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How a Commercial Hydroponics Operation Works: Interview with Vitalii Jidkov

How a Commercial Hydroponics Operation Works: Interview with Vitalii Jidkov

Scott of Zero Mile Farms and I organized an interview with Vitalii Jidkov, who runs a commercial hydroponics operation  in Canada.  He works with a company that owns over 50 acres of greenhouse space and had some AWESOME stuff to share with us.

Interview Highlights

He gets 30kg per square meter of yield out of his sweet pepper grows, which in the 11 acre greenhouse that’s dedicated to peppers equates to 1.3 million kilograms of yield.  INSANE.

His company uses a gutter system, and previously would have just dumped the nutrients into the ground like many other companies do.  They recycle by collecting all water in an underground tank, sterilize it with UV light, transfer it into another tank, and then add the elements that the mixture is missing.  Then they send it back into the grow!

He gets a lot of new varieties from seed companies every year, and essentially acts as the testing ground for exactly how to grow them.  On a couple occasions he’s had to troubleshoot micro elements in ways that were new to him and couldn’t find any information online.  One instance was a beefsteak tomato variety that would take whatever manganese you would give it and would have toxicity symptoms.

Transcript

Interviewer: Vitalii Jidkov, the Plant Doctor, has several tens of thousands of YouTube hits. Actually, hundreds of thousands if you look at how to grow tomatoes and hydroponic beefsteak tomatoes. It’s amazing. I think it has a lot to do with, people want to know.
There is a movement growing right now, and you seem to be deep, deep, deep, you have been doing this for several years. Let’s see here, so I would like to start, how did you get into the horticultural business?

Vitalii: Actually, I started in middle school. Probably from the age of 12. I really like gardening. Where I lived in Russia, in villages, usually people have their own gardens, maybe an acre or two acres. Something like that. We had a smaller garden too. I really liked to grow different plants. So since age 12 I did not let any of my parents to go and help me. I was taking care of the garden myself.
I was always interested in the green house as well. Some of the friends of my parents, they had a small greenhouse and it was kind of interesting. I never ended up building one myself. After high school, I went to an agricultural university in Russia.

I graduated the university and I started a master degree program, and in growing grapes I was learning how to propagate grapes. One of the projects we had from my scientific work was growing greenhouse grape blends in the greenhouse, propagating them so we can get them quicker. Growing more crops in one year, because grapes are a long growing crop.
During those times there was some new movement in Russia. There were good relationships between US universities and Russian universities. Our university in Russia had relationships with the University of Minnesota agricultural program.

Students from Minnesota University would come to Russia for learning and getting experience, and the Russian students would go back to the US and participate in different programs that the University of Minnesota had. It was a kind of exchange program.

I had a couple of my friends visiting this program before me, and when they came back they said they were working and getting experience in the greenhouses. They told me that greenhouse industries… Actually it was flower greenhouses, not vegetables. They said that the flower greenhouse industry in the US was very developed, very established.

I kind of got interested in this idea. I took a vacation from my scientific work and I went to the same exchange program. I ended up going to Wisconsin, Green Bay. Green Bay Packers. Yes. At that time, the place that I started to work was the biggest greenhouse in Wisconsin.

Interviewer: How big was that, out of curiosity?

Vitalii: They had two locations. They had one location right, almost in the middle of Green Bay. About two acres. Then the second location was probably 15 or 20 minutes away from Green Bay, maybe 5 or 6 acres.

Interviewer: What year was this?

Vitalii: I came in 1998.

Interviewer: Was that a flower greenhouse?

Vitalii: Yes, that was a flower greenhouse. I got really interested, and I talked to the owner. He helped me to get the position in his company. I started to participate in growing flowers for him, so it was just pot, flowers, flats, plugs, baskets, beautiful pictures. I still have beautiful pictures. It was not hydroponic, it was a peat moss medium, basically, mainly.

Interviewer: How did you go into the hydro? You worked from basically a dirt farmer into hydro, right?

