Local MP Tom Tugendhat got a first-hand look at the work Hadlow College is doing to inspire the next generation of students when he visited the College’s glasshouse.
Constructed in 2022, the glasshouse plays an integral part in horticulture courses and features technology, including:
- Suspended gutters running hydroponics for tomatoes and peppers in separate houses
- LED and High-Pressure sodium lighting
- Vertical growing farm
- Latest environmental control computers – PRIVA
- Fogging systems for plant propagation
- Dedicated space for individual glasshouse research
- Outdoor standing-down beds for shrub and herbaceous plant production
- New structures for seasonal bedding plant production
Students work alongside practitioners from leading industry grower Thanet Earth to develop their skills and produce hydroponic tomatoes in the Venlo glasshouse.
The tomatoes are grown on a rockwool system using the industry training system known as layering. Scissor lifts are employed to allow students under supervision to work on the crop at height to carry out all the necessary cultural requirements of the crop. Biological control is used to control any unwanted pests, these are populations of beneficial insects.
The Venlo glasshouse is operated using PRIVA environmental control computers which also control the vertical growing farm where students grow a range of salad crops from seed and harvested as micro leaves in as little as three weeks for some crops.
A misting unit is also built into the glasshouse for the propagation of a wide range of plants from both stem cuttings and seeds, with the aim of these finished plants being sold at pop-up plant sales, which take place every Wednesday afternoon from 1 pm to 4 pm at the College outside the glasshouse.
Tom Tugendhat, Member of Parliament for Tonbridge and Malling, enjoyed his visit, saying: “The new glasshouse offers a brilliant opportunity for students to work alongside and learn from the fantastic team at Thanet Earth, and I’m sure it will go a long way in supporting their development.”
“It is fantastic to see investment into our community like this. I had a great time visiting the new glasshouse at Hadlow College, and it really shows how invested they are in our community.”
Chris Lydon, Vice Principal of Hadlow College, said: “We are proud to be working with Thanet Earth to produce tomatoes in our new Venlo glasshouse. This unique partnership gives students the best opportunities to develop their skills working alongside current practitioners from leading industry growers. The produce from the tomato crop is used on-site in our own student eatery and distributed by Fair Share.”
Rob James, Technical Director of Thanet Earth, added: “We have a long-standing relationship with Hadlow going back to 2011 when we set up our first Fellowship with the college, the facilities we now have on-site are perfect for nurturing the next generation of experts in our industry.”
The glasshouse illustrates a commitment from the College to regenerative farming and horticulture, using practices that minimize harm to the environment.
Unveiled earlier this year, the College also has a ‘robotic orchard and vineyard.’
This two-hectare area showcases the latest technology, including automated AI management systems, an irrigation, fertigation, and frost protection system, and automated fruit picking.
The crops are grown with sustainability in mind at all times. Drones are used to monitor bud sets, predict yields, and monitor crop growth, allowing precise applications of nutrition, pest, and disease control methods to be used.
Sensors installed throughout the orchard monitor, amongst other things, moisture, relative humidity, PAR, and rainfall.