Teaching hydroponics to gardeners/farmers

Published on: May 9, 2019

Sustainable growing through hydroponics for farmers and home gardeners

By YVETTE C. HAMMETT

Francisco Rivera head of the Small Farms/Alternative Enterprises program, is teaching new farmers and home gardeners how to set up hydroponic growing systems as an alternative to growing plants in soils.

Small farmers and home gardeners across Hillsborough County can learn techniques in hydroponic gardening thanks to a new program being introduced at the local Extension Service.

Francisco Rivera, the Small Farm agent for Hillsborough County Extension is introducing the program here.

Rivera, who developed the program, presented it recently at the National Sustainability Summit held in Tampa, and it was a hit, he said. He is in the process of planning another session for local consumers.

“We are going to present it again at the National Association of County Agricultural Agents in Indianapolis in September,” Rivera said.

“What we do in this program is talk about the facts in hydroponics. Sometimes people don’t have the science background, and they misunderstand some things about how to set it up so that it is effective,” Rivera said. “For example, all the plants have their requirements for nutrients, lighting and environmental conditions. Temperature is also a factor.”

Lettuce varieties growing hydroponically.

Hydroponic is growing without soil. That is the main reason for hydroponics. “We try to provide this to our customers in an easy way, in a user-friendly way.”

The University of Florida Food and Agricultural Sciences program, or IFAS, supports diversity in farming. UF, this state’s land grant university, passes its research along to new farmers. It also teaches about lighting, nutrients, pest management and other aspects of growing.

“Hydroponics is a growing alternative to produce high quality and profitable specialty crops such as herbs, greens and cut flowers in places that are not suitable for cultivation,” UF research states.

“Hydroponic technologies also have the advantage of increasing production per square foot in comparison with traditional agriculture.” So, it can be done in a smaller area.

The purple lighting is special grow lights that help the plants grow more quickly. Photos from Hillsborough County Extension

“We provide educational content, science-based information,” Rivera said. “All the programs we have, we need to have the research behind it, or we don’t pass it along to the public.”

Rivera said he translates the research into understandable lessons, so people can easily begin hydroponic farming or gardening. “We teach only best management practices.”

He said he will offer the course twice a year.

“We teach about the different types of hydroponic systems. We show people how to make sure they know about pH in the soil and how to set up a system and grow your plants.”

Rivera said when he started at the Extension office two years ago, farmers were given the opportunity to take classes in hydroponics that lasted three or four months, but he realized not everyone has that kind of time.

“That is hard for a new farmer who does not have the time to get away. Beginner farmers need to grow their skills quickly. This program provides that,” said Rivera.

Many learn best by doing, and this is a hands-on course. “It’s hands-on learning. We talk about hydroponic demonstrations so they can see how a system works, what type of plants they can grow in that system. It’s a basic hydroponic program,” said Rivera.

Rivera said 55 percent of the people who have attended hydroponic classes plan to build a system with floating beds, which tend to be less expensive for this sustainable farming practice.

Rivera has the skills to design, build and manage hydroponic systems, including nutrient film technique, floating beds and aeroponics.

Call Rivera at the local UF Extension office for more information at 813-744-5519, ext. 54119 or email RiveraFr@HillsboroughCounty.org. The extension office is located at 5339 South C.R. 579, Seffner, FL 33584, and the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center is at 14625 C.R. 672, Wimauma, FL 33598.

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