Vitalii: When it happened, I was trying to get my paperwork in USA and in Canada at the same time. In Canada another company, also a flower greenhouse, wanted to hire me as well. I got my paperwork first from Canada. That’s how I ended up in Canada. It was also a flower greenhouse, but I worked for them only a few months.

Then I found another position in the same town, in Leamington [SP], the new growing company that had just built new ranges of hydroponic vegetables. I applied to that company and they accepted my resume.

I started to work for them. They hired me as a sweet pepper grower. Over the years they kind of grew. They built more greenhouses and they started to grow cucumbers also.

From the start, this company was growing mainly tomato plants. The tomato capital of Canada. In Leamington we have the Heinz plant.

Interviewer: Now I know why.

Vitalii: Yes. The big, big factory that produces ketchup. Heinz. So a lot of farmers around Leamington. They would grow a few tomatoes for this factory. That’s how this company started. Their business in greenhouse business, because they used to be…

Interviewer: OK, continue. I’m sorry.

Vitalii: OK. They started to build greenhouses. I still grow cucumber plants and some beefsteak tomatoes at the old place. It’s kind of different, small ranges piled up in one place. Very different, and not so easy to grow sometimes. Very different. Different climates.

Interviewer: Did you have someone there that knew how to do the
[dozers], and did you learn that on the job?

Vitalii: Yes. When I started working, first year, I was kind of watching what they were doing. Mainly, I was managing the labor, the workers, what they were doing, how they were doing, and looking around and seeing how I can improve what was already being done. They had a consultant who was coming to us.
The guy from seed company, a few seed company representatives came to our area and trying to sell us their seeds. That first year when I was working there it was sweet peppers, mainly one company was selling us seeds, and their consultant was coming to us and consulting, helping us to grow. So the first year, for me, was introductory.

Interviewer: Sort of a mentorship year where you just learn from the experienced guys?

Vitalii: Yes, something like that. You can say it that way. And that was the beginning of hydroponics for me, and then they started to read a little bit more. I found one interesting book. The writer from Australia wrote quite a good book about sweet peppers, growing sweet peppers. Then it was just an experience, learning how to grow.

Interviewer: You have about fourteen years now of experience?

Vitalii: It’s almost 15. Five years I was working in Wisconsin, in flowers. In January it was exactly my anniversary, ten years in vegetables.

Interviewer: OK. You are now, time-wise in your story, you are in your current position in Canada?

Vitalii: Yes.

Interviewer: What is your operation there currently? I think you said something about twelve bakers under roof last time when I talked with you?

Vitalii: No, the company that I work with, they have 53 acres of hydroponic greenhouses. Two locations. One location is 45 acres, and that second location, which is their home location, where they started, is about 80 acres. Thirty-eight acres of tomato plants, 11 acres of peppers, sweet peppers, different colors, and four acres of long English cucumbers.

Interviewer: Just so we can get a sense of volume, how much produce would you pull out of an acre of tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers?

Vitalii: We usually calculate in kilograms per square meter. So eleven acres would be 45 thousand square meters, roughly. And then, for example, pepper production… last year I got my record production of 30 kilograms per square meter. Yes, I was kind of excited about that. If you multiply 30 kilograms times 45 thousand.

Interviewer: Yes, that’s massive.

Vitalii: That would be a pepper production from…

Interviewer: 30 kilograms… Even just on the meter scale that’s a lot. 30 kilograms per square meter is about 70 something pounds.

Interviewer: The number is 1.3 million. 30 times whatever.

Interviewer: 1.3 million kilograms per that 11 acre land that you guys devoted to peppers.

Vitalii: Yes.

Interviewer: That is insane.

Interviewer: I wonder what percentage of peppers [?], has to be a gigantic percentage, or are there just a lot of guys just like you in Canada?

Vitalii: In Leamington, it’s the biggest concentration of greenhouses in North America. There are also greenhouses in British Columbia. A few big guys. Some smaller greenhouses in Alberta, in Canada.

