Located in Bokeelia, hidden behind a gate and trees, is one of Pine Island's best kept secrets. Pine Island Botanicals is a 4-acre residential farm that follows the principals of natural (organic) growing of tropical, sub-tropical exotic fruits; leafy Asian, lettuce, mustard greens; and vegetables year round.
Originally Pine Island Botanicals was a "traditional" organic farm with plants in the ground.
"We decided to try hydroponics because we were having bacterial problems, especially with the greens," Michael Wallace, owner of Pine Island Botanicals, said. "Now we are having fewer and fewer problems. If there is a bug problem you see it right away with the droppings on the white PVC.
Michael Wallace, owner of Pine Island Botanicals, works on the 4-acre residential farm.
"Hydroponics is the growing of plants in a mineral nutrient solution," Wallace said. "We started with 1 acres about 15 years ago growing orchids, bromeliads and lychees. Then we bought an additional 2 acres about 8 years ago giving us a total of 4 acres."
The simplicity of hydroponic farming is fascinating. It is a length of 4-inch PVC with 2-inch holes drilled in the top. A source for water, such as a barrel with a small fish tank pump, is connected at one end of the PVC. Small starter plants are placed in baskets that fit into the holes as water with added nutrients passes through the piping to provide water and nutrition to the plants. Then the water is returned to the original supply barrel.
Plants are started in separate trays and after sprouts begin to grow in about 10 days they are removed and dropped into little baskets into the PVC piping system. After that they are relatively maintenance free until they are harvested.
Wallace has two greenhouse enclosures each about 75 feet long and 20 feet wide, They are filled with almost 2 miles of 4 inch PVC sewer piping.
"When we first started it was a static system," Wallace said. "And we found that some plants would be real big at one end and real small at the other. So we installed a few pumps and that solved the problem of all the plants getting enough nutrients.
"The first greenhouse we built includes about 1 mile of 4-inch PVC and the second about 3/4 mile of PVC," Wallace said "The yield from this relatively small operation is 20,000 plants and this is basically a one-man operation - it is a full-time job but still a one-man operation. The second greenhouse is at 3/4 capacity but can handle one more row (approximately another quarter-mile of PVC) and it wouldn't increase my workload that much."
He went on to say, "In all we do 20 different types of salad greens and about 15 different types of mustard greens. Most of what we produce is destined for restaurants and the farmers markets. We do farmers markets every week: on Thursday we're at Centennial, Saturday at Cape Coral and Sunday on Sanibel.
"Some people are stuck on Romain and iceberg lettuce but there is so much more out there of a higher nutritional value and that's what we're trying to do," Wallace said. "We're producing the most nutritious product out there."
In the coming weeks and months Wallace will be adding new plants to his already extensive selection.
"I am constantly trying to push the envelope because I'm tired of going to the grocery store and seeing the same old thing," Wallace said. "I have 14 new mustards coming and 10 new greens coming from Japan.
"My goal is to have the local restaurants come in here and design their own signature salad. We are also branching off into herbs like basil, watercress and parsley and we're experimenting with tomatoes, kale, strawberries."
Occasionally Wallace is asked for a tour.
"I'm always asked about tours but I need a call first to arrange a time. This is my full-time job and that's my first priority. I will show everybody every aspect of how this works. One of the key components that will either result in success or failure is the nutrient combination added to the water," Wallace said."I am constantly tinkering with it for color, speed of growth and nutrient value. What I use is a secret but I will direct them to what nutrients are needed and then they balance out their own formula."
For additional information or for a tour contact, call Pine Island Botanicals, 12571 Aubrey Lane, Bokeelia; 239-222-9494; info@PineIsland-Botanicals.com