Bella Verdi Farms Focuses On Efficient Greenhouse Vegetable Production

Darrell Joseph, Bella Verdi Farms

Darrell Joseph, owner of Bella Verdi Farms, in Austin, Texas, is seldom satisfied with the way he grows his lettuce, microgreens and herb crops. Since starting the business in 2004, he has constantly looked for ways to increase production in his 13,000-square-foot greenhouse and the 1,000 square feet of indoor controlled-environment space he operates.

“I always try to be more efficient,” Joseph says. “Right now we are growing the same amount of microgreens in 4,000 square feet of space that we used to grow in 9,000 square feet. That’s just a matter of learning and figuring out how to do more with less. We took the existing space and converted it into something that is more efficient.”

Joseph was involved with semiconductor manufacturing for 20 years and applies the principles from that industry to his growing operation.

“Process-driven, very clean, solid technology, repeatable processes — it is my nature to do things that way,” he says. “Our objective is to produce as much as possible. High quality, clean and safe food is still the primary goal for our products. But beyond that we want to be able to produce as much as we can in as small a space as we can, using as few resources as we can.”

Improving Production Efficiency

Joseph has developed a unique reputation among greenhouse vegetable growers for his willingness to try new production methods and to identify more efficient ways of growing.

“I do consulting with other growers from around the country. I have become known to some as ‘The Mad Scientist,’ because I tinker and play with different things to see what will work,” he says. “Some of the things I have done with microgreens have enabled us to become much more efficient.”

When Joseph began his business he grew all of his crops in perlite.

“I was looking for a cleaner, less labor-intensive and environmentally friendly growing substrate,” he says. “I came across the MagniMoist pot liners and started tinkering with growing on them. I contacted David Henson at Think Mint Inc., the manufacturer of the liners, and worked with him to manufacture a MagniMoist germination pad  for us to grow on. The 100 percent kenaf fiber pads fit standard 1020 flats. The microgreens are grown on the pads, which can be discarded when the crop is finished. We have composted some of the used pads and have even tried burning them, because they burn very clean. We have even sown grass seed on the used pads and planted them like sod. Think Mint is working to make the pad completely biodegradable.”

Joseph now uses the MagniMoist germination pads for the production of baby greens. He has also looked at growing lettuce and some herbs in kenaf plugs.

Expanding Product Mix And Volume

When Joseph started Bella Verdi Farms he grew microgreens in a hybrid production system he designed himself.

“When the economy started to tank in 2008, I believed I needed to grow something in addition to microgreens,” he says. “They are such a high-dollar crop that I didn’t think it was going to do well in the recession. That’s when we started to grow lettuce, which was a more approachable crop by more customers. We found that to be exactly the case.”

When he added lettuce in 2008, Joseph chose a nutrient film technique production system supplied by American Hydroponics. Joseph uses Jiffy products and Ellepots for the propagation of lettuce and herbs. Last year Joseph started growing lettuce in a floating pond, or raft, system. The pond measures 60- by 20-feet and takes up about a half of one bay in the greenhouse.

“Due to our increased efficiencies, I had some greenhouse space available and I wanted to see what production would be like in the floating rafts because I knew people were using them,” Joseph says. “I am looking at the floating rafts and thinking can I do more. Can I get more in the same amount of space?”

Joseph is growing lettuce in both the NFT and raft systems.

“Growing with the raft system has been a learning process,” he says. “I have found that the density in the raft system is less than what it is in the NFT channels because of the way that bibb lettuce leaves spread out. Some of the lettuces that are taller than they are wide — like some of the romaines — are really good raft products for us. We also do a lot of basil in the pond because we can grow a higher density with the raft system.”

Research With LEDs And Rainwater Collection

In addition to his greenhouse production space, Joseph has added about 1,000 square feet of indoor controlled environment area. In 2011, he began with an insulated shipping container next to the greenhouse headhouse. Last year an additional building was constructed that connects the container to the greenhouse, expanding the growing space.

“We reached the point in the greenhouse where we were bumping up against everything,” he says. “We added the controlled-environment space so we could increase the capacity in the greenhouse by doing things smarter outside the greenhouse in a controlled indoor area.”

