hydroponic crop management (time)

Hi scott , I was wondering if i had 30 tables of fancy lettuce ,what would be the estimated time you would spend working on your crop per week. (no computer system)  
30 tables (of 550-600 holes) are very hard work with only one person. If you have a lot of mowing of weeds under benches, and you were far from the market, I’d say you would be too tired to enjoy life. If you had low maintenance of the property and no deliveries, well, it could work with one person. Better have a part timer as well. Plenty of mums who can work during the day for picking and planting but have to leave to pick up the kids.
re: Hours worked… On good days you won’t work hard, you won’t find any pests or root rot, there won’t be too much rain (mowing and maintenance), there will not be anyone trying to get you to do a urgent delivery of $30 worth of lettuce, and the sun won’t make you feel like an ant under a magnifying glass. That’s going to happen, but not all the time. I can only tell you what works. 1 person can make 20-30 tables work, but not if there is a lot of other maintenance to do. You can still get away to pick up the kids from school if that’s important. I recommend for you to install spotlights on the farm/ute to pick the orders at night as its cooler for them and for you, and the lettuce look much better than ones picked during the day and put in a cooler till the morning.
I suggest that its always good to have 2 people on a farm, and expand to the size where if one person has the flu or on holidays, the other can just keep it going for a week, as this is a profitable level. About 60 tables would be my guess, but it depends on the person (motivated?) and the crop. 3 people with 90 tables was very good. Perhaps the best advice is to plan for expansion, start with 10-30 benches and expand as your marketing, quality and skills grow. While you expand, if your part time/full time employees help you build they will become invaluable if they learn how the system goes together. A burst pipe repair while you are away is essential to keep a crop alive. (That is not common but has happened. Plumbers are never available at short notice… Lay those pipes without rocks around them and try to bury deep if you driving above them)
I have heard that computer systems save you time. They might save some, but its overrated in many ways. Its more a tool to ensure yield. I cannot ever imagine how insane you would have to be to try and keep the nutrient strength under control manually, as the whole lettuce crop is continually poised to be destroyed by an even slightly high nutrient strength.( Bitterness, tip burn, bolting) However, it doesn’t save a lot of time. Oh sorry, I have a bug bear about those stupid little wrinkly things. Lettuce is about as hard a crop as you can choose to get continual good results and I get just as many bad crops as good crops and I cannot seem to put it down to more skill or dedication. They just hate me, I can tell. For easy crops, I’d pick tomatoes. You have to be good to get a great yield, but a poor job can still produce a profit. Herbs would be number two for me, but then again, its all about is there someone to buy the crop and a good price. Don’t start until you have a buyer, and then you can do the sums on paper with prices that you can actual sell for and make a profit. And factor in at least 30% failure if something goes wrong.
In terms of saving time, making sure there is nothing growing under the benches as its hard to mow under them, and giving the ute access room to the end of the rows, having no root rot by installing an ozone unit or something effective, wind break to keep the pests away, etc; all are very effective work reducing mechanisms. Getting the advice of someone who has seen a lot of (good ideas on) farms before making a designing one is a great time saver.
Best of luck and don’t give up your day job too quickly. Its nice to have a 40 hour predictable week.
Scott Andrew
Nerang Hydroponic Centre 4/50 Spencer Road Nerang QLD 4211 Australia Phone (07) 5527 4155
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