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Resourceful Barnstead man's hydroponic systems popular with backyard growers

BARNSTEAD — The Comtois family first got into hydroponics in the summer of 2006, using a system designed for commercial growers which was effective but expensive.
Hydroponic growing, a method of growing vegetables using mineral rich solutions in water and without soil, now occupies five acres of their 93-acre Sticks and Stones Farm.
''The cost of the system we started with was equal to what it cost us to have it shipped here. We worked with it over the years, but we were always buying someone else's system. And our prices were too high as a result. So I decided to try building my own,'' says Guy Comtois.
He decided to make his own using off-the-shelf materials and developed a horizontal hydroponics system using four inch PVC pipe cut into four foot lengths that are mounted on stands which can hold 30, 60 or 120 plants.
''The PVC pipe is UV treated so that it can withstand the sun and we run a drip line through each of the pods that hold 10 plants each,'' says Comtois, who says that the drip line is controlled by a timer and periodically circulates the nutrient-rich water through the growing medium, coconut fiber from Sri Lanka.
''There are no weeds and we found that we could take sections of pipe to farmer's markets and let people pick their own lettuce,'' says Barbara Comtois, who added that lettuce, tomatoes, basil, onions and baby carrots all grow well in the system.
Guy says it took him about a year to perfect his home made system and that it wasn't until a customer who owned a summer home on a nearby lake was so impressed with it that he asked Comtois to build him one so he could take it back to his home in Massachusetts.
''I never planned on making them to sell,'' says Comtois, who since that time has started making the units and marketing them as a U-Gro system over the Internet. He's sold 100 of them so far, mostly to people in California and the Southwest.
''We've sold them in 15 states so far and I have a provisional patent which I'm hoping to finalize soon.'' says Comtois, who says he's already had offers to partner with investors who would have them built in China.
''I don't want to do that. It would defeat the purpose of why I built them in the first place, which is to encourage people to grow food locally and avoid all the shipping costs associated with agriculture,'' He's still working on new variations of the U-Gro and is now developing one now which is solar-powered.
He and his wife moved to Barnstead from Pelham in 2000, looking for a new life after seeing the town they had grown up in become overgrown with development.
''We went to a youth baseball game and realized that we didn't know any of the other parents there, that the town had changed so much we didn't recognize it anymore. That's when we decided we wanted something that was a little slower-paced,'' says Comtois.
He had worked remodeling retail stores in shopping malls all up and down the East Coast and realized shortly after they bought the land in Barnstead that something new was in order for him and his young family.
Both he and his wife were intrigued with the idea of raising their family on a self-sufficient farm and put their shoulders to the wheel to achieve it. Barbara home schools their two children and handles the business end of the farming operations.
Using his skills as a builder. Comtois built the family home and two green houses for their produce business, followed by a farm stand where they could sell their vegetables. Then he put up shelters and run-ins for their animals, which included rabbits, which provide lean high protein meat, as well as Belted Galloway cattle, a sturdy breed which can handle New Hampshire winters.
There are also chickens, who live in a portable roost which goes from one pasture to another so that they can live off the land while eating the worms and bugs that feed in the nutrient-rich soil left by the livestock. There's also a pond filled with ducks, which will supply food at local restaurants.
Two Belgian draft horses are used for plowing and pulling the hay wagon and also provide hay rides in the fall and sleigh rides in the winter for visitors to the farm.
The vegetables grown at their greenhouses include basil, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, collards, cucumbers, eggplant, head lettuce, kale, leeks, radishes, spinach, summer squash, tomatoes, watermelons and winter squash.
The farm grow raspberries, garlic, and asparagus using conventional methods and is also experimenting with fruit trees.
Comtois is also a skilled rock cutter who has developed rock sculptures which can be seen at many resorts and private homes in New England.
He says that he sees a bright future for small farmers in New Hampshire, especially with the eat local mantra which has developed in recent years.

A two-term member of the New Hampshire House, Comtois serves on the House Environmental and Agriculture committee, the Republican says he works on behalf of legislation which will help small farmers.

