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On culturing plants in water
Published on: Sunday, October 27, 2019


IT IS amazing how flexible plants can be, considering the number of ways they can be successfully grown using both traditional and non-traditional methods of cultivation.

In the old days, it was generally believed that the cultivation of plants can only be made on a soil-based medium, or at least with some other organic, solid or mineral base. This is only partly true because apart from soil, peat, or organic matter, or some other minerals, plants can also be grown successfully without these solids. And such cultivations are by no means less productive or fruitful than the traditional means of cultivation in solids.

In fact, it is now widely known that soil-based cultivation in simple gardening is not necessarily the best nor most productive approach, depending on the varieties used.  And for certain plants, it is not always the most feasible.  So what are the other options available even to the smallest of small-timers like the quiet, solitary home gardening enthusiasts?

Often times, one must have heard of the word ‘hydroponics’, which is also sometimes called hydroculture, while some would call it waterculture. Technically speaking, hydroponics actually sound a little high-tech whereas waterculture or hydroculture is more like kampung level. It does not really matter if one seems to sound high or low-tech because the bottom line is that hydroculture at kampung level can be equally productive but at a lower per unit cost.  

Such comparative advantage are often made use of in agricultural outbacks that are far away from cities to achieve lower costs compared to the same produce from urban areas.  

For example, cities like Beijing, Tokyo or Singapore do produce hydroponically grown plants but they are usually prohibitively more expensive compared to the same that are supplied in huge quantities from the distant hinterland.  And this cannot be more easily seen than the massive daily movements of vegetables from Malaya to Singapore through the choke-point of Johor Baru.

 

Hydroculture for condos and apartments

It is not difficult to view hydroculture as perfect for the interior naturescaping of posh condominiums or luxury apartments apart from the usual landed properties.  It would help for owners of all such properties to be more aware of the options available instead of being stuck with the sole option of lugging home whatever is shoved onto their laps by some less-than-ethical nursery suppliers.  

Perhaps a slow weekend drive with the family to the outlying districts would offer a good opportunity of looking at kampung level nurseries by the road side which offer a lot of choices a very reasonable prices that are also served with warm hearts and friendly smiling faces.  

A few plants for a few ringgit would provide for a good supply of materials for your hydroculture plans, with the leftovers for your normal pot or ground cultivation. This would not just be a happy and enjoyable outing but a productive one too, as very soon, your indoors, as well as outdoors, would be visually impacted by the presence of various attractive plants in different set-ups, thanks to hydroculture.

In its simplest form, hydroculture is just plain simple cut-dip-and-run type of cultivation, meaning to say that the planting materials are first cut to suitable lengths, and then dip into a container or jar with some water in it, and then it is considered done.  

This is perfect for ladies and housewives where fingers and palms can be kept perpetually clean, smooth, supple and tender, and maintaining the ever finely-manicured set of nails.  

No sweat, no muscles and no tears, no heavy bags of soil, no rotten or stinking manure, no slugs, slimy worms or hairy caterpillars – that’s what hydroculture in its simplest form, is able to offer to any gardening enthusiast who are keen to dabble in the art of light and clean gardening.

There are advantages to be obtained from using the method of hydroculture for the cultivation of ornamental plants.  This is all the more important in instances where the dwelling unit is only a flat or apartment without any garden.  This means that hydroculture can be practiced in areas where the space is quite limiting.  

It also saves you a lot of time and effort to set up a hydroculture garden, unlike that of a ground-based culture where you have to slog it out to work the land and battle the numerous pests that regularly raid your greens.

Hydroculture is also a great way to sustain plants indoors for long periods of time.  Apart from the usual ornamentals, many aquatic plants can be used to do your interior naturescaping especially if there is a water feature in the plan.  Vegetables can also do wonders to add attraction to the interior while waiting to be lopped off and delivered to the kitchen.

