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Soil Vs. Hydroponics

Soil Vs. Hydroponics: What Method Grows The Best Plants?


The question of which is better, soil or hydroponics, begins with an explanation of what each method entails. Many growers who believe they are growing in soil, are actually growing in a soilless growing mix.

Technically, soil is comprised of three particles; sand, silt, clay, as well as a sufficient amount of organic matter. Potting soil, which contains very minute amounts of actual soil particles (if any at all), is instead comprised of aged and green organic matter, with varying amounts of perlite or vermiculite, and some added plant nutrients.

Many gardeners who grow in pots or raised beds are doing so in a potting soil grow media and would likely characterize it as growing in soil, not hydroponically, but it could technically be considered a gray area between the two growing techniques.

Before we begin comparing soil to hydroponics, it’s important to clarify just what is hydroponic and what is not. The decision breaks down to whether plants are being grown indoors or out. However, this classification misses many significant points. If based on the original idea of the absence of true soil particles, this would improperly group many techniques incorrectly.

One aspect of hydroponic growing that is commonly noted is the increased control over various aspects like temperature, nutrient concentration, and even root-zone oxygen. This can be accomplished inside a grow tent or many types of greenhouses, but not necessarily outdoors.

The variation of nutrient concentration can quickly be accomplished in Deep Water Culture (DWC), as compared with other grow medias. This is due to the residual nutrient level in media other than water, and any change in that level is stabilized. In DWC, the entire reservoir can be rapidly changed over and the resulting nutrient formula can be completely different.

Let’s compare DWC with old fashioned grow-in-the-dirt outdoor agriculture, which are probably the two extremes of hydroponic-versus-soil grow techniques. This dirt, we can assume, includes a good supply of organic matter in addition to the traditional soil particles.


Living Grow Media

With either of these two techniques, there are some very critical parameters that will determine plant taste and human nutrition quality, in addition to plant vigor and health. A “living soil” is essential to obtaining the best results from our soil garden.

The beneficial microbes, fungi, and bacteria that multiply and work in our garden are essential to plant nutritional uptake, and hence flavor, as well as nutritional output. The same is true of DWC—we need liquid nutrients continuously flowing past the root system to be alive with beneficial microbial life to assist in the development and uptake of vital plant nutrients.

Mycorrhizal fungi are an essential part of a root system’s ability to take up more nutrients from whatever grow media the roots live in. Bacteria are required to convert many nutrients into an available form.

With water culture, these fungi can be introduced but until they have attached to actual roots they do not increase in biomass. These microbes also require a consistent and adequate supply of available oxygen to survive. It does not take long for the vital microbial life to die off in the absence of oxygen.

Though flavor is, to a great degree, inescapably subjective, there is a science behind what impacts it. Tissue samplings can verify the nutritional content of a vegetable, removing the subjectivity aspect for the health aspect. Nutritional content within the plant root system will be directly related to the nutritional content of the plant tissue.


Soil vs. Hydroponics: Taste

If we are to review the “taste” aspect of the soil versus hydroponic question, we will need to look at just what makes the fruit or leaf of a garden crop taste good. What nutrients within a leaf, fruit, or root create the desirable flavors that most people want? We need to consider that the senses of taste and smell are subjective.

The primary flavor categories are: astringent, bitter, pungent, salty, sour, and sweet. The aspect of sweetness is easily measured within the roots or leaves of a plant. The rating factor for the level of these sugars, called brix, can be measured by a refractometer.

Other aspects of flavor is pungency, or “hot and spicy.” With peppers this is a major point, and to measure this, we look at capsaicin content. For this factor, a high-performance liquid chromatography measurement is taken and rated in Scoville heat units (SHU).

Sour foods are generally acidic. This quality can be measured, but it’s tricky. Sour does have other chemical properties and some foods can be acidic because they are pungent.

