How did you learn about hydroponics?
I first started with a conventional outdoor organic garden, but the folks at Paradigm Gardens in Madison got me interested in hydroponics. I read seven books about hydroponics, but it was still a lot of trial and error. It was about five years before I started producing at a commercial scale. There’s a lot of science behind it. One small error in temperature or nutrients and you can wipe out your whole crop.
How did you build your system?
I did it all myself using standard pipes, lights, timers and pumps. My setup is six feet wide and 30 feet long. All the water is purified through reverse osmosis and the air is also filtered and purified. Since there isn’t any soil to bring in contamination, this process reduces the disease and insect levels almost to zero. It’s a completely pure closed system. For the lettuce I go from seed to harvest in about four weeks. I rotate the crops so I always have some fresh lettuce ready to harvest each week.
What types of produce do you have?
I mostly have lettuce, but I also grow watercress and a bit of basil and other spices. My “spring mix” has seven different varieties of lettuce including buttercrunch, oak leaf, red sails and others. I also sell a special body cream that I started making for a friend who was having trouble with sensitive skin. It’s a special mix of vitamins, baby oil, and other ingredients.
Do you sell anywhere else besides the Winter Market?
I used to sell at the summer market, too, but now I work on the hydroponics over the winter and travel in the summer. Restaurants need 100 pounds of lettuce a week; I just can’t produce at that scale so I stick to the winter market at this point.