I’ve always thought that hydroponics was the future of agriculture, but had doubted if it could be propagated by the “common tao” as a sustainable food production system for urban areas.

That was until I learned that this soil-less crop protection technology system is now being propagated by the University of the Philippines Los Baños, using cheap and recyclable materials.

According to Dr. Chito Protacio, who heads the UPLB Institute of Plant Breeding, anyone can now start producing vegetables, ranging from lettuce to high-end lettuce to the ordinary tomatoes eggplants using mineral nutrient solutions in water, instead of the traditional dirt medium.

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The UPLB-IPB’s Simple Nutrient Addition Program Hydroponics, or SNAP hydroponics, has developed an affordable starter kit which already includes the nutrient solution. One kit reportedly costs P300.

Two of its main proponents, plant breeders Primitivo Jose Santos and Eureka Teresa Ocampo said it is actually “very easy to set up, and requires low labor, reduced use of fertilizers, and minimal maintenance.”

Since its not being planted outdoors, SNAP hydroponics is considered safe during flooding and the typhoon months, provided that some pre-emptive measures were taken.

Then, during the dry months, it uses only about five per cent of water required for growing the same vegetables in the soil.

The UPLB-IPB noted that SNAP hydroponics could actually be commercially successful as a sustainable growing system in the country, particularly areas of Metro Manila and the adjoining regions of Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon.

UPLB scientists believed that with government support, hydroponics could be a “real potential in increasing vegetable production.”

Among its plus factors:

  • Suitable for many vegetable crops.
  • Gives high crop yields.
  • Does not require electricity.
  • Uses recyclable materials.
  • Requires only morning sunlight and protection.
  • Easy to operate, low cost, low labor requirements.
  • Ideal for small spaces in urban areas.
  • For home-based and commercial production.
  • Return of investment is within one year.

How To Set Up Snap Hydroponics

(Prepared by the Institute of Plant Breeding, Crop Science Cluster, College of Agriculture of the University of the Philippines Los Baños)

A. Establish the seedlings

Materials needed
  1. Sowing tray – shallow box/basin with holes for drainage at the bottom
  2. Growing media –aged (not the new one) coconut coir dust or charcoaled rice hull or their mixture; saw dust (possible with the old stock –not the new ones but not yet tested), fine sand (can be combined with coir dust and or charcoaled rice hull)
  3. Seeds (buy from your local aggie store)
  4. Watering solution (water with SNAP nutrient solution)

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Procedure
  1. Fill the sowing tray with a layer of the growing media (about 1 inch thick)
  2. Level the media
  3. Scatter the small seeds uniformly and thinly (the amount depending on your need)
  4. Water liberally as needed (Expect germination in 3 to 5 days)
  5. Grow the seedlings for 10 days before transferring to individual growing cups (called seedling plugs)

B. Prepare the seedling plugs

Materials needed
  1. Styrofoam cups (8 to 10 oz)
  2. Cutter or knife or hack saw blade
  3. Growing media
  4. Seedlings
  5. BBQ stick or the like
Procedure
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Styrofoam cups with holes
  1. Prepare the Styrofoam cups as shown . Use a knife or cutter to make those 8 holes (about 1 inch long at the side and ½ inch at the bottom).
  2. Fill the prepared holding cups with the growing media (about ½ inch thick)
  3. Transplant the seedlings from the sowing tray. “Dig” a hole in the middle of the growing media in the cup. . Use the stick to uproot the seedlings from the sowing tray with care. Transfer only one seedling per cup. Make the transferred seedling stand firmly by replacing the ‘dug’ media to the base of the seedling.
  4. Water the seedling plugs carefully and lightly.

C. Prepare the growing boxes

Materials needed
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Prepare your seedlings
  1. Styrofoam boxes ( boxes of imported grapes}
  2. Tin can (with open top and bottom) of big evap milk
  3. Polyethylene plastic bag (20” x 30”, 0.003 mm thick)
Procedure:
  1. Make 5-6 (for small styro boxes) or 8 (for big styro boxes) holes on the lid/cover of the box using the tin can as hole puncher (See picture).
  2. Use the plastic bag as liner for the bottom half of the box to make it fit to hold the nutrient solution

D. Running the SNAP hydroponics system

Materials needed
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Punch holes in Styrofoam boxes
  1. Seedling plugs
  2. SNAP nutrient solution
  3. Growing boxes with 10 liters of water each
  4. Benches or stand (optional) – where the growing boxes will be placed under a shelter
  5. Rain shelter (optional during dry season) or roof awning facing east for the earliest and longest sunlight possible)
Procedure
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Reused Styrofoam boxes
  1. For good growth of the plants, locate the SNAP hydroponics where it will best receive the morning sunlight, the earlier the better. It should be under a roof awning if not a transparent shed to prevent the rain water getting into the system.
  2. Arrange the growing boxes on the bench (optional) with covers removed
  3. Fill each growing box with about 10 liters of tap water
  4. Add 50-75 ml of SNAP A to each box stir well
  5. Add equal amount of SNAP B to each box then stir well again
  6. Put back the cover of the box
  7. Place the seedling plugs into the holes of the cover. See to it that all cups are ‘plugged’ in the holes evenly.
  8. See to it that the bottom of the cups is touching the nutrient solution by ½ inch deep, not any deeper or shallower. If not, add more water until the desired depth is reached.
  9. Examine the boxes for leaks and make some troubleshooting.
  10. Visit the set up every morning as early as you can to catch any insect larva that may eat the plants (the larva is visible in the early morning; after that they tend to hide from the sun and maybe harder to find)
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Place growing boxes under a roof so rain water is not introduced into the system

Expect the nutrient solution level to recede faster when the plants are much bigger than when they were still seedlings. Replenish using fresh nutrient solution when its level has gone down by more than 1 inch below the cup bottom. However, NEVER allow the level of the solution to again reach the bottom of the cup; replenish until the solution level has reached about 1/2 inch below the cup’s bottom.

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The growing box

NOTE: It is more practical to prepare the nutrient solution in a drum and then just distribute the prepared solution to each growing box and use the left-over solution for replenishing.


For more information, please contact: or E-mail to:
Physiology Section pjasantos@yahoo.com
Institute of Plant Breeding, UP Los Baños eteresaocampo@yahoo.com
(049) 576-0024
or


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Director’s Office
Institute of Plant Breeding
UP Los Baños
(049) 536-5287

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Joel C. Paredes

Joel briefly served government as director-general of the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), although he has been a practicing journalist and writer for nearly 37 years. He led a team organized by the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB)  and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that worked on the book entitled “Protecting our Natural Wealth, Enhancing our Natural Pride.”