Mission Statement

Mission #1 – Grow and sell organic, hydroponic leafy greens and herbs locally in Parksville / Qualicum.

Mission #2 – Inspire conversations about food security, food independence, and the need to grow more, healthier food, closer to home. The vertical, hydroponic method that we use is an accessible way to grow leafy vegetables and herbs anywhere, indoors, outdoors, greenhouses, without an overwhelming investment in land and infrastructure.

It’s our intention that every school, group home, and public building should be invested in growing food for the people who live here.

Contact us directly for fresh local greens.

DIY Hydroponic NFT System Update, July 2020

Here’s a guided tour through our DIY Backyard Hydroponic NFT System, July 2020. Less than 200 square feet, with room for 240 plants, this simple to build Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponic system can grow a lot of leafy greens and herbs in a small space, with minimal investment.

We’re promoting the idea of using these to increase learning spaces on our school campuses. This coming fall, outdoor classrooms and learning spaces are going to be more important than ever, and this is a simple way to create those spaces without spending too much on permanent infrastructure.

Outdoor NFT System Update, June 1, 2020

I just built my third backyard DIY NFT system, this time thanks to a Neighbourhood Emergency Response Grant with all the produce (produce, not proceeds) going to a local charity for them to distribute to their clients.

When you look at this 3 rack set-up, it’s about 250 square feet with a materiel cost of about $1200. I don’t have conclusive yield statistics, but I’m taking multiple 1 and 2 pound harvests every week. I’ll try to get more data on yield.

Here’s the latest Youtube video showing the device in action.

DIY Backyard Hyrdoponic / Aquaponic NFT system in action.

How To Build a DIY NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) Hydroponic System

I didn’t invent this, but I did enjoy putting together a home-built NFT system from items I picked up at the hardware store. Basic costs of about $400.00 and about 10 hours of effort around will yield a 30 square foot, mobile growing unit with spaces for 80-90 plants. I’m looking forward to seeing how the plants will do in a horizontal system, since my only reference is to my vertical Zipgrow systems, which can prove troublesome in some plants. I expect a maturation time of 6-8 weeks for greens and herbs, and I can’t wait to see how a couple rows of strawberries will do in this situation. No slugs!

Measure 3 inch holes at 6″ to 8″ centers. Using 3 and 4 inch sewer tubes
Cutting a ‘yoke’ for the NFT Rails. There’s probably a better way.
Mounted on sawhorses. DIY Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) hydroponics system
Net baskets and clay pellets keep the seedlings in place
Backyard DIY hydroponic system ready for planting
Drains into a piece of eavestrough and then into the reservoir for recirculation

Costs 4 @ 10 foot @ 3 inch PVC sewer pipe – $60.

1 Gallon per hour pond pump – $65.

20 Gallon Garbage can – $20

80 @ 3 inch hydroponic baskets $60.

25 feet 1/2 inch PVC water line $10.

1/2 inch elbows and tees and hose clamps $20.

4 @ 3 inch pvc end caps $12.

Half bag hydroponic clay pebble medium $25.

2 @ metal sawhorse stands $40.

Basic directions – Use a 3 inch hole saw to cut holes in PVC sewer pipe at 5 or 6 inch intervals. Smooth edges with sandpaper or wire brush, wash and filter out pvc filings. I used a piece of 1 by 6 fir and used the hole saw to cut 4 holes, then ripped the board in half to create a wooden yoke for the pvc to rest in. I used 1/2 inch tees and elbows to build the water output, plus I’m using a short piece of eavestrough to catch the outfall into the main reservoir. I will be filling it with fish when it gets a little warmer. This is what it looks like right now, March 11, 2020 in the Pacific Northwest. We haven’t reached consistent 10 degree Celsius days yet, and our nights are going down to 0 Celsius. Some of what you see planted is overgrown and harvested stumps from my indoor operation, some of it is fresh seedling that I’ve recently planted.