Joseph is also looking at different set ups of LED lights from various vendors. He has been trialing LEDs for several years, but started to do serious research with them about 1½ years ago.

“I’ve have several hundred square feet in the controlled-environment area set up for vertical farming with LED lights,” he says. “We have several different kinds of LEDs that we are trialing to determine the best set ups. We are using the LED lights for both propagation and for growing plants to maturity.”

While Joseph is intrigued with the possibilities of LED, the economics — and the reliable supply of sunlight in central Texas — are such that he’s not ready to make the switch yet.

“Eventually LEDs are going to be the way to go. As available farmland becomes increasingly scarce and we have more mouths to feed because of the ever-growing population, vertical farming with artificial lights will become imperative. Today, I want to use the technology where it makes the most sense while preparing ourselves to meet that demand when needed and the economics of it makes sense.”

That desire to grow as much as he can with the resources he has available goes beyond lighting. Joseph also collects rain water to irrigate his lettuce, microgreens and herb crops.

“We use rain water as our primary source of water,” he says. “Over the last few years, rain water collection has been somewhat difficult because of the drought conditions in Texas. We do have a well with a reverse osmosis system, so we have a clean water reserve during periods of drought. But we would prefer to use rain water whenever we can.”

Joseph has one collection tank that holds 15,000 gallons of rain water. Because of the recent drought conditions, he is considering adding an additional tank.

“The rain water never touches the ground,” he says. “It is pH neutral. We run the rain water through a filter and UV treatment to kill any pathogens to ensure it is sterilized. There is no other treatment.”

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Bella Verdi Farms Focuses On Efficient Greenhouse Vegetable Production

More From Business Management...
Argus Multi-Feed RM - feature

March 26, 2017

Feeding System Allows For More Precise Delivery of Nutrients in Greenhouses

Argus Controls’ Multi-Feed RM100 is designed to help producers custom-feed their plants based on specific nutrient recipes.

Read More
If your Wi-Fi is truly secure, your staff can help customers on the sales floor starting today

March 25, 2017

What Marketing Approach Can Attracts the Most Customers to Your Greenhouse?

Inc.com surveyed more than a thousand customers to find out which marketing strategies worked best to entice them to try out a new business

Read More
Leanne Kenealy, Hoffman Nursery

March 24, 2017

New Horticulturist At Hoffman Nursery Will Focus On Developing New And Better Products

Leanne Kenealy, who brings great experience in plant evaluation, says introducing consumers to new plants can hopefully generate renewed excitement for gardening.

Read More
Latest Stories
If your Wi-Fi is truly secure, your staff can help customers on the sales floor starting today

March 25, 2017

What Marketing Approach Can Attracts the Most Customers…

Inc.com surveyed more than a thousand customers to find out which marketing strategies worked best to entice them to try out a new business

Read More
Leanne Kenealy, Hoffman Nursery

March 24, 2017

New Horticulturist At Hoffman Nursery Will Focus On Dev…

Leanne Kenealy, who brings great experience in plant evaluation, says introducing consumers to new plants can hopefully generate renewed excitement for gardening.

Read More

March 21, 2017

How Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Can Prepare for a Prod…

The United Fresh Produce Association is holding a Recall Ready Workshop in April that is designed to help growers properly manage a recall, from liability to communications.

Read More
Greenhouse Loyal Customer

March 16, 2017

How Brand Enthusiasts Can Be Your Most Loyal Customers

A marketing expert shares three core principles that direct-to-consumer companies can follow to create brand enthusiasts.

Read More

March 14, 2017

Expanded Customer Footprint, E-Commerce, Succession Key…

Costa Farms' acquisition of indoor foliage producer Delray Plants rocked the industry, but the story behind Delray Plants' sale is the same as for many growers struggling with succession planning. For Costa Farms, the strategic purchase expands its customer footprint and also fast tracks its foray into e-commerce.

Read More
Steve Black and Bridget Behe

March 14, 2017

AmericanHort’s First-Ever CareerUP Event to Take Place …

CareerUP is a day-long workshop that is designed to provide the skills, information, and inspiration that young professionals need to advance their careers, love their jobs, and help the industry grow.

