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 Equipment...
Upper-garden_Mast-Young

November 24, 2017

2017 Mast Young Plants Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results from Mast Young Plants in Grand Rapids, MI.

Read More
Pentas-Graffitti-Lipstick

November 23, 2017

2017 Dallas Arboretum Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trials results for Dallas Arboretum in Dallas, TX.

Read More
ASCFG-Gretel-and-Steve-Adams-Sunny-Meadow-Flower-Farm-feature

November 22, 2017

Growers Showing Renewed Interest in Specialty Cut Flowers

At the brink of its 30th anniversary, the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers is connecting a diverse and growing group of members dedicated to producing and marketing cut flowers.

Read More
Latest Stories

September 29, 2017

Vertical Farming Looks to Go Mainstream

The University of the District of Columbia is the nation’s only urban land-grant university, so it was a particularly appropriate setting for the Association of Vertical Farming (AVF) to host the AVF Summit 2017 on September 22. The summit was a mix of education, advocacy, and policy discussion about urban agriculture — vertical farming in particular — targeted at finding ways to broaden its adoption in cities around the country and around the world. You’ve probably heard quite a bit in recent months about vertical farming — systems for growing food in stacked layers in completely controlled environments, applying inputs such as light, water, and fertilizer in precise amounts. While there’s some use of these systems in greenhouse settings, in many cases, urban farmers are repurposing abandoned buildings or even shipping containers. Match the availability of these facilities in most large urban areas with big cities’ limited access to fresh, […]

Read More
Soil Dosage Bunkers at Meyers Greenhouses feature

September 22, 2017

An Up-Close Look at Meyers Greenhouses’ Central Soil De…

Head Grower Aron Hoff was looking for a way to customize soil mixes on multiple planting lines in real time. The system he’s now using makes the process much simpler.

Read More
Dramm TracFOG Nozzle Extension

June 2, 2017

Dramm Adds New Feature to Its Fogging System, Updates O…

Dramm is now offering an optional nozzle extension for its line of TracFog PTO-driven fog systems. Meanwhile, the company has also updated its online forum to make it easier to find product solutions quickly.

Read More
Bellpark Horticulture and Visser Shipping System

May 31, 2017

New Greenhouse Conveyors Help Automation Become More Fu…

The latest conveyor and shipping systems from leading manufacturers are designed to be more versatile and customized to any operation. Here’s a look at the newest models.

Read More
Irrigation boom at Cavicchio Greenhouses

May 23, 2017

The Road to Sustainability at Cavicchio Greenhouses

Incremental changes to reduce its carbon footprint have paid off in greater efficiency and public recognition for this Massachusetts greenhouse grower.

Read More
Argus Multi-Feed RM - feature

March 26, 2017

Feeding System Allows For More Precise Delivery of Nutr…

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

Read More
Emerald Coast Growers Seed RoomTight feature

March 22, 2017

An Inside Look at Emerald Coast Growers’ New Seed…

Florida-based liner producer Emerald Coast Growers custom retrofitted and expanded an existing greenhouse, with the goal of increasing production efficiency.

Read More
Pic-O-Mat Vision system feature

March 3, 2017

How Growers Can Make the Most of Automation

A Greenhouse Grower Top 100 Grower says investing in automation can reap several long-term benefits, as long as you do so for the right reasons.

Read More
Visser PC 16 Transplanter feature

February 13, 2017

How to Find a Greenhouse Transplanter for Every Grower&…

Equipment manufacturers have recognized a void in the market for machinery that appeals to growers of all sizes and budgets. Here are some affordable options to consider investing in to improve your operation’s efficiency.

Read More
ISO Cutting Machine

February 4, 2017

Getting to the Next Generation of Greenhouse Automation

The most successful growers in the future will be those that are willing to accept and invest in new technology.

Read More
DRAMM PulsFOG

February 1, 2017

DRAMM: 75 Years of Innovation

This manufacturer and distributor of horticultural tools and equipment has a long history of developing inventive new technology that solves problems for its customers.

Read More
Botany Lane Greenhouses

January 27, 2017

Why Botany Lane Grows Poinsettias On Capillary Mats

A move to watering mats cut water and fertilizer use, production time, and labor for this Colorado-based grower.

Read More
Ever Bloom Robot Sprayer feature

January 23, 2017

New Automation Systems Improve Spraying and Harvesting

In response to increasing regulations on labor, Ever-Bloom Inc. decided to invest in new automation technology that also dramatically improves efficiency.

Read More
Bouldin and Lawson Precision Needle Seeder feature

January 19, 2017

How You Can Get More Precise With Your Seeder

Bouldin & Lawson’s Precision Needle Seeder is designed to improve accuracy when sowing small, difficult seeds.

Read More
north-creek-nurseries-gutter-connected-greenhouse-feature

November 23, 2016

How Greenhouse Technology At North Creek Nurseries Expe…

The new structure is the latest step in a lean flow efficiency process designed to help the company cut waste, drive down shrink, and increase profits.

Read More
greenpower-led-production-module-philips-lighting

October 18, 2016

Lighting Research Center Is Surveying Growers On Supple…

The Center, part of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is looking for commercial growers to participate in an online survey regarding supplemental greenhouse lighting.

Read More
Chemical hopper

October 3, 2016

New Soil Mix Technology Generates High-Precision Greenh…

Advancements in soil mixers help growers achieve the highest level of automation and efficiency to create the ideal growing media for every type of crop.

Read More
Floricultura Bench Pulling System

July 31, 2016

Automation Saves Labor And Space At Floricultura Pacifi…

This Salinas, CA, orchid grower brings plants to its workers through automation that saves valuable time and takes full advantage of available growing space.

Read More