Many people do not like to eat their vegetables—their phytonutrient content can make them bitter. These seem to have been produced by the plant through its evolution for self-protection. These phytonutrients are things like phenols, flavonoids, isoflavones, terpenes, glucos insolates, and other compounds that can help fight off cancer and produce positive health effects, but may not appeal to our sense of taste. Healthy plants produce more of these; this is what gives them the ability to fend off pests.

Because of this bitterness, many large food suppliers or growers have sought to breed a lower level of these nutrients into their crops to improve desirability and hence sales. Though calcium is vital for the health of plants and humans, its content in veggies has also been thought to increase bitterness. A reduction in the supply of calcium to a plant will reduce its calcium content and lower bitterness, but is it appropriate to reduce calcium?

Whether we realize it or not, the aspect of bitter within a vegetable adds to the overall richness and enjoyability of food and can balance out a dish that would otherwise be too sweet or salty.


What Types of Things Improve a Plant's Flavor?

The healthier a plant is, the more of its natural chemicals and flavors will be exhibited. To say one technique of growing (soil or hydro) produces a less-bitter flavor than another takes this issue in the wrong direction. Bottom line: to obtain the maximum flavor and the healthiest produce, it is important to obtain optimal plant vigor by providing all the necessary nutrients.

Using the same soil to grow the same crops year after year diminishes the productivity of the crop as well as its flavor. The major cause of this is depletion of essential micronutrients in the soil, as well as the likelihood that microbe variety and count may have diminished. Remember that the life within the grow media (presence of beneficial microbes) is key to plant nutrient uptake. Various bacteria and fungi need to work symbiotically with the plant roots to produce vigorous, healthy, and tasty produce.


Soil vs Hydroponics: System Comparisons

The microbiology within the grow media is just as important no matter which system (soil or water) we choose. Though DWC offers the opportunity to quickly measure and adjust the nutrient mix and microbial life forms, it also requires a continual awareness of what is going on within the media. A healthy living soil media is much slower to respond to any change you make; because of this, maintaining stability can be easier.

Controlling nutrient levels and media microbiology is the essence of producing optimum flavor and health benefits. Ambient air and media temperatures also contribute to these factors, and these aspects can be controlled better in hydroponics. In the correct season (provided local climate allows), soil grows will typically neutralize this benefit to a great degree.

Anecdotal reports on flavor or health benefits on each of these growing techniques will continue to be debated. (See the resources for this article for more details on the debate). As time and controlled studies continue there will exciting new things to learn. Current science would seem to indicate that either method can be used for optimal flavor and nutrition when operated properly.

Picking the technique that matches a particular grower’s needs seems to be the most important choice.

  • How much time and expertise does the grower have available?
  • Is the climate where the grower is located going to provide the necessary conditions for optimal plant health and vigor?

As for the possible conflict between providing optimal health or best flavor, it is the grower's decision, in addition to his or her subsequent efforts, that make the difference, not really which of these systems is used.

Written by Mr.. Frank Rauscher

Blogs
Why More Growers Are Switching To Fabric Pots

Takeaway: Container gardening is not a new concept, but the types of containers that offer the ability to produce unprecedented amounts of food are indeed revolutionary.

In days of old, as in less than a century ago, people relied on small-scale farms and gardens to grow the food they needed to feed their families. It was commonplace for each household to have a veggie plot on their land.

Nowadays, with the onset of industrialized commercial agriculture, food had been confined to the walls of cans, bags and boxes. It is then processed to preserve it, and shipped across the country before it reaches the mouths it was intended to feed. In the modern era of fast, cheap and convenient, many children grow up not even knowing where food comes from!

As industry has pushed rural folk toward cities, giving birth to the sprawl of suburbia, many people have given up on gardening as a way to provide themselves with safely grown, nutritious produce.

In densely packed urban centers, growing any plant can seem nearly impossible. However, not all hope is lost! Thanks to the numerous benefits of container gardening, just about any plant imaginable can be grown in even the most concrete of jungles.

Container gardening is not a new or revolutionary concept. Cultures throughout the ages have embraced container gardening as an innovative and effective way to grow food. From the millennia of pottery that has been unearthed in archaeological excavations across the globe to the famed hanging gardens of Babylon, container gardens have etched their importance into the pages of history.

