Recycling Rainwater

Lucas Greenhouses’ water treatment system includes the grey ozone contact tank, six pre-filters and four posy filters.

Water recycling is not a new idea for greenhouse growers; many have done it for ages. But some growers are taking water recycling to a new level with 5-micron filter technology, ozonation and rainwater harvesting. These methods ensure that the water these growers use is the cleanest, most pure water available, allowing them to reduce pesticide and fungicide use, improve plant health and realize cost savings. And they’re also showing that thanks to rainwater catchment systems, it’s possible to be completely independent of city and ground water.

Metrolina Greenhouses’ Quest To Improve Water Quality

“Clean water is our number one chemical,” says Abe Van Wingerden of Metrolina Greenhouses in Huntersville, N.C. “Many growers miss that. They test their water quality and use chemicals to mitigate those problems. We do the opposite to reduce chemical usage.”

Indeed, the Van Wingerdens have been on a quest to improve their water quality over the past two years. With a unique blend of harvesting rainwater, reclaiming used irrigation water and implementation of two filtering systems featuring 5-micron technology, they have invested significant time and money to provide crops with the best quality of water.

Metrolina has been collecting, recycling and testing water for more than 30 years. They built the operation’s first retention pond in 1976, and today, Metrolina has three ponds on its property that can hold up to 250 million gallons of water. The 162-acre greenhouse operation gets 98 percent of its water from the ponds, which store harvested rainwater exclusively. Metrolina has never used city water and only uses well water in a few specific cases, relying on rain to supply the more than 1.5 million gallons of water it uses daily.

Collection And Filtration

According to Director of Research Mark Yelanich, Metrolina’s rainwater catchment system yields 5 million gallons of water from one inch of rainfall. Water is collected from barn roofs, greenhouse roofs, flood floors, the adjacent parking lot, which is constructed with pervious concrete, and drains in the yard. All harvested water drains through a series of connecting pipes to the retention ponds. From there, it is filtered through a complex system and cleaned before it touches the crops.

In 2010, the Van Wingerdens were unsatisfied with their water quality and decided to look around at other greenhouse operations for a fix. They met Charlie Hayes, an agricultural water specialist with Advanced Treatment Technologies, who analyzed Metrolina’s water source, retention ponds, filtration systems, greenhouse flood floor systems and water disinfecting process.

As a result, the Van Wingerdens implemented the next generation of filtering technology, installing Dramm 5-micron filter systems in two of its greenhouse ranges. Water from the retention ponds now filters through a 50-micron filter to catch large particles and sediment. Then, it goes through the 5-micron filters, which prevent disease pathogens like Phytophthora, Pythium and Rhizoctonia from entering the water supply. From there, water is disinfected through a copper ionization process and pumped into one of three holding tanks, measuring 600,000 gallons, 500,000 gallons and 300,000 gallons.

Water for the irrigation booms is pumped directly from the holding tank to the crops, while flood irrigation water runs through the fertilizer feed before being pumped into the greenhouse to flood floors. It takes 30 to 40 minutes to the flood floors, using between 30,000 and 40,000 gallons per bay. It takes an equal amount of time for unused water to come back and refilter into the 600,000 gallon tank, where the water feed level is checked and quality is tested. If the water is too dirty to be reused, it goes back to the retention pond and through the filtering process.

Filtration Reduces Disease, Aids System Maintenance

Since implementing the new filter systems, Metrolina’s growers have noticed a marked reduction in disease and insect pests, thus reducing chemical inputs, Van Wingerden says. Boom filters and nozzles are also cleaner; before using 5-micron technology, they had to be cleaned daily. Now they are cleaned every week, saving labor on irrigation system maintenance.

Most recently, large-diameter units were installed in January to increase flow from 500 gallons per minute to 1,000 gallons per minute, with the capacity to accommodate 2,000 gallons per minute. The operation’s next steps, Art says, are to install a third 5-micron filtering system and improve aeration in the retention ponds to keep water from stagnating.

Saving Money + Helping The Environment = A Win For Everyone

Because Metrolina catches and reuses all irrigation water, the operation is exempt from a local tax on water runoff. Zoned under farm status, permits for adding irrigation infrastructure have not been necessary. When building its retention ponds, Metrolina followed the Environmental Protection Agency’s Best Management Practices, and the ponds are inspected annually for compliance.