Interviewer: Why is Leamington so popular then? Is it the environmental conditions?

Vitalii: Yes, because it’s the warmest spot in all of Canada. So it’s also called Canadian Florida.

Interviewer: Except it’s like negative 40 degrees.

Vitalii: No, it doesn’t get very cold here. In Celsius it would be… Well, the coldest I saw here maybe 18 years ago was minus 17. This year we had minus 15 Celsius.

Interviewer: I’m wearing shorts right now.

Interviewer: I was actually complaining earlier – it’s 50 degree here Fahrenheit, and I was whining in San Diego.

Vitalii: Right now, it’s about minus six, minus eight. It’s still the warmest spot in Canada for agriculture.

Interviewer: Out of curiosity, Kevin and I had talked earlier about some of the things we wanted to ask you, and one of them was, how sustainable are your operations? You had mentioned a lot about nutrient re-use, and I wanted to hear a little bit more about that.

Vitalii: Yes, that’s kind of a new project for many growers. Some of them still don’t have it. Most of the biggest places, they have to go with the system and start to recycle. We already recycle for three or four years. We recycle all our nutrition solution.

Interviewer: Would you mind going over that process? I have never heard of such of thing.

Vitalii: Basically, in hydroponics it’s very important… First of all, in hydroponics, we grow on [rock] bags. Some farmers use coconut bags. It’s like a coconut fiber.

Interviewer: Coco-[core], right?

Vitalii: Yes. It doesn’t matter if you use rock or coco fiber bags. You have to drain a certain amount of water from that bag with each irrigation. So in hydroponics you have to water almost… Well, not almost, every day. Sometimes, it depends on the weather, it could be up to three or four liters per plant a day.
Part of that water has to come out of the bag. Excess water. There is a lot of different salts in fertilizers, unwanted salts and different elements the plant might not use at this moment, so to avoid that salt or excessive fertilizer build up in the bag, we have to drain a certain amount. Usually between 15% to 405, depending on the season.

Interviewer: That’s not every day, is it? Or is it every day.

Vitalii: A little bit less in the beginning, when the crop is small, when plants are small. As soon as they start to get maybe two feet high by one foot high, and all depending on the stage of the plant, it has to be done. In a different stage of plant growth the plant uses different elements. And we people cannot predict… We might know, from my experience I know what they are going to use more in the beginning, but I can do no? Exact numbers.

Interviewer: I would imagine it’s very intuitive for you at this point in your career.

Vitalii: Yes. Right now there is a very intensive vegetative growth of the plant where it is suddenly might use more nitrogen. As soon as they start to set fruits they will start to use more potassium. Also, in the beginning, when the plant is small and growing and there are a lot of roots, a root system they will use more phosphates. I don’t know.
I cannot say that exact number, how much they are going to use, because it also depends on the weather, on the amount of sunlight. All of these factors play in this game. To avoid any build up of those unwanted salts, for example, some elements that the plants don’t use much, like sulfates or chlorides, you don’t really want too much of those elements in your bag. Otherwise it can create too much toxicity.

We have to drain some of that water. Before all this, drained water would go in the ground. It’s not good for the environment and it’s not good for the budget of the company, because close to 40%, 50% of the fertilizer can go into the ground if you don’t recycle.

Three years ago, three or four years ago, we started a system, and now… The water going into each plant through the drapers, through the small tubes and the draping next to each plant. We have three plants in one bag. That’s if it is a smaller plants. Sometimes it’s four plants if they are tomatoes, there are four plants in one bag.

This year we switched to a different system for the peppers, sweet peppers. Before, we had three plants in one bag. Now we combined two rows in one because of the new system for recycling. We use a gutter system. It’s like gutters around your house, some similar structure.

We put bags in this gutter, and then excess water runs down this gutter and collects in the drain pipe, which goes in one spot in the greenhouse, and from that spot, with the pump, pumps back in a big tank.