What is revolutionary are the simple, yet effective, types of containers that have been popping up in the modern-day marketplace with the ability to produce crop yields of unprecedented proportions.

When we think of container gardening, a terra cotta flower pot, a decorative ceramic planter or a standard black plastic nursery pot are probably the first images that come to mind. While those receptacles, of course, have the ability to contain soil or a medium, it’s the fabric aeration containers that are taking the hydroponics industry by storm and really blowing other pots out of the water.

What is a fabric aeration container? Well, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s a container made from a breathable fabric that works as a great alternative to traditional pots—its benefits are many and the results are noticeable! Here are a few of the advantages that these fabric pots bring to the table:


Promotes air pruning of the roots and prevents roots circling:

In standard plastic nursery pots, roots grow outward and eventually hit the impenetrable walls of the pot, leaving them with nowhere to go. They travel downward and then hit the bottom of the pot.

Again with nowhere to go, they begin to spiral around one another, choking each other out and becoming “root bound.” This leads to a stressed-out plant, stunted growth and ultimately a smaller harvest. In the fabric pot, the roots grow outward and when they reach the side, they are naturally pruned by the air and light instead of traveling down and circling.


Improves root structure and mass:

When the roots become air pruned by the fabric, the plant begins to shoot out new feeder roots. The increase in root mass provides more area of root matter that can uptake water and nutrients, allowing the plant to grow bigger and at an accelerated rate.


Aerates the root zone and regulates temperature:

The breathable fabric allows oxygen to aerate the root zone from all sides, rather than from just the top. The oxygenation helps beneficial microbes in the soil thrive and contributes to a healthy rhizosphere (the living area around the roots), as the breathability and evaporative cooling helps keep temperatures low (conversely, temperatures in plastic pots reach such extreme levels that they could literally cook the microbiology in the soil). It’s like wearing a wet t-shirt rather than a trash bag.


Prevents overwatering:

The porous fabric provides excellent drainage on all sides so the roots don’t get overwatered and drown. Overwatering is also one of the main causes of mold and pathogens, so sufficient drainage is crucial to preventing it.


Can be used in hydro systems:

Water can get out… and in! They work great in ebb-and-flow systems, allowing water to penetrate the bag and be absorbed by the medium. They also act as a filter, allowing a grower to use a soilless medium in a hydroponic system without the threat of the medium clogging the tubes and various components. Fabric pots make growing food possible where soil conditions are poor. In other words, fabric aeration bags make gardening possible where it would not have been before!


Fabric pots are completely mobile:

The containers are flexible, so they are easy to fold up and store when not in use. They can also be moved to different locations around a yard if sunlight only reaches certain areas at different times of the day.

Since fabric aeration containers have made their debut into the hydroponics industry, they have been the buzz in grow rooms around the world. When choosing a fabric pot for optimal crops and maximum yields, keep in mind that not all pots are created equally! Here are some features to look for when choosing the best fabric pot for you:


Quality of Fabric Containers for Gardening:

When investing your hard-earned money into your garden, it is far worth a slightly higher initial investment to buy superior quality materials. You want bags that you can use crop after crop for years. Look for fabric bags that will last for a long time, and won’t rip after a couple of uses.

Try to find bags that are UV-protected so they won’t break apart after minimal sun exposure. This will reduce the frequency that you have to buy them, and actually save you money over time. Your best bet would be to invest in a bag made in the United States with quality proprietary fabric. Also, be sure to ask which bags are food-grade.


Be mindful of the material:

Many fabric bags will boast that they are “made from recycled materials” and “degradable.” Recycled materials could be anything from used plastic bottles or recycled textiles to cotton fabrics. Depending on the raw source, “recycled” materials could lead to the leaching of toxins into the root zone. Cotton has the tendency to attract disease and pathogens. “Degradable” simply means that it falls apart, which is not a good thing!


