Hydroponic plants have long been a staple at UF/IFAS Hastings.
Under the leadership of our director, Dr. Christian Christensen, we are continuing our studies on lettuce and strawberries in hydroponic towers; along with thornless blackberries in large containers. In hydroponic production, the farmer is growing their crops with soilless media, and within a controlled system. That may include vertical towers, large pots or NFTs. The media can include coconut coir, clay pellets, perlite, peat moss, or a combination of numerous materials.
These systems are fertigated, meaning that water-soluble fertilizer is injected through the irrigation emitters into the pots using an automated pump. Fertilizers are diluted in two barrels (keep Phosphorus and Calcium separated to prevent clumping as they’ll bind and immobilize each other if stored in the same barrel). Each contains a pump that is timed to inject fertilizer at the desired frequency and rate. This is a very precise system, and fertilizers are in such small quantities, that measurements are based on units in ppm.
Last season we compared the flavors of a new cultivar of a white strawberry (not yet named!) to that of ‘Florida Brilliance’ in the towers. This season we will be focusing less on varieties, and more on pest management seeing as this crop is a pest magnet. We also have a 4-H Berry Project that includes blueberries and strawberries, and will be utilizing the yield on the towers to compare to those grown in single, large pots at home with the youth.
This past spring we provided support to Dr. German Sandoya, lettuce breeder for UF/IFAS, utilizing his new cultivars in the hydroponic towers. We will continue his studies to assess heat tolerance in lettuce comparing a spring versus fall season. In high heat environments, lettuce has a tendency to “bolt” early, causing the flowers to emerge and the leaves become bitter. Dr. Sandoya is interested in which varieties can tolerate the heat while maintaining their flavor.
Although our four varieties of thornless blackberries are wrapping up fruit production for the year, the different trellising methods are worth a visit! We have demonstrated the difference between a “T-shape” and “V-shape” trellising system. This allows for easy harvesting, especially in u-pick production, but which system is best? Only time will tell! Come visit us at the downtown UF/IFAS Hastings unit and check out our demonstrations!