 

An elementary hydroculture system

In its most rudimentary form, a hydroculture system can be easily set up even on your table or TV top.  The only things important in the crudest system are a suitable container, the planting material, and an appropriate solution which is usually water.  As mentioned earlier, it is basically about cutting, dipping, and then going for a snooze.  

Unless the water is changed every few days, it is advisable to fill up the container to just below the brim with some marble chips or pea pebbles, or just coarse quartz sand.  

This is because with the water filling only the lower half of the container, it will be impossible for nasty mosquitoes to lay even half an egg in the water.  In a way, such an action not only helps to keep your household free of mosquitoes but also contributes to the eradication of the pesky little suckers in the neighbourhood.

The most interesting thing about hydroculture is that there are complete units made of brightly coloured plastic materials or the more serious and hardy aluminium contraptions that are sold for a tidy bundle each.  

Amazon, Alibaba, and a host of other internet portals have countless choices that are available for the taking, and, while you gulp down your favourite cuppa or while having a bottle or two of your favourite brew, they can be delivered right to your doorstep once ordered.  Simply amazing, compared to what people did a hundred years ago.

All these gadgets come with simple gauges that indicate the amount of water left in the container.  

Some have temperature and humidity controls, while others may have electrical pumps to circulate the water within the gadget.  As the sophistication goes up, the number of controls, knobs, levers, switches, etc, also shoot up, and the price may blast through the roof.

The most important thing to do, however, is to regularly add water into the container, which ensures that the little plant does not dry up and shrivel away.  When doing the topping-up, ensure that the water level remains a few centimetres below the level of the pebbles or stones.  This is to make sure that there is no opportunity for a stray mosquito or two to sneak in in the hope of laying an egg or two.

 

Trying out hydroculture at home

The simplest way to fulfil your desire of setting up a jar or two of hydroculturally grown plants is to try growing Devil’s Ivy or Scindapsus aureus. This plant has quite a number of synonyms especially in the more modern literature but all names are easy to track, and they all point to one of the most popular decorative plants that can successfully be grown in either soil, water or even air.

To get things moving, only four items are needed. First of all, you need to take cuttings of the plant that are about 10-20cm long.  Preferably, select only the tip cuttings without blemishes, sunburns, holes or tears.  

This is because tip cuttings allow for an immediate growth effect, which means the contraption can immediately be displayed to decorate a table or TV top, etc. Then soak the cuttings in a basin of water and gently wash away the dirt, or mud if any.

Next, go get a nice glass container that is able to hold some water and does not leak.  It can be anything that can contain something without leaking, such as bottles, plastic bottles, tin cans, porcelain bowls and jars, seashells, coconut shells, coffee mugs, and even discarded helmets and so on.  

This is to be followed by the collection of some clean pebbles or stones for use as a support. They may be pea pebbles, white marble pebbles or chips, glass marbles, granitic stones, etc. A lot of these materials are available for sale in garden or interior decoration suppliers. When these are in hand, give them a thorough washing to remove the layers of dirt, sand, dust, or any matter that is going to create murkiness in the water.  

Into the selected container is then filled with the support pebbles to a depth of four fifths of the height of the container and water to a depth of half its height.  The plant cuttings are then set into the container using the stones or pebbles as support material so that the cuttings do not topple over.

It is not absolutely necessary for hydroculture to require the use of pebbles or stones as water alone is sufficient to sustain the cuttings for 6-12 months with a substantial amount of root and foliage growth before replacing.  But in this case, it is necessary change the water every few days to prevent mosquito eggs from morphing into larvae and adults.

After the cuttings have been inserted, the entire contraption should be placed in a cool corner for the enjoyment of everyone.  Just remember to turn around the container occasionally to create a balanced, all round distribution of growth of the plant especially if it is in a position with only a single direction of light.

Within 20-30 days, the ornamental should have firmed up with the foliage displaying a healthy lustre which is a sign that it is growing steadily.  On hot dry days, it is necessary to top up regularly with water but make sure that the water level is always below the level of the pebbles.

Time now for a long overdue siesta!





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