We had a meeting with Frank Houben, Aptus CEO and we took the opportunity to ask him a few questions.
Hello Frank, could you introduce yourself briefly to our readers?
My name is Frank Houben and I created Aptus about 11 years ago. It started as a joke: we just gave some good products to people involved in urban agriculture and they were so amazed about the results that they asked us to sell it. That’s where Aptus is coming from. Our background is agriculture and our philosophy is to create better and healthier food for people by producing vegetables and fruits with higher nutritional values and lower pesticide residues.
You are anticipating my next question, could you tell us what are Aptus goals ?
We are still at the first step. The most important thing is education. You have to educate gardeners/growers. You have to educate wholesalers. You have to educate consumers. People need to be conscious about what’s on their plate. For that, they need to know how those fruits and vegetables are being produced. We also teach them how to use the right products to get good results. There is a lot of work to do in education, because most of the people have been educated in a traditional agricultural style, which is dominated by the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Most farmers do not know there are alternatives. So we created Aptus to try to provide this alternative and above all to free farmers/growers from being dependant to chemicals and pesticides. Indeed this is the real Aptus mission.
What is the difference between Aptus nutrients or additives from competing products?
What we try to do is to imitate Mother nature. As you know, most farmers and growers forgot how nature is working because they have always been using synthetic nutrients and pesticides. We are trying to reintroduce the basic building blocks of life. The building blocks of life disappeared from modern agriculture. And this is the reason why we are having a lot of problems. We have selected 3 building blocks : the first one is Mono-silicic acid, which is the bio-available form of silicon(Si). The second one is proteins in the form of L-amino acids. The third one is soil micro-life (bacteria and fungi). To summarize: we introduce silicon, proteins/L-amino acids and soil micro-life into your substrate. That’s how life is starting in a substrate. A soon as you introduce these three building blocks, everything changes : soil will start to live, nutrient levels will be more balanced and you avoid many problems. It provides healthy fruits and vegetables and thus healthy food for humans. If you keep eating low quality food, you get sick, that’s as simple as that. It’s the same for a plant. I am not saying that farmers and growers are not open to new ideas, but they do hesitate to try new techniques. Farmers should be responsible for our health by providing healthy fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately this is not the case for now.
If you have to suggest some nutrition or additive to a grower that just started, who is using soil, outside Aptus, which product would you recommend?
I don’t have a precise answer. I think he needs to look at the materials, their origins, and the concentration in the product available on the market. There is the choice between growing with mineral/chemical based nutrients or organic nutrients. Mother nature uses organic, so I would say go for organic as base nutrients, combined with some organic and organo-mineral additives. My main advice would be not to overdose. This is a very classical error: overfeeding your plant. If you choose some of our competitor products, you have to look for organic components and where they are coming from: are they “clean”? That is much more important than buying a nutrient bottle only because of some fancy labels. Aptus is claiming on its webpage that their products are 100% organic. Usually, organic nutrients and additives and not fitting well with hydroponic-systems. Could we use some Aptus products into a pure hydroponic system? And if so, which one would you recommend? Most of our products are 100% organic, but not all of them. The minerals we use are pure and when combined to organic compounds it creates interesting organo-mineral products. Most hydro systems are built to work with mineral nutrients and additives. With such a system you need a pH/ EC control and mineral nutrients. Then you can grow plants. With such a system you can produce in a greenhouse up to 70 tons of tomatoes per hectare, but those tomatoes will have a low quality and not a very strong taste. So now let’s say you want 50 tons, but with good quality and taste. How could we achieve this? This is a question that many growers have. In my opinion, this is where people need education.
OK but which Aptus products do you need to achieve that: All-in-One Liquid?
That’s possible because our All-in-one liquid is only made of superior grade minerals. But you need to pay attention to many parameters and this also depends on your hydroponic system. For example, when you are brewing some coffee, you don’t keep the coffee in the machine for a week. The same happens with plant nutrients: you should not leave the nutrient mix in your hydro system for a week or more. With organic compounds you are risking some precipitation/suspension in your tank that can block your drippers. In a hydroponic system, if you use organic fertilizers and or additives, you need to prepare your nutrient mix for maximum 2-3 days. If you use drippers, you need at least the 4-5mm ones. In case you use smaller drippers they can get blocked very quickly. You can grow plants with organic nutrients in a hydro system, but you need to adapt and modify some parts of the system for that. It’s all about your grow settings and your hydro system. I recommend to use 4-5 mm drippers and do not let the nutrient mix stay in the tank for more than 2-3 days. And, of course, if you ask my personal opinion, the best products come from organic sources.
Would you recommend using the Aptus Super PK or using separately P-Boost and K-Boost, and why?
When people start growing, they often use a PK 13/14. This is a product that most growers already know for many years. So the best product for us to step into the market (at the beginning when we started) was Super-PK. It’s in our Basic nutrition program for growers that just start to experience cultivation. On the other hand, in our Professional nutrition program we recommend applying PBoost (Phosphorus) and K-Boost (Potassium) separately. It is always better to separate P and K. If you use a PK fertilizer in the early flowering stage, you could end up with too much potassium during flowering stage. An excess of potassium leads to magnesium being blocked. For this reason we decided to separate P and K in our Pro nutrition program. We believe that for a good grower, this is much more beneficial, as it allows him to play more accurately with nutrient levels in order to achieve the best results. To summarize, Super-PK was our first step more than 10 years ago. Separate P and K is a better and more professional way. Not everyone can drive a formula 1 car. In order to do so, you have to be trained to obtain the right skills. It is the same for plant nutrition. High level education gives more knowledge and tools to farmers and allows them to have a better understanding and to produce higher and better yields.
