Commercial & home scale hydroponic systems for communities,RIG News #12
Hydroponic systems for homes and community enterprises
By Anthea Fawcett for RIG News #12
Hydroponic systems are an effective way to produce a reliable supply of fresh nutritious food year round, regardless of seasonal weather conditions and are becoming increasingly popular in remote areas. Chris Thiesfield, owner and operator of Chris Thiesfield and Associates, has developed and delivers Home Hydroponic Unit’s and larger scale Commercial Community Hydroponic Unit’s to assist remote communities produce fresh food. The installed systems are working well and plans are underway by several Aboriginal organisations in the Pilbara region to work with Chris to install Community Hydroponic Units to support commercial enterprises that will sell produce to local mining communities.
Chris is a Gurrang Gurrang man from the Bundaberg area of Queensland. Chris Thiesfield and Associates was established in 2002 and is a Registered Training Organisation that is based in Cairns. A qualified horticulturist with over 14 years experience in the Public Sector, including 4 years as State Manager for TAFE Queensland Indigenous Programs, Chris delivers training in horticulture, agriculture, asset management and construction and works with communities across Australia to develop local skills and establish small businesses.
Chris got in touch with RIG Network when he read February’s RIG News and learnt about the Health and Life Skills CDP event that RIG is working with the Dietitians Association of Australia, NT Branch to hold this July, as he is keen to share information about the hydroponic systems with other remote communities. Hydroponics is a process of growing produce in nutrient enriched water. The nutrients are trace elements which are natural and chemical free. Very little water is needed and growth can be very fast, only three weeks from seedling to harvest for produce such as lettuce, and according to Chris leafy green vegetables and herbs do particularly well in the systems.
The Home Garden Hydro Units were developed several years ago and are designed for busy people who want to produce vegetables at home. The units are run by solar power and pump water into channels from a holding tank up to eight times a day. The water drains back into the holding tank. The flow rate and number of daily runs can be varied throughout the year, depending on humidity, and can be controlled by an automatic timer.
Chris has installed home units on remote stations in Queensland, in Brisbane and Cairns and a special “do and build it yourself” pack has even been sent to Denmark. Chris says the home units – large enough for approximately 60 plants – are ideal to supply family vegetable needs, or to share with neighbours. “All you need is a reasonable amount of sunshine and a supply of water to hold in the tank which forms part of the unit”.
According to Chris, a key feature of both systems is the use of galvanized framing that helps ensure durability and long life of the structure. Solar panels, batteries, pumps and holding tanks are also integral to the systems that come with a 6-7 month supply of seeds and nutrients. In areas where it can get very cold, home system users cover the unit with plastic to help create a small greenhouse for the plants.
Above: Home Hydroponic Unit installed by Chris in Brisbane.
The Commercial Community Hydroponics Unit expands upon the concept of the home unit and when constructed are up to a maximum size of 30 metres in length and 3.5 metres in width. Each full size unit is capable of growing 1000-1500 plants (subject to plant selections) which allow production of between $2000 and $2500 in weekly saleable produce once established. Chris says these numbers are conservatively based – and that the real ‘value’ of the produce if valued at prices seen in many remote communities can be substantially higher.
Chris and his team work with communities to erect the systems and provide on the job training in their day to day use and management. All units are lockable and are fully planted out on completion of construction. Participants are shown how to erect the structure, how to plant seeds for seedlings and how to connect the solar systems and pumps. The training and erection is hands on so that participants also learn how to troubleshoot problems along the way. Ongoing advice is provided to communities once the systems are installed, and construction and seeding of each unit takes approximately 5 days from start to finish.
Chris has established Community Hydroponic Units as training programs at Cunnamulla Queensland, for disengaged youth, at a community in central Queensland and three Aboriginal organizations in the Pilbara region are currently working to set up units as the basis for local enterprises. Each 30 metre unit provides an estimated 1.5 full time jobs and provides a new enterprise for the community in addition to providing a resource efficient, effective way to produce healthy fresh produce throughout the year.
The large units can be erected almost anywhere but do require a reliable water supply to top up the water/nutrient supply tank. The amount of water required for top up will depend on annual air temperature and humidity. The capital and set up costs of the large units is around $30 000 and can be less if communities already have pumps and 20 000 litre tanks as these items represent a large portion of the capital cost. According to Chris, securing funds for the training aspects of the system is relatively easy, but working with communities to secure funds for the capital cost can be more challenging.
Chris Thiesfield can be contacted on 07 4053 7071, 0410 549 603 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pictured below: Community Hydroponic Unit – some of the key steps and components, from construction to completion – Queensland
RIG News is written and produced by Anthea Fawcett for RIG Network.