people, like engineers, because there is a lot of engineering involved in hydroponic farming. It turns them on and they respect the fact that they’re creating food, that’s a big aspect of it. If this new generation of farmers can find the proper markets to sell their crops, then that makes it more likely that they will succeed. It all comes down to where the farm is and what the markets in that area are willing to pay. This industry has become so much more sophisticated and it has changed a lot, due to the technology. Now it’s all about sustainable yielding, which means these new farmers want to generate their own electricity with solar cells and conserve energy more and more.

By Ed Attanasio


Greenhouse Vegetable Growing

Whether you have a small operation or a larger one or are considering vegetable greenhouse cultivation for the first time, Agra Tech, Inc. has the equipment, the tools and the knowledge to make it a successful endeavor.  Within the last decade, commercial vegetable growing greenhouse operations have become more prevalent for a wide range of reasons. With more people on the planet, less farmland and fewer available resources, growing food in greenhouses will be increasingly necessary within the next 20 years.

By completely controlling the climate and growing environment, local vegetable farms are cropping up from Hawaii to New Hampshire–using modest-size greenhouses to produce high-quality vegetables. Many of these business models proudly wears the “local, organic and sustainable” badge and consumers flock to these regional artisan growers of everything from kale to peppers and all the way to exotic vegetables such as arugula and unusual culinary herbs.

People are willing to pay a little more for locally grown produce, because they value the green approach and appreciate the health advantages of fresher vegetables that don’t need to be shipped in via trucks from many miles away. As gas prices rise, local providers will become more and more popular, because their prices will trump the competition that has to truck in products from faraway. By using less water and creating less waste with a smaller carbon footprint, these local growers can turn crops more frequently and create profits more quickly than an outdoors in-ground farm. And by using sophisticated hydroponics in controlled environments, growers can produce high-quality products year round without interruption.

By partnering with the world’s leading manufacturers and distributors of vegetable growing systems, Agra Tech, Inc. has the equipment, knowledge and experience to set up vegetable growers for success. This section of our website will allow you to research the different methods and systems for growing vine and leafy vegetables. By producing more products while using less energy, labor and time, an Agra Tech greenhouse coupled with one of these systems, can provide a handsome return on investment.

The types of vegetables you grow will dictate what growing systems to incorporate into your greenhouse. From sophisticated to basic, ideally growing systems should be identified prior to purchasing your greenhouse, so that you can buy one that is right for your operation.

With Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), you can produce vegetables year-round; produce vegetables that are consistently high-quality; enjoy a high level of versatility to change your crops to meet the demands of changing marketplaces; and do it green, efficiently and in a sustainable manner.

In addition to the greenhouse, ATI can also help its clients to purchase the following:

  • Greenhouses of all sizes
  • Energy retention equipment, including shade curtains
  • Irrigation systems, including hydroponics
  • Turnkey solutions
  • Customized growing systems
  • Heating, cooling & ventilation systems
  • Grow lights
  • Electrical accessories
  • System integration products

NFT Hydroponics

Let the Water Do All the Work

By not using soil, hydroponics irrigation methods in conjunction with a greenhouse can allow you to completely control your environment and grow more vegetables than using conventional techniques. For maximum production per square foot while using a minimum of moving parts, NFT hydroponics is the optimum way to grow leafy vegetables. It also allows you to grow them literally anywhere—from rooftops to deserts and all of the way to very cold climates.

To grow leafy vegetables such as lettuce and herbs, the Nutrient Film Technique (N.F.T.) style of hydroponics is normally integrated into a greenhouse environment. It’s a closed system in which water, minerals and oxygen are re-circulated over the plant’s roots, eliminating evapo-transpiration and the unnecessary waste of precious resources. Because the plants get everything they need all the time ,the energy they would normally spend searching for minerals in the soil is used to grow bigger vegetables with NFT hydroponics.  Basil, cilantro, parsley, brussel sprouts, arugula, watercress, fancy lettuce, head lettuce, bak choy and even mazuna will grow 20-30% faster using hydroponics, allowing you to turn crops more often than using conventional in-ground non-greenhouse farming. (Estimating approximately 20-26 turns annually)

Agra Tech works closely in conjunction with American Hydroponics, (www.AmHydro.com) since 1984, a company that designs and manufactures manual systems that provide top returns on investments for growers from 60 feet to two acres. Agra Tech also works with Hort Americas (www.hortamericas.com) that sells automatic systems that are ideal for two acres and more. Both companies are experts in hydroponics and know how to produce high-quality vegetables to make healthy profits.

Vine Hydroponics Greenhouse Systems

Do It Bucket-Style

By using the ageless Dutch Bucket hydroponic system, indoor or greenhouse farmers can grow high-quality vine vegetables that are larger and healthier than those grown outdoors in soil.  For peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and other vine plants, recirculating vine crop systems will produce more vegetables while using fewer resources and re-using both nutrients and water.

A closed Dutch Bucket system (AmHydro’s 210 VC System) involves 10 Bato Buckets, freestanding galvanized steel table frames to hold buckets; a commercial Truncheon Conductivity Meter for measuring and monitoring nutrient levels; plumbing; growing medium; an ABS reservoir and all associated accessories. By accessing our vast knowledge and extensive experience, ATI and its vendor partners can have you up and producing vine vegetables in a very short time. And by using world-class techniques for growing, marketing and distributing your products, ATI can help you to realize profits and making growing vegetables a sideline or a full-fledged career, if you desire.

Transplant Greenhouse Growing

For Healthier, Sturdier Transplants

When compared to field-grown transplants, greenhouse transplants can be grown faster, while producing plants that are superior and more uniform. By carefully controlling their environment, transplants grown in greenhouses can be held longer and harvested when you choose. Because containerized plants are less crowded and healthier overall, greenhouse transplants will normally be stockier and stronger.

In addition, greenhouse grown containerized transplants provide an ideal method for  establishing vegetable plants that possess a media-enclosed root ball, which retains moisture and root integrity at transplanting, and thereby reducing transplant shock. Transplants grown this way customarily result in enhanced stands and earlier harvests. This leads to increased profits and eliminates added production costs, because the chances of losing crops due to frosts or other factors are greatly reduced, meaning you won’t have to undertake costly re-planting.

Before deciding whether you should grow vegetable transplants, give us a call and we will advise you, based on several factors, such as the size of your overall operation; the investment of time and money; and the vegetable transplants you want to grow.

In-Ground Greenhouse Growing

Conventional Meets Innovative

Depending on your layout and space requirements, in-ground vegetable growing might be the best solution for you. You can produce exceptional vegetables faster in a CEA setup based on in-ground growing, the way nature intended to grow them. In-ground greenhouse growing requires a smaller initial investment and allows growers the flexibility to extend the growing season by manipulating the weather conditions.

Growers performing in-ground greenhouse cultivation can protect their crops against frost, wind, hail and/or excessive exposure to the sun. Greenhouses can start simply by providing cover for the crops, all the way to more complex systems offering full climate control. This technique also offers growers a high level of adaptability, because they can convert their systems to incorporate hydroponics seamlessly in the future.

By: Ed Attanasio