Hydroponic farming is the method of growing plants without soil. It originates from the Latin word which means working with water.
Many people think hydroponic farming is primarily using water to grow plants but that’s not all there is to it. It is basically an innovative method of growing plants without traditional potting and soil mixing.
Hydroponic Farming in Nigeria: How to Start in 2019
Although it seems quite sophisticated, hydroponic farming is not a complicated process. You don’t really need any special skills to start hydroponic farming. In fact, no background makes better growers, because you will be open to new models, customers and growing methods. Also, you will be willing to learn as much as possible. It has been said that most hydroponic farmers with little or no experience are able to grow much more quickly than traditional farmers entering the markets.
One of the major advantages of hydroponic farming over traditional farming is the minimal use of water. For instance, a typical hydroponic farm requires between 20l and 30l of water to grow 1kg of tomatoes while open field production with 1kg of tomatoes requires 60l of water.
In this post, we will be providing the necessary information that you need to start hydroponic farming in Nigeria in 2019.
But first, let’s take a look at the advantages of hydroponics farming
- There is no need for huge masses of farming lands
- It provides high yields from every harvest
- Little or no runoff or evaporation unlike traditional farming
- It is quite easy to eliminate pests and diseases with hydroponic farming
- It produces higher yields
- Water can be reused
- It is easier to create a nutritious environment for plants.
- There is proper aeration of plants.
This type of farming also has its disadvantages. In some cases, hydroponics farming can fail and the damage to plants can be irreversible. In addition, the initial set up cost may be very high and there are technical skills required for maintaining a hydroponics system which you may not have as a beginner.
Here are some of the frequently asked questions about hydroponic farming by prospective farmers
1. What is hydroponics?
Basically, hydroponic farming also known as hydroponics is a system of growing the plants in a soilless solution. The system can be any nutrient solution or inert growing media such as perlite and sand or anything other than traditional potting mixes or soil.
2. What do I need to get started?
To start a hydroponic farm, you will need a hydroponics system, hydroponic nutrients, an inert hydroponics medium, a light source, and plants.
You can invest in the right equipment, such as knives for deleafing, which will reduce the number of hours that workers dedicate to plant maintenance, and also an electric wheelbarrow to help you carry everything. Equipment should also be stored in the same place to avoid delays; searching for tools often wastes production time.
In hydroponics, there are many equipment that can make your farming process more efficient. For instance, using a ladder wastes time because climbing it up and down, and moving it between the rows, is cumbersome and increases labour costs. If you have the funds, you can invest in modern alternatives that make it possible to increase the speed at which the greenhouse tasks can be carried out. These include equipment like rail pipe trolleys or lifts. The rail pipe trolley is basically an internal transport system that is used for the maintenance of plants and the greenhouse structure. The lift can be used to transport containers of harvested produce out of the greenhouse. If you are looking for a less-expensive alternative, you can decide to weld wheels to a ladder. This will make it easy for the picker to move through the rows in half the time it usually takes.
Also, you don’t have to use plastic buckets and crates when harvesting because it increases labour cost. If you don’t have rail pipe trolleys, you can make your own by securing two plastic crates on a lightweight surface and attaching rubber wheels. This device will significantly speed up harvesting because pickers would no longer have to carry buckets between rows and outside.
3. What is a hydroponics system?
Hydroponics system involves various structures including towers and trays that hold water or other inert media and provide places to grow plants. There are two basic categories which are a solution (liquid) culture and an aggregate culture. In the solution system, the plant roots grow directly into a nutrient-filled solution. On the other hand, in the aggregate system, the components are gravel, sand, or small clay pellets, the roots grow into the medium.
For both systems, the three important ingredients needed for the plant root to grow: water/moisture, nutrients and oxygen are included.
Additionally, there are different types of systems to make growing plants hydroponically more comfortable. These include the likes of drip, ebb and flow, nutrient film technique, water culture, aeroponics and wick.
4. Where do I get a hydroponics system?
You can get the system from a variety of commercial suppliers. For instance, you can find a system that fits your needs by search the internet and linking up with suppliers. Another option is to build your own system. One of the advantages of building your system is that you can customize the design to fit your space and the kinds of plants you want to grow.
5. What kind of nutrients and medium does a hydroponic system use?
The nutrients used in a hydroponic system differ from what is used to feed plants in the soil. First, you will need to use nutrients which are a mix of primary, secondary and micro and these nutrients have been designed for the hydroponic system.
Apart from water, other media that can be used for your hydroponic system include Rockwool, small clay rocks (sometimes called hydrocorn), coconut fiber or chips, perlite, sand, and vermiculite.
