How to grow your own salads the hydroponic way – Times of India


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Recently, Shilpa Shetty gave a sneak peek of her hydroponic farm to her fans on social media. Sharing a video, the Bollywood actress wrote: “They say, ‘you are what you eat’. So, when I found a way to make my food cleaner, I jumped at it. Now, I have my own little Hydroponic farm in our backyard and we’ve managed to produce our own salad in 25 days (sic).” Last year in August, southern star Samantha Akkineni turned her terrace into a vegetable garden by growing leafy greens in hydroponic pods. She even urged actress Rakul Preet Singh and thousands of her Insta followers to try it. If you are already intrigued by the idea, here’s what you should keep in mind before you start your green project…

Faster way to grow salad all year round
For those who still don’t have a clear idea, hydroponics is an art of farming that uses no soil. Instead, plants are grown in a solution of RO water and nutrients, which can be recycled and saved. According to this method, plants are grown in a climate-controlled, indoor environment and the produce is 100% pesticide-free. A hydroponic system can grow vegetables much faster, all year round. In India, however, hydroponics is in a fairly nascent stage. Vikram Varma, a former advertising and e-commerce professional from Mumbai, says, “I’ve been running a farm for some time now. Even we are trying to understand hydroponics better. There’s still a long way to go. But honestly, people from across sections are keen on trying this. I guess anyone who likes gardening or wants to consume pesticide-free greens, finds this method intriguing. You can grow a variety of lettuces, cherry tomatoes, spinach, basil, kale and bell peppers with this method.”

Growing demand for pesticide-free produce
This system is ideal for those living in apartments. According to Anirban Khan, a hydroponics expert from Kolkata, the craze for growing veggies at home started in 2019, especially in the cities. But the awareness about hydroponic farming grew only after the pandemic outbreak. People started taking more precautions and wanted to have pesticide-free food. “We have been setting up hydroponic farms all across Kolkata and even in other states on a commercial level. Every other day we come up with requests from people who want us to set up hydroponic farms at home. Setting up this kind of farm is easy, but it needs regular maintenance. Individuals can try learning about hydroponics from online tutorials, but for a novice it is difficult to get it right at one go,” says Anirban.

Is it cost effective?
As a hobby, it is cost effective, says Vikram. “You need to figure out which greens work, which seeds germinate and which don’t. You need to also find out how much light is required if you don’t have natural light coming in. It is a bit technical. If you have a small area, go for an indoor system and grow vertically. You can add as many layers as you want depending on the height of ceiling,” he explains.

Technical know-how important for a hydroponics setup
It’s a bit difficult to maintain a hydroponic system unless you know the right technique, feels Anirban. “After every harvest one should clean the pipes, filters and check the tank for leakages. Beginners can start with growing lettuce, spinach and basil. This gives you a sense of achievement and you have your salad ready to eat. You can then go on to experiment with other greens,” he says.

Does Hydroponics not being classified as organic really matter?

‘Veggies Grown hydroponically is the answer for healthy food’
It really does not matter if hydroponics is not classified as organic. Hydroponics can actually stand out on its own merit because of its inherent characteristics like being pest-free, faster growth, clean environment, soil-less cultivation and of course clean and healthy produce. So why clamour for an organic tag when “grown hydroponically” is the answer for healthy food.

Melvin Immanuel, an urban farmer based in Mysore

‘We grow vertically, using RO water in clean and controlled environment’
We are a first-generation of new-age urban farmers. We not only grow leafy greens for our family, but also for our neighbourhood communities. We use hydroponic technique, where we do soil-less farming indoors. We grow vertically, using RO water in clean and controlled environment. And so far, everyone is happy and there’s been no complaint.

— Dipika Sagar Khedekar, who runs a hydroponic farm in Mumbai

Points to remember before you start
1. There are six types of hydroponic systems – wick system, water culture, ebb and flow, drip, NFT (Nutrient film technology) and aeroponics. The most common is the NFT, but not all greens can grow on that. So, do some researches before you start
2. Just a YouTube tutorial may not be sufficient. It’s better to do an online course. The good part of these courses is that apart from understanding the process in detail, you get connected to other novices experimenting for the first time
3.Ensure you give the right amount of nutrients and maintain proper pH levels
4. Seeds are available at nurseries, co-ops and retail stores and are suitable for garden – and small-scale hydroponic units.
5. You can grow a variety of lettuces, spinach and basil to start with
6. If you have a small area, go for an indoor system and grow vertically
7. After every harvest you should clean the pipes, tank and check for leakages
8. Grow in such a way that you have enough greens for the week

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