Read More
Horticultural Research Institute Logo

March 12, 2017

Horticulture Research Institute Rings in New Year With …

More than 150 industry professionals attended a reception at MANTS, which introduced new officers and celebrated the more than $190,000 in donations for HRI research fostering business-building knowledge for the horticultural industry.

Read More

March 10, 2017

Costa Farms Expands With Purchase of Indoor Houseplant …

Costa Farms annnounced March 10 that it has acquired Delray Plants, one of the leaders in the indoor houseplant industry. The two operations are committed to the same values, principles, and goals to grow the industry, and will fit well together to accomplish this, say Randy Gilde, CEO of Delray Plants, and Joche Smith, CEO of Costa Farms.

Read More
Startup Stock Photos

March 10, 2017

Passionate Horticulture Writers Wanted To Join Our Team

GreenhouseGrower.com is looking for people to join our team and submit original content to our website about floriculture and greenhouse production of emerging crops.

Read More

March 7, 2017

Local Florists Celebrate Women’s Day and SAF Prom…

Florists across the U.S. are celebrating International Women's Day, March 8, and raising awareness for non-profit organizations. The Society of American Florists is raising its own awareness of what happens when women receive flowers with a new video for International Women's Day.

Read More
Egon and Laina Molbak

March 7, 2017

American Floral Endowment Receives Major Contribution t…

AFE recently announced that it has received a $100,000 contribution from Egon and Laina Molbak, the founders and long-time owners of Molbak’s Garden + Home outside of Seattle.

Read More
Ken and Deena Altman

March 7, 2017

Altman Plants in Escrow to Purchase EuroAmerican Propag…

Ken Altman, a co-owner of Altman Plants based in Vista, CA, has confirmed that the operation is currently in escrow to purchase EuroAmerican Propagators, the Bonsall, CA-based young plant and finished plant grower that filed Chapter 7 Bankruptcy on Jan. 23, 2017. Ken and Deena Altman are co-owners of Altman Plants and The Plug Connection, along with their son Matthew, who has recently bought into the family business. The 55 acres of land and all of the facilities on it, which were previously owned by Jerry Church, a partner in EuroAmerican Propagators, are part of the purchase agreement currently in escrow, Altman says. However, it would not be absorbed by Altman Plants, which in 2016 was number 3 on Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers list with more than 11 million square feet of environmentally controlled greenhouse production, 62 acres of shade production, and 400 acres of outdoor field production. Altman Plants’ property […]

Read More

March 2, 2017

Greenhouse Grower State of the Industry Whitepaper Avai…

This year’s survey featured a record 975 respondents and tackled topics such as sales trends, technology, major industry challenges and opportunities, and much more.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower State of the Industry Webinar

February 27, 2017

State of the Industry Webinar Available for On-Demand V…

The half-hour presentation includes an analysis of Greenhouse Grower’s 2017 State of the Industry survey, along with insights from horticulture industry leaders.

Read More
North Creek Tim McGinty Steve Castorini

February 24, 2017

AmericanHort Names New Board Members and Officers for 2…

The new board members are Steve Castorani of North Creek Nurseries, Tom Hughes of Hughes Nursery and Landscaping, and Cole Mangum of Bell Nursery.

Read More
EAGL Graduates

February 22, 2017

Emerging Industry Leaders Earn Business Management Cert…

Dr. Charlie Hall, Ellison Chair for International Floriculture at Texas A&M University, recently announced the graduation of the fourth cohort of the elite Executive Academy for Growth & Leadership (EAGL) program for nursery and greenhouse growers.

Read More
2016 Top 100 Growers List

February 18, 2017

Top 100 Growers Survey for 2017 Is Now Open!

Operations with more than 400,000 square feet of environmentally controlled production are eligible to take the survey, which only takes a few minutes to complete.

Read More

February 17, 2017

How to Keep Customers Coming Back With Top-Notch Servic…

A recent article on Forbes.com outlines seven ways organizations can take their customer service from good to great and beyond.

Read More