Sunday, May 5, 2019

Hydroponics;Soilless cultivation- An option for the Young Bhutanese agri-entrepreneurs?

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without the use of soil by using| nutrient rich solutions in a water solvent. In simpler terms, it is the art of growing crops without soil or soilless cultivation of crops. The word hydroponics is derived from the words, Hydro meaning water; ponos meaning labour. So basically, it involves growing of crops in water enriched with nutrients instead of using soil as the medium of growth. 

There are different types of hydroponics system 

  1. Floating bed system 
  2. NFT (Nutrient Flow Technique) system.
  3. Vertical System

So here is a simple step by step procedure required to set up a simple floating bed system of hydroponics system. It is rather a modification of substrate culture structure(existing structure) to hydroponics system structure;
1. Preparation of the structure
-Raise the structure of the system to a Height of ....cm from the ground.
-Use Gypsum tiles of the width 1.2m for flooring the structure
-Then raise the height of the structure for the flooring to an approximate height of 20 cm, where water will be filled up to a height of 15 cm or so.
-Over the structure, roll out and stretch a good quality, black polyethylene sheet. 
-Cut about a meter of the plastic sheet from the opening end to ensure there are no defects. 
-Roll out the doubled plastic sheet and then have the plastic sheets clamped to the sides like that of the greenhouses. 
-Ensure that the plastic sheets are well stretched by means of pressing at the sides or corners. Otherwise, not properly stretched corners would result in the plastic suffering pressure from the water above and there are high chances of the sheet tearing apart.
-While laying out the plastic sheets, double-check and ensure that there is not even the slightest defect or holes. Even a small hole will result in the unnecessary draining of the nutrient solution and waste of resources.
-Insert 3 pumps to pump in oxygen uniformly as well as to keep the nutrient solution in constant motion. The cost of each pump is 285 Thai baht. 
-Feed the transplanted seedlings with just water for the first week and don’t add nutrients. 


The detailed procedures are as depicted in the pictorial form below;
After completing the structure set up as mentioned in the above lines, then follow the following instructions:
2. Preparation of the support system for plants
-Mark holes on the thermocol depending on the requirement of the spacing of different crops. 
-Drill holes in the thermocol at the marked points with the help of a drilling machine.
-Separate the pre-cut hydroponic germination sponge into individual cubes. The s-Meg’s are available ready-made from the companies. 
-Insert the sponge cubes in the holes in the thermocol and place it over water to moistening the sponge cubes before planting the seedlings in it.

3. Planting the seedlings in the Hydroponics system.
-Wash the seedlings properly, ensuring that all the media supporting the roots are removed to avoid ensuing contamination.
-Handle with gentleness to ensure that the roots are not disturbed while washing and cleaning.
-To place the seedlings in the hydroponic sponge cubes, split open the sponge from one side and the gently place the seedlings with its root protruding down from the cubes for nutrient absorption as shown below. This procedure can be followed if the seedlings are raised in other growth media in plug trays. Otherwise, the procedure described in the following lines can also be followed.

  • Place the seeds of vegetables in the hole drilled in the pre-cut hydroponics sponge.
  • Don’t insert it too deep as it might rot if it comes in direct contact with the water below.
  • Place the sponge with seeds inserted in a tray
  • Water it copiously and place the set in a dark room. The principle behind is that the growing environment should mimic the normal growing media of the dark soil conditions. Hence, the seeds will have difficulty in germinating if left in an open area with ample of light.
  • Seeds will germinate in about 3 days
  • Transfer the germinated seeds along with sponge cube to the baby nursery or plug tray in the hydroponic structure or insert the seedlings in the holes in the thermocol of the floating bed system.





Simple Farm economics of the Hydroponics system in context of Chiang Rai, Thailand.
This farm economics is derived in context of hydroponics system at Chiang Rai in Thailand. The Hydroponics system visited by our group was owned by a couple in their fifties. The couple owns about 5 structures of low input hydroponics system. The main crop grown using hydroponics were varieties of lettuces, though there are narrations of the couple having tried other crops like chilies, tomatoes, beetroot, etc. Lettuce and likewise leafy vegetables are found to be the most convenient and lucrative crop under hydroponic system from their own experience.

Inputs/Expenses: 
Labour required= 2 
Average daily wage rate of labour= 300 baht (Thai currency)
1. Labour cost/month= 9000 baht (300x30)
2. Expenditure on the hydroponic nutrient solution/month(1 set of Nutrient A+B)= 2500 Thai Baht
3. Electricity charge for pumps and the operation of the whole system: 4000 baht/month
4. Depreciation rate (10%) on the structures over 10-year period= 5000 baht. (Initial cost of establishment of the 5 structures= 50,000 baht. Initially started with 2 greenhouses and expanded to 5 numbers later on). 

Total expenses/month(1+2+3+4)= 20,500 baht

Income statement
Total production of lettuce/month= 1000kg 
Price of 1 kg lettuce=100 baht
Total income= 100,000 bhat
Net income= 100000-20,500=79,500 bhat (equivalent to Nu.1,74,900/-) per month.

