Hitting the hydroponic highway
Geeshydro is a hydroponic farm which Cameron Blair and I began in April. We are using it to train schools on how to grow vegetables and our farm is used as a visitors’ centre where people can learn the ins and outs of hydroponics.
Cameron and I both worked in different capacities in the travel industry before the pandemic. I was running European coach tours.
Cam is a travel video maker. With the travel industry on hold because of the lockdown, we decided to do something important with our enforced downtime. Along with the help and support of my dad Peter Gee, we began building a hydroponic farm in his umbrella factory Acacia Umbrellas in Pinetown in KwaZulu-Natal.
We went into this knowing nothing about plants, hydroponics or creating an environment for our plants to thrive. All we knew was we were building the future of farming.
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YouTube was our go-to and within two months we had built it. All our leaks had been plugged, our strawberries had arrived and it was time to start planting.
We have 10 individual systems which consist of four runs of 9m each. We have one large balance tank of 1 000 litres. We fill this up from filtered water and add our nutrient recipe and then balance the water’s acidity.
Once we have made sure our water has the right amount of nutrients we release it into three separate tanks of 500 litres each – these act as our reservoir to the entire system. The water gets pumped into a smaller reservoir that is above the farm. This reservoir fills and we use gravity to feed each individual system equally.
The water then travels down the pipes that hold the plants. The plants are held in place using pellets which sit in 5cm net pots. The water then returns to the reservoirs.
The only water that we consume is the water absorbed by the plants. We encountered many challenges that we just didn’t have answers to. We played to our strengths. Cam got his camera out, I began running virtual tours of our farm to attract more like-minded people who might have gone through similar issues.
This led us to offer free actual tours of our farm. Over a month, we had over 250 people visit us including the team from uShaka and students from Thomas More College.
Each question asked and every comment that was made brought more valuable information. Now we are in the fortunate position of knowing how to keep pesky pests like aphids away, by using companion planting. And, would you believe it, the crop most people are interested in is basil!
Over the past several months we have created a community of people who are interested in what we are interested in and are all on a journey to grow happier, healthier food in a way that is sustainable and eco-friendly.
Our aim is to continue to build cost-effective and easy-touse systems for people to use at home, and to use our farm to educate as many people as we can about the future of farming. Farming in urban areas not only brings food closer to the consumer but it also utilises space effectively and uses 90% less water than traditional farming methods.
What is hydroponics
Hydroponic gardening is the process of growing plants in a closed-loop and sealed system where nutrient-rich water is pumped to the roots of plants, which are supported in sand, gravel or similar medium, without the use of soil. Hydroponic gardens use just 10% of the water needed for growing in the ground in the traditional way, which has led to its increasing popularity.
Noun: the process of growing plants in sand, gravel or liquid, with added nutrients but without soil.
5 tips for beginner hydroponics
1 Just start. You will make mistakes. That’s okay.
2 Document everything. There is so much to understand when it comes to trying to recreate nature that you might forget important details that you could learn from, rather than repeat. As long as you are failing forward you are going in the right direction.
3 Gravity is your friend. Water will always find the path of least resistance. Pump your water up and let gravity do the rest for you.
4 The right environment. Remember, when planning, that you have to try to recreate nature. Pay attention to the basics of what a plant needs not only to survive but to thrive. This means, above the ground, wind, light and carbon dioxide and, below the ground, oxygen, water and nutrients.
5 Have fun. You will get pleasure from growing plants. Plants are alive – if you enjoy spending time tending to your plants, your plants will reward you.