When I was going through my files today, I came upon an entry I had in my previous Panama Journal. I was lucky enough to have met Rubén and his wife when I lived in Boquete. They were economists and provide consulting services in Panama. One of their projects was studying the economics of the widening of the Panama Canal. . I had learned that Rubén had a hydroponics farm and he graciously offered to give me a tour. The day I visited this hydroponics farm really was interesting to me. What follows is a portion of the February 5, 2004 entry in the Journal. Minor editing has been done to the original entry.
Productos Hidropónicos de Panamá
Rubén told me he had an interest in hydroponics farming for some time and had spent several years pursuing it as a hobby. He said his wife thought hobbies were nice, but this one was getting expensive enough that maybe it was time for it to pay for itself. With that HidroPónicos de Panamá, grew from a hobby into a working business. The drive to his farm took us higher up and north from the city of Boquete. Not far past the Sitton coffee factory was the entrance to his farm. We drove up a narrow road that eventually required the use of four-wheel drive since it was close to a 45-degree incline. At the top we came upon a nice lush farm and in the distance we could see the greenhouses that belong to Productos Hidropónicos de Panamá.
To enter the greenhouses we had to pass through a contamination barrier, which was used to insure that bugs could not come in contact with the plants. At the front part of the hydroponics growing process is the water treatment system that is used to feed the plants. There are two large water reserves that are used to accurately measure the exact plant feed that is required. Then this feed is placed in another water vat from which it is pumped into long PVC tubes that hold the growing plants. Each plant resides in its own peat moss filled cup. The water flows through the tubes where each plant consumes what it needs.
All of the tubes have a 2-degree inclination drop to allow gravity to return the unused liquid back to the beginning where it is re-filtered and then reused. Throughout the process the food content is monitored as well as the temperature within the greenhouse. When the plants have gone through their growing cycle and are harvested, the individual growing tubes are placed in a chlorination bath and made ready for the next set of plants. All in all it was really an exciting thing to see and the quality of these products are second to none that I have seen. Some of the larger grocery stores and restaurants in Panama that are interested in high quality are providing these products for their customers. Ruben mentioned Bennigans and McDonalds, but I do not remember if they are current customers or in the process of becoming customers.
Since the plants are free of all pesticides and are fed exactly what they need, they really become gorgeous plants and certainly more healthy for you. Some of the other benefits are the shortened growing cycle and controlled environment. We also went through the packaging operation. This was a typical clean room operation with all the food handlers wearing gloves, hairnets, gowns, and breathing masks. I must say I was very impressed with what I saw. While my description of the entire process is limited, I assume you get the idea
The following is a little picture tour of part of what we saw.
The first picture shows a variety of lettuce with a reddish colored leaf. At the far end is one of the secondary tanks that contain the nutrient water that will be pumped to all the plants. Also visible in this picture is one of the monitoring devices.
The next picture shows more of the plants.
The next two pictures are of basil being grown. The second picture is a close up of one individual plant.
The next picture is cilantro.
The next picture is of romaine lettuce.
The next picture is toward the beginning of the plants life cycle. Seeds are placed in peat moss and then soon become as shown here. These squares are about one inch on a side.
This is another variety of lettuce, but the main reason I took this picture is to show the water being returned to the initial part of the process. Notice how clear the water is.
The plants in the middle of this picture are the seedling plants. Their next step will be to be placed in a plastic cup and then in the feeding tubes.
This picture is the chlorine bath that the tubes are placed in following one growing cycle and prior to the next.
Smile Rubén, you really have something to be proud of here. I appreciated the tour and I am sure others will too.
I should tell you that Productos Hidropónicos de Panamá was written up in Volume 13, Number 3, January / February 2002 of the Growing Edge. However, if you want to read the article, it will cost you $5.00.
On the way back, Rubén told a cute story that is an example of living in a small town. It seems he needed to get a cab to bring him to his house from Boquete. He described to the cab driver how to get there. Remember there are no street signs and you give directions based on landmarks. After he got through telling the cab driver how to find his house, the cab driver said “Oh, that is the house where Jagger and Baloo live.” Isn’t it great when you are known by the animals you own? Jagger and Baloo are Rubén’s first two Labs.