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Hubbell's hydroponic harvest

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Hold the dirt

By Alice Du Pont

Gerald Hubbell  is doing something different on his farm in Mt. Pleasant. In a greenhouse only 18 by 48 feet he has managed to grow 250-275 green and red bell pepper plants, 75 (three different varieties) tomato plants, 75-80 cucumber plants, 10 zucchini plants, 60-65 bush beans, squash, carrots, radish and basil. Just outside the greenhouse he's growing West Indian hot peppers, Jamaican hot peppers, okra and corn. And all of it is thriving. In fact, there are some days when Hubbell is hard pressed to keep all of the vegetables picked.
    The difference in his farm and others in the area is hydroponics. Hydroponic farming is a method of growing plants by using less soil. The plants are fed by a nutrient solution and an irrigation system that makes sure the plants are sufficiently sustained.
    Hubbell opened JMAK Farms, Inc. two years ago after moving here from Citrus County. He and his wife have owned the property for nine years but the move to Gadsden County gave him the opportunity he has wanted for years.
    His medium for growing the many plants that he farms is coconut fiber. The same brown, hairy-looking outer cover of the coconut is compacted and combined with a little potting soil, Hubbell can grown tons of vegetables and herbs year round.
    He uses styrofoam containers stacked five-high and attached to a pole to grow the vegetables. Each pole is connected to a watering system that contains the nutrients and each set of plants gets a five minute does of nutrients at least four times per day.
    "The beauty of this system is that the plants don't get soil-borne diseases. Everything grows better in a hydroponic system, the roots don't have to reach out in search of nutrients the way they would have to do in soil, Hubbell said. "I feed them the complete nutrients and I don't spray any harmful stuff on them. We use fertilizer, so it's not organic."
    To learn about hydroponic farming Hubbell went to one of the best research centers in state. He said the University of Florida's Research Center in Live Oak was where he gained a wealth of knowledge and has been conducting research on his own via the Internet and other sources.
    His plants are grown from seed and small plants which he orders from hydroponic providers. He also orders the coconut fiber and the containers from providers. The initial investment, he said, can be costly and the nutrients don't come at bargain prices either.
    But it's worth it because Hubbell can grow almost anything year round and in abundance. The plants he planted in April and May are now being harvested.
    "My goal, right now, is to sell my produce at area farmers markets and to local restaurants. I want to get my foot in the door by talking to restaurant owners, letting them sample my produce, and judging for themselves my superior vegetables and herbs," Hubbell said.
    To find out more about KMAK Farms, visit the Website at www.JMAKfarmsinc.com.