Keep it simple:

Look for a good strong bag without mechanical components. While zippers, Velcro and straps might seem cool and convenient, they are the first pieces to get clogged with soil, fail and be rendered useless way too soon. Handles can be helpful, if the bag will be moved around frequently.

A great quality fabric aeration container combined with premium organic nutrients, plenty of light, and ample ventilation are the key components to achieving some of the largest yields in history. Side-by-side tests in fabric aeration containers versus plastic pots prove noticeable differences in plant quality and yield size. With fabric containers, the possibilities are virtually limitless!

They have made it possible for urbanites in metropolitan areas to grow on balconies, porches, vertical walls and rooftops, leaving them no excuse not to grow their own food—a hopeful notion for a society that has become so far removed from their food source. Incorporate some fabric bags into your garden and see for yourself just how impressive the results can be!

Written by Helene Isbell

Blogs
Why hydroponics In India Is Important

Pioneers in India propose hydroponics as a solution that can change the way horticulture is done there. The advantages of hydroponics include but are not limited to the following:

  • Requires no soil
  • Enables for the reuse of water
  • Provides greater control of nutrients to prevent over nourished crops
  • Enables ease of harvesting
  • Enables ease of pest management and food safety controls
  • Increases food production stability, providing higher yields
  • Provides off-season production when market prices are highest

In this two-part article series, we will be discussing why hydroponics or controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is feasible and why more awareness should be raised to the simple technologies that help make this happen.


First, let’s talk numbers!

As of July 2016, only 30,000 hectares (ha) have polyhouse structures (also known as a ‘hoop house’) or covered cultivation in India. While the national average for vegetable yields in India is 17 tons/ha; in developed countries it is more than 40 tons/ha. This large disparity is due to many of the aforementioned challenges. The latest available figures from 2014 state that only 17% of India's agricultural land is used for horticultural crops, giving a total of 270.46M metric tons of horticulture production. This makes the availability of vegetables per day per person just 374 grams. In a study performed by the National Restaurant Association of India and Technopak, India's food services market is estimated at $48B. In five years, it is estimated to increase to $78B. How to meet this projected increase will largely depend on the amount of land provisioned for covered food cultivation and the technologies incorporated.

If lettuce were grown in India today, it could be 30% cheaper than imported and provide large positive, social impacts to their economy. Imported cherry tomatoes can cost Rs 1,000/ kg; if domestically produced, cherry tomatoes could be priced as low as Rs 200. Exotic vegetable production is highly suitable for the hydroponic farmer. Introducing an assured market with consumers, the exotic vegetable market, which includes produce such as golden beetroots, Caribbean peppers, thirteen varieties of lettuce, asparagus, artichokes, fennel, and Okahijiki, a Japanese land seaweed, is increasing. India is currently importing more than 85% of its exotic vegetables, creating a growth rate of 15-20% per year. Certainly, hydroponics or CEA can help fuel this growth given the farming expertise that exists in India.


Revenue Potential :

When the land is already owned, capital costs per acre every 5 years are Rs 30.5 lakhs. Operational costs, with tomatoes as the example crop, in 1 acre per year are Rs 9 lakhs and revenue typically averages around 33.5 lakhs. If the land is independently owned the profit potential of 15 lakhs per year is slightly less than if it were leased, averaging around 16.5 lakhs per year.

It’s important to note that in the first year a greenhouse is purchased, 80% depreciation is available under the Indian Income Tax Act to the buyer. 75% bank financing is available through agriculture loans and a 20% subsidy on greenhouses is available from National Horticulture Board (NHB). Thankfully, insurance is also available for portable greenhouses in India.


There are challenges…

Innate to soil based agriculture, there are certainly challenges relevant to hydroponics. Issues facing the use of hydroponics in India include droughts and unpredictable weather, rising temperatures, polluted water systems, lack of irrigation, poor water management, and high freight costs from India.