The big tank is underground, three tanks, and all that excess water goes in there. Then we have to disinfect, or sterilize this returned water, because for the reason to protect plants from diseases. This is the long way that water travels through the system, and very often you can get…

Interviewer: A myriad of weirdness, I imagine. A bunch of bacteria.

Vitalii: Bacteria, fungus, anything. You have to disinfect this water. We use UV light for that purpose. All that drained water goes through a UV light system and ends up in another tank, a big tank, and we call it already clean or sterilized water. Then we use, partially, this returned water, we mix it with fresh water, clean water, and we add a lot of different amounts of fresh fertilizers.

Interviewer: do you figure out what is missing, and then add the remainder?

Vitalii: Yes, this is a very important point in hydroponics. If it is a big farm, even if it is one acre or smaller, if you want to know what’s in your water and you want to give proper nutrition to your plants, you have to test the water. So we test our water with samples. We send water samples to the lab every week.

Interviewer: You think all your tanks, can you take samples from your tanks?

Vitalii: I collect water from the draper, what is draping into the plant. Then I collect water from the bag itself, so I take samples right from different spots in the greenhouse, taking maybe 40, 50 bags, and I take samples from each bag so I can get an average result.

I know what is dripping to the plant. I know what is in the bag, and then I take a sample from the returned water so I know what came back. Knowing what came back with this recycled water, then I can calculate with this special program how much to add into my fresh mix.

Interviewer: They give you back an analysis?

Vitalii: Yes, they give me back an analysis, everything. Nitrogen, potassium, all of the elements that are important for the plant. And then I calculate how much I have to add. I have irrigation machines specially designed for that purpose.

It’s a multi-channel irrigation machine that bonds different fertilizer, and I can adjust every element according to the results.

Interviewer: You have a doser for every type of.. For the magnesium, for the…

Vitalii: No, we have five channels. A five channel machine. We mix magnesium fertilizer with micro-elements like iron and [inaudible 22:56], [boron], zinc, [inaudible 22:58] and copper, this is all in one tank. Then a separate tank just has some nitrate. Another tank is potassium nitrate.

The tank number four, we have a different mix of different potassium fertilizers. But when the production is going, when the plant is growing fruits, the plants use big amounts of potassium, so that tank is separated. We have some chloride, some potassium sulfide, those kinds of fertilizers, and the separate channel for phosphoric acids to adjust the pitch of irrigation.

Interviewer: You are able to dose that. You are able to say, ok, I need to move this up by “X”, and you type it in and it just starts dosing up your tanks?

Vitalii: Yes. There is special software from the company who makes these machines. They create this software, and yes, I just adjust the number. Let’s say I want to dose that much more from this tank, and it does for me, the machine.

Interviewer: Does your company have a recipe for a certain plant? Like a tomato recipe for nutrients? Or is it something where you figure out what they need by looking at the plant, and then adjusting as you go?

Vitalii: Of course we start with the basics. A lot of research was done by scientists, and they already found what kind of optimum amounts of each nutrient the plants need in hydroponics. We start with that, and then we adjust accordingly.

Interviewer: What kind of things do you look at to know that you need to adjust? Are you visually inspecting the leaves and the fruits?

Vitalii: Mainly, the results of those analyses. That’s the most important part for me. What’s going on in the bag, the rock bag. Let’s see. I want to keep it at certain proportions, certain ratios, from potassium to nitrogen, or potassium to calcium. Those kinds of ratios.
Of course, if you want to make your plant a little bit more vegetative, or more generate, then you can adjust those ratios. And there was research done that, let’s say, more potassium will keep the plant a little bit more generative, not to vegetative. So you might want to keep the plant in the bounds.

Interviewer: What do you think contributed to the record that you had this year for the peppers? Was it environmental, or was it better refinement of the formula?

Vitalii: First of all, it was a really good year for sunlight. We had good sunlight during that year. Another thing, my research in finding new varieties, active varieties.

Interviewer: Better plant genetics?

