On this page you can find a brief overview of the most common crops grown in commercial hydroponic systems throughout Australia. It is by no means an exhaustive list of these crops, and we have included it only to serve as a reference point for prospective growers. If the crop you are thinking about growing is not listed, then please contact us, and we will try to fill in the gaps for you.

Tomatoes

One of the most popular crops grown in hydroponics today, tomatoes are a good option for hydroponic growers due to the demand for the fruit throughout Australia (and the world!). It must be noted however, that growing tomatoes is not for everyone due the relatively high labour input required between crops, and the need to pick quite large numbers on a regular basis. Care should therefore be taken before establishing a growing system based around this crop, and we would always recommend spending some time on an existing farm to get a feel for the amount of input required before committing to a commercial hydroponic tomato system.

There are currently a variety of different methods being used in the hydroponic production of tomatoes of which the most common are NFT and Drip Irrigation. NFT will provide the greatest yield at the least cost, but this has not been taken on by all growers yet for variety of different reasons (mostly related to the saying “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”). But this is starting to change, and more and more growers are changing over to NFT.

A major consideration when thinking about setting up a hydroponic tomato farm is the initial cost involved. Because tomatoes are a vine crop and require support from above, you will need a hothouse that can support their weight. There are of course plenty of companies out there that can sell you one of these structures, but it is a major expense, and may place a strain on your budget. However, if you have a good market for tomatoes, this initial cost can be quickly recovered.

Tomatoes also require pollination to set their fruit, as well as a environmental management system to keep require as the plants like them for optimum growth. So be prepared for quite a sharp initial learning curve if you make the final decision to move into this field of commercial hydroponic farming, and always remember, you get out what you put in.

top of the page


Capsicum

Although capsicum and tomatoes are similar in their method of production, there are some significant differences. For a start, nearly all capsicum are currently grown in medium based systems as opposed to NFT. This system utilizes the “batch feeding” technique, which allows for climatic conditions to dictate the feeding frequency and volume, i.e when it is hot, you feed more at more regular intervals than when it is cold, to allow for increased uptake by the plants. It is by all accounts a tried and tested method of growing capsicum with many years of proven results, and should be carefully considered by all growers looking at starting a capsicum farm.

However, we are in some ways a “pro NFT” hydroponic consultancy, and would recommend that all new growers also have a good look at the nutrient film technique method before committing to any commercial growing system. We know that in a well designed NFT channel, results equal to drip feeding media based systems are easily obtainable, with a marked decrease in labor costs. Setup costs are much the same, with the only difference being how long the plant is left on the system. In a media based system plants will tend be grown as perennials and will produce many sets of fruits throughout the year, but will require a fair amount of attention to ward of pests and long term nutrient imbalances. In NFT plants tend to be grown as annuals, and therefore only produce fruit for a limited period of time, but do not tend to suffer from many of the problems associated with the perennials due to the ability to remove any under productive or diseased plants after a much shorter period of time. With this type of crop, if the worst happens it is only a minor setback, and can usually be incorporated into a slightly revised planting schedule.

A couple of other points to note with capsicum are that as with other vine crops, capsicum require a hothouse or structure that can support the weight of the plant from above, and that you must always have a very good look at the local market to determine whether or not your business has the potential to be a success in its early stages before going ahead with your venture. With capsicum, you are very dependent on your market to make your business successful, with a relatively small margin for error

top of the page


Cucumbers

Cucumbers are in many respects similar to tomatoes and capsicum in their method of production, with the most notable difference being their vulnerability to cold temperatures. The air temperature in the hothouse cannot be allowed to dip below 70 deg F without stress occurring to the plant, and the nutrient solution will normally have to heated as well. This may increase energy costs significantly in colder regions, but could also be an advantage to prospective growers in hotter climates.

Again, as with tomatoes and capsicum, cucumbers can be grown as either a short term crop, or as a long term crop. Short term NFT crops offer a considerable saving on labour costs, and as such are being used more and more as the production method of choice for cucumbers. Other methods of cucumber include drip irrigation culture into mediums such as perlite and rockwool, and the Deep Flow Technique.

Hothouse structures must be capable of supporting vine crops weight, which coupled with the need to keep cucumbers over a certain temperature and the potential energy costs associated with this, mean that careful investigation of your market is essential before embarking on a cucumber growing venture.

top of the page


Herbs

The markets in Australia generally require two types of product, the first of which is the “fresh cut” product. This type of product can be grown in either NFT or medium based systems, as the leaves of the herbs are cut away from the roots for processing into sealed bags or containers.

The second type of product commonly seen on the Australian market today is “living plant” herbs. Here the plant is grown in NFT and harvested whole with the root system intact. The herbs are then placed into a plastic bag with a small amount of water or nutrient, and sold as a single unit. This method provides the retailer with a significant increase in shelf life thus reducing the wastage experienced with the fresh cut herbs.

Commonly grown herbs in NFT are basil and coriander, and they seem to be particularly suited to this method of production. Herbs such as thyme, marjoram and sage are often grown in a medium based system, but can be grown just as well in NFT.

Most herbs can be grown in a variety of conditions and due to their relatively short lifespan, can be grown with a good degree of success in most climates. They also grow very well on the same system as lettuce, allowing a wider range of products to be marketed.

