Wednesday, 23 April 2014, 4:53 pm

Greenhouse project yields sunny results

From left to right, Andrew Gonsalve, Andrea Sanchez, Kayla McClay and Jheanelle Roebbelen are shown with their Nutrient Film Technique system project. PHOTO BY CATHY MCCABEBy CATHY McCABE
Staff Writer
“We’re using less and producing more.”
As part of an assignment, four second-year students in the Greenhouse Technician Co-op program built a Nutrient Film Technique (NTF) system combined with a solar power system.
Kayla McClay, one of the students who worked on the project, says, “These types of systems are the future of our industry. We’re using less and producing more.”
The assignment for the Greenhouse Crops II class was to research and create an alternative growing system. The NFT system is hydroponic; it uses water instead of soil to grow plants.
McClay, 30, of Woodstock, Ont., says the NFT system starts with a feed tank of water and nutrients. A valve controls how much water goes through tubes to the plants. She says a thin film of water irrigates the roots and then drains into a basin.
The project’s research began last semester. McClay says, “We had a research project, a report to write about the system and the practical aspect of it started just this semester.”
Andrew Gonsalve, 22, of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, says they are growing three varieties of lettuce using the system. He explains that their system is on a timer, so it waters itself once a day.
“We want the roots to start coming out of the bottom and then you can water it continuously, but for right now we have to wait a    little while.”
Jheanelle Roebbelen, 25, of Jamaica, says the NFT system “reduces the usage of a lot of pesticides compared to a lot of other growing mediums because, growing it this way, you don’t get the roots infestations.”
Andrea Sanchez, of Colombia, says, “I love the idea [of the NRT system] because it can be taken to remote areas and in building communities around the world.”
Sanchez, 39, says it can be used by small-scale and large-scale businesses and for residential use. “It’s something you can have in your backyard in the summer, in warmer days. It doesn’t take much room.”
McClay says there are commercial facilities using the system in Canada. Sanchez added those facilities are using electricity and their group wants to prove they could use solar power. Gonsalve says, “A lot of people don’t believe you can use solar to start the pump because the pumps take up too much energy to start up so we’re going to try and show them differently.”
McClay says a problem they are having in the Dominican Republic is they are not reusing the water after it goes through the system. Without electricity, they are looking at solar energy to pump the water back to the start for reuse.
A group of Niagara College students will travel to the Dominican Republic over reading week; they will be working with farmers there and helping to build a greenhouse.
Sanchez says just as countries share their expertise, they are putting the diversities within their group to good use. “We were born in different countries. We are exchanging our expertise, which is the beauty of the group.”
All of the members say they plan to use the system in the future.
“I would definitely bring the NFT system, especially the solar power part, back [in Jamaica]. There’s a lot of sun and a lot of areas that could use the help of this system, [it would] makes it much easier for them,” Roebbelen says.
Sanchez adds, “I have learned a lot in this program and I’m so happy because the program has given me more than I was expecting.”

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