Barbara and Guy Comtois of Sticks and Stones Farm in Barnstead with a solar-powered hydroponic growing system that he has developed. (Roger Amsden for The Laconia Daily Sun)


Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 August 2013 03:24

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Fire on Water Street quickly controlled

LACONIA — Firefighters from three communities assisted Laconia at a building fire on Water Street yesterday that charred through a second floor ceiling.

Capt. Bob Landry said at 7:30 a.m. the owner the home at 92 Water Street noticed water was pouring down from the second floor ceiling in to the first floor.

He said he ran upstairs and saw a charged spot on the bathroom floor near the attic wall that had burned through the floor. Landry said the homeowner ran downstairs and shut off the water and called 9-1-1.

Landry said it appears there was an electrical fire that melted the solder on the water pipe, the water from which extinguished most of the fire.

He said when firefighters arrived smoke was coming from the eaves and a first alarm was called bringing firefighters from Gilford, Belmont and Meredith to the city to either Water Street or to cover city stations.

"Any time we have a wood-frame home with smoke coming from the eaves, it's at least a first alarm," Landry said.

He said the house is inhabitable and the cause of the fire is likely electrical and accidental. No one was injured.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 August 2013 03:10

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Routine ID checks lead police in 2 towns to arrest people wanted in other states

LACONIA — Two people alleged to be fugitives from justice appeared by video in the 4th Circuit Court yesterday — a woman who was arrested by Gilford Police and a man in a completely unrelated case who was apprehended by Belmont Police.

Belmont Police arrested Thomas S. Jenkins, of 32 River Road in Gilford for failing to appear in the Fulton County, Georgia, Superior Court to answer to one count of possession of heroin. He is charged with one felony count of being a fugitive from justice.

Jenkins was one of three people who were at Leslie Roberts Town Beach after it was closed on Sunday night. Police ran a routine check on all three and learned Jenkins was wanted by Fulton County.

His lawyer argued that Jenkins was released 18 months ago from a Fulton County Superior Court holding cell and not given any paperwork or notice to appear. He said his client lived in Georgia for 18 months after he was released from custody and never got any notice that he was to appear in court.

Belmont Police wanted him held on very high or no bail but Carroll told the prosecutor to "get a governor's warrant." Belmont Police said  Fulton County officials have said they will extradite him. The Daily Sun confirmed with Fulton County officials yesterday that Jenkins was arrested on September, 9, 2011 for one count of heroin possession.

His lawyer argued he is employed full-time as a cook at a local restaurant and is a substitute teacher for the Gilford School District, which was confirmed by the superintendent of schools yesterday.

After hearing bail arguments, Judge Carroll ordered him held on $500 cash and $10,000 personal recognizance bail, to live at 32 River Road, to not drink any alcohol or take any non-prescribed drugs, and to report daily to the Gilford Police until the matter of his alleged non-appearance can be unraveled.

In an unrelated matter, Joann Wilcox, 42, of 10 Derry St. Apt. 2 in Manchester was a passenger in a car that was being driven on the Gilford By-Pass that was stopped by Gilford Police. When the officer learned the driver was operative with a suspended license, he asked if there was someone in the car who could drive the car.

Wilcox said she was a licensed driver but when the officer checked to make sure, he learned she was wanted on a probation violation due to a previous charge of possession of a controlled substance from the 24th Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri.

Affidavits indicated police spoke to Cpl. Cositino of St. Francois County, Missouri who said the state of Missouri would take full extradition of her.

She is charged with one count of being a fugitive from justice.

Judge Jim Carroll ordered she be held without bail until a hearing on August 19 when she can have a hearing status. She had waived extradition when arrested in Missouri.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 August 2013 03:07

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Convention v. Commission seems headed for court after unproductive summit

LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention and Belknap County Commission moved a step nearer taking their differences to court after officials of the two bodies remained at loggerheads following a private meeting in the presence of their attorneys last Friday.

"It is sad and unfortunate we found no common ground," Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, wrote in an e-mail to her 17 colleagues on Sunday afternoon. "So now our next step is to move forward to let the courts decide."

