Soilless gardening could be the next big thing for the modern urban farmer. Growing and harvesting green leafy vegetables and herbs in the living room of a 16th-floor condo unit are now possible with hydroponics.
Hydroponics is not really new. It’s a method that has been around for centuries. Some historians even say that parts of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was built around the principles of hydroponics.
For plants to grow, they need only air, water and nutrients. Soil, it seems, is optional—a natural resource that’s useful to hold plants upright, and to deliver water and nutrients. Thus, hydroponics is simply a different method for growing plants but based on the same principles.
Hydroponics has been practiced by many farmers since the 19th century, but using the method to germinate seeds and grow a sustainable indoor ecosystem for leafy greens and herbs is a fairly new concept.
“This makes gardening more convenient for city dwellers,” said Jean G. Bautista, vice president, general manager and designer of Craftmill, producers of the hydroponics cabinet system called Urban Farmer.
“When you need romaine lettuce for your salad, you just open the cabinet, harvest your lettuce and toss them straight into the bowl. You don’t have to wash them since the system is very hygienic,” she pointed out. And since the leaves go directly into the salad bowl, enzymes and nutrients contained in the greens are almost completely intact.
Urban Farmer runs on Japanese technology. It was developed a year ago by Craftmill’s Japanese partners. The technology designed for the Philippines’ wet and dry seasons, while Craftmill, through its flagship store Grassroots, designed the handcrafted cabinet systems.
Indoor hydroponics systems are the current trend in Japan, where space is a premium in big cities like Tokyo. But while a cabinet system of 36 pots costs around P400,000 abroad, Urban Farmer’s systems range from P38,000 (12 pots) to P90,000 (36 pots).
The package includes the services of a team composed of an electrician, engineer and agriculturist who will install and conduct a walk-through for the owners. The start-up kit includes scissors, tweezers, measuring cups, precut hydrofoams, seeds, nutrients, sterilized clay hydroballs, pots, plastics cups and a container with a lid to germinate seeds.
For the first purchase, the system will come with a choice of pre-grown plants.
In hydroponics, seeds—maximum of two—are inserted into the precut, mineral-rich and presoaked hydrofoams using a tweezer. The hydrofoam is sealed in a container, and then stored in a dark place (usually the bottom drawer of the cabinet) for two to three days.
When the plant begins to sprout, it is transferred into a 12-pot tray, one precut foam per pot, where the bottom contains an oxygenated nutrient-water solution. Sterilized hydroballs hold the plant upright. At the top of the cabinet are LED grow lights, specifically designed to provide plants with enough light to make them grow.
Ready in five to six weeks
Mirrors at the back of the cabinet bounce the light inside and give the illusion of depth. In five to six weeks, the vegetables will be ready for harvest.
“The Urban Farmer is a conversation piece,” Bautista said. “The system provides aesthetics to any room and as a hobby it’s also therapeutic.”
The cabinet system eliminates the need for busy city dwellers to weed the garden or learn cultivation practices, or for them to worry about pests and pesticides. The garden is sealed inside a temperature-controlled system, with timers that automatically activate the air pump, fan and light.
It is not dependent on the weather, so plants can be grown all year long. Hydroponically grown plants grow faster so that the yield is bigger in a short period of time. A three-tray (36 pots) Urban Farmer cabinet can yield up to three kilos of vegetables.
Hydroponics also saves big-time on water—up to 90 percent compared to traditional farming of the same scale. It employs a recirculating nutrient reservoir where the plants use only what they need, and leave the rest in the reservoir for later consumption.
The entire system consumes less than P300 worth of electricity a month.
The biggest drawback is the initial cost of the unit. It’s not cheap, but the rewards in the long term are worth it, Bautista said.
“When you’re comfortable enough growing your own greens,” she noted, “you can plant them in such a way that you harvest them in a rotation. That way you’ll never run out of supply.”
Grassroots is located at 3/L Greenbelt 5 and 2/F Power Plant Mall, Rockwell, Makati; tel. nos. 9414232 loc. 102; 5013980.
For more info, visit Urban Farmer here, or check out the Grassroots here.