…but there are also opportunities…

There is a viable market due to population growth that is ready to purchase hydroponically grown food within India. This customer market includes retail and hotel, and fast food chains, railway catering, foreign food service companies, NGO’s, and defense establishments. The following further supports how hydroponics is a lucrative opportunity to deploy in India:

  • India has rich climatic conditions positioning it favorably for market hydroponic produce
  • Labor costs are favorable with intelligent human capital
  • An abundant growth market already exists due to India's large population
  • In depth knowledge of crop cycles, food safety and pest management, and hydroponic methodologies exists

In our second article, we will explore a more in depth analysis of existing technologies that are simple, very low cost, and can leverage local resources to create a viable hydroponic farms in India.

Written By Tinia Pina, Re-Nuble

Blogs
Thinking Of Trying Hydroponics?

Thinking of Trying Hydroponics? Then Start with Coco Coir!

Reusable, sustainable, easy-to-use and a by-product of coco fiber industry. Could the ecological credentials of coco coir be any better?

It is great to live in India, as that the coco peat/coir is abundant and easily available to use to grow your hydroponic plants .As a hydroponic medium, coconut fiber not only boasts some great ecological qualities but it also has outstanding water and air holding capacity. It can hold eight to nine times its own weight in water without becoming anaerobic-even when saturated it can still hold on to around 22% air-beating even rockwool (around 10% air holding capacity.) Coco coir is therefore a forgiving hydroponic medium, allowing roots access to enough oxygen even when watered a little too enthusiastically with a warm nutrient solution. This makes it the ideal choice for beginners!

Coco coir also boasts antifungal and root promoting properties. Coco coir can suppress and protect plants from dreaded root diseases such as pythium and phytophthora.


Qualities of Coco Coir:

  • Coco has ideal pH in the range of 6-6.7
  • It holds 8 to 9 times its weight in water
  • It holds 22% air even when fully saturated!
  • It has excellent drainage and air porosity for better plant growth
  • The top layer always remains dry, leaving behind no chances of fungal growth
  • It never shrinks, cracks or produces crust
  • It aids in suppressing fungus gnats, to a degree
  • Excellent cation exchange
  • Its anti-fungal properties help plants to get rid of soil borne diseases (inhibits pathogens like phythium and phytophthora)
  • Extremely easy to re-hydrate after being dehydrated
  • It is a 100% renewable resource
  • Lightweight
  • Completely environmentally friendly

What's Coco Coir, Coco Pith (Peat) and Coco Chips
There are three parts to a good, commercially available coco coir based growth medium: coco fiber, coco pith (coco peat), and chips. Each confers its own benefits to your plants.

Coco Pith:

Think of coco pith / coco peat as the sponge-like component of the mix. It looks like loose tea leaves and holds a large amount of water but, because it is smaller, it facilitates much less capacity to hold air. It is more lignin (woody) and decomposes very slowly. Properly aged, it contains the complex that holds potassium and sodium until it is fertilized and a stronger ion, usually calcium, bumps these off, thereby locking up the calcium and freeing large amounts of harmful salts. Proper aging of this coco pith is therefore critical. It affects the crop time since a minimum amount of time is required to make this usable, at least four months, which reduces the amount of time available for use.


Coco Fiber: 

Fiber holds little water but increases the capacity of the growing medium to hold air; the more fiber you see in your coco mix, the more often you will need to water it. Fiber is largely cellulose and degrades fairly quickly. This degradation has an adverse affect on the stability of the medium. The length of these fibers is also critical to these functions as well.


Coco Chips:


Coco chips hold the least water. Think of them as a natural form of clay pebbles. They combine the properties of the fiber and pith; they are approximately the same size as the fiber and positively influence air-holding properties while holding water. They have the highest air to water ratio of all three parts. Achieving the correct ratio of these components is critical in developing a well-drained, well structured medium for growth, just as the proper preparation of the chemical characteristics is important by buffering the blend before use. (Hydroponic-grade coco coir growing medium has been treated so that unwanted potassium and sodium has been removed. This helps to ensure that the nutrients you later add to the coco coir can actually be used by your plants.


What Makes For Good Coco?