Thus far, Metrolina has invested nearly $600,000 for the two systems, piping and pumps, and the operation will continue to invest in improving water quality. Abe recommends fellow growers invest in clean water, as well, to stay ahead of potential mandates.

“We do the right thing environmentally by reclaiming and recycling water, but we also need the water, and we have realized cost savings on many fronts,” he says. “Know your local laws, do your research and put a full system in place for the best quality water. In the end, you’re better off getting ahead of the law than waiting for someone to come to your operation in a van with a siren to tell you what you need to do.”

Lucas Greenhouses Closes The Loop

Complete containment: it’s a goal George Lucas and his staff at Lucas Greenhouses in Monroeville, N.J., have been working toward since the 55-acre operation began recycling water in 2002, and they attained it in July.

“We just switched on the new system last week,” Lucas said at press time. “We’ve only used it one time to run samples and check to see what was coming through. We have $750,000 tied up in this system. Once it’s proven to be working, we will be 100-percent contained, and we can safely reuse water without fear of it being contaminated.”

Lucas Greenhouses’ journey toward building a safe, closed-loop irrigation system began with installation of flood floors in 2002. When the operation began recycling water, Lucas worried about the amount of chemicals in the water.

“I need my water to be clean,” he says. “If there is a fungicide or insecticide leaching through, I’m afraid my plants will build immunities to those chemicals.”

At a Young Plant Research Group meeting in Florida, Lucas met Hayes, who was selling ozone water treatment systems. He hired Hayes to install an ozone and filtration system to treat two 17,500-gallon water tanks for flood floor irrigation. The system was installed in 2006, with great success. Lucas says he was impressed with the crops’ response to the extra oxygen in the water, but it still didn’t solve the problem of extra chemicals.

Ozone, UV And Filtration Clear Water Of Chemicals And Pathogens

Prior to installing the ozone system, Lucas had purchased an ultraviolet (UV) treatment system but never used it because he didn’t have proper filtration. So when he asked Hayes to build a new closed loop system, Hayes suggested using ozone, the UV system and filter technology to solve the chemical problem.

Water used for the flood system comes from the retention pond and is filtered several times down to 5-microns. Then it is pumped into a 28,000-gallon tank where it is treated overnight with ozone, which kills pathogens like Rhizoctonia and Pythium. It is then UV-treated, put through a bio-filter and pumped onto the greenhouse flood floor. When it gets to a certain level, it goes through a paper filter and back into the holding tank for re-ozoning. The process continues all day through the irrigation system and the water is cleaned again overnight.

For propagation material, which represents 20 percent of Lucas Greenhouses’ crop, water comes from a well and is pumped through a fertilizer injector, then onto crops via overhead booms. Excess water is collected into a separate tank next to the flood water tank, goes through the ozone system and back into the tank, so it can be reused for flood water.

While ozone kills pathogens and oxidizes water to improve plant health, it does have its challenges. If water pH is too high, ozone is harsh on elements like iron and manganese. It can also burn plant roots if oxygen levels get too high, so sensors will automatically shut the system down if this occurs.

Since using the ozone and filtration irrigation systems, Lucas says root growth is healthier, thanks to the extra oxygen in the water, and the operation uses less fungicide and insecticide. He says he thinks ozone and filter technology will catch on once growers see it can be done.

“As soon as someone has it working well, it will be attractive to growers who want to reduce chemicals and improve water quality,” Lucas says. “It’s very expensive and always a trial-and-error-process, but the cost is all up front, so once it’s in, there are no additional expenses. With this system, we can show growers you can be environmentally friendly and still grow healthy crops.”

Topics:

Leave a Reply

More From Equipment...
september_grow_rodale institute

August 25, 2015

Hospitals Are Getting Into The Organic Food Business

Growers investing in the organic food movement could serve a growing new area with vegetable transplants and starts, as well as produce, as hospitals begin to prescribe healthy diets and nutrition, and even go so far as to grow their own food. As part of a new phenomenon among progressive hospitals, health professionals are beginning to realize that without health and nutrition, programs and techniques may be done in vain or worse — obsolete. As more patients seeking a healthy diet turn to nutritionists, who recommend sugar-free, alkaline diets to prevent disease and aid in recovery, hospitals recognizing this trend are taking action. St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, Pa., recently contracted with the nearby Rodale Institute to manage an organic farm, established in 2014. The hospital, part of a six-campus network, aims to provide excellent healthcare, part of which includes educating patients about the benefits of a plant-based, organic diet. […]

Read More

August 21, 2015

Proven Winners Announces Roadshow Events For 2015

Proven Winner's Roadshow Events, held across North America, provide growers and retailers with the opportunity to learn how to grow Proven Winner's newest varieties and receive information about industry trends.

