Sunday, May 20 , 2018, 2:23 pm | A Few Clouds 66º


GreenCoast Hydroponics Nurtures Growing Alternatives to Soil

The Santa Barbara store finds a niche in pursuing all types of methods for cultivating plants

It’s a small storefront on upper State Street surrounded by cedar window boxes overflowing with flowers and vegetables. You’ve driven by it on your way downtown and most likely enjoyed its sidewalk greenery, but step inside GreenCoast Hydroponics and traditional horticulture gets left at the door.

Just to go over the basics, the whole premise of hydroponics is to raise plants outside of a soil environment. The root system of the plant and the plant itself are supported by a medium, and the store carries mediums such as clay, coconut fiber and volcanic ash. The medium doesn’t provide nutrients to the plant. Instead, the plants are fed from a nutrient solution that circulates through the tanks where they are grown.

The system can be used indoors or outdoors, but if a grower chooses to keep the plants inside, fluorescent lights are used in place of sunlight.

This scenario is a traditional hydroponics model, but talk to Shawn Beam, the store’s manager, and he’ll tell you that GreenCoast is open to all types of growing, and rattles off a slew of other types, including aeroponics, growing plants in air environment while misting their roots with nutrients, and bioponics, where plants are grown hydroponically, but are fed from the wastewater of other living creatures, such as fish swimming in the tank of the plants.

Other processes the shop promotes include deep water culture, where the roots of a plant are submerged in highly oxygenated water, and even gravitropism, where a plant’s roots grow in the direction of gravitational pull.

To manipulate gravitropism in plants, GreenCoast carries a device that resembles a giant wheel that holds seedlings and rotates around a light in the center of the wheel. As it turns around the light slowly, plants develop a thicker cell wall and grow stronger because of resistance. This type of technology was developed by NASA, Beam said, as are many of the alternative methods of growing.

Mint plants grow in an aeroponic system while suspended in neoprene foam for stability
Mint plants grow in an aeroponic system while suspended in neoprene foam for stability. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

“There are so many different things we can do to increase our yield of produce,” he said. “The possibilities of other methods of farming are what we’re really about.”

Exploring the possibilities is something Beam gets excited just talking about, and GreenCoast’s team is always ready to talk about ideas.

“We have customers who come in and talk about things we don’t know about it, and we’re very aggressive about researching that,” he said. “There’s such an exchange of ideas.”

Israel is the leader in organic hydroponics, he said, which is a prime example of plant culture thriving in an otherwise hostile environment. Growing without soil also has huge implications for life in outer space, and is a viable option as less land becomes available for traditional farming.

“Our main mission is to satisfy some kind of need for self-sufficiency,” he said, adding that hydroponics is a huge growth industry.

“There’s a huge organic movement right now,” he said. “We keep getting customers from all different facets.”

Customers at the store range from large-scale greenhouse growing to people wanting to set up small systems on their windowsills.

Baby plants sprout up through a cultured clay medium called Hydroton
Baby plants sprout up through a cultured clay medium called Hydroton. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The store was even contacted by an architectural firm that was exploring the option of having each unit in a housing development outfitted with hydroponic gardens instead of sunrooms. “The possibilities keep blowing our minds,” he said.

Someone just getting into growing hydroponically could expect to spend about $80 on a beginner’s kit, and the options get more elaborate from there, he said.

Just because plants are grown without soil doesn’t mean they’re immune from pests. Pests such as spider mites and powdery mildew can occur, and plants can even get caterpillars indoors, he said.

Organic pesticides can offer a solution to the pests, but GreenCoast also offers a host of beneficial insect-eaters, such as ladybugs, mantises and nematodes, which they order from Ventura-based insectary Rincon-Vitova.

Beam said hydroponics is often misunderstood, but that it’s only as difficult as the person who teaches you makes it, and is willing to walk newbies through any questions. The store occasionally hosts educational classes on topics such as different propagation methods.

“We don’t just sell a product and demand that you know everything,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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