By Opija Raduk
Showcasing her products during Nairobi Innovation Exhibition Week held at the University of Nairobi, Main Campus, Florence Mbau, a resident of Makueni County, says that hydroponic farming is the way to go.
Hydroponic is a system of growing plants without the use of soil instead growing plants in water based nutrient rich solution. This is done by physically ‘feeding’ the plants with water that not only ensures the germination and growth of quality plants but also greatly increases the speed at which they germinate.
“I use this technology to grow vegetables and fodder. I have utilised every space in my farm for productive use,” Mbau says.
Although hydroponic farming is not a new concept, it is relatively new in Kenya.
Mbau, who is a farmer, ventured into hydroponics few years ago. She uses it to grow fodder, lettuce, spinach, kales and tomatoes. While in soil, plants are always denied vital nutrients which affect their potential for growth but in hydroponics, this is not the case.
She says this technology has various advantages. No weeds which irritate most farmers today in their garden. However, it is one of the most time-consuming tasks for gardeners, so it calls for perseverance.
“Weeds are mostly associated with the soil. This means that when you eliminate the use of soil, the problem of weeds is solved,” Mbau affirms.
Moreover, getting rid of soils helps make your plants less vulnerable to soil-borne pests like birds, groundhogs; and diseases like Fusarium, Pythium and Rhizoctonia species. Also, when growing indoors in a closed system, the gardeners can easily take controls of most surrounding variables.
Because of elimination of soil, which in turn eliminates weeds, pests and plant diseases, there are fewer chemicals used on the crops. This helps in growing cleaner and healthier foods. The elimination of insecticides and herbicides is a strong point of hydroponics when the criteria for modern life and food safety are prioritized.
With this technology, the farmer can control the whole environment for their plants’ growth; temperature, lights, moisture, and especially nutrients. Plants are placed in ideal conditions, while nutrients are provided at the sufficient amounts and come into direct contacts with the root systems.
In this manner, plants no longer waste valuable energy searching for diluted nutrients in the soil. Instead, they shift all of their focus on growing and producing fruits.
In addition, hydroponics is water-saving. Plants grown hydroponically can use only 10 percent of water compared to field-grown ones.
In this method, water is recirculated. Plants will take up the necessary water, while the run-off will be captured and returned to the system. Water loss only occurs in two forms; evaporation and leaks from the system, but an efficient hydroponic setup will minimize any leaks.
Plants’ roots usually expand and spread out in search for foods and oxygen in the soil. This is not the case in hydroponics, where the roots are sunk in a tank full of oxygenated nutrient solution and are in direct contact with vital minerals. Therefore, plants are grown much closer and consequently huge space savings.
Anyone can practice it in his or her small apartment, balcony, backyard, or the spare bedrooms as long as there is some space.
Mbau encourages youth to try hydroponic farming. She says this type of farming is suitable for youth as most do not own big land.
“There are shortcomings to hydroponics, just like any other business in life. But one can overcome such challenges with just proper planning and networking experts,” she says.