Read More
Figure 1. Mustard microgreens grown under sole-source (SS) lighting using light-emitting diode (LED) arrays.

August 21, 2015

Sole-Source LED Lighting In Horticulture: Microgreens Production

In Part 2 of a four-part lighting series highlighting the multiple uses of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), researchers examine the effects of sole-source LED lighting on microgreen production to achieve the highest quality crop possible in an energy efficient manner.

Read More
Latest Stories
Figure 1. Mustard microgreens grown under sole-source (SS) lighting using light-emitting diode (LED) arrays.

August 21, 2015

Sole-Source LED Lighting In Horticulture: Microgreens P…

In Part 2 of a four-part lighting series highlighting the multiple uses of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), researchers examine the effects of sole-source LED lighting on microgreen production to achieve the highest quality crop possible in an energy efficient manner.

Read More
Lighting 2015 August Feature Image

August 14, 2015

Customizing Crop Foliage Color With LEDs: Ornamental Cr…

Do you find that your purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) crop is often green to light purple? What if we told you there is a quick solution to enhance and darken the foliage of purple fountain grass or other floriculture crops? In this second article of a four-part series highlighting the multiple uses of high-intensity light-emitting diodes (LEDs), we will discuss our research methodology and findings for enhancing the foliage color of ornamental crops with end-of-production (EOP) supplemental lighting (SL) in the greenhouse. Many ornamental crops that greenhouse and nursery growers produce vary in size, shape and color. These variables are often influenced by the growing environment. For example, leaf color (intensity, distribution or both) of ornamental crops such as purple fountain grass is a key component that often influences the consumer’s perception and ultimately an impulse purchase. The red or purple pigmentation of purple fountain grass leaves is […]

Read More
WaterPulse retail mats can help cut water use in retail settings

August 10, 2015

Technology Provides Solutions For Growing In Drought

In April, California Gov. Jerry Brown directed the State Water Resources Control Board to institute reductions in cities and towns across the state with the goal of reducing water usage by 25 percent. The announcement comes following the lowest snowpack ever recorded in the High Sierra. It was the first time in state history that action was taken to implement mandatory water restrictions. In May, the farmers in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta agreed to reduce their water use by 25 percent in exchange for assurance that they will not face further curtailment during the June to September growing season. Their proposal was approved by the State Water Resources Control Board. Growers who participate in the program could opt to either reduce water diversions under their riparian rights by 25 percent, or fallow 25 percent of their land. Given these conditions, growers and retailers are in need of methods and […]

Read More
Heating Roundup Feature Image

August 1, 2015

5 New Heating Options For The Greenhouse

Five heating systems manufacturers share their latest and greatest products. Tubing And Aluminum Heat Pipes (BioTherm) From Megatube and MicroClimate tubing to DuoFin and StarFin aluminum heat pipe, BioTherm is dedicated to providing heat solutions that can withstand the toughest greenhouse environments. The MegaTube and MicroClimate tubing options are easy to install and ideal for bench or floor heating. The tubing has a conductive heating surface that allows for maximum root-zone heating. The DuoFin and StarFin aluminum pipe options are great for perimeter heating and melting snow trapped in the greenhouse gutter. It can also be useful for bench heating. Both pipe options provide gentle, radiant heat for plants and don’t require welding. TrueLeaf.net Infinite Energy 2 Condensing Boiler (Delta T Solutions) With up to 98 percent efficiency, the IE2 condensing boiler boasts a stainless steel heat exchanger with larger waterways to ensure maximum heat transfer. The product’s design ensures flexibility while […]

Read More
Heating Feature image

July 27, 2015

In Hot Pursuit Of Heating Trends For The Greenhouse

From biomass boilers to hydronic-heating systems, growers have a range of options to fit their operation’s unique needs. Here’s what five manufacturers had to say about the latest trends.