The couple follows a two-way marketing channel, wherein, at times they take their produce to the market in their Marketing van tagged with a Hydroponics Logo while they also get some customers who come to collect the produce from their farm.

Ratio=1:200, 1=nutrient solution and 200L of water. 

One whole table requires around 900 L of nutrient solution.

Pour water manually after calculating the ratio of nutrients required, 1:200
Oxygen and nutrient circulation is important, hence require a minimum of two mini pumps: one is for oxygen and other for circulation of water , nutrients and oxygen. 
The pumps will also create cooling effect and stop over heating of the water.

Drainage: water reuse not recommended as infection might carry over to the next crop. Leftover nutrient solution is being collected and sprayed in open field conditions.
We can reuse the nutrient solution but sometimes it might lead to infections.


Advantage of the Floating bed system: due to the ample level of water, the plants will remain fresh even if electricity gets cut off.
Prolonged life span of thermocool sheet with about 10 years of warranty. 

Another system: nutrient flow technique (NFT)
Advantage:  double production, as it occupies lesser space and accommodate more plants. 
Lettuce can be harvested in a month after sowing.  If harvesting is delayed, this will result in bitterness.
Follow staggered production for year round production.
Disadvantage: if electricity goes off, no flow of nutrient and will shrink immediately.

Advantages of Hydroponic system
No insect problem as it is enclosed in plastic sheets and nets.
Labour saving
Suitable for older people and younger generations. 

Disadvantage:
In cases of infection, there are chances of losing the entire production to diseases.
Too much of heat and slow growth of as well as root rot.
Tip burn due to heat
Limited air circulation causes tip burn calcium.

Additional information
All the accessories for hydroponics available from...Hi-Green Shop: www.higreenshop.com.

Tried tomatoes but the investment was high.
Beetroot also tried but takes up lots of fertilizers, breaks the foam and take a lot of time to grow. 
Working hours for 2 people- 7am-3pm.








The reason why lettuces are grown as hydroponics crops?
Faster return within lesser period of time.

Is it possible to grow other crops too?
Possible but some crops like potato, if grown soaked in water might rot and may not be a suitable crop for hydroponics. 
Strawberry possible but for asparagus is going to be quite difficult as there will be the production of  new shoots. As long as that is taken care of by fitting the new growths in the foam, it is going to be possible. 

Is it possible grow crops in hydroponic soon using organic nutrients?
Planning to do research on that?
Bhutan’s long term mission of 
It is difficult to meet the accurate quantity of fertilizers. As long as you are able to source organic nutrients and if it is available, then you can go for it. 

Transferring the seedlings raised through normal nursery beds to the hydroponic system might create contamination. So it is better to wash the roots properly and then dip or drench it in chemicals, pesticide and fungicide before transferring to the hydroponics solution. 

Growing crops under protected conditions is recommended as in open conditions, the nutrient concentration for substrate and hydroponic might change due to rainfall. 
The importance of creating holes few centimeters from the base of poly-pots is to retain some water and to ensure that all the water is not drained off.

If there is infection or disease infection in the hydroponics system, do we need to remove the entire nutrient solution or simply remove the infected one?
Remove all the plants and then replace the entire solution too. 


Substrate culture using stargrow coir peat, tomato plants

Aqua ponies for hydroponics
All the way along, I have been wondering whether hydroponics can be organic and yes it is possible to grow hydroponics in organically through the aquaponics system, fish rearing. 

Chilli sweet pepper












Thursday, January 31, 2019

Grow Tomatoes under Organic Management-Learn which method gives you the Best Return (A preliminary finding)


Comparative Study on the Cost Of Tomato Production Per Green House (20x5 m2 equipped with drip irrigation) under different mulching conditions

(i) Operating Costs under Plastic Mulching
 Activities
Unit
Quantity
Price/Unit
Total Price (Nu.)
A.Variable Costs:
(i) Labour Used
Nursery raising and management
Man days
4
250
1000
Bed preparation and manure application in greenhouse
Man days
3
250
750
Transplanting
Man days
1
250
250
Mulching
Man days
1
250
250
Irrigation
Man days
2
250
500
Weeding
Man days
0.5
250
125
Nutrient or EM application
Man days
0.75
250
187.5
Staking
Man days
1
250
250
Pruning
Man days
5
250
1250
Hoeing
Man days
0.75
250
187.5
Harvesting
Man days
3
250
750
(ii) Material Cost
250
Tomato Seed (Cosmic hybrid)
Gram
10
250/10g
250
Plastic Mulch
Meter
25x3
7.41
555.75
Vermi-compost
kg
40
22
880
FYM
kg
100
2.5
250
Jute rope for Staking
kg
84
2
168
     Total operating cost
7603.75
Total yield
642kg
Total income considering market rate of Nu.60/kg
Nu.38,520
Net profit=Total income-Total operating cost
Nu. 30,916.25
Cost of production per kg of tomato= Total cost/total yield
Nu.12/kg

