Rice is one of the most common foods in the world. It is eaten by a majority of the world’s population and can arguably be termed as the staple food of the earth. Whichever country you visit, you will find rice.
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It is a grain that has traversed time, cultures, countries and even continents. This is easily attributable to the fact that rice is not only highly nutritious, versatile, easy to store but is also extremely affordable.
Everyone, both rich and poor, is in a position to get and eat rice. Planting rice is not an easy task. Rice can only grow only in specific conditions. The climate must be hot, wet and humid.
The plant’s stem must be fully submerged in water in order to give a good yield. This explains why rice grows best in the water clogged paddies of Asia and the Indian sub-continent.
The process of planting, weeding and harvesting is highly labor intensive. It normally requires soaking rice seeds before-hand, then planting the seedlings in water. The farm workers normally have to step into the water to plant and care for the crop.
Weeding must also be done periodically. This form of growing rice is inefficient and wasteful. To begin with, there is an extensive use of fresh water. This intensive use of water is disconcerting and challenges the notion of conserving scarce resources.
With global warming increasingly becoming a concern, it is imperative to be conscious about careful use of scarce water resources. Second, many farmers have to be knee deep in stagnant water tending to their crop.
This exposes them to risk of contracting water borne diseases such as bilharzia. In the long run this form of planting rice will become unsustainable. To solve the issues of waste and disease, the world must turn to hydroponics.
What is hydroponic system growing?
Hydroponics is a sub-strand of hydroculture. It is the form of agriculture in which plants rather than being grown in soil, they are grown in water.
This water is packed with hydroponic nutrients necessary for proper growth and high yields. Hydroponics is packed with advantages. Apart from the reduced water usage, farmers do not have to battle vicious weeds and pests.
The crops are grown in a controlled environment protected from the harsh environment. This means that yields are not only going to be bigger but also much healthier and of higher quality. A hydroponic system is simple and straight-forward to set up.
It consists of three main parts, that is, the reservoir, the pipe system and the plant trays. The whole system is basically a reservoir filled up with water that is periodically pumped to the plants.
These trays are filled with the water that is rich with nutrients. The plants roots grow in the trays. The roots absorb the nutrients from the water without ever needing to be in soil.
The nutrients mixed in the water, are all the minerals that the plant needs. These minerals include elements such as calcium, lithium, manganese and potassium. The nutrients may be obtained from organic or inorganic sources.
Organic sources include cow dung, fish excrement chicken or duck manure. Inorganic nutrients are obtained from artificial fertilizers that are synthetically produced. This means hydroponic is best setup indoors.
Techniques of setting up hydroponic structures
There are very many techniques that one may choose from while setting up a hydroponic structure. In all of these, one may decide whether or not to use a growth substrate. The growth substrate is an inert substance.
This substance only serves the purpose of supporting the plants roots and stem. The substrate could be gravel, sheep wool, wood fiber, pumice or sand. Any of these set ups could work with and without growth substrates.
These techniques include;
- Static solution culture
This is the simplest, most affordable and basic form of hydroponics. In this set up, one needs only a container to act as a reservoir. This ‘reservoir’ will hold the nutrient rich water.
The plant’s roots will then be immersed in this water. It is from here that the plants will directly obtain their nutrients. With this set up, it is imperative to stir the water periodically.
This is to ensure that there is enough oxygen supply to the plant’s roots. Another option, would be to keep the water level in the reservoir low enough, so that the parts of the roots are exposed to the air.
- Continuous flow solution culture
With this set up, one needs a reservoir and a pipe system. Water is pupped through the pipes over and over again. Here, the plants are constantly in contact with the nutrient rich water.
The water constantly flows past the roots. It is not stagnant. It is better than the static solution set up as you are assured of constant oxygen supply. It is however pricier as it requires a pumping system to keep the water flowing.
- Aeroponics system
In this set up, the plant’s roots are exposed to the air. They are not surrounded by a growth substrate. The roots are then sprayed periodically with the nutrient rich water from spray nozzles.
This is done because the droplets are small enough. The smaller the droplets, the quicker the absorption of the nutrients.
- Fogponics system
Fogponics is very similar to aeroponics. The only difference is, with fogponics, the droplets are sprayed onto the plant’s roots by a diaphragm reverberating at ultrasound frequencies.
The droplets thus sprayed are almost microscopic in size. Therefore, they are quickly and much more easily absorbed by the plant’s roots.
- Aquaponics system
Aquaponics is the most organic form of hydroponics. With this system, the nutrients are acquired from fish excrement. It works very efficiently with fish farmers. The water taken out of the aquariums is reused in the hydroponic set up.
- Passive sub-irrigation
This requires the use of growth substrate. The crops are grown inside the substrate. The growth substrate, acts the conveyor of the nutrients. It is called passive sub-irrigation since it is indirect.
The roots of a plant are not directly in contact with the nutrient rich water. The growth substrate is drenched with the water. The plants then absorb nutrients from this substrate.
