The winter weather is behind North Texans, spring weather has been around a few weeks, and customers are clamoring for summer produce. However, freezing precipitation occurred repeatedly on our vendors’ farms in March. Traditional produce production requires months for the growing process from awaiting warm soil, planting between rains, plant growth, to finally developing the vegetables and fruits to maturity. What’s a customer to do in the meantime? Shopping a grocery store that ships in produce from warmer climes is an option. For those who want to shop at the Coppell FM, two vendors have chosen the route of greenhouse gardening to speed up the spring season.
Elliott Grows has raised greens and herbs hydroponically for years. They’ve built greenhouses and used an all-natural fertilized watering process so successfully they have been speakers for Keep Coppell Beautiful on the advantages and methodology of hydroponics. However, keeping greenhouses warm in bitterly cold weather is an expensive enterprise, so they close their greenhouses for a few months and restart their greens late winter to keep the heating expense minimized and their greens affordable. This still gives them a jumpstart over those growing delicate greens outdoors. While the USDA will not certify hydroponically raised produce, Cat Elliott says only non-synthetic, all natural fertilizers are used in their water.
Keith Copp of D-Bar Farm outside Ponder set a goal two years ago to raise produce year round. To that end, he studied greenhouse gardening, hydroponics, and varied planting containers and medium, even traveling out of state to study the art. This spring his dream came to fruition. He brought early summer vegetables and strawberries to the Coppell FM a few short weeks after the last freeze and months ahead of traditional open-air farming.
As a part of the vetting process of the Coppell FM, vendors are visited early in their arrival at the market and also periodically through the years. Copp was so excited about his newly successful venture, Sheila Powell and Pat Lambert from the Vendor Site Visit Committee went up to revisit his operation in April. Things had certainly evolved in the year since the last visit by Pat Lambert when he had a few large greenhouses up and was exploring hydroponics and varied containers for soil raised greenhouse horticulture.
Lambert recently reported to the Market Committee that “Keith’s greenhouses should allow him to have a greater selection of produce year-round. His tomatoes were in large containers with individual irrigation waters in each container to more efficiently irrigate. He still has his hydroponic greenhouses for his lettuce and other fast growing greens. He also has maybe 20 acres of fields planted with melons, etc.”
Sheila Powell adds technical design details that showcase his research and explain his success in less than two years. “I was amazed at the operation as I had never seen so many greenhouses in operation on one site. He designed the houses and built them accordingly. They are built like a Quonset hut with the rounded sides and roof to maximize the sun from sunrise to sunset. Also for greatest sun efficiency the houses are built with the openings to the north and south. The plumbing for the houses utilizes CPVC piping and a series of manifolds and valves to control the water according to the various plants’ needs. A large fan is located near the ceiling at the north end of each house. This fan is large enough to pull the hot air out and cooler air through the south entrance. The houses have a heater installed on the south side of the house to heat the greenhouse in colder times. This design allows the temperature to be controlled during all seasons.
“Keith has the best of both inside and outside farming worlds. He can get a jump on the growing season by planting early and then transferring the plants to his outside fields or he can utilize his greenhouses and grow continuously inside. Either way he will have harvest when other farmers do not. He is not totally dependent upon Mother Nature. He also uses a specially mixed soil that is organic and ph balanced to the plants he is growing. He said the soil cost more but the yield is much higher.
“He had large strawberries, ready for picking. The plants were growing in a row in his special soil. The fruit were bright red and clean. He picked one off and ate it without washing it. His green bean vines were growing up several string lines he had prepared. This certainly accommodates easier harvesting and allows for greater yield. He had zucchini plants that already had 6-12 inch produce. His many varieties of lettuce and greens were mature and near maturity.” Both Lambert and Powell agreed, “Keith seems to have spent the time to educate himself about the special requirements of greenhouse and hydroponic farming.”