Hydroponics

David Goldman’s fondest childhood memories center around the Sepulveda Community Gardens at Hayvenhurst Avenue and Magnolia Boulevard in Encino and the vegetable plots he tended there with his family.
Goldman grew up in various apartments around the Valley and never had a back yard. Yet his father was still a proud tiller of the earth and, through times spent together in the community garden, passed his horticultural passion on to his son.
When Goldman left home, he pursued a career in computer science, eventually working six years in editorial design and systems administration for a newspaper. “My desk was next to a window,” he told me last week, “and I found myself spending more and more time looking through that window and less and less time looking at the little computer screen in front of me. I had a longing to get back to the land, to somehow relive on a daily basis my childhood experience at Sepulveda Gardens.”
Today, at the relatively tender age of 31, Goldman has created a profitable, one-of-a-kind farm (for the San Fernando Valley) in Reseda, and he has done it without having to dig a single shovelful of soil. Goldman is a hydroponic grower. The term hydroponics is derived from Greek words that mean “working the water” (as in “working the earth”) and is a form of agriculture in every sense of the word except that water is substituted for soil. Hydroponics has been practiced for several thousand years, dating back to the ancient Egyptians, but has only been utilized for serious commercial farming over the past quarter century or so. In parts of Europe and especially in Australia and New Zealand, hydroponic growing has become a mainstream farming technique.
The principle advantage of growing hydroponically is the enormous yields produced, which can be 50 percent or greater than those realized from conventional farming practices. During the summer in Reseda, Goldman harvests 1,200 heads of lettuce, in 5,000 square feet of growing area, per week. He grows five varieties of lettuce: butter, oakleaf, loose leaf, romaine and Batavia. Although I was familiar with red and green oakleaf and loose leaf varieties, I had only seen butter lettuce in its green version before visiting Goldman, who raises a red butter as well. Batavia, also available in red and green types, is the original Iceberg lettuce “before all the flavor, color and nutrients were bred out of it and replaced with shipping strength and storage longevity.”
In truth, hydroponically grown lettuce, properly cared for, will last much longer than regular store-bought lettuce. The reason is that hydroponics customers can bring their lettuce home with roots still attached. As soon as the lettuce is brought home, it is put in a container of water where it will continue to grow for the next two to four weeks. During this time, individual leaves may be harvested from the lettuce, extending its shelf life even further. The trick is to bring home several different lettuces from which you harvest leaves, making a mixed salad from the different types rather than using up individual heads all at once.
Goldman utilizes the NFT (nutrient film technique) hydroponics system, which was developed in Australia. With this technique, mineral-enriched water moves through slightly sloping, table-high pipes by gravity flow. Within the 4-inch-diameter channels, there are openings on the top in which seedling lettuces, germinated by Goldman in an adjacent greenhouse, are placed. After the water drains down at the end of the pipes, it is pumped back and recirculated to the top of the pipe run. Before the water is recirculated, it is filled with oxygen by a Venturi, the same apparatus that puts bubbles into a hot tub. Oxygen is the key to rapid growth of vegetables in the NFT system. The top 75 percent of the root system of each plant is totally exposed to the air. The bottom 25 percent of the roots soak in water that is oxygen enriched thanks to the Venturi.
When looking at the healthy heads of lettuce growing in the NFT system, you begin to understand the importance of building a fluffy, well-aerated bed of soil for your vegetables if you are still earthbound in your horticultural pursuits.
Not content merely to grow crops hydroponically, Goldman opened a store catering to the amateur hydroponic enthusiast just a month ago. The name of the store is BetterGrow Hydro and is located at 1271 E. Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena. It is recognizable by the giant tomatoes and bell peppers growing inside the store on stout vines. The store is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Call (626) 449-6677 for more information.
Goldman also gives talks about hydroponics. He has participated in professional forums for hydroponic growers but makes himself available to classes of visiting schoolchildren as well.
TIP OF THE WEEK: If you are super-health conscious, you will probably want to consider hydroponically grown produce where available. Organic produce, which is fertilized with components such as composted manure, blood meal and bone meal, depends heavily on animal products for its mineral nutrition. However, animals are frequently given antibiotics and hormones, substances that, studies have shown, can find their way into organically grown produce. The minerals in hydroponically grown produce are not derived from animal sources. You can find Goldman’s “Living Lettuce” at many of the certified farmers’ markets across the Southland.

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