Colorado Springs Local Business: Purple Mountain Hydroponics

I asked the same question I always ask at the end of the interview.

“Is there anything else you’d like people to know?”

“I just want people to know how great hydroponic growing systems are for vegetables and flowers,” responded Brian Keenan of Purple Mountain Hydroponics.  “There’s nothing like coming home to a room full of living flowers in the dead of winter.”  Then he grimaced and lowered his voice.  “When people hear about hydroponics, they only think of one thing.”

I grimaced back and nodded knowingly, but to tell the plain truth I had no idea what he was talking about.  I didn’t figure it out until later.

Disney World.

Disney World is the only other place I’ve ever seen plants grown without soil.  I don’t remember which park had the systems, I only remember riding around in a little tram and looking at plants growing in nothing, virtually in mid-air.  It had background music and a calm, disembodied voice spoke about a space-age future.  The whole thing had an air of expectancy.

I can imagine how hard it is for a local shop to compete with that.  They don’t even have a tram.

Colorado Springs Local Business Purple Mountain Hydroponics Growing Tent

They do have this space-age-looking thing I like to call the Vegetable Isolation Chamber. You can put in a light, zip it up and your plants think it’s summer!

Besides being a haven for winter weary vegetables, the shop is also a great example of teamwork.  In 2009, Brian and his friend Hondo were tired of working outdoors.  Brian was a landscape irrigation specialist who had started his career building log houses after he got out of the Army and made his way into landscape work.  Hondo was on a similar trajectory and they both had the same goal.  They  wanted to make a living without doing hard labor.

Colorado Springs Local Business Purple Mountain Hydroponics Tomatoes

Let the vegetables do all the work! These tomato plants were taller than me! In April!

Taking their outdoor landscaping experience indoors was a way to use what they knew to make the life they wanted.  Brian notes that retail had a learning curve.

“We went into it blindly,” he says.  “We knew where we wanted to go with it, but not how much work it really takes to run a store.”

Colorado Springs Local Business Purple Mountain Hydroponics Bat Guano

For example, they have to keep an eye on the bat guano supply.

How did they handle it?  They recruited several friends and relatives to work in the shop for a percentage of the business.  Each member of the partnership is personally invested in its success and has incentive to learn as much as he can about the products.

“The only way we make it is through customer service,” Brian points out.  He knows we could order these same products through a faceless online retailer. He and his business partners form relationships with customers, turning indoor gardening into a community activity where people share their successes and help each other solve problems.

Colorado Springs Local Business Purple Mountain Hydroponics Lettuce

Here is some successful-looking lettuce. It grows in a non-nutritive medium and comes back within a week if you cut it down and eat it!

Jealousy over the fresh lettuce makes me think about trying this “aquaponics without fish” here on the Homestead.  I don’t have a tram either, but maybe I can get the lettuce to grow without one.

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© 2013 Hungry Chicken Homestead

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