My love for plants and gardening started when I was a child. It basically started at the time when most of us were introduced to the growing of things when we were in primary school where we were asked to germinate some green (mung) bean seeds on wet cotton swabs. For most students, it just ends there. It was a lesson in the curriculum that we need to go through. I thought I was the odd one out in school then. At that time, my gardening interest revolves around edible stuff because I was interested to see how food is grown.
I can still remember that I went on a local farm tour with my grandmother that was organised by my resident’s committee (RC) at my old place at Geylang Bahru. One of the places that we visited was the now defunct SingTai hydroponics farm located at Bah Soon Pah Road. I still remember it was the first commercial hydroponics farm in Singapore and I still have the newspaper cutting on it (it is somewhere stuffed between the pages in one of my gardening books).
I was so fascinated as a child as to how vegetables can be grown in water and was surprised at the accelerated rate at which they grow, compared to conventional soil-grown veggies. In such farms, there is always a sales corner and of course, there was this Taiwan imported home hydroponics kit that I wanted so badly but was quite costly that my grandmother did not to buy one for me. (Kids go to Toys r Us to buy toys but Wilson goes to the farm and wants to buy a vegetable growing kit…)
Going home disappointed, I told myself that I shall make one for myself based on the impression of the kit I saw at Bah Soon Pah. The kit is quite a simple one – it basically consist of a plastic tub that holds the water, a styrofoam board on top to cover the tub and to hold the pots and plants and some plastic pots (netted) to grow our plants in. The problems I faced at that time were to find the sources for vermiculite and perlite as well as the water soluble fertiliser.
I was 11 years old then. Vermiculite and perlite at that time were not available for sale in packets like now. I remember I actually called up as a kid to various commercial companies to ask for these things. The person on the other line must have wondered why would a kid need vermiculite for. I finally found one – Singapore Horti-Flora – which I begged so badly to sell me a small packet of vermiculite. I went down on my own to Eunos Industrial Estate to buy that bag.
I substituted the A and B solutions of the hydroponics fertiliser with the world famous Phostrogen water soluble fertiliser which I was introduced to by Mr C. C. Lee, who runs a company that was once a importer of many gardening products like those of Yates, Debco, etc.
With all these things, I assembled my own DIY hydroponics kit. People buy it but I made one. I was asked to showcase it in a science fair organised for primary schools by my form teacher as well as the teacher in-charge of my school’s Science Club, Mr Tan Siew Huat. A black and white photo shown below was me, explaining to a teacher from another school, that was scanned from my primary school’s newsletter.
At the Science Fair. The vegetable grown in my hydroponics kit was the water spinach.
Today, I still sometimes remake the kit again to grow some greens. I have introduced it to our senior citizens during a recent gardening talk which I spoke for the first time in Mandarin. I have realised that this kit can actually be made from recycled materials, especially the trough that holds the nutrient solution.
One should actually use a styrofoam box for it because of its insulating properties. The water reservoir can get really hot during the day under the tropical sun. As the temperature of the water increases, oxygen also gets expelled from it and as a result, the roots can become starved of oxygen and this may lead to the stunted growth of the vegetables, death of the roots and growth of undesirable anaerobic bacteria.
The use of a styrofoam box can actually help to insulate the water reservoir from getting too hot during the day. I have dipped my fingers into the water during mid day and felt that it was relatively cool. There is another thing that should be done for this type of hydroponics kit is to actually introduce an air line, similar to those used to aerate the water in fish tanks, to bring air to the roots.
Growing cos lettuce using the DIY hydroponics kit. Don’t use a plastic trough. Get a styrofoam box instead.
The lettuces – ready to harvest.
Yum yum! Sweet and crunchy lettuces that were harvested and ready to be eaten in sandwiches and salads.