New Jersey Ag News
YB Farm specializes in hydroponics
By JANE PRIMERANO
LAFAYETTE (June 1, 2016) — Nestled on a winding road in Sussex County, YB Farm looks like many small operation in the area: a chicken house, bee hives, garden plots and a greenhouse.
It’s what’s inside the greenhouse that makes YB different: hydroponic growing.
Ron Kahn is on his third career and William Paterson on his second as they run the farm. Known as “Young Boy Ron” and “Hydro Bill,” they grow several types of greens through the entire year.
Because they can provide year-round greens, they would like to set up either a winter or nearly year-round CSA. Right now all year they can offer: lettuces (butter crunch bibb, lolla rossa, skyphos, romaine and assorted blends), arugala, kale, spinach, pac choi, basils (sweet Genovese, Thai and lime), herbs: (cilantro, parsley, rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme) and mints (spearmint, chocolate and grapefruit).
“It’s more efficient,” Kahn said of hydroponic growing. There is a three-to-one reduction in space needed to grow the vegetables which are stacked as much as 15 tiers high in the greenhouse. Water use is 5 to 10 percent of what it is conventionally and water and nutrients can be recycled. There is no runoff and a 25 pound bucket of nutrient will feed 10,000 heads of lettuce. In the field, the same amount would cover maybe one acre.
“It’s a cleaner product,” he said. “There are no soil-borne diseases and it’s easier to control insects..
Ladybugs are the go-to control for aphids, he said.
Lining the greenhouse racks are greens, in mixes like spicy and gourmet. A wasabi leaf is just hot enough but not biting.
Rain is pelting the greenhouse on a recent Friday afternoon. Kahn points out the heaters for winter. He acknowledges he tried solar but it just didn’t work. Now he has a large heater that suffices for all but the coldest days. If the temperature gets down to 60, a small heater will kick in.
Either heater will keep the greenhouse above 40 in a worst case scenario, he said.
Kahn said he isn’t sure hydroponic would work for every crop. Artichokes, for example might not thrive in an environment that is too wet.
He is experimenting with beets in an open but soft medium, he said.
“It has to let air in but not be soggy. Carrots could be grown in log troughs in deep perlite or sand with a drip line, he added.
Kahn shows off the beds where he grows tomatoes, cherry to slightly larger, for salads. “They’re all colors and they really taste like tomatoes.” Kahn said he didn’t have must luck selling San Marzano tomatoes to local Italian restaurants, but he does have a few heirloom tomato varieties.
He also grows various specialty peppers including about a half dozen hot varieties from mild to the Carolina Reaper, which is supposed to be the hottest pepper ever.
One 75-foot row of corn will produce between 400 and 800 ears. “They are just for a few people, but it’s great corn and I have it in your shop the next day.”
Blackberry bushes line one side of a plot. Kahn discovered another berry, haskap, indigenous to Russia and Japan that likes the cold. It’s similar to blueberries but grows better in North Jersey. “I only read seed catalogues, he laughed.
A couple of fig trees look like they don’t like the weather too much. Kahn wraps them, but he thinks they didn’t do well in transplanting. Like many farmers, he shrugs off little failures.
Cattle panels will soon hold beans. Last year the beans ended up on both sides of the slanted fence, but Kahn has worked out a better planting method to make harvesting easier. He is also trying gold Romas for the first time. Tomato plants are starting to peek out of straw bales that were used to insulate the greenhouse, now next to the beans.
Other seasonal crops are squash, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and field beets. His little orchard produces apples, peaches, pears and plums.
YB’s brochure tells potential customers the farmers will try to accommodate any requests for vegetables they don’t already grow.
YB Farm belongs to the seed saver exchange, “to support the diversity of crops,” Kahn says.
Kahn introduces a visitor to his chickens who are clucking and grumbling about the rain. Nearby are beehives. He has just started with bees, hoping to improve pollination at the farm.
Joking “we’re all foodies here,” Kahn says his biggest problem is everyone on the farm eats as they harvest.
Paterson was a chef, but he always like to grow things and decided the hours of a chef were not conducive to family life. He advertised at Brodhecker’s Farm that he was looking for land and Kahn saw the post.
Kahn was an electrical engineer in the aerospace industry. He then went to law school and practiced in Manhattan for years. After his wife died, he looked for land on the New York/Connecticut border. He didn’t even think about New Jersey since his image of the state was just the drive from New York City to Atlantic City or Philadelphia.
However, he met a woman who worked in Newton and discovered Sussex County. Always interested in farming, he made it his third career.
YB Farm welcomes visitors and sells from the farm. They also supply local farmstands and restaurants and are considering branching out to restaurants in Morristown or Montclair.