2012-07-26 / Life in Leelanau

HYDRO FARMING

No need to get down and dirty
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


FORELLENSCHUSS is an heirloom variety of lettuce grown and sold at Cedar Sol Hydro farm. FORELLENSCHUSS is an heirloom variety of lettuce grown and sold at Cedar Sol Hydro farm. There are many small-scale farmers living off the land in Leelanau County. But there are a few who do it without getting their hands dirty.

Cedar Sol Hydro is the newest “soilless” venture growing produce in the county. Started about seven years ago by Michael and Nichole McHugh, the growing operation is unlike other hydroponic farms in that it’s laid out vertically rather than horizontally.

“We have 20,000 plants on a quarter acre of land,” Michael said.

Both McHughs were trained as teachers, but decided to make a career change about seven years ago when Nichole became pregnant for their son, Parker.

“We loved teaching, but it can keep you away from your family a lot,” he said. “We wanted to figure out something we could do at home and support ourselves.”


MICHAEL MCHUGH of Cedar Sol Hydro examines stacked containers of lettuce grown hydroponically. MICHAEL MCHUGH of Cedar Sol Hydro examines stacked containers of lettuce grown hydroponically. From Co. Rd. 651, looking west, motorists are curious about the poles upon which white growing vessels are mounted. The pots are filled with a mineral mixture of vermiculite and perlite which holds the plants in place and diffuses the nutrient mixture fed them through an intricate water system. The amount and frequency of the feedings are set using a control panel is a small shed near the garden.

“The great thing about it is there are no weeds,” Michael said.

Cedar Sol Hydro farm can grow about anything that could be grown in a conventional garden. Their produce includes Everbearing strawberries, heirloom tomatoes and lettuce as well as spinach, kale, cucumbers, onion and basil.

The McHughs plant the strawberries each spring and unlike traditional berries which mature once a year, usually in June, Everbearing plants keep producing fruit until the first hard frost, usually sometime in October.


ALTHOUGH THE local strawberry harvest has been over for weeks, Cedar Hydro Sol Farm’s Everbearing variety will produce fruit through the end of September or into October. ALTHOUGH THE local strawberry harvest has been over for weeks, Cedar Hydro Sol Farm’s Everbearing variety will produce fruit through the end of September or into October. “We just completed our first round of berries and will be opening things up for u-pick soon,” Michael said.

The growing operation appealed to the couple because it utilizes sustainable agricultural practices.

“You use about 5 percent of the water you would in conventional farming,” Michael said.

For example, a stacker of 20 plants is fed three times a day, a quart each feeding. Twenty plants on three quarts a day.

“You’re only watering the plants — not the weeds,” he said.

Their self-serve stand is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The two older hydroponic operations in the county have both been in operation for more than a decade.

Jim and Toni Beaton bought their farm near Suttons Bay in 2000.

TLC Tomatoes, 4030 N. Setterbo Rd., now grows more than 35,000 pounds of tomatoes and 35,000 heads of Bibb lettuce as well as other hydroponic produce.

TLC’s farm store is open from daylight until dark May through November. The Beaton’s goods are also sold in retail stores and at local farmer’s markets.

Provemont Hydro Farm, 1530 S. Lake Shore Dr., Lake Leelanau has been in production since 2002. Kevin VerSnyder and Jeff Gleason own the farm which grows lettuce and specialty greens.

Provemont Hydro Farm’s produce is served at Trattoria Stella in Traverse City and used by Epicure Catering and is also available at the farmer’s market in Traverse City.

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