Micro-Garden Training Started In the USA
Micro-Garden Training Started In the USA
By: Peggy Bradley
After several years of planning and deliberation, an international training center for hydroponics and microfarming is being set up in the United States. A microgarden is being built at the Institute of Simplified Hydroponics (ISH) in El Dorado Springs, MO. The garden is to be designed and built by students from developing countries. The first student, Nina Sengupta, has completed the designing of the initial microgarden.
Nina is from Calcutta, India, born into the Hindu religion, and she has lived in the USA for 10 years. She holds a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech, in wildlife, and completed her fieldwork in Tanzania.
Two years ago she and her husband moved to Auroville, a UNESCO-recognized ecological community in southeastern India. Started 38 years ago, the Auroville community began by reforesting degraded land. As it grew they attracted people from around the world. The international facility is now recognized as a world leader in testing and developing alternative technologies for small-scale development.
The Auroville community is expected to grow from the present 2000 people to about 50,000. There are concerns about becoming self-sufficient in energy and also food production. Currently Auroville imports many of its fresh vegetables. While restrictions currently only allow organic production of vegetables, hydroponics could be an attractive solution to gaining self-sufficiency.
Nina found simplified hydroponics and the Institute by searching the Internet for hydroponics and organic hydroponics. She was looking for a method to help Auroville grow fresh vegetables. After email contact, she was given a copy of the CDROM Hydroponics and Microfarms. After studying the CD she asked if she could come to El Dorado Springs in the USA to be trained in the technology.
At the time, ISH USA was moving from Seaside, OR to El Dorado Springs, MO. Seaside was just a rented office, whereas the El Dorado Springs property is a five acre piece of land with an older farm-house and a freshwater well. The new location is big enough for classes and for establishing a demonstration microfarm.
El Dorado Springs was founded in 1884, after mineral springs were found on the town area. A health community flourished in “Eldo,” as the locals call the town, until the 1950s. There are several mineral springs in the town, which were thought to have health benefits. Much of the old architecture and tourist infrastructure still remains, but the town, like many midwestern rural towns, has seen better days. The 3,750 current residents pick from a few restaurants and a small bowling alley for entertainment. The country library has nine Internet-connected computers.
Eldo is located two hours from Kansas City, about two hours from the resort area of Branson. The ISH center is in town, but legally in the county and not subject to city rules. The legal status makes it possible to have animals, fish, or activities that could be restricted in the city.
Nina was invited to be the first student at El Dorado Springs. She attended a special course through July of 2006. She was on hand for the remodeling of the farmhouse; water was heated by solar heat, and cooking facilities consisted of a hot plate and a toaster oven.
Nina’s travel and expenses to come to Eldo were funded by the Hydro for Hunger campaign. Donations made by companies that support Hydro for Hunger made the training possible.
Nina’s three-week training session focused on designing and building a demonstration microgarden. Nina helped design the garden for El Dorado Springs and then designed her demonstration garden for Auroville.
Nina helped design the microgarden for the Eldo ISH. In her training she also designed the first demonstration garden for simplified hydroponics for India. The Auroville garden will be 36 sq. yd. (30 m2) with three basic gardens: one for organic, the second for inorganic nutrients, and the third designed for indigenous communities. The garden was designed to be built at a research center for science in Auroville.
Nina wishes to test the gardens for one year and then, if successful, start training in tribal areas. Auroville now serves as a training center for many other technologies, so simplified hydroponics could be taught there as well.
Nina designed two identical 12 sq. yd. (10-m2) gardens that allow for testing organic hydroponics next to inorganic nutrients. Each garden is expected to use about 10 gal. (38 L) of water a day. The inorganic will require about 35 lb. (16 kg) of dry nutrient for the whole year and produce 792 lb. (360 kg) of vegetables.
The organic hydroponic garden for India is based on using the worm castings from a worm farm as hydroponic nutrient. Nina computed that she would be able to produce 1/4 lb. (~1/8 kg) of nutrient worm castings a day for each one lb. (~1/2 kg) of worms. Because the worm castings average 2 percent nitrogen, she would need 4 lb. (~2 kg) of castings a day to make an adequate hydroponic nutrient for 12 sq. yd. (10 m2) of growing space.
To manufacture enough castings, Nina needs to feed the worms 8 lb. (~4 kg) of organic material a day and would need about 7 sq. yd. (6 m2) of growing surface for her worm farm.
In Eldo, Nina set up two small demonstration worm farms in large plastic tubs. Each tub was first made into a worm habitat by drilling half-inch holes in the bottom, then covering the holes with nylon window screen glued in with goop glue. The top cover was then cut out in the center to provide adequate ventilation for the worms.
Nina constructed two worm farms using two different methods. In one method she layered the worms like a giant lasagna. The worm farm has layers of humus or compost, then worms, then a layer of rotting food. The 18-ft (~6m) tall tub has three layers of humus, worms, and rotting food. In this method, common in India, the worm farm is left to digest the rotten food for a month or two. The only daily care is in watering the bed.
