The Canadian prairies can be challenging for farmers with extreme temperatures and short growing seasons. Finding ways to extend production is a big focus for many producers. While large farms are limited to how far they can push Mother Nature, small farms have an advantage. Some have gone the greenhouse route, while another small sect has taken the hydroponic greenhouse path.
Neva Hydroponics in Landmark, Manitoba, has done just that. Owned by Pat and Cammie Wohlgemuth, who, until Neva, had owned and operated a U-pick strawberry operation for some 13 years. The family decided they wanted to find a way to farm for a longer period of time each year, so in 2006, they bought a hydroponic greenhouse business from its previous owner.
By 2007, they were growing and selling lettuce to a few customers in Winnipeg and, from there, the business took off simply through word of mouth. We sat down with Pat Wohlgemuth to learn more about what they’re doing.
1. Why did you decide on greenhouse hydroponics?
There are three important questions to ask yourself when it comes to any greenhouse operation:
- Which crop should and can be grown year round?
- What is the market for the crop and access to customers?
- Is it beneficial to invest in facilities to grow the crop year-round?
If the answer is “yes” for those three questions, it is feasible to produce crops year-round. To grow crops in a greenhouse in the summer only isn’t difficult, but if the decision is to grow year-round, expect to double or even triple the investment in extra equipment to facilitate the need for a heating system, more efficient cooling and venting systems, artificial lighting, and more.
The most important factors are market demand and having a crop is compatible to grow in a greenhouse (i.e. basil, tomatoes, lettuce and/cucumbers).
2. What do you grow?
We grow butter lettuce, green leaf lettuce, basil and microgreens year-round in our two greenhouses, which covers 12,000 square feet. We chose these for their demand and adaptability to greenhouse environment growing conditions.
3. What are hydroponics?
Hydroponics literally means “water working,” but in practical use, it means growing plants in a nutrient solution without soil. The soil isn’t required for plant growth, but the elements, minerals and nutrients that soil contains are.
Soil is simply the holder of the nutrients, a place where the plant roots traditionally live and a base of support for the plant structure. By eliminating the soil, you eliminate soil-borne diseases and weeds and gain precise control over the plant’s nutritional diet. In a hydroponic solution, you provide the exact nutrients your plants need in precisely the correct ratios. This way, they can develop free of stress, mature faster and have the highest quality possible at harvest.
With hydroponic technology and a controlled-environment greenhouse, you can grow premium quality produce with a minimum amount of space, water and fertilizer. Hydroponics is an intensive form of agriculture that can fulfill Manitoba consumers’ demand for premium, local produce year-round.
Our market is Winnipeg and southeast Manitoba, which we deliver directly to local stores, warehouses and restaurants with no long-distance shipping.