Worsman, along with Representatives Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the Executive Committee of the convention and Jane Cormier (R-Alton), clerk of the convention, met with Commissioner John Thomas (R-Belmont), chairman of the commission, County Administrator Debra Shackett and County Finance Director Glen Waring. Attorneys David Horan, representing the convention, and Sharon Somers and Robert Derosier, representing the commission, were also present.

The purpose of the meeting, Worsman explained in her e-mail, was "to see if we could find some common ground regarding the budget, spending and if executive approval is or is not necessary for the 90+ fund transfers that have been made including now in excess of $25,000 out of the contingency fund."

Throughout the 2013 budget process the Republican majority of the convention has insisted that the convention can rewrite the budget proposed by the commission by adding or deleting, raising or lowering appropriations for particular line items. And, in the course of managing the budget, the commission may only reallocate funds from one line to another with the approval of the Executive Committee of the convention.

With equal resolve the commissioners claim that the authority of the convention is limited to itemizing appropriations in 13 categories accord with the "Statement of County Appropriations and Revenue as Voted," or MS-42 form, submitted to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration. Within these categories, the commission contends it can distribute funds among different lines without the approval of the convention as long as expenditures do not exceed the total appropriations of the particular categories.

"The commissioners position," Worsman told members of the convention after the meeting, "is that they can spend money any way they so long as they don't exceed the bottom line. This obviously clashes with the many votes taken by the convention that will heavily affect the 12014 budget."

Last week's meeting stemmed from correspondence that began in June when Horan wrote to Thomas informing him that the commission had changed the amounts the convention budgeted in 91 separate line items and added dollar amounts to lines the convention left blank without seeking the approval of either the convention or its Executive Committee. He asked that the commission "immediately cease spending money from budget lines where zero money was appropriated, comply with the budget adopted by the convention and submit written requests to the Executive Committee for all transfers. He noted that the Executive Committee was meeting on June 24 and asked the commissioners to reply before the meeting.

Nearly a month later, Somers replied on behalf of the commission and refused to yeild an inch. "Having reviewed your points," she began, "I believe and have advised the commission that your conclusions are not supported by New Hampshire law and that . . . the commissioners have acted correctly, prudently and legally." Somers closed by remarking that commissioners wish "to move past this current impasse" and proposed that the chairman, vice-chairman and clerk of the convention, together with one of its five Democratic members, meet with Shackett and Waring.

Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) was troubled by news of the meeting. "The convention voted to hire an attorney and vote to authorize Colette (Worsman) to be the contact person," he told The Daily Sun. "But, we never voted to authorize her to hold private meetings. What upset me the most," he continued, "was that we weren't told about the meeting until after the fact."

Huot said that he was "disappointed" that Worsman chose Tilton and Cormier to represent the convention without considering any other Republicans and "shut the Democrats out of the governing process altogether." He said that he believes neither the convention nor the commission is "100-percent right" and suggested his perspective should be represented.

Worsman told The Daily Sun that those who attended the meeting on Friday were carefully chosen to ensure a private meeting that did not contravene the "Right-to-Know" law. She said that she invited Tllton because he chairs the Executive Committee, which oversees the administration of the budget, and Cormier, who as clerk could take minutes if necessary.
"I can't help the fact that there are 13 Republicans and five Democrats on the delegation," Worsman said. "I can't change the facts."

Responding to misgivings expressed by Huot and Rep. Ruth Gulick (D-New Hampton) in an e-mail chain, Rep. Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) wrote, "Republicans do not get to whine in Concord when things do not go their way which is virtually always. What gives anyone the right to complain about the very open process which has been used in the county delegation?" To Huot he wrote, "Get a subpoena."

Worsman said that she was concerned that Huot provided her e-mail to members of the convention to the press, claiming that because it was copied to Horan it was a protected communication between client and attorney.

Although Worsman indicated in her e-mail that the convention would file suit, she declined to comment to the newspaper what steps the convention would take next. Instead, she said that the convention has taken no decisions and will be consulting with its legal counsel. "This is tremendously unfortunate," she said. "It saddens me that we need to protect the taxpayers of Belknap County."


Last Updated on Thursday, 15 August 2013 10:49

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