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No space? You can grow crops in buckets

By George Mbakaya | Published Sat, February 17th 2018 at 11:22, Updated February 17th 2018 at 11:28 GMT +3
Strawberry grown from hydroponic system. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

In summary

  • With this technology, farmers will maximise crop yields and use resources like water and land economically

In my field extension work, I have noticed an interesting trend — hydroponic Dutch buckets (Bato bucket systems) are transforming the horticulture industry. Invented in Holland, I have come across progressive farmers embracing this technology to maximise on yields. The system is suited to farmers with limited space and applicable in backyards and patios.

Many benefits

One benefit of hydroponic Dutch bucket systems is that their versatile design is easy to build and it is an easy add-on to a system. Well-managed systems can conserve water and large amounts of nutrients, even in a flow-to-waste setup and work efficiently in controlled environments for year-round growing.

Additionally, they help save space compared to conventional methods, particularly for vining and large crops. The majority of set-ups reduce labour for a lot of crops.

To add on, each bucket can be set up separately, allowing growers to space out larger crops (like tomatoes or eggplants) without wasting media. Better still, separate buckets can be useful in pest management as well, since an infected bucket can be removed from the system without having to sacrifice an entire bed. 

Although a hydroponic Dutch bucket system gives growers a way to grow crops, different crops should not be grown on the same system. Why? Because fruiting crops and large-statured crops tend to use more (and a different ratio of) nutrients than greens. This means that when greens and fruiting crops are run on the same system, production levels will be affected. 

Tomatoes have traditionally been the most popular crop for Dutch buckets, and in fact most commercial hydroponic tomatoes are produced this way.

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Dutch buckets allow tomato farmers to grow large vining varieties and train them up from the bucket. This can be a fairly efficient use of space, since the tomatoes are using a large portion of the volume of the growing space. 

With these buckets, you can grow almost any vining plant— eggplants, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and beans all grow well in Hydroponics Dutch Bucket.

Making the bucket

The design of Dutch buckets systems is simple. A reservoir pump runs the nutrient mixture through a straight line over the buckets.

Drippers control the flow to each bucket, and solution runs through the media in each bucket and then drains out.

Each part of the system has variations to suit grower needs.

Growers should choose a number of buckets, media type, and know where to get components before they start building. The last (and most important) decision is the drainage setup. In a recirculating system, the buckets are irrigated and drain into a return line, a PVC line at a tilt that brings water back to the reservoir for reuse.

Growers using recirculating systems can avoid nutrient imbalance by replacing water every few weeks or by balancing nutrients individually. 

Maintenance

To support the bucket, you don’t need a table or bench, though it does make maintenance and cleaning easier. For support, you can place the buckets on the ground and position it at an angle.

If you use a table or bench, remember to add a slight tilt to the table so that it drains to the reservoir at one end. No matter how you support your hydroponic Dutch bucket system, give the return line a tilt.

How system works

Each Bato bucket is filled with perlite, a volcanic rock widely used in horticulture. It is light, foam-like material that contains lots of nooks and crannies that do an excellent job of storing volumes of water.

Other types of growing medium are rock wool, pine bark and coconut coir. But perlite has been used with great success. The seedlings are then transplanted into the media.

Mixed nutrients are then applied through the irrigation water. The advantage of growing a crop hydroponically is that you have precise control over the minerals and nutrients that are fed to your plants.

- The writer is an expert agricultural solutions.

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