Growing herbs in NFT is one of the least physically demanding types of commercial hydroponic production, and within reason, can usually be operated by a husband and wife team.

top of the page


Lettuce

There are many different types of lettuce grown today which include all the different types of lettuce normally sold in supermarkets throughout Australia and NZ. The method of growing is nearly always NFT, which as with herbs, allows for the finished plants to be sold as either “fresh cut” or “living plant”.

While the market for lettuce in the bigger cities may be difficult to access, there are opportunities in regional areas for smaller systems of say 1,000 to 1,500 square meters to meet the demand for ‘local’ fresh produce. As with all commercial systems we can not over emphasize the importance of establishing a potential market first. Whether you develop a simple or ‘high tech’ commercial system, the exercise is pointless if you have nowhere to sell your produce.

Romain or cos lettuce are currently very popular amongst commercial hydroponic growers. Varieties include; Red Romaine (tolerant to both heat and cold), Paris White, Parris Island, Cos Verdi, Toledo, Marvel, Diamond Gem, and Little Gem to name a few.

Growing time for lettuce can be anywhere between 60 and 80 days, and these plants can often be grown outdoors with relative ease in hotter climates. This of course can save quite a lot money on the initial outlay for a commercial farm, and is one of the reasons that lettuce is so popular with many commercial hydroponic growers. Another reason is the ability to grow herbs such as basil and coriander alongside lettuce to increase the range of produce provided by the grower.

top of the page


Ornamentals

There are currently many different types of ornamental flowers under hydroponic production today, with some of the most common being gerberas, carnations, lisianthus, roses and chrysanthemums.

The main difference between ornamental crops and food crops (apart from the obvious), is the level of environmental control needed to achieve optimum growth. The parameters for ornamental production are very rigid to say the least, and setup costs can be daunting.

Another problem being faced by hydroponic ornamental growers is competition from abroad in addition to the down turn in the tourism and hospitality industry. Careful consideration must be given prior to venturing into the commercial flower industry, where a confirmed market is essential. Also the threat of cheap ornamental imports from across the globe can mean that a once solid and reliable outlet for your produce can suddenly be faced with the option of reducing there costs considerably, and few retail sellers will be able to say no this sort of incentive. After all, if they don’t take the flowers at a cheaper price then the shop next door probably will, and they will lose business to them. With this in mind careful market research is an absolute must for this type of start up, and the worst case scenario must be your starting point.

Given the complexities in growing commercial ornamentals, a good alternative could be to ‘learn the ropes’ on a more forgiving hydroponic system such as herbs or lettuce, as there always tend to be a good market in most regions. As your knowledge and capability increase it may be possible to approach local ornamental retailers with some sample produce to see if they are interested. In this way you have something to show the retailer when you do your market research, in addition to having a good idea of your production costs (and therefore your break even price), and by then you should know whether or not ornamental growing is for you.

We don’t mean to sound negative on this subject, but it is no secret that at the moment current market conditions in Australia for ornamental plants are a bit volatile, and new start ups may experience significant difficulties in gaining a foothold into the market place. That said, if you have a good market, we will of course happily consult on ornamental flower production for you. Other crops include:-

top of the page


Other crops include :-

VINE CROPS

Tomatoes (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Capsicum (Capsicum annum)
Cucumber (Cucumis sativa)

HERBS
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Mint (Mentha app.)
Tarragon (Artemisia dranunculus)
Marjoram (Maiorana hortensis)
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

LETTUCE
Crisphead (Lactuca sativa var. capitata)
Butterhead (Lactuca sativa var. capitatis)
Vietnamese (Lactuca sativa var. crispa)
Romaine/Cos (Lactuca sativa var. longifolia)

ASIAN VEGGIES
Amaranth (Amaranthus tricolour)
Buffalo Spinach (Enydra fluctuans)
Chinese Flowering Cabbage (Brassica rapa var. parachinensis)
Chinese Celery (Apium graveolens var. dulce)
Hot Mint (Poligonum minus)
Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon citratus)
Lizard’s Tail (Hottuynia cordata)
Mustard Green (Brassica juncea)
Pak Choi (Brassica rapa var. chinensis)
Pennywort (Centella asiatica)
Perilla (Perilla frutescens)
Thai Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Spearmint (Mentha viridis)
Turmeric (Cucurma domestica)
Water Convolvulus (Ipomea aquatica)
Water Parsley (Oenanthe javanica)
Watercress (Rorippa nasturtium-acquaticum)
BRASSICAS

Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica)
Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis)
Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata)
Rocket (Brassica rapa . var. chinensis)
Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala)

VEGETABLES

Aubergine (Solanum melongena var. esculentum)
Carrots (Daucus carota)
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
Okra (Hibiscus esculentus)

ROOT VEGETABLES

Potato (Solanum tuberosums)
Radish (Raphanus sativus)
Onion (Allium cepa)
Carrot (Daucus carota)
Spring Onion (Allium fistulosum)

SPICES
Root Ginger (Zingiber Officionale)
Turmeric (Cucurma domestica)
Curry Leaves (Murraya koenigii)

FRUIT
Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)


top of the page