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New growing technology helps produce flourish

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Preferred Produce is raising the bar for growing organic and kosher produce with a new, patented technology that combines hydroponics with aeroponics.

Hydroponics refers to plants grown in water with mineral nutrients and no soil. Aeroponics refers to growing plants in an air or mist environment, also without soil.

Preferred Produce has put the two together in a new, hydroponic growing container that includes tubes for circulating oxygen directly to plant roots.

That’s important because, apart from using carbon dioxide to make food, plants need oxygen to grow and thrive, and submerging them in water can restrict the oxygen supply, said Preferred Produce founder and co-owner Matthew Stong.

“It’s a common misconception that plants need only carbon dioxide, which they use to make food, because they still need oxygen in their roots to breathe,” Stong said. “In standard, soil-based growing, flood irrigation is the norm and, until the water drains, growers are basically killing the plants because they can’t breathe. So, in our system, we use hydroponics together with aeroponics to provide what the plants need.”

The system is contained in what’s essentially a large plastic urn that is filled with water and includes tubing inside to circulate oxygen. The plant sits on top of the system, with the roots growing downward into the urn through holes in the lid.

Stong invented the patented technology in partnership with Russian scientists. He’s tested it with strawberries, tomatoes and bell peppers. The results showed faster and hardier harvests than with other growing techniques.

“I’m growing evergreen strawberries, which would normally take about four months for an initial harvest, depending on the growing zone and weather,” Stong said. “With this system, I’m getting two pounds of strawberries in two months. Normally, you get just a handful of fruit at best in two months.”

The system has cut the first harvest for bell peppers to five weeks, compared with typically two or three months when grown in a greenhouse, and longer if grown in a field. With tomatoes, growing time is about the same as normal growing methods, but Stong says his system produces more fruit at harvest.