Between soil, coco and pure hydroponics, if you have to choose a single substrate for plants, which one would you select?
Soil! Well… it depends on the environment and quantity of plants you want to grow. With only a few plants, I choose soil without any doubts. However, if the situation dictates to cultivate in hydro, I prefer coco peat instead of pure hydroponics because it is easier to manage. With pure hydroponics, which is less forgiving, if you make a mistake, you risk burning /damaging your plants. Soil has a buffer effect. So even if you make a mistake, your plants will suffer less and the damage will be limited. It is a matter of compromises, it is the same in the choice between mineral and organic. What’s the best for the planet? What gives the best results? What is more important the quality or the yield? At Aptus, we look for both: yield and quality.
Aptus is claiming that gardeners should have an organic approach. However your star product (Aptus Regulator) is made of silicic acid. That sounds very chemical. It’s a complete contradiction, isn’t it ?
No, because it can be used for organic farming. In nature this product, made of a silicic acid monomer, does not really exist. It is found in mineral water in a very low concentration and in an unstable state which is difficult to maintain for a long time. So we just imitate Mother nature. The origin of which this product is made is completely natural, but it has been synthesized and stabilized and finally transformed into a unique product : Aptus Regulator. Without this synthetic process, it is impossible to stabilize it. Further it’s quite important to know, that all Aptus Regulator compounds meet the pharmaceutical and food grade quality standards (which are the highest available).
For the last question we open the mic, Hortinews readers are listening to you.
What I see in this industry is that people spend a lot of money on expensive equipment: lighting system, automatic watering systems, etc... But they often forget the importance of nutrition. Most people are triggered and directed by marketing. I would like to say to Hortinews readers “Focus on the basic needs of your plants”. What are plants eating? What are their needs? When do they need it and in what form and concentration? You have to pay more attention to the origin and quality of the ingredients, to their concentration (fertilizer or additives), rather than focusing only on beautiful bottles or fancy labels (marketing). That’s important if you want to make the right choice. If you are not educated, you could easily end up being a marketing victim. An educated person knows exactly what is needed and won’t let himself be manipulated by slick marketing. If this industry wants to ramp up, then the nutrients are not to be forgotten. Professional horticulture is being dominated by a few very big companies producing both chemical nutrients and pesticides. Those companies are making money on plants with bad health. At Aptus we try to focus on plant health instead of diseases and pests and for that we really need to educate people: what do they want to eat? How to have a more sustainable and cleaner food production?
Every day we hear about organic food and problems like residues of pesticides, soil- and ground water contamination! But marketing is still seducing people… On one hand there is a major part of the population that is aware that things need to change, and we need to revert to a more natural way of life. However, on the other hand, they do not act, they wish to do it, but they don’t take action. For example, we have some growers asking us how they can reduce their fungicide usage. We provide them with some alternatives to improve the plants natural resistance preventively rather than a chemical treatment. Wholesalers are sometimes upset about that: they are thinking they will sell less fungicides and are not so keen to distribute and sell a product that will improve plants health and resistance.
It’s a bit like what happened with the steam engine when combustion engines got launched on the market. There was a clear willing to continue using steam engines because people were afraid of combustion motors. When you talk to a farmer/grower who’s using the same chemical products since the beginning, and when we advise him to reduce the quantities, his reply is “I am doing that since 20 years, if I am listening to you, things can go wrong ”. We have conducted tons of field trials on many plants/crops, so we are able to show our results. We proved that by using our products, you are improving plant health in such a way that it allows reducing pesticides usages significantly and creates less residues in your plants, fruits and vegetables.
The most surprising results we had in our tests is that plants are very often stressed by pesticides and when they are stressed, you get less yield! This is a fact that you will not hear from those multinational companies in our market. We did a lot of research and we are showing to farmers and growers our results. The use of pesticides can cause plant stress that results in reduced protein transformation. That’s why, when applying pesticides, we always advise to combine them with Lamino acids to help plants resist the stress and provide the plants with proteins.
I am not saying that we absolutely need to live without any pesticides. However we can live with a sustainable and integrated way of the use of pesticides and moreover ban their preventive use which in my opinion is something totally crazy: will you take a medicine when you are not sick? If you teach people how to provide food to plants and how to stimulate them correctly, they will have less issues and so you will have less need to use all those pesticides. Often used marketing techniques are like: “I am scaring you and then I claim this pill will save you from what will happen”. If you are properly educated, one could state: “I am aware of my own health and 2 litres of water every day, good nutrition and a very good night of sleep can solve the issue probably too”.
This awareness is something that really motivates Aptus : you know you are doing good because you can create a positive effect on what people eat and finally on people’s health. Last thing I would like to say to your readers: sometimes people say it is complicated to use Aptus products because of the high concentrations of our fertilizers and additives. Wholesalers and shops are reporting to us that as their customers think it looks difficult, they could have some trouble to sell our products. We would like to state that it is not that difficult even if it looks difficult. In fact when you get educated it is simple, better and more economic. We are always available to reply to questions of farmers/growers. You should never hesitate to ask us and we are eager to help and answer your questions. In that way we made an Aptus manual for gardeners (editor’s note: around 50 pages with many drawings). For more experienced growers/horticulture professionals we made a complete book (editor’s note: around 150 pages nicknamed “Aptus Bible”, very complete information). At the moment we are working on a European version of this book, which was originally made for the US market. Indeed knowledge and spreading knowledge are kings. That’s as simple as that. We say that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed is king. If we manage to successfully open one eye of many people, everyone will be king!