Bux-Mont Hydroponics is located in Telford, PA on a family farm. “One of the rewards of all the hard work is being able to raise a family on a farm. It is a great opportunity to work together,” says owner Tim Gehman. Bux-Mont supplies our six Kimberton Whole Foods stores with beautiful, fresh lettuce all year long. We recently had the chance to catch up with Tim to learn more about his operation.
How did you get started in hydroponic growing?
My dad started growing in greenhouses in 1979. I started growing lettuce in a corner of one of his greenhouses on a small scale in 2005. I experimented and learned. I started with a green thumb having grown up in the family flower business. We built our first lettuce greenhouse and started growing lettuce in it in 2009. Our business has been growing ever since.
We bought the Bux-Mont Hydroponic greenhouse business in 2011. We took down the greenhouses and reassembled them here on our property. We also became GAP certified (which is a measure of our food safety) several years ago, and we are always working on food safety. We do not grow any GMO crops.
How large is your operation?
Our hydroponic greenhouses now cover a little over one-half acre.
What does it mean to grow vegetables hydroponically?
Our lettuce grows on Styrofoam which floats on huge ponds of water. The plants grow in a small peat cube with the roots down in the water. The water stays cool in our hot summers. The lettuce is always planted at one end of the greenhouse and harvested at the other. The rafts float along as on a conveyor belt. It is pushed down the greenhouse as it grows.
The plants pick up the nutrients they need through the roots which hang in the water. Our fertilizers come mined from the ground and are totally clean from bacteria and viruses. We do not use any manure as organic farming does. Hence, it is a very clean product. Our basil grows in troughs with a trickle of water running through them 24 hours a day, so the water is constantly recirculated.
We are committed to growing safe, nutritious local food.
In what ways does hydroponic growing work well?
I would like to outline how our hydroponic operation is sustainable: We collect the rainwater off the greenhouse roofs and use it to grow our crops. We also heat our lettuce greenhouses with a huge wood burner. It is very clean burning, is carbon dioxide neutral, and is a renewable resource. We use scrap wood from the building industry.
We compost our crop waste on our property and reuse our nutrient water. We test our fertilizer water to ensure all the nutrients are available for the plants and there is no runoff of nutrients. Our packaging is recyclable. We use very little (almost no) pesticides. The greenhouses have the incoming air screened to keep out the bugs. If some bugs get in we use “good bugs” that go after the “bad bugs” and attack them. We provide all the essentials but hope God makes the sunshine. Sunshine can be lacking in the winter, so we do use some lights as needed to ensure that the shelves stay full 52 weeks a year at the grocery store.
What challenges do you face in your business?
The biggest challenge we face is the weather. We need to adjust our nutrients and our growing practices according to the changing weather. We try to have the products look the same on the shelf year round.
Are there any disadvantages to hydroponic growing?
The only disadvantage in hydroponic growing is the capital cost of greenhouses and equipment. Field lettuce may be much cheaper in late spring, but it is only usually available for a very short several weeks locally – plus, our summers often get too hot and dry for field lettuce in PA.
What else should the public understand about hydroponic growing?
While we grow a local product, it is interesting to realize how our equipment and seeds come from all over the world. From Holland to Canada, from Israel to New Zealand, it takes a whole world of resources to grow a head of local lettuce or bunch of basil.
What’s your favorite way to use the Butter Crunch Lettuce?
Our favorite way to use the butterhead lettuce is in sandwiches. You can also make your wraps with meat and cheese rolled up with lettuce leaves.
We are pleased to support the business and mission of this local grower. Look for their Butter Crunch Lettuce on the shelves of your local KWF produce department!
Photos courtesy of Bux Mont Hydroponics.