These media don’t break down quickly which ensures there is a consistent supply of nutrients to the plants. There is no hydroponic system that is better than the other so you may have to experiment with different media before arriving at your desired medium. However, if you have a medium that is constantly soggy it will cause the roots to suffocate from a lack of oxygen.
6. Why don’t roots suffocate when grown in water?
In hydroponic farming, Air pumps can be used in water systems to generate bubbles and increase the dissolved oxygen in the water, both of which supply oxygen to the submerged roots.
7. Do I need artificial light for my farm?
There are different types of artificial lights exist, but metal halide seems to be the light source of choice among many gardeners. Other types of artificial lights include high-pressure sodium bulbs, LEDs, high-output fluorescents and compact fluorescents. This assumes that you are growing hydroponically indoors.
8. Can a hydroponic system be set up outdoors?
You can also grow your plants in hydroponic system outdoor. The system can be set up anywhere that has an adequate supply of artificial or natural light.
9. How much time does it take?
Typically, hydroponic farming takes time. And if you’re new to this system, it will be good if you invest your time learning more about the process before you get started.
10. What kind of plants can I grow?
You can grow houseplant, fruit or vegetable in the system. However, the solution systems are best for plants with shallow roots. These include leafy greens, such as lettuce, spinach, and herbs.
On the other hand, the aggregate systems are best for vegetables with deep roots, such as beets as well as top-heavy vegetables such as cucumbers.
11. What kind of yields can I expect?
If the system maintains optimal light and other growing condition, it is expected that the yields will exceed those of traditional farming.
12. How does a hydroponically grown produce taste?
The nutritional content and flavor of hydroponically grown produce typically exceed those of the soil-grown crops
If you would like to be a hydroponics farmer, here are some of the things you will need:
- Cleared land of a minimum half acre
- Access to water and electricity
- Road access
- A credible hydroponic equipment supplier
Additionally, you would need to decide which variety of plants you’d like to specialize in. You can choose to start with leafy greens and herbs.
Now that we have answered some of the frequently asked questions relating to hydroponic farming, let’s take a look at the steps required to successfully start this type of farming.
Step 1: Make a decision to make it work
The first step is the decision to get serious and start your hydroponic farm. At the stage, you also need to consider how much technology you plan to use. It is also important to note that this system of farming still requires a lot of time and perseverance to be successful.
Step 2: Find a community of hydroponic farmers in your area
Particularly, if you’re just getting started, it is important that you connect with the community in your area that is involved in this system of farming. You can link up with those with experience, as well as aspiring farmers like yourself.
Step 3: Create a business plan
Prior to starting your farm, it is important that you set goals and create a plan. Some of the questions you should have in your plan include Why are you starting a farm? What do you want to achieve? Who do you want to serve?
Apart from helping you plan your business, the business plan is also an excellent avenue to help secure funding.
Some of the things in the business plan include market analysis, the types of products and services you plan to sell, how you plan to promote your farm and get customers, and of course your competitive advantages.
Step 4: Start planting and learn by doing
There are many innovative techniques in hydroponic farming and the best way to adopt these methods is to learn by doing. This is very important because your ability to make money as a farmer depends on your ability to grow high-quality produce (and sell it, of course).
Typically, you can start with a pilot system so that you can experiment and learn all about growing healthy plants. Definitely, you will make some mistakes, but these mistakes will not mar rather they will be stepping stones to creating a successful hydroponic farming system.
Some of the innovative systems in hydroponics include DWC (Deepwater culture) systems, NFT (Nutrient film technique) and the ZipGrow Towers
DWC is used in greenhouses in tropical areas. However, this labor-intensive method is best suited to places where labor is cheap. Also, the greenhouse should be located in a spacious area because of the movement of people in and out of the house. On the other hand, the NFT systems are run either in greenhouses or in stacked systems in greenhouses or warehouses. The ZipGrow Towers can be used in backyards and homes because they are modular i.e each Tower is separate. Also, these towers can fit into almost any space in any quantity making them useful in areas with limited space of land area.
Step 5: Find Your Customers
Marketing is a critical aspect of the production value chain for farmers because it doesn’t make sense to spend all your time and efforts producing and no one is willing to buy your products. You can visit the local farms as well as advertise your products to the public to enable you to attract customers to your business.
In fact, prior to launching your hydroponic farm, you must have carried out adequate market research to know your target market and how best you can reach them. When marketing your products, it is essential that you highlight the advantages of hydroponically grown products to your prospective buyers. The benefits such as higher nutritional content and improved flavor are some of the features you can mention. Also, you should ensure that your harvest period coincides with the time when there is a market demand to make it easy for your products proceed quickly from the farm to your consumers.