Hydroponics is the cultivation of plants without using soil but water as a major component. This technology is also known as aquaculture,nutriculture, soilless culture, or tank farming. This system fosters rapid growth, stronger yields, and superior quality products. When a plant is grown in soil, its roots are perpetually searching for the necessary nutrition to support the plant. If a plant’s root system is exposed directly to water and nutrition, the plant does not have to exert any energy in sustaining itself. The energy the roots would have expended acquiring food and water can be redirected into the plant’s maturation. As a result, leaf growth flourishes as does the blooming of fruits and flowers.
According to hydroponic literatures, plants sustain themselves by a process called photosynthesis. Plants capture sunlight with chlorophyll (a green pigment present in their leaves). They use the light’s energy to split water molecules they’ve absorbed via their root system. The hydrogen molecules combine with carbon dioxide to produce carbohydrates; which plants use to nourish themselves. Oxygen is then released into the atmosphere, a crucial factor in preserving our planet’s habitability. Plants do not need soil to photosynthesize. They need the soil to supply them with water and nutrients. When nutrients are dissolved in water they can be applied directly to the plant’s root system by flooding, misting, or immersion. Hydroponic innovations have proven direct exposure to nutrient-filled water can be a more effective and versatile method of growth than traditional irrigation.
By controlling the environment of the plant, many risk factors are reduced. Plants grown in gardens and fields are introduced to a host of variables that negatively impact their health and growth. Fungus in the soil can spread diseases to plants. Wildlife like rabbits can plunder ripening vegetables from your garden. Pests like locusts can descend on crops and obliterate them in an afternoon. Hydroponic systems end the unpredictability of growing plants outdoors and in the earth. Without the mechanical resistance of the soil, seedlings can mature much faster. By eliminating pesticides, hydroponic produces much healthier and high-quality fruits and vegetables. Without obstacles, plants are free to grow vigorously and rapidly.
Hydroponic systems have a number of advantages and disadvantages compared with cultivation in soil. The principal advantage is the saving of labour by automatic watering and fertilizing. Hydroponic systems can be set up indoors in places that would not normally be available for the growing of plants, such as in densely populated areas, and have even been studied as a potential method of crop production aboard spacecraft. Climate is not a factor, and hydroponic systems use dramatically less water compared with conventionally grown plants. The plants also have less root and nutrient competition than those grown in soil, and they have significantly fewer pests, so individuals can be planted more closely together. The disadvantages are high installation costs and the need to test the solution frequently. There is a steep learning curve to hydroponics, and small errors can affect the whole crop. The systems are also very vulnerable to equipment failure or power outage, which can kill the plants within a few hours. Yields are about the same as for soil-grown crops.
In Nepal hydroponics is successfully practiced in a few farms. The farm operated by WindPower Nepal Pvt. Ltd. at Thecho, Lalipur is an inspiring model. It is a full-fledged hydroponics farm in a controlled semitransparent wind-resistant tunnel. There are layers of pipes laid with cup size upside open holes where plants are set in a sizable sponge. Water tanks of 500 liters are placed in a number of strategic locations. The water system is powered by pumping motors. That is circulated 3 or 4 times or more as needed in a day. The farm isbuilt in around 3,400 square feet of land. But as hydroponics is done with multilayers of pipes connected with flowing water with nutrients in it, itworks as much as an area of 32856 that means that area of land occupied is almost one tenth if the farm is soil based.
The products of the farm are germs free, easy to clean and truly hygienic. A number of big stores which catch high and middle class consumers are selling the products mainly vegetable – green and fresh. Muttha is the brand name of the green vegetables produced at the farm.
The experts and technical persons at the farm opine that many type of crops can be cultivated by this technology. But cost of maintaining the temperature and ambience conditions in the closed tunnel may be too high, that means the attempt may be termed‘commercially unsuitable’. The scenario in the future may be favourable.
Kushal Gurung, the managing director of the hydroponics farm says that the farm can lend technology, expertise, materials and equipment to interested entrepreneurs at a fair cost. So far it had provided small systems to schools and a few farms as well. A small family’s vegetables need may be grown at a small system which costsaround Rs 40,000, he added.
Thus, commercial farmers may be attracted to hydroponics farms for a better benefit against the investment. This may prove to be an instrument to help food security in the country. (By R.P. Narayan)