Dordt College News

Tomāto, Tomăto

January 15, 2010

Stahl explores alternative to traditional plant cultivation

Junior Greg Stahl jokes that he started his hydroponic project in the Dordt greenhouse for the free tomatoes.

“This is just for fun,” he said. “I got interested in hydroponics last spring and, since I learn best by doing, I decided to go for it.”

Stahl is growing tomatoes, lettuce, and broccoli hydroponically, which means that he uses only water or a soil-less medium such as Perlite. As water does not naturally have nutrients, Stahl must dissolve fertilizer into the drip system that hydrates the plants.

Greg Stahl believes in taking responsibility for his own education. In September, he set up a hydroponic project in the Dordt greenhouse that is just beginning to produce its first ripe tomatoes.“It is a very water-intensive project,” said Stahl. “Hydroponic projects are huge in the Netherlands and with big-time farmers across the States.”

The project required some background work for Stahl over the summer. He first contacted hydroponic experts and got advice on how to create a pump system. After building a system at his home in Whitinsville, Massachusetts, he had it shipped to Dordt. His final task was to create a proposal to use space in the greenhouse. Then, he got to work.

Stahl has transformed his corner of the greenhouse into a small-scale farm. On one side, he planted two varieties of tomato plants, a total of fifty plants. 

“I drove these seeds from home to Dordt,” he said. “I planted them in August, and they’ve done pretty well, I’d say.”

The tomato plants are hydrated through a drip system and are tied together with orange roping. Stahl expects the plants to grow to about eight feet and to produce tomatoes by December.

“This is just getting my foot in the door,” he said, pointing to his towering tomato plants. “Maybe next year it could be bigger.”

Stahl also set up a homemade pump system for his lettuce plants. He fused white piping and drilled holes so that his plants would have room to grow. The water circulating through the tubes keeps the roots alive.

“The roots don’t grow in anything, just the water,” he said.

The pump system has run into some problems—Stahl wasn’t expecting aphids to be so prevalent in the greenhouse—but he thinks that working out the kinks will only make the project better because he’s having to deal with the range of challenges a hydroponic farmer faces.

What Stahl wants most in the future is to own a large-scale hydroponics farm. He’s confident that this project has been a good way to prepare for that dream.

“The project is a lot harder than I thought it would be,” he said. “But I’m glad that I’ve had a chance to do it.” He’d like to see fellow classmates start projects of their own, adding, “I’d recommend that other ag students take the initiative and go beyond what Dordt’s curriculum offers.”


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