Vitalii: Yes. I’m doing extensive research, intensive research on trying to find better varieties Because seed companies come with new varieties almost every year, so I do testings for those companies.

Interviewer: Does your company have a testing greenhouse where you get to run all these different little micro tests?

Vitalii: No, it’s not that I need a small greenhouse or special area, because I want to see how these new varieties will perform in my main conditions. My actual greenhouse. I’m trying to find some kind of average climate area in my houses.

I know it’s not under the gutter or at the end of the row, it’s not at the end of the greenhouse, kind of somewhere in the middle.
They would get some sort of average climate conditions. I put them there, and I just run my climate for my main varieties for the majority of the plants, and I see if any of those varieties can fit my climate. Not every variety will perform the same way in every greenhouse.

Very often it will all depend on the structure, on the location, maybe on the direction of the greenhouse, how it’s located, or maybe even on the grower, or even on the heating system.

Interviewer: There are a lot of variables.

Vitalii: Yes. For example, our main greenhouses have a hot water heating system. The small, old greenhouses have a steam heating systems. Depending on that system, you will try to choose the best variety. Again, how high your greenhouse is, there are many new varieties that come to the market that are very tall.
If your greenhouse is short, like with sweet peppers, it’s not advisable to lower pepper plants. Pepper plants like to grow straight up without leaning their stems. If you start to lower that plant will give up some of its production and some of the fruit sizes. If your greenhouse is very low, you might want to go with a different variety.

Interviewer: That they can handle that a little bit better.

Vitalii: Same with tomato plants. If they are short, then you cannot really put a really fast growing variety, because then you might end up with your fruits being on the ground, or you will have to do extra work.

Interviewer: Out of curiosity, what are your biggest challenges you have in your operation? Bugs? You said climate. Is it just figuring out nutrient mixes? What are the things that keep you unproductive, growing-wise.

Vitalii: I would say, even though the greenhouse is a controlled environment, it’s still not100% controlled. The biggest challenge could be the times when you cannot control the weather. For example, this year we have too many cloudy days.

Even if you look at the forecast, they promise you bright and sunny days tomorrow, but then tomorrow comes and you end up with clouds again.

Interviewer: Your operation is way too big for supplemental light.

Vitalii: Yes, and you cannot do anything. Another time that it is challenging because it is summertime, even though it’s Canada, in the summertime, in Leamingon, it gets hot. It’s about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s hot enough for plants to start to show some damage.
Those are the most challenging parts. Of course, bugs. For example, spider mites. They can be very challenging. In our greenhouses we have tried to run biological programs mainly, so we try to use the least amount of pesticides we can.

It requires a big amount of patience sometimes, especially for farmers who used to spray before a lot. It’s hard. They see a bug, they want to spray.

Interviewer: Your spider mite cure is another type of spider mite. It seems you have a very manual process to go shake that spider mite killer, or whatever you have and it was some kind of bug.

Vitalii: I have one of the videos. One of my video is about spider mite control, yes. Actually, that’s what we are doing now. This year, right from the beginning, we have too many spider mites that came from last year pressure. They die [inaudible 32:15] and now they are coming back in the warm conditions.

It’s easier to control them when it’s not that hot than in the summertime, so now we are introducing beneficial bugs, beneficial mites that are supposed to control spider mites. Of course the plants are fresh, you have to measure how many good bugs you have to apply so they can eat off the bad ones.

Interviewer: What sort of process do you go through at the end of a grow? Aside from the cleanup, do you do anything to sterilize the environment again?

Vitalii: Yes, of course. This is a very, very important practice. You have to clean up your greenhouse. If you don’t clean, all of the diseases, all of the spores from diseases, fungus, bacteria, bugs, they are going to survive and they are going to infect your new plants, especially if you grow all year around like we do. Eleven months crop.

You have to go as safe as you can, and you have to clean up your greenhouse. For us, we change our ground cover every year. We will put white plastic on the floor, and at the end of the year we will remove all of the plastic and then sweep all of the floor manually, so you can imagine how much work it is. Fifty acres of the greenhouse have to be swept.

