By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

Due to the rise of urban gardening, homeowners, especially those who have limited space for gardening, are looking for ways to grow their own food. Many try vertical or container gardening while others practice hydroponics or the process of growing plants without soil but rather in nutrient-filled sand, water, or gravel. 

Zennor Hydroponics Farm in  Palauig, Zambales also practices hydroponics because of its efficiency in all aspects of farming. 

“Using a hydroponic system in a farm works because aside from being able to plant a lot in a small space, it can save a lot of money since you don’t need a lot of manpower to tend to plants as the system takes care of the watering while the nutrient solution provides the vitamins and minerals for the plants’ growth,” said Zennor Hydroponics Farm proprietor Raffy Pagaling during the second episode of AgriTalk 2020 aired on Facebook by the Agricultural Training Institute in partnership with Manila Bulletin and Agriculture Online. 

Pagaling added that using a hydroponic system in growing food can generate 20 to 25 percent more produce as compared to planting in soil. Moreover, the process is faster which makes a good return in investment. 

An example of a hydroponic technique that the farm uses is the Dutch Bucket System or Bato Bucket system. This system, as its name implies, uses buckets as the core of its growing method. It’s also a variation of the ebb and flow method which works by periodically flooding and draining the plants with nutrient solutions. 

“In our farm, we use it to grow fruit-bearing vegetables like cucumber, tomatoes, okra, etc.,” Pagaling said.

Pagaling posing with English cucumbers harvested from his farm.

He added he chose to grow this specific variety of cucumbers that through this method, the farm manages to grow English cucumbers which weigh 500 to 600 grams per fruit. 

“This is an advantage of using hydroponics; it can produce better crops in terms of size and quality,” Pagaling said. 

From a hundred cucumber plants, Pagaling manages to harvest 278 kilos of English cucumbers which he affirms are crunchy, juicy, and superb in quality. These cucumbers are then sold at P165 per kilo. 

Another hydroponic technique that Zenno Farm uses is the rockwool or hydrowool. This method, according to Pagaling, is a soilless medium that serves as the backbone of the farm because all their seeds such as okra, tomatoes, and more are planted on this material.

The farm grows their seedlings in a soilless medium called rockwool.

Rockwool is a lightweight hydroponic substrate made from molten basaltic rock which is then spun into fine fibers to create products such as cubes and blocks. When hydrated, these cubes have a ratio of 80 percent water and 20 percent air, making it difficult to over water the plants growing in this material. 

When ready, seedlings can be easily transplanted from the rockwool to the preferred growing medium. 

Other hydroponic methods used on the farm 

Since Zennor Hydroponics Farm grows their crops without using soil, they have more than two methods that they follow especially if they want to make the most of their space. 

First is the NFT system where the crops are planted in very shallow water that contains all the dissolved nutrients required for plants to grow. These nutrients are re-circulated past the bare roots of plants in a watertight channel.

Zennor Farm’s NFT system allows them to maximize space and even plant different vegetables all at once.

“We have our own version of the NFT system which can accommodate 320 green leafy vegetables and it is the biggest system that we have [on the farm] with an area of 10 feet by six feet,” Pagaling said. 

He added that aside from being suitable for most leafy greens, the NFT system keeps their vegetables fresh, even if it’s already been ripe for two weeks or so. 

In addition, this system can hold different kinds of leafy vegetables at the same time. 

Next is the Wick System. This is the simplest way to grow vegetables without any electricity and can be done by anyone from seven years old and above.

The Wick System is the simplest way to grow vegetables without electricity.

“Any material can be used to create this kind of hydroponic system. It doesn’t require electricity because its main component is stagnant water, but it’s a very efficient way of farming because it can grow plants within 30 days with little supervision. Plus, it keeps it fresh even if you’re away for a long period of time,” Pagaling said. 

He added that the Wick System can also be done indoors provided that they are supported with artificial lighting.

An indoor setup is also possible with the Wick System.

The farm even has a small greenhouse where they use the Dutch Bucket system, the Wick type, and the NFT method at the same time to grow crops that are fit for personal consumption.

Zennor Hydroponics Farm has a greenhouse measuring 12 feet by 14 feet and is planted with 700 lettuce and 72 fruit-bearing vegetables.

“With an area of only 12 feet by 14 feet, we still managed to plant here 700 lettuce and 72 fruit-bearing vegetables like cherry tomatoes. But since it produces more than we need, we sell the excess to neighboring towns, friends, families, and neighbors,” Pagaling said. 

By using hydroponics in growing food, he added that one need not worry about the sustainability of a farm or garden because the system can run all-year round, making it suitable for almost every kind of crop. 

Much like Pagaling said, there are many benefits that can be reaped from using a hydroponic system. He hopes that his farm can set an example and inspire more people to try out this innovative farming technique. 

Watch the full video of the webinar here