The lockdown due to COVID-19 has gotten everyone working on making their homes the best place to live in. From upgrading spaces with quirky green corners to taking to plants to find some solace, home gardening has become a popular hobby to pursue.
Nowadays, Malini’s Girl Tribe has a lot of interesting conversations on home gardening. Hence, we got in touch with Mr. Nrusinh D Madke, Founder of Simplee Grow Hydroponics & FarmPlex Private Limited. Nrusinh is an agriculturist who specialises in aggregation for hydroponic produce. He is also a Hydroponic Commercial Consultant with over 5 years of experience in precision farming techniques. He conducts training on the aforementioned techniques like vertical farming, aeroponics, and aquaponics, urban gardening, hydroponic essential supply and commercial setups.
We narrowed down our questions to cover two major topics—hydroponic farming at home and the basics of traditional home gardening. It was an insightful conversation throwing light on several ways in which one can have a very own kitchen garden without consuming a lot of space, time, and effort.
Hydroponic farming is the art of cultivating plants using only nutrient-rich water instead of soil. As per the need of the plant, nutrient-rich water is prepared and delivered directly to the roots. This is a total soil-free activity. The plant gets measured quantities of apt nutrients, light and water leaving no scope for deficiencies. We call the produce obtained from this method of farming ‘beyond organic’, as it assures the highest nutrition content compared to traditionall- grown counterparts. Plants grown using this method turn out to be as healthy as they can be genetically, with no harmful residues of any kind.
We started our journey 4 years ago, at the home level. I got a hydroponic kit from an online portal and experimented with this innovative technique. As we saw the ease and benefits, we decided to pursue the farming on a commercial scale, leasing out a suitable land at Talegaon.
There are almost 10 types of hydroponic farming methods that one can choose from depending on the budget, space and above all, willingness to nurture the plants. The most common methods to grow hydroponically at home level are DWC (Deep Water Culture) and NFT (Nutrient Film Technique). Leafy vegetables can be grown all year round using these techniques. The kind of system to use depends on the category of plant you wish to grow.
Hydroponics is immensely useful in building a sustainable ecosystem. Those who live in urban areas are largely dependent on produce coming from outskirts or rural areas. The expenses and efforts expelled in packaging and transport is massive. Due to the recent lockdown, finding labour for packaging and transportation has been challenging. So, farmers are loaded with production whereas the customers are facing shortages. Farmers are unable to cater to the demand in spite of high inventory. The distance between supply and demand is an expensive affair. Hydroponics bridges this gap. It is an answer for the urban areas to get their fresh, optimal nutrition rich food at in a sustainable yet economical way—not only today but also in the long run.
Overall, hydroponics is extremely economical as a large quantity of plants can be grown in a very compact space, the water consumption is nominal (over 80% less quantity is required in comparison to traditional farming) and the process is not labour intensive at all. Once the optimal growth medium, pH, natural/artificial light and air conditions are set, it is easy to manage, requires almost no maintenance, is self-cleaning due to the water rotation and gives large produce of the highest quality. Hydroponics also have an added advantage of enhancing the aesthetic value of your garden by using setting up vertical gardens or simply having a dense green zone.
I would suggest starting with a basic hydroponic farming kit from your local vendor or from one of the famous online portals considering your terrace/balcony size and budget. Most kits come with clear instruction manuals and all the required tools and material.
The basic set up includes food grade PVC pipes with plant holding spaces, netted pots, growth medium with nutrient sets, measuring cup, air pump, seeds and the instruction manual. You can also have a water pump with a timer and set frequency to further reduce monitoring or maintenance. Hydroponic set ups are very easy to automate.
The most important factor of hydroponics is that a perfectly balanced nutrient solution is administered to the plant roots as per the dosage advised. Hydroponics win over the traditional technique since the nutrition solution has proper amounts of micro-nutrients which the soil/soil fertilisers lack in providing. The optimum pH (5.5-6) should be maintained using the pH meter at all times. If this basic care is taken, unlike in soil, here the plant does not scan and search for nutrition and grows gloriously. A great hydroponic unit can be built considering the climatic challenges and all these factors.
It is very important for home gardeners to research or get guidance from experts in order to ensure the right growth medium/ nutrition solution is being fed to the plants in the system. I conduct workshops for enthusiasts in my hydroponics plant. Also, with advancing technology, a lot of information is freely available online for one and all.
As a beginner, I would suggest growing all types of leafy vegetables at home. Perennial exotic herbs like thyme, parsley, basil, rosemary, oregano and peppermint can be grown to last for 6-8 months! Once you get the hang of growing leafy vegetables, you can progress towards plants like cherry tomatoes or beetroots which have longer vegetative cycles.
Plants are like babies and they need to be taken care of. So first and foremost, be ready to make a commitment! Hydroponic kits are available for kids as well. It is that easy to learn. But if you still wish to start with the basic traditional way, I would suggest using clay, mud, coir, coconut husk pots, a mix of cocopeat and nutrition rich soil for ample internal aeration and then placing the pots at the right spot considering their sunlight requirement. Be mindful of the soil you use. To begin with, try avoid growing from seed level and procure saplings from the nurseries.
Vegetables and flowering plants have different requirements at different stages of their growth. Black soil is always advisable for most kinds. Water the plants regularly and spend some time with them. Start with plants which are easy to grow and take care of. If you have doubts, your local plant vendor or gardener should be able to help. Flowers like marigold and rose are easy to grow and maintain. Vegetables like tomatoes, chillies, okra, green leafy vegetables grow in most circumstances. Almost all category of herbs are also super easy to grow at a home level. So, kick start your garden with these varieties first.
Lastly, I would like to add that I believe that agriculture is a noble profession. We need more and more people to join us, plant more and help the environment in ways more than one.
Hope you are motivated to grow more plants! If you have some great tips and tricks for novitiate home gardeners, please share it with us in the comments below. Also, don’t forget to join Malini’s Girl Tribe on Facebook & Instagram to be a part of more conversations like these!