Interviewer: How many people does that take to do?

Vitalii: At the end of the crop, on 45 acres, we have about 45 people.

Interviewer: Everyone gets an acre.

Vitalii: One person per acre, yes.

Interviewer: Do you have any advice for someone looking to start growing and selling produce hydroponically on a smaller scale? Your experience is just so gigantic that it’s kind of hard to, I imagine, being bound to a smaller scale.

Vitalii: For people who want to start on the smaller scale, I would advise to check their market first. Do market research, because when you build a greenhouse you build it for a certain crop.

Of course there are some crops that can use the same structure, like for example if you build a gutter system for tomatoes you can adapt it for growing sweet peppers or some long English cucumbers, or mini cucumbers. It will not be easily suited for growing, let’s say, lettuce, or other herbs, things like that.

Interviewer: Like a basil. I have seen a basil set-up before, and it’s totally different.

Vitalii: Yes. Those guys should do their research really well before they jump into it, because they have to sell their produce. If they want to do it for themselves, that’s a different story. If they want to sell their product, then they should do good market research, and build a greenhouse according to the crop they plan to grow for a long time.

Interviewer: Do you have any current projects that you are working on?
I think you had mentioned, Mike talked to you before, some training videos you were talking about producing.

Vitalii: Yes. That was a problem for me in the beginning of my career. I wanted to find some good information. I went on the internet and it was really difficult to find useful articles. For example, a few years in a row we had some issues in our pepper plants. We would send leaf samples to the lab, and it would come back with the boron deficiency.

We couldn’t understand why I would have boron deficiency, because we apply enough boron according to a recommended recipe. The leaves would show a boron deficiency. We would have so many different advisors, and some of the scientists would advise [inaudible 37:05] we had problems with roots. Root systems.

Roots don’t take enough boron. Until last year, accidentally, we were receiving fertilizer, one of the main fertilizers with additional boron in it. Just accidentally it happened. Our boron level in our feed or our nutrition solution was on the higher level, like three or four times higher than recommended rates. We had no boron deficiency symptoms.

Interviewer: That particular plant just needed a lot more boron?

Vitalii: What I figured out, all of this new, very productive varieties that come on the market, they probably require different amounts of elements, in particular that boron element. I figured that this plant requires more boron to produce bigger roots and bigger numbers.

For example, another case we had involved a new variety of ginseng tomatoes a few years ago. We would again feed them with the recommended recipe, and the leaves would start to show strange symptoms as well. We would send leaves for analysis at the beginning, but thought maybe it was some kind of disease.

It would look like some sort of blight. We would test for diseases, for bacteria, for viruses, and it was clean. Then I was looking at our nutrition solution results we would apply the same amount of nutrients as before, as recommended, and in the back I would find very low amounts of manganese.

What was happening, I discovered that this plant, this particular variety, would take all the manganese that you would give it. You give, let’s say, 20 ppm it would take 20 ppm. Give it 100 ppm and it would take all 100 ppm, and then it would end up in leaves causing the toxicity.

Interviewer: Oh, so too much? It didn’t have a control.

Vitalii: For that particular variety, it was too much manganese. We had to cut back almost two or three times the amount of manganese and all the symptoms disappeared.

Interviewer: You are battling genetic changes. Uptakes are different from every plant. Like you said, you are testing different plants for different varieties every year.

Vitalii: The seed companies don’t really have that data to give you, do they?

Interviewer: Because the varieties are so new.

Interviewer: You are basically testing them.

Vitalii: Well, yes. I basically help them to test. When they send these new varieties to us, all they know is that it’s probably a big fruited varieties, and while they know what kind of resistance this kind of variety has for different viruses, so they know that, they don’t know how [inaudible 41:08].

Interviewer: As far as the things you look for when you are looking for a new variety, I’m guessing important things would be speed to fruiting, just the overall speed of the growing the plant, and then the size of the plant.

