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Teacher farmer: Ilocos Norte Educator grows lettuce while recovering from a major operation; develops passion for agriculture


“Picture a farm where plants flourish without soil, where water and nutrients are precisely delivered, and where the future of agriculture is being redefined,” Sheena Glea Dalo Reyes, owner of Fresh Greens Backyard Lettuce, said.

“Welcome to the world of hydroponic farming,” she added.

Sheena, 26, is a licensed professional teacher in Burgos, Ilocos Norte. Outside of school, she spends her time in her 84-meter square greenhouse that grows different kinds of lettuce, which are romaine, lollo bionda, Batavia, oakleaf, gem, and butterhead lettuce, through hydroponics farming.

Sheena Glea Dalo Reyes, 26, a licensed professional teacher in Burgos, Ilocos Norte, holds her freshly grown lettuce from her greenhouse farm. (Sheena Glea Dalo Reyes)

Recovering through gardening

“I have an ovarian cyst on my right ovary, and I needed to undergo a major operation immediately,” Sheena said. She prepared all of her requirements to schedule her operation and was granted two months of leave from work.

While Sheena was recovering, she encountered an online advertisement about growing lettuce in the lowlands. “All I thought was that lettuces can only thrive in highlands and cold places like Baguio City. This gave me the idea, why not try to grow lettuce through hydroponics?” Sheena said. “One more thing, no one else in our hometown does this.”

“I went to Youtube, watched lectures, discussions, and vlogs, and jotted down the do’s and don’ts in hydroponics for a week. I learned all the things I know in hydroponics from the internet.” But Sheena stated that she was challenged to establish the hydroponic farm because of the doubt of her family about her success.

“Growing up, I witnessed my mother grow various ornamental plants. Somehow, it made me very close to nature. I am a teacher by profession, and gardening is one of my passions,” Sheena said, and that is why she wanted to pursue her dream to establish her own hydroponic farm.

Fresh Greens Backyard Lettuce grows lettuce through hydroponic technology. (Sheena Glea Dalo Reyes)

“I ordered the materials, nutrient solutions, and seeds online. Together with my boyfriend Prince, we went to buy plastic bottles as an alternative for grow boxes.” Sheena said that they failed the first time, but she never gave up. “We decided to buy fruit boxes instead and started to sow our first batch of lettuce and build our greenhouse. After 45 days, we were able to harvest our first batch of lettuce.”

“As a beginner in hydroponics and to learn the basics of modern farming, we started our small backyard garden through the Kratky method, which can accommodate a maximum yield of 300 heads per cycle.”

Fresh Greens Backyard Lettuce is an 84-meter square greenhouse that grows different kinds of lettuce, which are romaine, lollo bionda, Batavia, oakleaf, gem, and butterhead lettuce, through hydroponics farming. (Sheena Glea Dalo Reyes)

Sheena said that she uses the Kratky method because it is cheaper since it does not require electronic devices or electricity to run. “This method requires a small amount of capital since the materials are not costly and are readily available at the market. However, labor is much heavier,” Sheena stated. By using a netted pot containing a growing medium, the plants will grow on their own, making it an easy, simple, and low maintenance technique. Aside from netted pots and growing medium, you also need to provide a container, lid, and hydroponic fertilizer.

In this method, Sheena explained that plant roots are submerged in water and partly exposed to air to ensure they take up sufficient nutrients, water, and oxygen. As the plants grow, the water level will decline as they absorb the water in the container, which will create a gap between the roots and the air.

“With the growing demand for lettuce in our community, this urged us to dream big and start to expand our greenhouse and opt to convert our setup.”

Dalo Reyes currently harvests 1,000 heads per cycle. “But to utilize the remaining space inside the greenhouse, we also set up a drip irrigation system where we grow different varieties of cucumbers, peppers, and herbs.”

Dalo Reyes also grows different varieties of cucumbers, peppers, and herbs on her backyard farm. (Sheena Glea Dalo Reyes)

Farm duties after teacher duties

Sheena said that even working eight hours per day, excluding the hours she spends preparing for her classes, creating lesson plans, and other tasks, she does not find it hard to manage her hydroponic farm. “There is nothing much left to do once you put the seedling on the system.”

“But hydroponic systems can be complex to design and operate effectively. Ensuring that nutrient levels, pH, temperature, and humidity are properly controlled can be challenging, especially in larger setups.”

“Hydroponics requires a good understanding of plant biology, nutrient management, and system maintenance. Novice growers may face a steep learning curve, and mistakes can be costly.”

Sheena said that hydroponic farming is low maintenance and manageable. After school, she makes sure that she visits the greenhouse and checks the pH and PPM of the water in the reservoir.

“Maintaining the correct nutrient balance is crucial in hydroponics. Over- or under-fertilization can harm plant health and yield. Regular monitoring and adjustments are necessary.”

“Post-harvest activities include cleaning the pipes and disinfecting the whole greenhouse before planting again to avoid diseases that may compromise the growth of our plants,” she added.

Enjoying the market

As the owner and manager of Fresh Greens Backyard Farm, Sheena said that she gathered her prospects by visiting and dining in various restaurants in Ilocos Norte. “I always have with me sample lettuce to showcase to restaurant owners, as they prefer freshly harvested lettuce,” she stated.

By doing so, she said that it gave her an advantage to become a supplier because her harvested lettuce was tried and tasted.

She also reiterated the importance of individual households in the community. “They were our first customers when we were just starting,” Sheena added. To maximize profit, she also makes salad, spring rolls, and cucumber kimchi as by-products.

Sheena also highlights that hydroponic techniques enable year-round cultivation, independent of seasonal changes and weather conditions. This allows for continuous production and the ability to grow crops out of season, potentially increasing profitability.

“Also, hydroponically grown plants typically mature faster than their soil-grown counterparts. This accelerated growth cycle can lead to quicker turnover and more frequent harvests. Hydroponic farming often results in higher-quality produce with consistent size, shape, and taste,” Sheena said.

As hydroponics becomes more popular, Sheena is concerned with the increased competition in the market, which may potentially affect crop prices and profitability.

Fulfillment from planting

Sheena shared that most of the problems with hydroponic techniques are financial.

“Hydroponic systems can be expensive to set up and require an investment in equipment, infrastructure, and technology. This can be a barrier for small-scale or beginner growers,” Sheena said.

She said that is not a one-time expense because they need to maintain and provide the needs of the greenhouse, such as electricity for power pumps, lights, and environmental controls, and the cost of specialized nutrient solutions and pH adjustment materials can also add up.

“Hydroponic systems are reliant on technology, and any equipment failure or power outage can disrupt crop growth and potentially lead to crop loss.”

The sense of accomplishment that comes from nurturing the plants and seeing them grow and thrive can be deeply satisfying, which is what made Sheena continue hydroponic farming. Moreover, she said that she enjoys the benefit of having access to fresh and healthy food right from her own farm. “A sense of pride always creeps in when I grow my own produce.”

“Starting a hydroponic farm requires dedication and a willingness to learn and adapt. It’s a dynamic field that offers numerous benefits, including increased crop yields and efficient resource use, but success requires ongoing attention and care.”

Photos by Sheena Glea Dalo Reyes

Read more about farming and gardening at agriculture.com.ph

Credit belongs to : www.mb.com.ph

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