Article 4-1 Commercial Systems
I'm interested in setting up a small commercial hydroponic system for strawberries. An NFT seems to be the way to go. Can a strawberry crown with roots, like what you get from a nursery, be placed directly into an NFT system to start it? Can an NFT system be set up outside in warm weather? Any info/pictures would be greatly appreciated.
Yes, strawberries can do very well in an outdoor N.F.T. system. There are many commercial growers using this technique in Australia, you may consider locating them and contacting them for particular advice via the internet. To help keep the plants and the nutrient solution from overheating, shade cloth is suspended and secured over the growing area. Depending on the intensity of light and heat, shade cloth from 30 to 70% shading may be used.
Aluminized materials help reflect more heat away from the crop, and can help retain warm air on cooler, clear nights. The cloth also protects the berries from hail, reduces wind, can discourage birds and other pests, and will reduce the size of rain droplets, reducing fruit losses. Look for a professionally designed shade enclosure. The nutrient solution can be heated and chilled to extend and modify the growing season.
I would not recommend starting the crowns directly into the system. They may begin to rot if not in an actively growing state. Keep them in trays (likely in net pots) and irrigate occasionally until they begin to grow, before transplanting them into the system.
An "A-Frame" layout for the troughs will make the most efficient use of space within the enclosure. Planting densities of greater than 100% may be achieved. Vertical columns take advantage of the strawberries natural growth habits.
Research the varieties available, as some will be better suited to hydroponic cultivation than others. You may experience higher root temperatures growing hydroponically outdoors, so disease resistance is a factor to consider when selecting a variety.