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Friday, April 28, 2017

Rogue Farms: Growing With Hydroponics

Nicole Launt started growing edible plants in her home and a barn before moving to a warehouse and setting up a hydroponics business. A 1998 graduate of fine arts at Savannah College for Arts and Design, Nicole's many talents include graphic design, photography, drawing and painting. She is also committed to education.

Nicole holding one head of hydroponically grown lettuce in her warehouse.
Nicole has taught every age group from elementary through college. Most recently, she taught Earth Science at Omni Montessori School where she managed a five acre farm with animals as well as plants.

Now, for this young mother of two, Rogue Farms in Charlotte, NC, brings yet another layer of adventure and challenges. 

Nicole cooperates with the local Meals on Wheels program providing leafy greens for their home-delivered meals in exchange for a good rental rate on the empty warehouse. She cleaned it out, painted and up-fitted the space to food-growing status.

Hydroponics is the art and science of growing plants without soil in a water-based nutritive solution. Complete systems include growing structures, lighting, pumps and nutritive, aerating solutions.

Creating a business with these structures also requires knowing what plant products are in demand, which grow best in these conditions, and how to combine temperature, humidity and light for starting seeds and then coaxing the plants along to maturity.

Seed Starting Cabinet or Grow Box
Sponge-like seed starting cubes provide an ideal air to water ratio around roots for quick growth in a temperature and light controlled "Grow Box." This is the place for starting plants that will grow to full size like heads of lettuce.

One of Nicole's most popular items, however, is Micro-Greens.

Pac Choi Sprouts
These are grown quite differently. For this product, she sprouts the seeds in a rock wool growing medium. A high density of seed sown produces a good crop of micro-greens.

Basil Sprouts
When the sprouts are the size of micro-greens, Nicole cuts, bags and sells them to private chefs and to the public at the Atherton Mill Market on South Boulevard (Saturdays.) Many types of seeds make flavorful micro-greens. Sunflower, pea and basil seeds are some favorites.

Pea Sprouts

Cut Micro-Greens
She transplants the larger seedlings  into channels of the growing system and nourishes them with circulating hydroponic nutrient mixes until fully grown for marketing as heads of lettuce or mesclun cuts. Hydroponically grown plants grow faster and larger than those grown in soil, and there are fewer problems with disease and pests.

Salanova Lettuce Green Butter below and Pac Choi above
Salanova Lettuce, Red and Green Butter
Salanova Lettuce, Red Crisp
Lettuce Bambi, heads and new starts
Herbs and other plants take some of the space in Nicole's growing system. Some are edible garnishes.
Nasturtiums are a popular edible garnish.
Basil and Parsley
Scarlet Frills Mustard Seedling transplanted into growing channel
For Nicole, this is satisfying work. She says that living in Chicago for a while was a large factor pushing her into urban farming. To Nicole, the city was a fresh-food desert. She became a Master Gardener and completed the Mecklenburg County Beekeepers Program. As an educator, she says she "knows the importance of guiding the future stewards of the planet." She plans to partner with schools and businesses for education and events.

For an event last year, Nicole developed the poster below. You can't see her behind the mask, but she's there.

Contact Nicole at roguefarmsnc@gmail.com. View her website: Rogue Farms: Growing With Hydroponics

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