Maybe the number of fruits per plant, and then anything that has to do with the environmental conditions, like better suited to colder weather, or better suited to prevent against powdery mildew or something like that. Is there anything I am missing there?

Vitalii: You got almost all of them, yes. I personally look at the production, because in the greenhouse industry we have the field, so the production is very important. You have to pay your bills and you have to be profitable. Production, of course, very important. Then, the quality of the fruits.
You want to have really good quality of the product that you are selling, because this is actually a very long way from the greenhouse to retail stores. We have often sent our product somewhere in a different town, different city to the warehouse, and from there it comes back to our little store, so it makes sense.

Interviewer: The whole logistics of the…

Vitalii: Sometimes it can be in the truck for two, three days depending on where it’s going. Then in the store it ends up on the shelf, and if the quality is bad your name or your brand will be selling.

Interviewer: You lose that brand loyalty, right?

Vitalii: Yes. The quality is very important. The shelf life. Of course if your greenhouse is short, then you want to look for varieties that are a little bit shorter in growing, but higher producers as well.

Light sensitivity is also very important, because many new varieties can be very light sensitive. For example, with sweet peppers, if there is not enough light they start to abort flowers. The plant just refuses to set fruits, so the flowers fall.

Interviewer: Then you are in trouble.

Vitalii: You are in trouble. Your plant goes out of balance. It starts to grow only leaves and stems, and you lose time and production as well. This is also a big thing.

Interviewer: Just a change of direction here, what are your thoughts on the future food production? Hydroponics, aquaponics [SP], what are your thoughts on the future?

Vitalii: I think hydroponics will grow. I just read a few different articles about some companies that are building hydroponic greenhouses on the top of the high buildings.

Interviewer: Rooftops.

Vitalii: Yes, rooftops. Which is really impressive. I am always impressed with production in the greenhouse. For example, our neighbor farmers, they grow tomatoes in the field. I have a few pictures that I am going to post on my website at some point, where I try to compare a tomato plant in the field with a tomato plant in a greenhouse.

I try to show, look at this tomato, right, growing in the field, and how many fruits you can get from it, and it’s basically your whole year. You’re planting in, let’s say late April, May, and you harvest in August.

Many fruits only from this plant, and that’s it. That’s all the action. And in the greenhouse you start in January and you start picking your fruits, and they are bigger fruits, more fruits, and then at the end of March you continuously pick until the end of November or December.

Interviewer: Almost a full year then.

Vitalii: Yes.

Interviewer: It’s not just a little big bigger, it’s exponentially more fruit, better fruit, for longer.

Vitalii: Of course, it’s a more expensive project to start with. It gives you way more production. I think the future of hydroponics is bright. It’s going to depend on the prices of those supply materials.

Interviewer: Sure. All of those elements, right?

Vitalii: On the prices of the product itself. There is, of course, the chance to overproduce. Right now, for us, for Canadian industry, there is big competition from Mexican growers. It’s driving prices down as well.

Interviewer: Is that because they can grow in even better conditions because they are closer to the equator? They have more sun?

Vitalii: This is one of the reasons it’s, especially, if it’s somewhere higher in the mountains where it can get perfect conditions, very bright light, enough sunlight for growing. Cooler temperatures. They can take cooler temperatures at night. That’s what plants want. They can produce quite good crops, and I’m not sure about their cost of labor.

Interviewer: Well, it might be time to expand your greenhouse. One in Mexico as well. You can also put pressure on them as well, right? I imagine you can take your talents down there and kill it.

Vitalii: I think in the USA, there is a big, big potential. I was surprised to find out that there are not so many hydroponic vegetable greenhouses. I talked about one big one, and I think it’s in Arizona.

Interviewer: It’s gigantic. It’s the biggest one in the world.

Vitalii: Yes.