Coco coir is a natural product and, as such, the way it is harvested and prepared is key to achieving a quality end horticultural product. It is usually stored in giant piles for a couple of years. Unless stored carefully, these huge coco piles can be susceptible to colonization by unwanted pathogens (partly due to the pH of the coco being favorable to pathogens) so, in this case, the coco must be steam or chemically sterilized in order to make it suitable for horticultural use. However, chemical sterilization can have adverse effects; and steaming destroys the structure of the coco peat while converting any nitrogen present into a toxic form, nitrite nitrogen; both destroy any beneficial organisms that are usually present. So what's the solution? A coco coir supplier needs to control the coconut from harvest to bagging, remove the opportunities for unwanted seed and pathogen contamination, and carefully control the aging process directly. Only then will they stand a chance of producing the cleanest, most alive and most productive form of coco coir.

Caring for the product through proper storage and packaging is critical, after preparation and again after packaging. Storing it too wet speeds decomposition. Drying in big mechanical driers can also have a detrimental effect on structure. In short, improper handling will drastically reduce the ability of the product to provide the correct root environment for proper root growth. Finally, consistency: a grower needs to be sure that they are growing in the same material crop after crop to ensure success. Imagine the heartache of losing a crop because the salts were not properly washed off your latest batch, or the coco peat is too decomposed - this REALLY happens!

So don't be afraid to ask questions of your coco supplier. Look for an established supplier that sun dries the coco, one that incorporates the correct coco pith, coco fiber and coco chip fractions to get the best blend. This is specific to the grower's irrigation system, the plants being grown, and the size of the pots used. For instance, you wouldn't grow orchids in fine coco pith as they require lot of air! Conversely, any fast growing vegetable in warm conditions would enjoy lots of coco pith in the mix. Look for coco that is clean and washed correctly, one that is packaged and stored correctly, and one that is correctly aged.


Preparation:

Let's take a look at how this natural product should be prepared by the manufacturer. This is the biggest concern in selecting coco coir for hydroponics use. (Don't be tempted to use the 'ornamental variety' you sometimes find at your local garden center. This may still contain high levels of salt.) The outer fibers of the coconut are removed by soaking them in water. This soaking process involves either the use of fresh water or, more commonly, the use of tidal water which can be very high in salt. As coco coir has an excellent cation exchange ability it tends to hold onto things like salt which, when used in a hydroponic or indoor set up, can wreak havoc on your plants. Good quality, hydroponic grade coco coir will have not have a high salt content, but you should always flush it through with a low EC nutrient solution before use until no more tannins are coming out. Tannins can easily be seen as they stain or color the water brown. Some indoor gardeners check to see if the PPM of the water coming out of the coco is the same as the water they're putting in - but a more reliable method is the 1:1.5 extraction method which better determines the actual pH and EC of the coco itself.


How To Test The Suitability of Coco Coir for Hydroponic Applications You need to get an idea of the electrical conductivity and pH of your coco coir.

  • Take a handful of coco coir and put it in a bowl. For the most representative sample, take a pinch from different parts of the bag.
  • Mix with about 6 oz of di-mineralized (reverse-osmosis) water and leave for a few hours.
  • Mix again and measure the pH.
  • Strain off the coco coir so you are left with just the water. Measure the EC and pH of the water.

A good score is around 1.0 EC. (The lower the better.) 1.3 is acceptable. The pH should read between 5.3 and 6.2.

Many growers treat coco coir like potting mix-i.e. they use it in regular plant pots. Some add a shallow layer of clay pebbles or clean silica rock on the bottom of the pot to aid drainage and to help air get pulled through into the root zone. Drippers are a great way to provide irrigation but many growers simply hand water too.


Do I Need Coco-Specific Nutrients?

Many manufacturers offer a 'coco specific' nutrient formula. This is because coco coir tends to hold onto phosphorus, while only holding a little calcium and releasing small amounts of potassium. Manufacturers counter this by providing extra calcium in their coco formulations, but not so much that it competes for potassium uptake resulting in a potential for potassium deficiency.

