Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lettuce Begin

Hydroponics get's a fresh start in Bulembu...

Tucked away between buildings, the quaint greenhouse is a part of the grounds originally occupied by the General Manager of Havelock Mines. Now the house and carefully maintained landscape is home to the Bulembu Country Lodge.

American Hydroponics in Arcata, California donated the new agriculture system to Bulembu along with financial support from three organizations in Eureka, CA. These include Overseas Resource Link (Pastor Rolly and Cathy Anderson’s organization), Eureka Rotary Club, and Lost Coast Rotaract (Rotary for youth ages 20-30).

The Model 612 commercial hydroponics test unit is 6x12 feet in size, which translates to about two by four meters, a perfect fit for the greenhouse with adequate room to tend the plants from all four sides.

Colin LeRoux assembled the unit in the greenhouse, and then Colin Meyers and his crew wired the building for a work light and the electricity to run the pump that circulates nutrient rich water to the plants.

After the wiring job, the first seeds were planted March 16, 2011. They start as one seed per plug in a seed tray that simply needs to be kept moist for two weeks. Then small plants are transferred to the “nursery” channels with 72 small holes for another two weeks. As the plants grow, they are finally placed in “finishing” channels with the holes more widely spaced apart to accommodate the increased size.  If all goes according to plan, 72 heads of lettuce should be ready for harvest in six weeks.

Nathi planted the first crop and is responsible to daily monitor moisture and nutrient levels. By keeping to a weekly cycle of planting seeds and transferring plants to different channels as they mature, 72 heads of lettuce should be ready for harvest every week. Maintaining the hydroponics unit involves a steady supply of water, fresh air and sunlight. The plants are nourished in the channels with a steady stream of water that is monitored twice per day to maintain a prescribed amount of nutrients along with the proper ph level (very slightly acidic) for maximum growth rate.

The model 612 hydroponics system is big enough to properly test and practice hydroponics for an eventual commercial operation. Even at this small size, the weekly harvest will provide a significant amount of fresh and wholesome vegetables for the diet of a growing population of Bulembu’s orphaned and abandoned children – one small step towards the goal of a self-sufficient ministry by the year 2020.

By Gary Todoroff

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