A Legacy of Innovation: Hydroponics in our Production Garden
In Our Gardens 07/12/17
Written By Amy Dangelico
Lisa Peek, one of Biltmore’s Field to Table gardeners, recently received a new title: Hydroponic Specialist.
So when it comes to growing plants without soil in our Production Garden, she is truly a pro.
“I’d have to say my favorite thing about working in the Production Garden is learning new techniques to better meet the needs of our estate restaurants,” says Lisa.
And the hydroponic process is doing just that.
“Because we have such high demand from our chefs for estate-grown produce—greens, in particular—we had to figure out a way to produce higher yields that are still top-notch quality,” Lisa explains.
Simply put, the hydroponic system allows our gardeners to provide a plant with exactly what it needs, when it needs it, and in the amount that it needs.
To consistently meet all of those requirements while growing a plant in soil is far more difficult.
Throw in the volume necessary to meet the demands of six full-service estate restaurants and the challenge becomes clear.
The benefits of hydroponics for our situation are undeniable. In addition to higher and more consistent yields, the system results in better taste and texture because the plants are not as vulnerable to variables like sunlight, wind, and temperature.
The hydroponic greenhouse protection also results in less waste as outer parts of the plants are not damaged by these elements.
Plus, all of our leafy greens are grown in deep water cultures, resulting in such high H2O content that their shelf-life quadruples!
More Greens, More Greenhouses
To meet the increasing demand for estate-grown produce, we have also found the need to increase our Production Garden space.
The addition of two greenhouses will provide Lisa and her team with basically triple the square footage.
The new greenhouses are being built exclusively for our deep water cultures. One will house solely lettuce, while the other will house spinach, mustards, kale, collards, and other leafy greens.
Our existing space will be home to starter plants for the other two greenhouses as well as various types of hydroponic systems.
For edible flowers like snapdragons and herbs such as sage and thyme, we are implementing a Dutch bucket system, which essentially functions as a regulated reservoir. This technique allows us to use a variety of growing mediums while also producing less waste.
The Production Garden on the west side of the estate is the backbone of our Field to Table Program. And thanks to dedicated employees like Lisa, we are able to honor George Vanderbilt’s original vision of a self-sustaining estate as well as his unswerving passion for innovation.
Feature image: Hydroponic greens packaged for delivery to estate restaurants
Top right: Lisa Peek and intern Emily West inspect greens before packaging
Left: Hydroponic greens
Right: “Snaptastic” snapdragons growing in Dutch buckets