Do they work? Yes they do but you can also use a regular hydroponic nutrient too as they contain enough calcium. Some growers swear by their coco-specific nutrients though, claiming a purpose-made nutrient is best. Aim for a pH of around 6.0 as this will allow maximum availability of all nutrient elements. As with all hydroponic applications, a little pH swing is a good thing (say between 5.5 and 6.5) as it opens the doors to different nutrients.

All in all, coco coir is an amazing, exciting and easy to use renewable growing medium. It's easy to work with and is perhaps the best stepping stone for soil growers who want to take their first steps with hydroponics.

Blogs
The Pet Bharo Project

The Pet Bharo Project-Solving Poverty And Hunger In India Through Simplified Hydroponics

Simplified Hydroponics is a technology incorporating soilless culture techniques without the use of mechanical devices or testing equipment. Developed in the early 1980’s in Colombia, Simplified Hydroponics projects have been implemented in 22 Latin American and African countries mostly funded by UNDP and the UN FAO.

Simplified Hydroponics has been designed to be accessible to people with limited resources and inputs such as land space, water, nutrients and grower infrastructure. The technology has now evolved to incorporate low inputs and concentrates on utilizing recycled materials or agricultural wastes. People with disabilities and elderly people can also adopt the technology. A high level of literacy or prior agricultural knowledge is not required to learn the technique.

A simplified garden can be as small as one bed grower of 1m2 and even up to 1000m2which is a full-scale commercial operation. It has been estimated from empirical evidences that a family production unit that includes 20 bed growers of (40m2 growing space) can generate an income of about $ 101.00 per month. The above figures are based on the experience gained from projects implemented in Columbia and other countries in the past 24 years.


Project Objectives

The overall objective of the proposed project is to conduct adaptive research and pilot testing of simplified hydroponics technology involving poor and weaker communities to develop the technology package, technology and support services needed for its adoption, to suit local socio-economic conditions to facilitate the wider adoption and dissemination of the technology.


Specific objectives are:

  • To set up the Indian Institute for Simplified Hydroponics which has now been established in Nov 2009 at Bangalore, India.
  • To transfer the simplified hydroponics technology to India and adopt the technology to suit local conditions through adoptive research.
  • To Pilot test the technology involving local communities.
  • Organize and conduct training of trainers on Simplified Hydroponics technology for wider dissemination of this technology to reach poor rural families affected by drought.
  • Develop a comprehensive technology and services delivery package for its wider adoption.
  • To create a protocol for Hydroponics growing to suit different environments in India.
  • To create a list of vegetables and herbs that suit different environments in India at the same time ensuring basic nutritional values are achieved thus ensuring good health for the people.


Project Rationale:

Drought is a perennial and recurring feature in many parts of India. According to Government of India reports, more than 50% of the country is prone to drought in varying degrees. Drought leads to large-scale migration in search of alternative livelihoods, loss of human life due to stress, suicide, starvation or unhygienic conditions and increased social conflict.

Even in Maharashtra, one of India’s most prosperous states, recurring drought has crippled the state’s economy, caused a fall in agricultural and non-agricultural wages, severely affected the livelihoods of millions, led to crop damage and death or incapacitation of livestock. Effect of drought on the vulnerability and the livelihoods of poor communities are manifested in scarcity of food for consumption and unemployment as a direct result of inadequate water for agricultural purposes. During drought most poor families have to satisfy themselves with only one meal a day.

Development of satisfactory strategies to combat drought, has been a major preoccupation of almost all succeeding governments of the past century. However, all such development interventions have been focused on supplying water through irrigation. It is a fact that irrigation water has become the most expensive input supplied by the state in the dry zone and in addition, in India, almost all economically promising sources of irrigation appears to be already developed. As a consequence, irrigation water has increasingly become a scarce input in agricultural production compounded by the ever-increasing population growth and demand for water.

The net effect of the above scenario is the increased vulnerability and food insecurity of thousands of families in marginalized communities that live in drought prone areas.

