By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University
An eight foot tall tomato plant? It sounds like a gardener’s dream, but one innovative young rural Kansas couple is making it become reality using a gardening technique known as hydroponics.
Samuel and MaryAnn Beachy are the founders and owners of Beachy’s Flowers and Produce. They were living in Kentucky and then moved to Kansas to be closer to MaryAnn’s parents in Lyndon.
Samuel was operating a locker plant in Osage City until he sold that business. The Beachys’ church was looking to expand in the Wamego and Manhattan area, and Samuel wanted to pursue a new enterprise there.
“I’ve always been intrigued with growing things,” Samuel said. “I loved to grow things in the garden.”
As he and MaryAnn considered a move, they thought about the type of produce operation that could work best in northeast Kansas and decided to try an indoor, hydroponic system. “He did a lot of studying,” MaryAnn said.
As the Beachys prepared to relocate, they told the realtor they were looking for a location that was served by natural gas and was next to a major highway. The realtor identified just one location. It was the first place the Beachys looked at, and they bought it. “This was a Godsend,” Samuel said.
The location was next to Highway 24 east of Manhattan. It already had a house with a large shop. The Beachys built a state-of-the-art polycarbonate truss-style greenhouse that connected to the shop. It is fully hydroponic, so the plants are raised in recycled water with the precise nutrients needed.
Beachy’s Flowers and Produce opened on November 30, 2022. For now, the flowers are coming from Council Grove, but the produce is homegrown and booming.
The Beachys produce tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower, spring onions, kale, spinach, cilantro and cucumbers. In the future, they plan to also grow carrots, beets, potatoes and strawberries. The climate-controlled greenhouse enables produce to be grown year-round.
“My goal is to provide a place where people can buy produce at the same place that it is grown,” Samuel said. That would definitely seem to shorten the supply chain.
“I want to raise enough that you can make a good salad with what we produce.”
The production process is highly scientific, with probes used to control pH and nutrient levels. No soil is needed. Water is constantly recirculated. A retractable ceiling curtain helps control the climate naturally.
“We can open the curtain to let the sun in, and close it when we want to hold in the warmth,” Samuel said.
Lettuce seedlings, for example, are started under growlights. The rooted seedlings, in peat pellets, are placed in rows of watertight PVC trays through which the water and nutrients are pumped and recirculated. The trays are placed on waist-high metal frames and, with time, moved farther apart to make room for the plants to grow.
“We have to plan ahead,” Samuel said. “We plant 200 seeds per week of lettuce, and harvest in two months.”
The Beachys’ butterhead lettuce, with just a hint of sweetness, is a variety that has proven especially popular.
For tomatoes, the truss ceiling makes it possible to use string to hold up the tops of the plants, enabling them to grow to their full potential. With proper trimming and treatment, these plants can grow eight feet tall and produce extraordinary tomatoes. “Our goal is three-quarter pound tomatoes,” Samuel said.
Their produce is available for sale at grocery stores in Wamego, Westmoreland, and Holton; at Manhattan farmer’s market; and direct from the greenhouse. “I would like to grow the business so that people can come right here for their produce,” Samuel said.
Their location is along Highway 24 northwest of the rural community of St. George, population 1,054 people. Now, that’s rural.
For more information, contact Beachy’s Flowers and Produce at 785-219-1759.
Eight feet tall tomato plants? It sounds like a gardener’s dream, and they’re growing at Beachy’s Flowers and Produce. We commend Samuel and MaryAnn Beachy for making a difference with fantastic produce and innovative production practices.
Seeing their success makes me feel ten feet tall.