Kashmir: An electrician turned farmer grows vegetables without soil; inspires others to do the same

IOK - Indian Occupied Kashmir Jammu & Kashmir

Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir Ashiq Hussain is an electrician by profession, but he loves gardening.

The resident of Kander Mohalla Saidakadal in Hazratbal, Srinagar, has always been frustrated that he could not pursue his passion, just because he did not have enough land to grow vegetables. But three months ago, the 27-year-old learnt from a friend how vegetables can be grown without soil, and vertically in nutrient-rich water.

This new technique of farming, which is fast picking up in the Valley, is known as hydroponics, or soilless farming. Hussain is now growing spinach, collard greens, coriander, mint, and other vegetables, most of which are ready for harvest in 45 days.

The electrician now grows food for his family in PVC plastic pipes at home! “I learnt that in hydroponics I did not need a lot of space and all that I required were ten PVC pipes, a stand, and a motor for circulating the nutrient-rich water,” Hussain told Gaon Connection.
He immediately converted a part of his courtyard into a hydroponic farm and has been growing vegetables. “The farm, which is no more than 3×6 feet in area, yields spinach, collard greens, coriander, mint, all in 45 days,” he said. Hussain had to spend only Rs 25, 000 to set up the hydroponic farm. “I have already harvested collard greens four times and our family has enjoyed eating them. We can pluck their leaves for several weeks,” said Hussain, who has father, brother and a sister in the family. “In the coming days, we will harvest spinach, and then mint and coriander,” he added.

Hussain said he got a lot of guidance from the agriculture department of the Jammu & Kashmir government. Iqbal Chowdhary, director of the agriculture department, Kashmir, was all for the hydroponics technique. “Plants receive essential nutrients from a water-based solution. It contains nitrogen, potassium, calcium, and mixed with water to provide essential nutrients to plants.

A motor-driven system circulates the nutrient solution through pipes, making it accessible to those lacking land for conventional farming,” he explained. Although he does not have exact figures, he claimed that many people who did not have land were approaching the department to learn about soilless farming and adopt it.

Elaborating on the advantages of hydroponics, Hussain said that it was not labour intensive. “It requires minimal labour, eliminates the need for weeding, and can be set up anywhere. Even those with a limited knowledge of farming, such as me, can easily grow things,” he said, adding that it was an ideal technique for the harsh winters of Kashmir, as the crops can be kept safe from snowfall and removed easily. In soilless farming, the seeds of plants to be grown are germinated for over a week and then shifted to PVC pipes, where a circulation of nutrient rich water keeps them healthy.

“All that we have to be mindful of is water, the specific nutrients for it, and the electricity to circulate the water periodically. Water circulation provides plants with nutrients and oxygen. Few hours of electricity in a day is enough to do the job,” Hussain explained. Hussain’s friends and neighbours shared the fruits of his labour on social media and that is inspiring others in the Valley to take up soilless farming.

Mehraj ud Din from Ganderbal district in Central Kashmir is one of them. He saw the images of vegetables growing in PVC pipes and was intrigued. He decided to learn more online, and has invested in PVC pipes, iron stands and a motor to embark on his hydroponic farming journey.

“This method appealed to me because unlike traditional farming which requires a lot of physical labour, this technique is beneficial especially for those who do other things for a living,” Mehraj, who is a government employee, told Gaon Connection. “Just 20-30 minutes a day is enough to tend to the vegetables, and produce grown this way is less susceptible to disease,” he added.

Bilal Ahmad, a research scholar at Shar-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology Kashmir said hydroponics used significantly less water than traditional soil-based farming. “In hydroponic farming we recirculate water. Excess water not taken up by plants is reused and thus minimising water loss. Besides, nutrients are dissolved in water and delivered directly to the plant roots. Plants receive what they need, reducing overuse of water,” he told Gaon Connection. “It is therefore a sustainable alternative, especially in water-scarce regions,” he reiterated. He also pointed out that growing plants hydroponically can reduce the risk of soil-borne pests and diseases.

“Hydroponics enables year-round cultivation, independent of seasonal changes, which can lead to a more consistent and reliable food supply. Hydroponic systems are an option even in urban areas and can be practised indoors or as vertical farming,” Ahmad concluded.__gaonconnection.com