Interviewer: I know that in San Diego, where I live, and is truly great for growing, there are a few. One of the biggest ones is from MicroGreens, so it’s those really small garnished greens. Then there are a bunch of smaller operations, almost family operations.

They will do the basil, and they have the living basils so that when you go to the store you get it with the roots still attached, with living lettuce. Those are the only ones I know of in my area. Strawberries too. But nothing on the scale that you guys are doing.

Interviewer: Yes. There is a lot of Dutch agro companies moving into Florida right now. They are not really popping up everywhere, but definitely every year there is a bigger and bigger greenhouse on the outskirts of town.
It’s definitely coming. I have said this a hundred times, but I think that our children are going to be astonished that we poured water into dirt to grow food. In maybe twenty, thirty years, can you believe we poured polluted drinking water into the dirt?

Interviewer: It’s going to be insane.

Interviewer: It’s coming. The numbers for hydroponics are wait, 10% or 15% percent of the water [inaudible 49:34] dirt farmers, I call it. I don’t mean in an insulting way, I just don’t know another way to say it. Fascinating stuff, and I’m glad that I am in this industry.

Interviewer: Yes, this has been great.

Interviewer: Seriously, thank you so much.

Vitalii: Oh you are welcome.

Interviewer: This is awesome, Vitalii.

Interviewer: I have watched your videos for years, and apparently a hundred thousand other people have too. And we look forward to it. Your training series, you are going to do them pretty soon right?

Vitalii: That’s what I found on the internet. It was very hard for me. I started with boron deficiency, and switched to manganese toxicity. I almost forgot about my issues. [laughter] It was very difficult to find, and actually I found small notes, very short notes about boron just in one article only. Some scientific article.

Actually, it was mentioning as well, the fact of boron and the root system. At the same time I was noticing that the root systems of my plant were looking much, much better than the crop. Usually after a hot summer the root system tends to collapse. It starts to get more die back and [inaudible 51:06] infection.

Last year the root system was much, much better. I found only one article. I had to go so many pages deep on Google to find just that one article that was just a couple of sentences saying yes, boron actually makes root systems stronger. The walls of the cells.

Interviewer: The problem is that all the white papers that public professors basically publicly funded professors are putting out are behind payrolls, they are not publicly available, you have to pay for the information. All of the information should be freely available especially if it is a public university.

Vitalii: Very often those papers or articles are so complicated to read.

Interviewer: Yes. Sure.

Vitalii: Difficult to read. Like, oh, some of them… Do I need to know that?

Interviewer: Almost like they overcomplicated it, right?

Vitalii: Yes. That is when I decided to start making a few videos, and to put them online to try to help the smaller greenhouse growers. Just to introduce them to the big greenhouses. How we do things, and how it can be applied in different areas.

Interviewer: You will find a market, believe me.

Interviewer: This has been really, really informative. Thank you so much for doing this.

Interviewer: We will look forward to seeing your training videos for sure.

Interviewer: We will be in touch. I would love to know when you do these training videos, because I am trying to do the same thing. Not for the commercial grower, but for the backyard guy who wants a constant supply or lettuce or a constant supply of herbs, or even tomatoes.
Obviously, it gets a little more complex when you start to deal with the fruiting plants, but I would love to know, and I think that the people who read my blog. Will I be a commercial grower? Maybe. I would still like to see what the big guys are doing, so thanks so much for doing the interview.

Vitalii: You are welcome, no problem.

Interviewer: It was awesome meeting you.

Interviewer: Thanks Vitalii.

Interviewer: Bye.

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About Kevin

Kevin is the creator of Epic Gardening, a community dedicated to teaching urban gardening, hydroponics, and aquaponics. He enjoys skateboarding, piano, guitar, business, and experimenting with all kinds of gardening techniques!
  • http://www.facebook.com/orendafarmonics teri lindsay

    I am educating myself on hydroponics with a plan to have a farmponic in souther nevada withing 5 years…. outside Las Vegas. Researching…….. Teri

    • Kevin

      Awesome Teri! Let me know if I can help in any way