In view of these circumstances it has become imperative to shift the emphasis from the traditional objective of irrigation/water supply increases to other means of dry zone development and improve the livelihoods of poor communities in the dry zone. One such intervention is the introduction of water efficient agricultural technologies coupled with rain water harvesting technology. It is proposed to test a Pilot Simplified Hydroponics systems in India as one such alternative. (India’s first Simplified Hydroponics garden to grow vegetables and herbs has now been set up at the Sandra Ricketts Public School in rural Bangalore).


Project Partners and their role

  • The Institute of Simplified Hydroponics, (ISH) India and it’s various state chapters, will provide technical training, technology transfer support, setting standards and maintaining the quality of the Simplified Hydroponic gardens and assist in gaining startup capital for projects from world and state bodies. ISH Bangalore has trained 126 Master Trainers from different parts of India between 16th Jan 2009-15th Feb 2009.
  • The Institute of Simplified Hydroponics, (ISH) India will assist in establishing the Indian Institute of Simplified Hydroponics chapters in all Indian states. The Institute of Simplified Hydroponics, Bangalore, India will also be responsible for linking ISH with organizations in the entire Indian region and bringing regional perspective to the proposed project.
  • The Institute of Simplified Hydroponics, (ISH) India will assist in conducting adoptive research component to determine the scientific and socio-economic parameters in technology transfer.
  • The Institute of Simplified Hydroponics, (ISH) India will undertake adoptive research on technology development in areas of nutrient solution testing and improving and other scientific inputs in the field of analytical chemistry.
  • The Institute of Simplified Hydroponics, (ISH) India will assist in setting up of the ISH Franchises/Chapters and its promotion through ISH web sites, transfer of technology, providing advisory services and fund raising where required.
  • The Institute of Simplified Hydroponics, (ISH) India will be responsible for wider dissemination of the technology through its India wide network of NGO’s/ Societies/Trusts and various Social welfare schemes of the government, providing credit facilities to rural communities for adoption of the technology and other business development support services.
  • The Institute of Simplified Hydroponics, (ISH) India will assist in participatory needs assessment, resource and livelihoods assessment of poor, participatory planning, project designing, monitoring and evaluations and producing case studies for wider dissemination.


Expected Outputs of the Project:

  • To set up the Indian Institute for Simplified Hydroponics. (Now completed) A brick and mortar institute will become a reality at Bangalore Rural within 6 months i.e by the month of September 2009.
  • Understand the technical and economic parameters of the Simplified Hydroponics technology in relation to its adoptability to socio-economic conditions in India. Carry out a cost-benefit analysis of Simplified Hydroponics technology under Indian conditions.
  • Technical and Service package will be developed for wider dissemination of the simplified hydroponics technology. A compendium or Indian Hydroponics Handbook/Guidebook will be compiled within three years to act as a reference guide for all Indian’s practicing Simplified Hydroponics.
  • Quarterly, half-yearly and Annual seminars will be held region wise and at a national level every years where papers will be submitted by various practitioners of Simplified Hydroponics from different regions of India.
  • Production and marketing system will be developed for input supply. This includes the production of nutrient solution, delivery system, training package and a services package to facilitate the wider adoption of the technology.
  • Qualified trainers are to be made available to assist the dissemination of the technology. The Project aims to help master trainers so trained to make a livelihood by training of people in their areas of operation.
  • The project aims to measure the tangible benefits in terms of how people using Simplified Hydroponics have gained sustainability, livelihood and health over a period of 5-10 years since the project was launched.
  • Through Micro-Credit help the poorest sections of India gain Sustainability and Livelihood and see a tangible change in poverty and hunger in India.


Conclusion:

It is the vision and mission of the Founder and Chief Visionary Lt Cdr (retd) CV Prakash of the Institute of Simplified Hydroponics Bangalore, India to spread the technology to all corners of India, through the fullest involvement of all individual, private and government bodies. The Pet Bharo Project aims to (in Gandhiji’s words) “wipe every tear from every eye”

Courtesy: Lt Cdr (retd) CV Prakash, Founder and Chief Visionary, The Institute of Simplified Hydroponics India