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With aquaponics,urban farming is not just about kitchen gardens

A farming technique popular in the US,Australia and Europe,it is slowly catching up in India.

Written by Joyce William John | Pune |
October 17, 2013 4:15:29 am

Anuradha Bansi Dangat,Joel Vogelaar and Mugdha Pradhan don’t have the luxury of sprawling houses with idyllic kitchen gardens. But the spread on their table includes tomatoes,bell peppers,chillies,okra,cucumber,salad leaves,broccoli,pak choi and a large amount of herbs from their own organic “farms”,situated either on their terrace or balconies. They point the curious minds to the world of aquaponics.

A farming technique popular in the US,Australia and Europe,it is slowly catching up in India. Aquaponics involve growing vegetables in combination with fish without using soil as a medium.

“Aqua” comes from aquaculture (growing fish) and “ponics” comes from hydroponics (growing plants with the use of water). Unlike hydroponics,in which one needs to add nutrients to the water for the plants to grow,in aquaponics the nutrients come from fish. Vogelaar,who has been researching on the farming technique for some years and built his first aquaponics system in April 2012,said: “The fish produce ammonia,which gets converted by two types of bacteria: first to nitrite and then to nitrate that in turn serve as fertilisers for plants.”

While in countries where aquaponics is more common one can buy readymade systems,Vogelaar,Dangat and Pradhan have built their own systems,learning by trial and error. “I have built my systems out of locally available materials like Sintex water tanks,PVC pipes and metal frames. One can also use recycled materials like plastic water bottles. It’s all about being creative and learning to build a system as simple as possible,with as little cost,” he said,adding that the only other requirements are some fish like Guppies or Tilapia,water and either stones or coconut coir as the bed for the plants to grow in.

A typical system on Vogelaar’s terrace includes a tank with fish,and the water being pumped out with a small motor. This water is directed into cut PVC pipes placed on metal frames in which he grows the saplings. The water circulates back into the fish tank and the process continues. Vogelaar said he needs to add a little water to the fish tank once in 15 days.

Dangat,who comes from a family of farmers,learned about aquaponics when she was in Australia and set up her own system in June. “An Australian friend,Frank Waters,introduced me to it and I realised how nutritious vegetables can be grown with less than half the amount of time,money and effort a regular Indian farmer invests. There is no tilling of ground or weeding involved. I spend barely 10 minutes a day,” she said.

Having grown lettuce,broccoli,tomatoes and kale in a 1,000-litre tank on her terrace,Dangat plans to go commercial in future. “I desire to set up a large-scale system and even conduct classes for people to learn how to use aquaponics,” said Dangat.

Dangat is emphatic that aquaponics is the future. “The nutrient content of vegetables grown through aquaponics is high and very less water is required since it keeps recycling within the system,” she said.

An HR manager,Pradhan said she tried aquaponics as a hobby. “I love fish and was into organic gardening. Once I read an article about aquaponics and decided to give it a shot. It is a space-efficient option,” said Pradhan. Though she faced glitches while trying to set up her system,Pradhan said it is a “sustainable farming technique that can be done on a large scale with increased returns”.

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