|Location||:||Taiwan, Nan Tou – Nung Fu Agriculture Farm 弄福農場|
|Graduate from||:||National Pingtung University of Science and Technology|
|Main farming products||:||Hydroponics vegetables farming and King oyster mushroom cultivation|
|Greenhouse size||:||2910 square metre divided into 19 sections, another one unknown size|
|Month production||:||4500KG green leaves vegetables|
What is Hydroponics?
Before we look at Mr Chen’s farm, let’s take a glance at what is hydroponic.
Hydroponics is a planting method where plants grow in a growing medium with water and nutrients. It is a soilless farming method.
Early hydroponics was traced back to Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Floating Gardens of China this is thousands of years ago.
Modern hydroponics was popularized by William Frederick Gericke in 1929, who was working at the University of California, Berkeley.
Today hydroponics farming has been seen in 6 basic types of hydroponic systems:
- Wicking bed
- DWC – Deep Water Culture
- Ebb and Flow (Flood & Drain)
- Fertigation or Drip (recovery or non-recovery)
- F.T. (Nutrient Film Technique) or SFT ( Shallow Flow Technique)
There are hundreds of variations on these basic types of systems, but all hydroponic methods are a variation (or combination) of these six.
Nung Fu Agriculture Farm 弄福農場
Mr Chen is using Hydroponic culture bed made by high density polyform covered by PU sheet. This is a well design, efficient and cost effective product for constructing the flow bed. Using high density polyform is light weight, low cost, durable and easy to construct making it a break through in hydroponics. I am very impressed with the design. Looking forward to adopt the concept in my future system.
Each of the connecting flow unit is 180CM in length, 102CM in width and 14.5CM in height. Planting board’s dimension is; Length 96CM, Width 60CM, Height 3.5CM.
This design blended NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) and DWC (Deep Water Culture), which I call it SFT (Shallow Flow Technique). It leverage on the advantage of DWC and NFT to enjoy the best of both world. I believe this is a very cleverly designed system.
According to Mr Chen, each bed normally connects 25 boards. However, it can be more. He uses 45 boards length. If the grow bed is longer, it needs more frequent water circulation to ensure well distribution of nutrients and also dissolved oxygen for the plants.
Each poly form board is NT70 which is about RM10.
He divided his greenhouse into 19 sections. They will harvest and plant 1 section every day. Each month he could produce up to 4500KG of vegetables.
As the seedling needed is relatively high volume, they are using seedling machine to place the seeds in the germination bed. That save a lot of man power needed to do the tedious job. Each germination cubical is placed with 12 seeds. This number is surprising high. In my past experiences, we only put in 1 or maximum 3 as insurance and ensure higher germination rate. I guess, this is also closely depending on what type of vegetables they grow.
Using his method, vegetables can harvest from 30% to 50% faster. Meaning they can plant up to 2 cycles compare to normal soil based farming. Green leaves vegetables in his farm is usually harvested in 25 days.
He uses 2 type of sun shades. 90% cut off shade is used cover up areas where workers are working. While 50% cut off shade is use for the vegetable growing area. All the shades have sliding mechanism build in. During hot summer, the shade will be applied during the day, while other season when sunlight is minimal, the shade is not needed. I like his simple and cost effective design of the mechanism.
Having the system in a greenhouse, he also save 80% of pesticides costs. The greenhouse prevented most of the pest from coming into the farm and infect the plants. They only use pesticides during the seedling stage. After which, they will be using emulsified mineral oil, beneficial bacteria and organic pesticides to contain pest infections.
His is using 6 tonnes drums buried in the ground as nutrient mixer. Each of this mixer is to supply and support 3 sections of his 19 sections of planting areas. He does not use any additional mechanism to add oxygen into the system. He relied on the venturi effect to bring oxygen into the nutrient water when it is being pumped into the grow bed. When the nutrient water returns into the mixer tank, natural aeration occurs due to height difference will further dissolved more oxygen into his system.
His secret of success is to control the water temperature and keep pH at 6to 6.5. It pretty normal for the nutrient water’s pH to drop gradually. He usually buffer it with Potassium Hydroxide (KOH).
When asked, how does he manage the nutrients water after each harvest? He said, they will add the same proportions of nutrient into the water and use again. This will repeat for 3 cycles. At the end of the 3 cycles, they will use the residual water to water their plants outside the greenhouse. This is one of the biggest setback for hydroponics farming. As far as I understand, most of the farmer does not have an eco-friendly way to treat this water and dispose them properly. At least in Mr Chen case, he is using it to water the plants outside the greenhouse. We observed that he has pineapple plants planted all around his greenhouse.
I noticed that he packed the vegetables without removing its roots. This is a clever way to keep the vegetable fresh and have longer shelve life.
I ended our interview with a very crucial question that I believe everyone is interest to know; “Can his method and size be profitable?” He answered with confident; “Yes”.
I would love to ask him more about hydroponics and look at his farm in more details. Unfortunately, the night has fallen and we all have to move on.
There is one important part we did not manage to see is; how his seedling process looks like and what kind of seedling machine he uses. We also didn’t have a chance to ask him about his king oyster mushroom cultivation. It seems that he have been quite successful in king oyster mushroom cultivation.
Never the less, I would like to express my sincere thanks to Mr Chen for sharing his experience with us. It has been a very interesting and helpful visit.