I felt incredibly lucky when I found out the TCI Department of Agriculture was hosting a Hydroponics Farming workshop while I was in the country! I signed up immediately. The workshop was free and included breakfast and lunch. It was hosted and taught by a local hyrdoponic farmer. The workshop far exceeded my expectations. In fact there was almost too much information! But the biggest takeaway from the day was definitely that hydroponics can result in growing anything...anywhere. Here's how the Hydroponics Workshop day went.
I took the ferry over from North Caicos to Provo (the main island). The farmer I've been working with on North happened to be in Provo that day so his driver picked me and and took me to meet him for breakfast (the ferry arrived 90 minutes before the workshop started). From there his cousin drove me to the workshop. Everyone knows everyone....
The morning started out in a classroom where Farmer Ian spoke to us about Hydroponic Farming.
After about an hour and a half of classroom time, a local news crew showed up! The Department of Agriculture has only been around since 2011 and they've really been pushing to help locals grow their own food. This workshop was many years in the making, so again, I felt really lucky to be an attendee.
Hydroponics has been around for a looooong time. It was used in the gardens of Babylon, there were Aztec floating gardens, in World War II it was used in the Western Pacific to grow food for soldiers, and then it absolutely boomed in the 1990's. This was partially because hydroponics started being used in the space program, in submarines and deserts.
In a nutshell, hydroponics farming is when you use water to deliver nutrients to plants that they otherwise would get from soil. This means that the growing medium, the stuff the plants are growing their roots in, is nothing more than a support system. Pretty. Cool. Some common growing mediums are granite gravel, rockwool, oasis cubes, clay, coco chips, perlite and vermiculite.
There are huge advantages to hydropincs including:
-you can grow anywhere
-reduced chance of plant disease
-lots of control over growing
-you can grow bigger yields
But of course, just like anything, there are disadvantages too, including:
-initial costs are higher
-if disease is introduced, it can spread quickly
-does need attentioin
After lunch, we went to Farmer Ian's commercial farm. He grows cucumbers and mint that gets sold at the Provo IGA.
Farmer Ian starts seedlings in oasis cubes. The oasis cube then gets transplanted to a small plastic container and from there into canals filled with granite gravel. Granite gravel can be re-used, which is one of the main reasons why he chose that medium. Some other mediums, like rockwool, can't be re-used.
The plants are watered with an "ebb and flow" system. The water gets pumped up a few times a day so that the plants are almost covered. The water then drains down into large drums and will get re-used again. All the nutrients are mixed in the water.
Once the baby plants are big enough, they get moved into bigger canals filled with granite gravel. The same process happens with the ebb and flow watering system.
An operation this size does require large water reservoirs and tanks for mixing nutrients:
Here's the area where mint is grown:
Everyone was given a hydroponically grown cucumber!
Next up, we went to visit Farmer Ian's home, where he also grows hydroponic plants. But at home, he uses a "dutch bucket" system. Seeds are still started in oasis cubes, but they are then transplanted to perlite and into buckets. The buckets are lined with paint mesh. Water is pumped to the buckets four times per day and then drains out the bucket back to the reservoir to be re-used again.
The water reservoir and pumps are on the lower level of the screened in porch and the plants are on the upper level.
The perlite is also re-used. Farmer Ian puts it in a slow cooker between harvests!
Here's a Turks Head Cactus...called that name because the top of the cactus is the same colour as the uniforms soldiers used to wear.
Farmer Ian even has a fully hydroponic garden in his front yard!
All in all this workshop was a wonderful experince and really opened up my eyes to the possibility of growing anything, anywhere. Traditional soil is only one growing medium choice, or plant root support system. It's all about what you feed plants and what they can absorb from water.
In the future, I will definitely be experimenting with hydroponics on my own. I'd also like to do some testing around how differnt growing methods impact taste and look into the organics behind hydroponics. Lots to think about and endless possibilities!
Please contact me if you'd like a copy of my notes from the Hydroponics Workshop.
#hyrdoponics #growyourownfood #eatlocal #possibilitiesareendless #turksandcaicos #farming