Video overview of the NFT system. We need to build and install these everywhere.

10 Months of Indoor Farming

I just hit 10 months since the day my first set of towers arrived. As of today I’m producing a steady bi-weekly delivery to the QBI, which just about almost covers my operating costs. I definitely spent more and sold less than I originally projected. Here are some of the challenges I’ve faced, one after another.

  • Setup from scratch
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • PH levels
  • Water drips
  • Marketing
  • Bug problems
  • Processing and regulations
  • Packaging
  • Excess unsold produce
  • Over-seeding
  • Under-seeding
  • Standing out at farmers markets (both kinds)
  • Clogged emitters
  • Narrowing my varieties based on what grows well and what sells
  • Social media presence
  • Insufficient lighting

It’s been a steep learning curve and a challenge all the way along, but each challenge has armed me with the tools to meet the next. Today I’m pulling off regular, high-quality produce for sale and for donation, and I’m making time for my next projects; working on a proposal for a fruit orchard at Springwood School, and developing a Community Garden plot for a gardening club based out of Orca Place. Wish me luck.

Now Available At The Qualicum Beach Inn

The chef at the QBI is making room on the menu for some hyper-local, hydroponic produce. I’m making twice-weekly deliveries of basil, herbs and greens for limited quantity menu items. Here’s hoping we can continue to work together to expand this type of partnership, and get more local foods on local menus.

Products and Plans

This whole project has been about talking food security and innovation, local sustainable food, and listening to what people want. Products I’m developing.

  1. A leasing program for restaurants / chefs. Lease a planted vertical unit for your restaurant or organization.
  2. Weekly box delivery program – Free weekly delivery from Qualicum to Parksville – Introductory pricing of $13. per week for a bunch of greens (collards, kale or chard), a box of salad greens, box of basil, and box of mixed specialty herbs.
Sign up for the Surly Dan weekly box delivery

July 11, 2019

Sure, I measure my basil in pounds and my pesto in quarts. Doesn’t everyone?

Production and yield is no longer my biggest challenge, these days the two hurdles are, finding a market, and product development. Because I’m so small, I haven’t really been able to compete with the “big” local growers at the Farmers Market, so I have to be more creative with what I have to offer to set myself apart. Basil blends, blends of greens and herbs, and now, fresh ready to eat salads and eventually, fresh vegan and vegetarian pestos.

Fresh Swiss chard salad with lemon zest, lemon and olive oil dressing, parmesan cheese and Surly Dan herb toasted Panko.

Day 164, June 24, 2019

The farm has settled into full production and weekly markets. You can also get my produce anytime through the week by contacting me directly through my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/surlydan) or via text at 250-240-3564.

The question I hear most often, is, “Do you sell the units?” and the answer is yes. I can provide Farmwalls, with technical support, for sale and lease to schools, care homes, restaurants and even individuals. It’s my intent that every school and public building should have some investment into local food production, whether or not you use my product or any other method to grow and provide food for local people.

Day 134 – May 25

It’s been a long while since my last update, but what can I say, I’ve been busy. I just finished my fourth visit to the Qualicum Beach Farmers Market and it’s been a fantastic journey of hard work and learning. I’ll do a quick roundup and try to let the pictures do most of the talking

My booth from my second market day, May 11, with my new sign and the boxes on view. That display gets a hell of a lot of attention.

Two and a half months since my last blog post. Since that time, I added a number of units, moved a few out of the garage and into a greenhouse the yard. I learned about PH and started monitoring every day, and have tried, and keep trying to get my production up, by adding lights, tweaking my feeding program and adjusting my planting techniques.

I’ve been using cardboard packaging as an alternative to plastic. It does a great job at keeping the greens fresh in the fridge, but they do take away from the colour of the greens when they’re all closed up. And they’re expensive
One of the 8-tower Farmwall units out in the yard, taking advantage of that free and powerful sunshine