(ii) Operating Costs under Artimisia Leaf Mulching
 Activities
Unit
Quantity
Price/Unit
Total Price (Nu.)
A.Variable Costs:
(i) Labour Used
Nursery raising and management
Man days
4
250
1000
Bed preparation and manure application in greenhouse
Man days
3
250
750
Transplanting
Man days
1
250
250
Mulching
Man days
3
250
750
Irrigation
Man days
2
250
500
Weeding
Man days
2
250
500
Nutrient or EM application
Man days
0.75
250
187.5
Staking
Man days
1
250
250
Pruning
Man days
4.5
250
1125
Hoeing
Man days
2
250
500
Harvesting
Man days
2.8
250
700
(ii) Material Cost
Tomato Seed (Cosmic hybrid)
Gram
10
250/10g
250
Vermi-compost
Kg
40
22
880
FYM
Kg
100
2.5
250
Jute rope for Staking
Kg
84
2
168
     Total operating cost
8060.5
Total yield
445.47kg
Total income considering market rate of Nu.60/kg
Nu.26,728
Net profit=Total income-Total operating cost
Nu. 18667.7
Cost of production per kg of tomato= Total cost/total yield
Nu.18/kg

 (ii) Operating Costs under No Mulch Condition 
 Activities
Unit
Quantity
Price/Unit
Total Price (Nu.)
A.Variable Costs:
(i) Labour Used
Nursery raising and management
Man days
4
250
1000
Bed preparation and manure application in greenhouse
Man days
3
250
750
Transplanting
Man days
1
250
250
Irrigation
Man days
2
250
500
Weeding
Man days
6
250
1500
Nutrient or EM application
Man days
0.75
250
187.5
Staking
Man days
1
250
250
Pruning
Man days
4
250
1000
Hoeing
Man days
5
250
1250
Harvesting
Man days
2.5
250
625
(ii) Material Cost
Tomato Seed (Cosmic hybrid)
Gram
10
250/10g
250
Vermi-compost
Kg
40
22
880
FYM
Kg
20
2.5
50
Jute rope for staking
Kg
2
84
168
     Total operating cost
8660.5
Total yield
381.81kg
Total income considering market rate of Nu.60/kg
Nu.22,908
Net profit=Total income-Total operating cost
Nu. 14,248
Cost of production per kg of tomato= Total cost/total yield
Nu.23/kg

 Some other detailed information on the different management operations of Tomato
Date of Sowing: 08.03.18
Date of transplanting: 08.05.18
Total crop duration (sowing-last harvest): 230  days (7-8 months)
Harvest dates:
1st-   9.8.18 
2nd- 17.8.18                                                                           
3rd-   22.8.18                                    
4th- 28.8.18                                      
5th-  30.8.18 
6th-   5.9.18
7th- 12.9.18                                     
8th- 27.9.18   
9th- 6.10.18 
10th- 12.10.18
11th-25.10.18
Total harvest days: 78 days

Plot size: 22.4 m2 each
Plant population: 71
Spacing: 60cm x 50cm between plant-plant and row-row respectively.
Yield/plant: 3kg under Plastic mulched plot
                    2 kg under Artemisia leaf mulched plot
                    1.8 kg under no mulch plot



Summary


Expenses (Nu.)
Production/yield (kg)
Cost of production/kg (Nu.)
Profit (Nu.)
Plastic mulch
7603.75
642
12
30916
Artemisia Mulch
8060.5
445.47
18
18668
No mulch
8660.5
381.81
23
14248






Images depicting Performance of tomato under different mulching conditions:

(a) Under Plastic mulching
          
(b) Under Artemisia Mulching

 


(c) Under No Mulch Condition (Control)


Conclusion:
According to the one season study carried out from March-October 2018, it is evident that the cultivation of tomatoes under plastic mulched condition outperformed the other two conditions.
Accordingly, the cost of production per kilogram of tomato was found to be the lowest in plastic mulched plots with the corresponding higher yields and the highest profit per unit area. On the contrary, the plot with no mulch resulted in the highest cost of production with the corresponding lower yield and lowest profit per unit area.

The highest yield in the plastic mulched plot could be attributed to the very minimal weed pressure and subsequently the vigorous and healthy growth of the plants and fruits. The reduced weed pressure also reduced the incidence of diseases and pests.
The intense weed pressure in the control(no mulch) plots hampered the growth of the plants by way of competing for nutrients and hence resulted in the lowest yield. It also demanded higher labour force, which led to the higher cost of production of tomato per unit area.

While the use of plastic mulch yielded excellent results, the residual impact of non-bio-degradable wastes on soil is a concern. Hence, mulching with locally available and eco-friendly mulch materials like Artimisia leaf may be encouraged on large scale.

Further research is needed to incorporate the fixed costs like the value of the land as well as the depreciation cost of fixed asset like greenhouse and irrigation sets. The trial needs to be replicated as both these parameters weren't taken into consideration in the first year of the trial.