One of the points that naysayers keep coming up with against Hydroponic produce is the use of inorganic nutrient fertilizers in growing crops. What one should ideally worry about is the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals in food production. However, the billions of $ that go into Organic Marketing has successfully diverted people’s attention from the use of Pesticides in Organic cultivation (which uses not only organic but also some inorganic pesticides. You can read more about it here.) This has resulted in a situation where an unaware consumer today is content with eating deadly pesticides laden organic food but may question food grown using safe inorganic nutrients in an environmentally sustainable way (soilless growing with re-circulation).
Since the Hydroponic industry is fairly small and does not stand a chance against the big budget marketing campaigns of the Organic lobby, we decided to explore if it is possible to use Organic nutrients in growing crops Hydroponically.
Essentially, can we get the best of two worlds, pesticide-free produce, that is grown using organic nutrients with productivity and ease possible through Hydroponics? Is it possible to convert a Hydroponic farm into an Organoponic Farm?
Sources of Organic nutrients that can be used in Hydroponic Farms.
- Fish Excreta – (in Aquaponics) – In aquaponics the fish tank containing effluents act as a source of organic fertilizer. The plants receive organic nutrients from natural aquaponics combined with a hydroponic recirculation system.
- Humic and Fulvic Acid – One can use humic acid and fulvic acid in hydroponics to improve root efficiency and promote the absorption of nutrients. It’s recommended to use fulvic acid in all stages of a plants development. Fulvic acid foliar spray results in better chlorophyll content in the leaves and more uptake of nutrient from the roots.
- Seaweed – Seaweed can also be used in hydroponics as one the organic fertilizer. Seaweed increases the elongation of root cells, and in turn root mass as well, leading to more significant and faster plant growth.
- Amino-acid based Fertilizers – Amino-acids based fertilizers can be used to reduce inorganic fertilizers in hydroponics.
- Microbial derivatives – Microbial sources can be used to pre-process the organic nutrients before incorporation into hydroponics.
Even if an urban grower decides to convert her Hydroponic farm to an Organoponic farm, there is still a significant challenge that needs to be solved for. The problem is that each batch of Organic nutrient will vary in its composition (concerning ratios of individual nutrients) depending upon the source of that particular batch. It is thus difficult to conclude the specific nutrient ratio for all elements in an Organic nutrient.
Although one can find the right dosage for optimal production through trial and error method, this may not be a valid option for a commercial grower who would always want peak productivity. Still, for home growers, or hobbyists, or growers concerned about the use of inorganic sources, this is a viable option.
Advantages of Organoponics
- An Organoponic system provides scope for future organic farming in city-based Urban Farms by reducing cost and simplifying the production process.
- Organoponics has the potential to produce healthier and environmentally sustainable crops that may have wider market acceptance.
- Organoponics will lead to reduced nutrient cost, improved quality, and better post-harvest performances of the produce.
Safeguards while engaging in Organoponics
- A complete sustainable system of organic nutrients has not been introduced yet. (primarily, because its difficult to replicate the exact ratio of nutrients in successive batches)
- Different plants may have slightly different requirements when it comes to the specific ratio of nutrients present in the nutrient mix. It is not easy to control that while using Organic nutrients.
- The food coming out of an Organoponic farm may still not enjoy Organic certification.
Organic certification and hydroponics
A highly debated topic in organic hydroponics is with respect to its certification. Unlike certification for soil-based organic farming, there are no guidelines, no authority, and no government body to certify Organic nature of Hydroponic produce (in the Indian context). This may be a dampener that may prevent individual growers from trying to turn their Hydroponic farm into an Organoponic one.
CityGreens and Organoponics
We have been consistently trying to find effective ways of using Organic nutrients in Hydroponics. Our R&D team is currently in advanced stages of developing completely Organic nutrient blends that are easy to use and can give good yields in Hydroponic set-up. We will be launching these in April and would encourage you to use them and share your feedback with us.