In the second method, topsoil is placed in the bottom of the tub, then worms are placed above the topsoil and compost placed over the worms. Rotting food is placed in the tub everyday and buried. The amount of food is one half the weight of the worms in the tub. In this method, hosehold garbage can be disposed of every day, so the worms are fed every day. This tub is also watered daily with enough water to keep the bed moist.
Nina felt that simplified hydroponic gardens in India would probably use a substrate of coco fiber, because it is readily available. She plans to try a variety of substrates and substrate mixes in the India garden, then select from those what work well and are inexpensive.
For the El Dorado garden, several substrates are being tested in the growers. Seedlings are started in perilite, then switched to a variety of substrates and substrate mixes including peat moss, sand, humus, red volcanic rock and cut pieces of recycled red rubber. These materials are mixed in a variety of ways. Plans in the future include using rockwool for the seedling growers.
The El Dorado garden has a mix of available containers for hydroponic growers. Three plastic shoebox conatiners were modified into seedling growers and provide the necessary seed production for the entire garden, expected to be 48 sq. yd. (40m2). Each of the boxes was cut in the side, with a drain placed one in. from the bottom and the box filled with perlite. All three boxes were planted with transplantable seeds and allowed to grow until ready to transplant.
Nina planted seeds that would be useful in India. She planted one grower with okra, one with carrots, one with tomatoes, and a few smaller growers with tomatoes and cucumber. Several different types of media were tested:
Plastic Swimming Pool – A child’s swimming pool was cut for a drain and filled with peat moss, red volcanic rock, and red rubber pieces. Turnips were transplanted from the seedling growers. There was poor survival from the transplanting due to heat of 105ºF (~41ºC) on the day of transplanting. A second transplanting was done in better weather and the pool is now growing about 100 turnips.
Plastic Plant Containers – Seven plastic pots were set up under wire cages and planted with cucumber, squash, and a pepper plant. These were mixed with sand, peat moss, and perlite. The cucumbers are expected to produce several cucumbers a day using very little garden surface area.
Hod Carrier – Black plastic trays, commonly used for mixing small amounts of mortar, were used for three growers. Nina planted one with carrots, a short variety, directly into the large grower. Carrots do not transplant well. Another was planted with seven okra plants, already growing rapidly. A third was planted in sunflowers, which should grow and flower in a shallow root system.
Windowbox Growers – Plastic window boxes were set up as growers for plants that would vine. All the box growers were placed on bricks on the ground covered with tanglefoot to prevent ant invasion. A trellis was placed behind the growers to support the plants. The narrow box growers were planted with tomatoes, melons, and eggplant using perlite.
Plans were completed by Nina to build a table grower for seedlings. The first pea seedlings were selectively eaten by an undetermined pest. Active wildlife on the property includes seed-eating birds, squirrels, and rabbits, which is problematic for leaving young seedlings in a grower on the ground.
One of the advantages of a simplified hydroponic garden is that the growers can be placed on tables and protected from pests. The design for the Eldo gar den was to build four table growers 5 x 5-ft. (1.5 x 1.50-m) square, and cover the grower tables with insect screen that will also serve as a partial shade cloth. This cover can also reduce water use.
A 13-ft. (~4-m) octagon gazebo was purchased and added to the Eldo garden for an outdoor classroom. A cast-iron table and chairs was purchased and renovated for the classroom. A whiteboard and electrical connection has yet to be added.
Eldo Training Center
Inside the farmhouse an area has been allocated for the computer classroom. One of the problems that showed up for Nina was that the library, which is a nine block walk away, is not adequate for Internet access. So the necessary equipment has been purchased for a computer room for future students. The three-computer room has full DSL access and wire less broadcast, so now laptop computers can be used anywhere in the house or on the grounds. This allows the microgarden gazebo to have full Internet access.
Auroville Training Center
Nina now goes back to India to present her proposal and budget, written at Eldo, for her test garden in Auroville. After presenting her proposal to Auroville, Nina will start the fi rst demonstration garden in India. She will receive technical support from ISH board member Jason Goodman of Technaflora. Because the garden will be located at their research center, it will be in full view of scientists and relief workers from around the world. After testing the gardens for a year in Auroville, she plans to introduce the technology into surrounding schools and small villages.
Nina is a bright-eyed, engaging young woman who has fought hard for her education and training. Although educated in the USA through her Ph.D., Nina never lost sight of the needs of her own country.
She is an ideal person to introduce simplified hydroponics to India, and to adapt it to her own culture. She has a background that includes writing funded grant proposals from the World Bank and others. She has worked in tribal villages training women. She is devoted to her own community of Auroville and her own country. She believes her country can feed itself and end hunger through its own efforts. Her can-do attitude is an attitude of greatness, one that can produce change.
ISH Eldo will officially open in June of 2007 and will be training anyone who wishes to participate in the three-day training course. The center will combine a visit to Branson in a weeklong stay. Details are at the ISH website, www.carbon.org.
The CD ROM Hydroponics and Micro-farms can be purchased on the Internet at www.carbon.org or through most hydroponic stores.
Article Courtesy Maximum Yield Publications Inc.
Bradley, Peggy, “Micro-Garden Training Started in the USA”, Maximum Yield, November/December 2006, pgs 26-38.