Mark Scholl, Taking a break from his greenhouse dutiesNote: I first tasted HH tomatoes last year. I was delighted to find local produce at the grocer in my new hometown. So delighted, in fact, that I shouted across the store to my friends to "come see what I found...local produce".
Happy Hydros LLC Expanding Production
Just days before the Christmas 2009 blizzard hit, Happy Hydros LLC of Pukwana finished a 44 by 128 foot addition that doubled the size of their greenhouse. Owners Mark and Teal Scholl spent the next week hand shoveling the over four foot deep snow off the greenhouse roof.
The original section of the greenhouse was constructed in 2007. Scholl proudly points out that it and the addition were constructed with locally purchased concrete, lumber, and gravel; and a local electrician and plumber were used.
Today the expanded greenhouse holds tomato, cucumber, basil and lettuce plants. Harvest of lettuce, cucumbers and basil is set to start around May 1st. Tomatoes are available starting in April. The Scholls sell their pesticide free produce to grocery stores from Pierre to Huron, at the Chamberlain Farmers Market and onsite at the greenhouse.
Basil and lettuce are new crops for the 2010 growing year. Scholl plans to sell the lettuce enclosed in a vented bag with the roots attached. This is a relatively new presentation in this part of the country. Keeping the root on allows for a longer shelf life for the lettuce according to Scholl. Bib lettuce will be seeded in May, followed by romaine. Scholl is also considering a multi-colored leaf lettuce for later in the season.
According to Scholl, he can hand seed a thousand lettuce seeds in about one and half hours. He did just that in February. One thousand pelletized lettuce seeds were inserted one seed at a time into mats of spun volcanic rock. The mats lay in flats, which are set into a shallow watering tank. Here they are watered and fed through a nutrient film technique that runs water 24 hours a day. The plants will be moved from the flats to a trough system and are ready for harvest three weeks later. This season Scholl will pick 1,000 heads of lettuce weekly. At 20 heads per case, that’s 50 heads per case heading to area grocery stores.
Cucumbers were seeded on February 8th and now the 350 cucumber plants are set out two plants to a perlite filled bucket, 89 buckets to a row in two 125 foot long rows. They will produce over 25,000 cucumbers during three crop seasons this year.
Hand seeding of the 1,750 tomato plants started in February. Those plants are now set out in ten 125 foot rows. Each tomato plant is visited three times a week for one of five practices: clipping (using a plastic clip to train the plant to the vine twine), removal of suckers, cluster pruning or removing dead leaves.
Hydroponically grown tomatoes are pruned into vines. They are not the bushy plants we are used to seeing in home gardens. The clipping and removal of suckers, aids in the production of almost 40 pounds of tomatoes per plant.
Cucumbers are clipped, tendrils and side shoots are removed. This prevents the plants from tangling themselves around each other. Reel-enz, a pulley system, and vine twine are used to string the cucumber and tomato plants. By season’s end in December, tomato plants will be strung out for about 30 feet.
The cucumber blossoms are fertilized by a hive of bumble bees Scholl brings in at mid-March. Tomatoes that blossom prior to the bees arrival are hand pollinated. Tomato blossoms need a slight movement for pollination to occur. Bumble bees provide this movement by hanging upside down on the flower and fastening their jaws onto the stamina tube. They cause the flower to vibrate when they activate their flight muscles. This pollination occurs over a six-week period, and then the hive goes to the Scholl’s house. He said, “They get to enjoy the flower garden.”
The tomatoes, basil and cucumbers are watered and fed through a drip line system that delivers nutrients derived from natural ingredients found in the earth. Early in the season the drip system delivers water and nutrients every half -hour for 45 seconds. During the summer the every half -hour feedings last for three minutes. This is necessary because tomatoes require more nutrients and water as they mature. Monitors ensure that the proper water pH and electrical conductivity is maintained.
A high-tech controller in the greenhouse monitors and records humidity, watering and air temperature. Remote access allows off-site monitoring of the controller. Air is exchanged every ten minutes when louvers automatically open and a fan is activated.
Each day is filled with a variety of tasks performed by all members of the Scholl family. In addition to the five practices, there’s a need for cleaning the lettuce watering tank, picking, labeling, packaging and delivering the produce. Although having to label each tomato can seem tedious work, it’s worth it. Scholl related being at a business and having a woman relate to him her disappointment that her favorite tomatoes were sold out at the grocery store. She said she looks for that Happy Hydros sticker. He smiled as he told her those were his family’s tomatoes.
For the past two years, Teal has handled the delivery duties. She’s on the road each Tuesday and Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. This year they plan to split the route with each doing half, and planning to be back at the greenhouse early in the afternoon in order to work at the greenhouse.
Scholl said, “I was raised on a farm, I love food, so this greenhouse is a natural extension of that.” He’s proud of the product his family puts out and they are looking forward to a good season in 2010. Scholl’s goal is to have his family working as part of the greenhouse and retail operation and being able to support all those family members. He wants this to be a living for the entire family. He’s exploring expanding the operation with value added products, such as jams and juice. A big smile spreads across Scholl’s face as he talks about wanting to use excess tomatoes to make tomato juice from his mom’s recipe.
In 2009 the Scholls were awarded one of fifteen Specialty Crop block grants by the South Dakota Department of Agriculture. The grant will be used to educated consumers and retailers about the availability and quality of hydroponic tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers produced in South Dakota. They will use a scaled down version of their hydroponic system as an educational tool at the State Fair in Huron this year.
To contact Mark or Teal Scholl, call 605 894-4406 or email them at email@example.com
Happy Hydros, LLC
631 David Drive
Pukwana, SD 57379
Owners: Mark & Teal Scholl
Where to buy Happy Hydros pesticide free produce:
Area grocery stores
Chamberlain Farmers Market starting in early May
Happy Hydros greenhouse, call ahead for open hours