Mechanic masters hydroponics

George Knight uses a hydroponic system to feed his family.

George Knight uses a hydroponic system to feed his family.

HAMPTONVILLE — When the love of his life lost her health, George Knight had to do something and fast.

In oil-stained jeans and a mechanic’s shirt with his name embroidered on it, Knight works his way around North Elkin Tire and Automotive to ensure things run as smoothly as possible. His soft, kind eyes peering over his glasses and Southern drawl assure his customers that they will receive good service.

When Knight finishes his long day and returns to his home in Hamptonville, he has many mouths to feed. He and his wife, Alice, have eight children, five that still live with them.

With the rising price of produce, Knight found it increasingly difficult to provide his large family with the nutritious foods they needed, but it was not until Alice had major heart surgery that change became crucial.

Following his wife’s surgery, the doctors expressed that the Knights “had to reconstruct a whole new diet.” So George took to YouTube to research. He discovered the concept of hydroponics, “a balance between fish and water that helps fertilize plants and give plants the nutrition that they need to grow,” he explained.

Hydroponics allows for both healthier and inexpensive produce growth. After about six months of research, Knight decided to give it a shot. He and his wife talked it over.

“I told her it would be hard for one person to try and do it so we just switched everybody,” Knight said about the family’s transition to the nutritarian diet.

He constructed growbeds and bought fish tanks to begin this new endeavor in their 10-foot by 10-foot basement. Filtering water through PVC pipes, he grows his own vegetables year-round to not only save money, but to provide his wife and family with a healthier diet.

Leslie Tubridy, a former co-worker, said, “It didn’t come as a surprise that he does this because he’s a pretty innovative and resourceful guy, but he adores his wife and I think that had more than a little to do with it. She’s his world.”

Through hydroponics, Knight grows “tomatoes, peppers, any kind of herbs, cucumbers, anything you can grow outside,” he explained. A nutritarian lifestyle consists of eating 90 percent vegetables and 10 percent meat, a diet designed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a physician, bestselling author and nutritional researcher. Knight said his family still eats protein, but from different sources, “from beans, nuts, chickpeas. We got a variety of options. I couldn’t list them all.”

Knight’s hydroponic system consists of raising fish and filtering their water through a basic plumbing system in order to water his plants. The nutrients from the fish provide safer, healthier, faster growing vegetables for his family. He explained that, “a lot of times it takes two weeks for a seed to germinate,” but that with his system, “You’ll see growth within two or three days. Little sprouts.”

The fish do not simply provide nutrients. Knight raises these fish to maturity and harvests them. He also said that you can use any kind of fish to provide nutrients to plants. “A lot of people use gold fish,” he said. He has about 100 tilapia growing and maturing in his 350-gallon fish tank.

Hydroponics is not just a project for healthy eating to Knight; it is something he truly enjoys. His daughter, Cecelia Knight, said, “He’s excited! He loves talking about it.”

The health benefits of George’s hydroponics system are beyond compare. During a visit following their switch, Knight said Alice’s doctors told her, “Whatever she was doing, keep doing it because everything looked perfect.” Although tall and slender now, Knight has lost 105 pounds in the year he has been on the nutritarian diet. He said, “I was on blood pressure medicine and when we switched to the diet, I’m completely off of it.”

Despite investing $400 into his entire gardening system, Knight and his family have saved significant money. Although he has only been working with hydroponics for about a year, he plans to expand his growing capabilities in the months to come. “The greenhouse I’m building, I’m not buying wood for it,” he said. “I’m getting pallets and stuff. The only thing I’ve got money in so far is the windows I’ve bought for it.”

When he moves his system outdoors, he said it will increase his ability to grow more vegetables at one time but still keep the process completely natural. “Yeah, this is organic,” he explained. “There’s no chemicals added. No nothing. Everything’s natural.”

There is a period of “detox,” as Knight explained, for about two weeks after starting the diet. “Your body goes through what they call a detox because it’s been getting chemicals and stuff.”

But he can tell a difference after being on the diet, “no more aches.” Knight said his whole family is feeling great. “It amazed me how you feel. That’s straight up.”

Chelsea Tubridy is a recent graduate from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, with a major in English and a minor in journalism.

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