- Ebb and flow hydroponic gardening
This technique involves continuous periodic drowning and draining of the plants roots in a tidal like movement. Plants are grown in trays, containers or pots. These trays are then connected to the reservoir via pipes. The nutrient rich water is then released into these trays.
It submerges the plants roots for a few minutes, giving them time to absorb as many nutrients as possible. The water is then discharged and drained, then shortly after, the process is repeated.
Advantages of using hydroponics
Hydroponics is the answer to the problems facing agriculture. It is the future of food stability in the world. It provides solutions to many of them problems facing food production in arid and semi-arid nations.
Its advantages are as follows;
- Decrease water use
Growing plants, the hydroponics way reduces the use of water by a shocking 90 percent. Plants only need enough water to survive and grow. Most water use in farms is lost to leeching deep in the ground or evaporation.
With hydroponics those two problems are eliminated. The amount of water used by the plant is closely monitored and can be infinitely reused. This is extremely impressive as it helps in the conservation of water.
It is a right-on-time solution that will also provide food security to arid and semi-arid areas. Rice will not only be grown in China but Oman and Egypt as well.
- Better space allocation
Hydroponics take up very little space. In fact, it can even be set up vertically or in a small grow tent. Though with a enclosed tent it will mean getting quality lighting system. This maximizes the use of small spaces.
This is because the roots of a plant do not need to spread out far looking for water and nutrients. Everything is close by. By maximizing the use of small spaces this way, one is able not only to maximize production of plants but also maintain quality and nutritional value as well.
- No soil needed
This is the entire basis upon which hydroponics is based. Plants are directly in close proximity of nutrient rich water. At time they are in an inert growth substrate which is drowned in these nutrients.
Proving that plants can grow outside of soil is a timely blessing to rocky, sandy areas and areas without fertile soil. The possibility of growing crops without depending on soil will assist people living in such places become food secure.
- No weeds, no pests, no diseases
Plants grown in hydroponics are not affected by any such plight. They grow in controlled, closely watched environments. These environs are safe from the ravages of the outside world.
This of course means that yields are much better as plants are much healthier. Further, there is no need of using pesticides or herbicides on plants.
Herbicides and pesticides can be harmful to human health. Consuming plants that have not been in contact with them, reduces the chances of falling ill.
- Climate control ability
Hydroponics work best indoors. It is much easier to control the climatic conditions plants are exposed to. This means that plants are able to keep growing regardless of the weather or climatic conditions present. This is an advantage that ensures food security.
- Less labor intensive
Hydroponics is majorly a very independent system after set up. It only requires maintenance and constant monitoring. This is a task that can be conducted by a handful of people. This contrasted with the massive labor force and machinery needed in traditional farming, makes it look like a piece of cake.
- Hydroponic plants grow faster and larger
Plants are directly in contact with nutrients. This means that they are able to grow to astronomical sizes in a short time. Further, as a farmer, one is assured that all the seeds planted will grow into healthy strong plants. Thus, there are only gains with this system.
Growing rice, the hydroponic way
When it comes to planting rice via hydroponics, the process is relatively the same as with planting any other crop. The first step is thus picking a hydroponic set up. This will really depend on one’s budget.
Some hydroponic techniques, for instance, the fogponics, are very technical and rather complicated. Thus, acquiring and setting them up may prove to be very costly.
Careful consideration of one’s hydroponics’ needs and budgetary constraints will come in handy. After choosing a hydroponic structure, one must also consider the need for using a growth substrate.
In normal circumstances, rice is grown in water clogged paddies. In these paddies, it is normally submerged in water. Therefore, rice must be in constant proximity to water.
A growth substrate must therefore be used when growing this grain in hydroponics. This is to keep the roots of the plant near water. The rice should be planted in the substrate and constantly flushed with the nutrient rich water.
The plant should be closely monitored. This is to ensure that there is enough air and nutrient supply.
Challenges of growing rice hydroponically
Growing rice hydroponically is very efficacious and full of advantages. However, it is not very economical. The entire hydroponic process is capital intensive. It requires a lot of investment.
This ranges from buying equipment, maintaining the system and even hiring labor to monitor the plants. These overhead expenses must be paid for to make the venture worthwhile. Thus, farmers opt to plant more expensive crops with hydroponics.
Crops such strawberries, kale, lettuce and herbs fetch a pretty penny in the market. Growing and selling them enables farmers foot the overhead costs of running a hydroponic system. Rice, however, is very low priced in the market.
Farmers can only therefore make profits when they mass-produce rice. The current nature of hydroponics makes mass production impossible. Rice is therefore, not a commercially viable hydroponic plant unlike other types.
Although, one may grow it for domestic use or as a hobby. Research into the science of hydroponics continues in earnest. It is hoped that in the future, it will be made more efficient.
This will open the possibility of mass production of crops and encourage more people to delve in hydroponics.