[caption id="attachment_52693" align="alignleft" width="245" caption="Professor Lieth of UC Davis testing General Hydroponics fertilizer on strawberries"][/caption]
NORTH BAY – With its unique concentration of high-tech talent and growers it’s not surprising the North Bay region has sprouted a number of companies dedicated to better yields through technology.
In the vineyards, on farms and in research labs innovation around food production is flourishing like poppies after a good Spring rain.
In Petaluma Hydrofarm’s PAR Source division has been experimenting with high-intensity electronic grow lights rather than the traditional magnetically ballasted lighting.
“They last longer, they’re more efficient and offer better yields," said Hydrofarm President Peter Wardenburg. “They’re being used now to grow tomatoes and other hot-house vegetables in advanced greenhouses across the country and in Canada.”
[caption id="attachment_52692" align="alignright" width="163" caption="High intensity electronic ballast in a Hydrofarm research greenhouse"][/caption]
Hydrofarm has been making and developing high-tech indoor growing systems since the disastrous drought of 1977-’78, when lawns and shrubs in the North Bay went brown and gardeners looked for alternative growing methods. The company now supplies large commercial enterprises as well as hobby gardeners.
Hydrofarm and other developers of lighting systems have also been investigating LED grow lights, which hold a great deal of promise in delivering just the part of the spectrum required by certain plants.
“But at this point LED lighting is not economically viable for commercial growers,” he said. “The lights will pay for themselves after long-term use; however, we see a stronger immediate future for HID (high intensity discharge) lamps delivering photo-synthetically active radiation (PAR), a fancy name for the light spectrum used by plants.”
[caption id="attachment_52695" align="alignleft" width="270" caption="General Hydroponics tests FloraNova, an all-in-one liquid fertilizer"][/caption]
In Sebastopol, pioneer hydroponics systems developer Lawrence Brooke of General Hydroponics has partnered with Cogenra Solar in Mountain View to develop solar-heated rooftop gardens.
But he’s even more excited about a patent-pending liquid fertilizer called FloraNova, the first to combine in concentrated form all the elements needed to nurture plants grown in water.
“Ingredients that work well together when diluted often fight in concentrated form, so traditionally you would add them from many different containers. One of my researchers came up with this product and we’re patenting it in the U.S., Holland, Israel and China, all the places where intensive gardening is developed,” said Mr. Brooke.
FloraNova contains the 13 ingredients, in ultra pure form and calibrated ratios, that plants need,” he said.
“It’ll grow anything from algae to sequoias. At UC Davis they’re testing it with strawberries. We expect it to be enormously successful.”
Vineyard owners are planting again, after a glut of grapes and the high cost of vineyard development put new vines on hold for the last several years.
Napa grower Andy Beckstoffer is putting in several hundred acres in Lake, Mendocino and Napa counties, using input from weather services to plan trellis systems in relation to sunlight.
“You don’t want to burn the grapes. We gathered data on the direction of the sun during the hottest days of the growing season and we position the trellis so that the sun shines down the row instead of broadside,” he said.
Planted alongside the vines are sophisticated sensors that record soil conditions such as moisture, temperature and soil components.
“You walk down the avenue (of vines) and every three feet you’ve got data collectors. It’s amazing,” said Mr. Beckstoffer, admitting that the amount of data collected has outdistanced growers’ ability to process it.