If you need to get a regular supply of your own farm fresh veggies, you don’t really need to own a farm anymore. Just make some space in your balcony or kitchen and learn the basics of hydroponics which enables one to grow plants without any soil at all. It’s the new way to go green at home.
Many people in Oman have started growing plants that bear healthy flowers and fruits in their balconies/terraces or compounds using hydroponics. With just nutrient-infused water one can grow a range of fruits and vegetables within your home for a fraction of the market cost.
“Hydroponics is the science of growing plants with water infused with nutrients. It can be used in many ways and on many scales, depending on one’s requirement,” says Dr Abdullah al Ghafri of University of Nizwa who has been propagating the science of hydroponics in many different ways to get people to start growing their own vegetables in their homes.
“Hydroponics has many advantages, the main advantage being the fact that it can be done in very limited space. I have set up a system in my compound whereby I have more than 200 plants growing within a space of 6sqm,” he said, adding, “It is enough to feed my family. Everyday, we cut vegetables from my garden and have fresh salads that are not just nutritious but also very cheap compared to their cost in the market.”
Dr Ghafri explained that the use of hydroponics can be done for small scale growth of plants in one’s home as well as on large a large scale by setting up greenhouses in one’s farmland. It not only saves space but also water and enables plants to grow faster than they would in soil. Also, since plants are grown without soil, soil-based diseases as well as those caused by pests and pesticides are also eliminated, resulting in great-tasting, healthy vegetables.
Hydroponics can be used to go green at home by growing almost all plants that grow in soil, from leafy vegetables to fruit-bearing trees, Dr Ghafri said, demonstrating how he has grown a range of vegetables including lettuce, tomatoes, hot peppers, onion, radish, chillies, basil, mint, parsley, etc. in a pipe-based system that holds the plants in slotted cups which allow the roots to penetrate and absorb water that is constantly circulated through a set of plastic pipes set over different levels.
Hydroponic systems are available in Oman in various types, like pipe systems or individual containers that are connected to water supply in a small tank that is circulated with the help of a pump so that plants get a steady supply of oxygenated water. Nutrients are also infused in the water to help healthy growth and can be monitored so that they remain within prescribed levels.
Grow all you need to go green
Dr Zulfikar Ali, a professor of biotechnology who heads the Muscat study centre of the Indira Gandhi National Open University’s (IGNOU) distance learning programme, is yet another keen proponent of hydroponics and his office in the Central Business District, in Ruwi, showcases his experiments in growing a range of vegetables without soil.
Dr Ali, who has grown vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, jalepenos, bitter gourd and many other salad greens including British kale, has been guiding visitors and interested persons free of cost into taking up hydroponics on a small scale in their homes to go green.
“With hydroponics you can grow and enjoy your own vegetables within a short time in your own homes. It is a very easy and cost-effective method and the quality of vegetables grown by hydroponics is far superior to those grown by conventional methods,” Dr Ali said, adding that he first learnt about soil-less culture while he was studying biotechnology in college.
“This is a very good country to grow plants with the use of hydroponics. While the best time of the year is from October to March, one can create greenhouses for outdoor cultivation or continue growing at home all through the year,” Dr Ali said, adding “If you maintain the pH value of water, supply timely nutrients and circulate oxygenated water, you can grow organic vegetables at home very easily with hyrdoponics.”
Types of hydroponics systems
There are six types of hydroponic systems, all of which are suitable for use in Oman. These include: Drip System, Ebb-flow, Water Culture, Aeroponics, Wick System and NFT (Nutrient Film Technique). In all these systems, the main requirements is a water tank, a small submerged water pump, an air pump, pipes and seeding media.
The saplings can be grown in soil or compost and then transferred to cups or containers whereby the roots are exposed to circulating water supply. The sapplings can be secured in the cups/containers with material like sand/gravel, glass beads or any other material that is insoluble in water. You can choose whatever system suits you best and begin your mission to go green at any time of the year with hydroponics.