Spring has sprung–the days are getting longer, the temperatures are rising, and the birds have returned to the Upper Midwest! It’s an exciting time in produce, and though it’s hard to believe, our first deliveries of local tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and spring greens have arrived from P6 farmers, Living Waters Gardens, Living Greens Farm and Way of Life Gardens! You may be scratching your head, wondering how this possible, as many of us haven’t even gotten our hands dirty in the garden yet. Hydroponic and aeroponic agriculture is the reason for the early season folks!
Seward Co-op’s hydroponic and aeroponic growers are rare in that they use organic and integrated pest management practices. Hydroponic is defined as the cultivation of plants by placing the roots in liquid nutrient solutions rather than in soil. Aeroponics, the lesser known practice involves a plant-cultivation technique in which the roots hang suspended in the air while a nutrient solution is delivered to them in the form of a fine mist. Not many organic certifying agencies certify hydroponic or aeroponic crops because they are not grown in soil and soil health is a major component of organic agriculture.
Using hydroponics, Living Waters Gardens is able to supply Seward Co-op with thousands of pounds of local tomatoes long before the agricultural growing season begins. The water used during cultivation is the secret ingredient behind their delicious produce. It tends to have high levels of iron, which cause frustration when it builds up and clogs the irrigation system, but it yields a tasty and nutrient-dense tomato. To keep the greenhouses at the perfect temperature between 70–85˚F., Living Waters Gardens partners with an organization that collects, bundles, and delivers pallets to be burned that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
The peak times to buy hydroponics are in the spring and fall; before and after our local growing season. Science and technology can be very fascinating and our local producers are using these techniques to their advantage to stretch the local season while also cultivating nutritious, sustainable produce.