Having never been to Hawaii I was very pleased and excited to hear from Tim Star who lives on the island of Kauia. Tim and his wife, Ruby, natives of California and Kentucky, moved to Kauia in 1985 and started a music business in the town of Kapaa.
After several very successful years, Tim, Ruby and their son Levi decided to go into the hydroponic business and in 1997 established Kilauea Rain Gardens. Tim started with a 110' x 46' wooden frame greenhouse with open sides and ends and a single poly roof to stop the heavy rains from damaging their crop of lettuce and aeroponic strawberries. The wooden frame greenhouse was decided upon after they checked with greenhouse manufacturers and found that shipping to Hawaii was extremely expensive and, being an architect by profession, Tim decided he could build his greenhouse with materials obtained locally. Tim's home is run off the grid and completely on photo voltaic cells. It also uses solar energy to power the pumps in the greenhouse.
Tim first started with a floating system which was in static nutrient raceways and worked reasonably well. Then he read one of my articles on floating systems and called me. After the call Tim was armed with initial guidelines and changed the whole system to one that I designed and had installed in several projects around the world.
This system can also be used in conjunction with Aquaponics.
The aeroponic strawberry system worked very well and grew great strawberries and spinach, but was abandoned after four months because of a plant disease due to the very humid environment. The system was also very labor intensive and not economically feasible.
Tim was having a problem with the length of time (45 days) it was taking his heads of lettuce to reach maturity. Here in Florida (and most other places) we are used to 35 days from seed to harvest. So, off I went to Hawaii for a few days to see if I could rectify the problem.
Tim's modified raceways were now 96' long and 30" wide and 6" deep, with Styrofoam floats of 28" x 7" per board. Tim commented, "This system streamlined our production in harvesting and operation and also the deep flow has helped with my pythium control." My first impression of Tim's operation were very good. His lettuce is probably the best I have seen with large compact heads and very healthy appearance. Tim was growing several varieties which included a new variety called "Manoa," developed by the University of Hawaii. This is a very crisp leaf lettuce which has excellent taste and color.
After my first day I came to the conclusion that the problem with the growing time was the way in which Tim started out his seed. He was seeding into a 1" foam type material in a 75 plug tray. This was holding up root development and causing it to take several days longer than the ten days it normally takes to grow a transplant two inches tall.
The trays I use are a 288 plug tray using a sterile vegetable plug mix which are placed on a capillary mat fed continuously with nutrient film technique. This would help because Tim was keeping his plants damp by overhead spray.
Tim transplanted his seedlings by placing them in a net pot which he inserted into the Styrofoam board. I suggested that he eliminate the net pot and put the plant directly into the hole in the board with a paper collar to stop it falling through the hole. This however, was not feasible because the first heavy wind lifted the paper collars and plants out of the board. This system works well in an enclosed greenhouse with no wind.
Tim now stretches a plastic film over the board and places the transplant in a cross cut into the plastic. When it's time to harvest he rolls up the plastic as the boards are floated to the harvest end of the system.
This system seems to be working very well now that all the improvements are implemented. I will update readers on his progress.
Tim, Ruby, and Levi operate the greenhouse with one part-time employee. They produce about 6,000 heads/month which are sold to several local hotels and supermarkets. They are hoping to now increase their production considerably.
One of the most interesting parts of my trip was going to one of the local farm markets with Tim and experiencing the enthusiasm of his growing band of regular customers who wait for Tim to arrive to buy his hydroponic lettuce.
Most of the other vendors are selling primarily organic product. Tim's lettuce always sells out first because of the high quality of the product.
Ruby has continued with the music business they first started in Hawaii and continues to sell Hawaiian music CD's. If interested, readers can purchase their CD's from Paradise Music at (808) 828-0200. If you call, be sure to ask them how their lettuce business is doing.
Tim, at present, is looking into the possibility of growing fish and Red Claw Lobsters in his raceways. I will keep you posted.
Aquaponics Journal, Volume IV, No. 2, April/May 1998