Sustainable and soil less farming techniques are implemented by nations to meet the demands of producing off-season crops, these crops are free from pest infestation and crisp as compared to crops grown using traditional farming. Alternative farming techniques include- Hydroponics and Aquaponics; these techniques are soil-less, relatively cost-effective and produce higher harvest.
Let’s explore about these sustainable techniques.
Why do we need alternative farming technologies?
The necessity of practising chemical fertilizers and pesticides free farming, has led to considering almost 200 year old farming technique called Hydroponics also called soil less farming. Increase in rate of industrialization has led to seizing of farm lands, which leaves very little farm area and huge number of crops to be grown. And it has its own challenges like fertilizing soil, application of insecticides and excessive usage leads to resistance of insects to them, purchasing seeds, usage of excessive water and electricity. To combat such situations the technique of soil less farming can be adapted by farmers as well as urban population at their lands, homes, terraces and require an area as less as 150 square feet.
What is Hydroponics?
Plants are grown without soil. Soil is replaced by inert growing media; that supports the plant and aids in moisture retention. The bare roots are submerged in aqueous phase and supported by gravel or sponge. NASA has been conducting intensive research on hydroponics to grow fruits to serve in space crafts since; fruits grown by hydroponics have reduced levels of CO2.
Crops like Spinach, Tomatoes, Lettuce, Strawberry, Pepper, Cucumber, Zucchini, Squash can be cultivated using Hydroponics. These crops are observed to be fresher, stable and produce greater yield as soil borne pathogens are eliminated, lesser chances of pest infestation. Additionally, these crops exhibit higher nutrient availability as they are monitored in real time and the process is controlled which leads to higher yield and better quality of crops.
Fig: A hydroponics plant setup (Source: Internet)
Since this technique doesn’t employ usage soil; the impact of pathogens is nearly zero. Hydroponics is achieved by water along with nutrient mineral solution, which is circulated all the while to these plants. The best part of Hydroponics, the water can be re-used and recirculated to the whole setup.
What is Aquaponics?
Farming of fish is called aquaculture, the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics is termed as Aquaponics. Aquaponics is a polyculture technique which grows both fish and plants, cost-effective technique that uses non-chemical source for farming. The very concept of Aquaponics is utilized in paddy cultivation in Asia on a large scale.
Fig: Aquaponics in paddy fields (Source: Internet)
Aquaponics utilizes the best of both these techniques and presents a symbiotic environment where the plant feeds of the water dwelled by fishes in the tank. The setup of Aquaponics equipment depends upon the area available and growth requirement of both the fish species and the crop of interest. Other advantages include- zero waste production, as waste is utilized continually.
Fishes like Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) are generally used in Aquaponics, followed by Trout, Catfish, Fresh water Prawns. The use of Tilapia is widespread in Aquaponics due to low maintenance, it can tolerate crowding, adapts readily to changing water conditions (temperature, pH). Tilapia grows to average plate size within 6-9 months; they feed on insects, worms, algae, plant-based foods, and pellet fish foods this reduces the cost of farming these fishes. Tilapia is a good source of protein hence touted as “aquatic chickens.”
Fig: Aquaponics set up (Source: Internet)
As in Aquaponics the roots of the crops are submerged in the waters where fishes dwell and feed. Bacteria present in water breakdown waste of fish and plants in the form of Ammonia to Nitrite to Nitrate, this Nitrate is the primary source of nourishment to plants. Water is recycled and re-circulated as in Hydroponics. This helps in conserving water and electricity.
Green leafy vegetables like Spinach, Lettuce, and Herbs can be efficiently cultivated which require low to high nutrient requirement.
Fig: Aquaponics set up in Mason Jar (Source: Internet)
Hydroponics and Aquaponics are promising techniques of future, that’s what we need to sustain on this planet. Alternative farming techniques can reduce the miles travelled by food which provides better nutrients, and satisfaction of consuming home grown crops free from pests and chemicals. Since the setup requires a smaller area and higher productivity these techniques can be adopted by urban dwellers and would expand the scope of local economy, and deliver local food. Areas having unfavourable climate conditions like droughts or excessive rainfall; can employ soil less farming and increase the crop yield. Switching to the food safety aspect, these crops and fishes are free from chemicals and any other extraneous matter. Hence, polyculture would help us achieve farming with zero food miles.
CRAFT (Centre for Research in Alternative Farming Technologies) based in Mumbai led by Mr. Vijay Yelmalle shares his view on alternative farming “Being sensitive to the depleting resources of earth and the use of toxic, carcinogen chemicals in daily life, we decided to work for the cause of sustainability.” They encourage both innovation and experience and are looking to build Hydroponics and Aquaponics systems that are both reliable and easy to maintain. Hence, let it be Kitchen Garden or Commercial Hydroponics/Aquaponics our team try to make it as easy as possible even for a Layman to understand the concept so that he is self-sustained after a period of time.
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