Story and pictures by ADAM REYNOLDS
Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses Australia
The climate in Central Australia is vastly different from the more temperate coastal regions of Australia. Extreme temperatures, lower humidity, seasonal high winds, and occasional dust and hail storms, bring with them many growing challenges.
kilometres from Darwin and 450 kilometres from Uluru (Ayers Rock),
Territory Lettuce is a postage stamp-size green oasis in the middle
of a vast red desert. I first met the principal, Moe McCosker, at
the last AHGA conference held in Launceston, Tasmania, and jumped at
the opportunity to visit his hydroponics operation during a recent
tour of the Territory. In its eighth year of drought, the Territory
has had its average annual rainfall, but it’s been at the wrong time
of year with no decent follow-up rain. During my visit the landscape
was punctuated by spectacular gum trees, refreshing waterholes and
awesome colours, accentuating the incredible beauty of this ancient
A plumber by trade, Moe’s introduction to hydroponics began when he
grew flowers for his wife’s florist shop in Alice Springs. That was
17 years ago. Today, he has expanded his business to include an
open-air hydroponic lettuce and herb operation a few minutes’ drive
from Alice, and growing cabbage and cauliflower in soil at nearby
Rocky Hill with Ritchie Hayes. Moe’s work day starts at daylight,
before the heat makes picking and planting uncomfortable.
With daytime temperatures in the low to mid 40s in summer and
overnight temperatures down to -4˚C in winter, the growing climate
in Central Australia is vastly different from the more temperate
coastal regions of Australia. Combined with lower humidity, seasonal
high winds, and occasional dust and hail storms, growing in the Red
Centre brings with it many challenges.
“Growing in this climate comes with experience,” said Moe.
“We’ve got a lot quicker turnaround for lettuce than what they get
down south. In winter we’re cranking 4 weeks, maybe stretched to 5
weeks. Down south it’s 8-10 weeks,” explains Moe.
Moe’s experience came at a high cost. Extreme temperatures during
summer and winter, occasional pest infestations and frequent power
failures resulted in crop losses in the early days. While being a
plumber has its advantages, he drew on the experience of consultant
Gary Calabria, a relationship he still maintains, to overcome the
many challenges to grow lettuce and herbs in the desert. Although
the consultant travels from the east coast of Australia to the Red
Centre regularly, they frequently talk on the phone and share ideas.
“In the beginning there was a lot of trial and error with crops
wiped out at times from one thing or another. It was heartbreaking,”