Read More
lighting feature

June 29, 2015

Customizing Crop Foliage Color With LEDs: Red Leaf Let…

In the first of a four-part series highlighting the multiple uses of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), researchers share how end-of-production supplemental lighting with LEDs enhances red leaf lettuce color prior to harvesting and shipping.

Read More

June 28, 2015

Keep Your Cool In The Greenhouse

Summer is in full swing, and that means growers need to worry about protecting plants and greenhouse employees from brutal temperatures. No sweat! These product manufacturers have offerings to help beat the heat.

Read More
Greenhouse Electrical System

June 23, 2015

Don’t Let Your Greenhouse Electrical System Come …

The size of a greenhouse operation is one of the biggest factors when determining the type of electrical system to install. Part 2 of "Don't Let Your Electrical System Come Up Short" covers locating electrical wires, meeting electrical load demands and environmental considerations.

Read More
Schaefer-fan

June 23, 2015

Schaefer Ventilation Opens Distribution Center In Atlan…

Schaefer Ventilation Equipment, a manufacturer of ventilation and thermal comfort products, has opened a new distribution center in Atlanta, Ga., to increase efficiency and provide faster services to dealers. Additionally, the company has added a new staff member to its agricultural and horticultural division to help expand markets in Latin America.

Read More
HID Lighting System

June 18, 2015

Talking Shop: Using Lighting To Boost Beneficials

Peace Tree Farm was looking for a way to maintain beneficial insect populations through the winter. It found a potential solution through the use of rotating HID lighting.

Read More

June 17, 2015

Costa Farms Reduces Greenhouse Emissions With Solar Pow…

Costa Farms is seeking to make sustainability a top priority at its headquarters and two other buildings in Miami with the recent construction of new solar panels, which will replace 25 percent of the company's power usage with solar energy.

Read More
aquatrols

June 3, 2015

Aquatrols Renews Cooperative Research And Development A…

Aquatrols Corporation recently announced a new Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Dr. Matt Madsen and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. The objective of the new CRADA is to further refine and evaluate surfactant seed coating technologies for use in wildfire rehabilitation, turf and pasture grasses, restoration species and other horticultural and agricultural systems. The three-year agreement renews a CRADA that Aquatrols first signed with the ARS in 2012. The original partnership has resulted in promising field and greenhouse trials, pending patents and initial steps toward commercialization of the surfactant seed coating technology. “We are very encouraged by the work that Dr. Madsen and his team have put together over the past three years,” says Aquatrols’ President and CEO Tracy Jarman. “This innovative technology has shown incredible potential with wide-ranging impacts in multiple industries. Aquatrols’ stated mission is to change the way the world grows and this technology has the […]

Read More
Growers are looking for low-cost options for temperature control, like circulating fans and exhaust fans.

April 10, 2015

New Ways To Give Growers Control Of The Greenhouse Envi…

From heating systems to circulation fans, manufacturing companies are finding new ways to help growers control the greenhouse environment, save on energy costs and streamline production.

Read More
Polyarch Berns

March 12, 2015

The Energy Efficient Greenhouse

New coverings technology means today’s films, plastics, shade cloths and climate screens slash heating and cooling costs while improving crop productivity year round. We checked with manufacturers to see what’s new and uncovered some best practices for buttoning up your greenhouse. Here’s what you need to know about the latest trends.

Read More
FormFlex_MTZ Hanging Basket

March 11, 2015

4 New Ways To Automate Your Operation

These new automation products can help streamline labor-intensive tasks, saving time and labor and increasing productivity.

Read More
Outfitting Your Greenhouse

February 24, 2015

Save Energy With The Right Greenhouse Glazing

The glazing you choose can make a big difference in your energy bill and the uniformity of your crops.

Read More
Michigan State University Extension

February 24, 2015

Ethylene From Defective Greenhouse Heaters Damages Crop…

Malfunctioning greenhouse heaters can lead to crop damage from ethylene and carbon monoxide induced illness for workers. Michigan State University's Extension educators Tom Dudek and Randy Beaudry teach you how to recognize the symptoms and check greenhouse heaters to avoid the concern.

Read More
Havest Automation Robot

February 18, 2015

Robots Grab Hold Of Growers’ Material Handling Needs

Harvest Automation’s HV-100 robots automate one of the hardest, most labor-intensive jobs at growing operations – plant spacing. With more technology coming, investing in robots could become even more realistic for growers of all sizes.

Read More