In Summary
  • The fact that soil is not involved in this form of agriculture has made many people to think that hydroponics is a shortcut to food production. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
  • Animal Breeding and Genomics professor Alexander Kahi of Egerton University’s Faculty of Agriculture says most vegetables and grass can be grown through hydroponics.
  • Mwangi, 51, ventured into this form of urban farming in 2012, and two years later, green produce from the hanging gardens is sustaining his family. At times, the produce is more than they can consume and they share it with two children’s homes.

On the edges of an estate in Lavington, Nairobi, there are rows after rows of green, leafy spinach, coriander and rosemary.

On a pavement, right in front of the gate, are bushes of hanging capsicum, eggplants and celery leaves.

And as we walk into Kirogo Mwangi’s house, we are greeted by more and more crops on stands, dancing to the morning breeze.

While these crops look healthy, with enough nutrients, sunlight, water, their visible roots are not in the soil.

Welcome to hydroponics farming. A subset of hydroculture, hydroponics is a method of growing plants and crops using mineral nutrient solutions in water, without soil.

Mwangi, 51, ventured into this form of urban farming in 2012, and two years later, green produce from the hanging gardens is sustaining his family. At times, the produce is more than they can consume and they share it with two children’s homes.

“It has been rewarding as now we eat fresh, nutritious and safe vegetables. Growing your own food gives you power and dignity. You know exactly what you’re eating because you grew it,” the public health consultant tells Seeds of Gold.

The fact that soil is not involved in this form of agriculture has made many people to think that hydroponics is a shortcut to food production. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

According to Mwangi, just like soil-based farming, raising vegetables like spinach using hydroponics technology begins with growing the seeds in a nursery.

Instead of soil, hydroponics farmers grow their seeds in cocopeats that are formed from crashed coconut shells. The cocopeats facilitate germination of seeds besides holding the shoots in place.

“For hydroponics to be successful, you need to start off the plant in an inert substance and not soil. Therefore, the plant is never affected by pathogens from the soil and other diseases. So the transition into water is smooth,” says Gichui, Mwangi’s son who has been helping his father with farm work together with his mother, Veronica.

MIXTURE OF NUTRIENTS

Next to Mwangi’s nurseries are two buckets one on top of the other. These, we learn, are called Dutch buckets and they contain a mixture of nutrients and fertiliser for the germinating seeds.
The buckets have a pipe fixed at the bottom that allows the dissolved nutrients to flow into the nursery trays when lifted. The system is designed in a way that it allows excess water and nutrients to flow back into the buckets.

From the beds, the seedlings are transplanted to container gardens like the ones bursting at the seams with strawberries and capsicums in Mwangi’s garden.

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