At Open Biotecture, we view home-grown food as a central element of self-sufficiency. However, the reality for most of people is the scarcity of land, even more so in urban areas, which depend heavily on the hinterlands. Hence, since about 2 months, we started experimenting roof-top gardening. It has been quite a success and in the process we also have established a small network of Urban Food Growers which is to launch an on-line interactive platform very soon.
Yet as we got concerned with the efficiency and ease of food production in urban households, it seemed roof-top gardening wasn’t enough and so we investigated into and became very enthusiastic about hydroponics. Why get excited about hydroponics? Hydroponics consists of growing plants by feeding them with water and nutrients, which is put in contact with the roots, without the use of soil. By not using soil, hydroponics saves space and also reduces risk of contaminations (especially so if grown indoors). Hydroponics also allows complete control of the amount of water and nutrients used to feed the plant. In hydroponics systems, plants usually thrive more than when grown from soil.
There are 3 basic types of hydroponics (in fact much more, but I like to reduce them to these to keep things simple):
- Rafting: the plants float on a raft and the roots deep into oxygenated water with nutrients.
- Irrigation: the plants are set in a growing medium which is irrigated with nutrient water (either in ebb-and-flow, continuous flow or drip)
- Aeroponics: the plants hang in the air and the roots are sprayed with nutrient water.
Of these the 3rd the one that brings the most oxygen to roots, roots love oxygen, and when roots thrive, the plant thrives.
Besides hydroponics we should also think of aquaponics, which uses water from fish-tanks (full of healthy nutrients) to feed plants and the water is then fed back to the tanks. Although aquaponics is quite interesting in terms of creating a closed loop, it disables control over the nutrition of plants, which is what makes hydroponics interesting. We’ll keep it in mind for now, because growing fish at home is also very healthy and empowering.
Hence, for the past 3 days, Ruchu Adhikari, permaculturist, and myself, have roamed in the Kathmandu valley to find various hydroponics installations and hydroponics experts. This trip was tough and dusty, because Kathmandu has no proper address system and there was no GPS coordinates available. During our tour we have visited four institutions:
- Garden of Wisdom
New Life Handicapped Home
- Hope Nepal
Garden of Wisdom is located in Koteshwor, Kathmandu. Its owner, Sanjay Panta is a chemist and biologist by training and has imported some hydroponics material from the UEA and is soon going to start his own installation. Sanjay is also planning to produce is own nutrients from “juices”, by blending different kinds of weeds, extracting and synthesising nutrients from them. We are quite happy about Sanjay’s ideas and we do hope to collaborate with him in our future researches.
The National Agricultural Research Center (NARC) is located in Godawari. Its Potato Research Department has tried successfully growing potatoes in a hydroponics system. The system is currently not running but they will soon start a second round of experiments. We have had no documentation from the NARC on this matter yet, but we hope to get some soon.
New Life Handicapped Home, in Chalnakhel, had a aquaponic system set up by Hope Nepal. Unfortunately, they demolished the installation to increase the size of their house. So we were left with nothing to see.
Hope Nepal, situated in Godawari, has a demonstration farm exploiting aquaponics. The system itself is quite impressive, with several tilapia fish ponds, from which the water is extracted and fed to several hydroponics installations (rafts, irrigated tables and tubes). However we were left unimpressed with the plant growth at the farm. It seemed the system was much too complex and expensive for the output it appeared to yield. This said, we got no stats in our hands to verify this.
So far thus, there seems to be very little applied hydroponics in Nepal. This leaves us with the task of researching and developing some systems ourselves. Ruchu and I have already found some material in Kathmandu and we hope to start soon with a simple rafting system enclosed in a mini greenhouse, we’ll also set another in-soil plantation to compare our yield. More on this will come soon.