Ahimsa Agriculture:Organic Farming without Soil
Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term meaning “to do no harm” or to avoid all forms of violence. The precept of non-violence is a basic tenet of all the world’s religions.
Kind viewers, welcome to Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. Our program today will explore the concept of ahimsa in relation to agriculture and look at alternative methods of fruit and vegetable cultivation that cause no harm to living beings.
In a videoconference with Supreme Master Television staff, Supreme Master Ching Hai explained more about ahimsa agriculture or alternative farming methods that do not employ soil to grow certain crops, thereby avoiding harm to other sentient beings such as the beneficial worms.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: There are many organic farming methods that at least you don’t hurt the worms. You can plant them in the water or you can plant them on elevated soil beds and you don’t hurt the worm.
And in Vietnam (Âu Lạc), they cultivate, for example, peanuts in sandy soil. There’s no soil and no worms at all ever live there.
Plant your own vegetables; then you have absolute control about how you harvest, and what you harvest and what you eat.
HOST: Around the globe, people are adopting animal-free diets to avoid causing violence or suffering to any living being. An organic vegan lifestyle is also the most sustainable for our precious planet.
However, ahimsa has subtle qualities that are not commonly known. For example, followers of Jainism make great efforts to avoid hurting even tiny insects and other small beings. Thus, consuming root crops such as potatoes, beets and carrots is discouraged among Jains, as the harvesting of these crops can harm worms in the soil.
But can fruits and vegetables be grown so as to avoid harming even the smallest worms? Yes, these farming techniques include hydroponics, aeroponics, raised bed cultivation and farming in pure sand.
The most widely used of these systems is hydroponics, a method that requires no soil. Instead plants are grown in a solution of water and minerals with the roots sometimes being supported by an inert medium, such as perlite, a type of volcanic ash, gravel or even coconut fiber.
Hydroponic gardening has several advantages over traditional, soil-based methods. In hydroponics several labor-intensive tasks such as digging, tilling, weeding and hoeing are virtually eliminated.
Also, because hydroponically grown plants receive better nutrition, they usually grow faster and produce much higher yields than those crops grown in traditional types of gardens or fields.
According to University of Florida researchers, hydroponics can produce almost ten times more food per square meter than traditional farming methods.
Mr. David Barton is a greenhouse operator of Island Horticulture in Canterbury, New Zealand who has been growing vegetables hydroponically for over 25 years. He explains one of the reasons why hydroponic farming is more efficient than traditional methods. (http://www.vigour.co.nz/articles/show/Carmen+springs+into+action)
David (m): For us, because we are commercial growing in a glass house, the benefit is that we do not have plant losses. Every plant that we grow produces a consistent amount; it produces consistent quality right to the end.
HOST: But perhaps the greatest advantage of hydroponic gardening is that it uses up to 90% less water than crops grown through traditional means. In hydroponic farming, no water is wasted.
David: On a sunny day, four liters per plant will be given to each plant. Of that four liters, 80% will be consumed by the plant and the other 20% will be used as drain.
David (m): We have almost no run-off. All our water is going to the plant. There is no waste water. On the site, we have 1.4 hectares. Yes, we do have waste, but it is controlled and managed. So all our inputs are utilized.
HOST: Because of its extremely efficient use of water, hydroponics can yield abundant crops even in desert conditions.
In fact, the world’s largest commercial hydroponics facility is in the hot, dry desert area of Willcox, Arizona, USA. Owned by Eurofresh Farms, the facility sold 125 million pounds of tomatoes in 2005. Over the years, Eurofresh has expanded its operations and now has an incredible 1.29 square kilometers (318 acres) under glass, representing about a third of the commercial hydroponics greenhouse area in the US.
Hydroponic gardening is also particularly applicable in areas where it is difficult or impossible to grow food due to climate or atmospheric conditions.
For example, because of its long, harsh winters, Canada actively pursues hydroponic agriculture in heated greenhouses. The United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been conducting extensive research on hydroponic techniques in an effort to discover ways of growing food in outer space or on other planets.
You’re watching Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. When we return after these brief messages, we’ll learn more about hydroponic farming, one of the ahimsa agricultural methods in which no worms are harmed in the cultivation of crops. Please keep your dial tuned here to Supreme Master Television.
HOST: On today’s Planet Earth: Our Loving Home, we are exploring farming methods which would be considered as ahimsa agriculture, in which no sentient beings, such as the beneficial worms, are harmed in the cultivation process.
Let’s continue with our discussion from our previous segment of hydroponic farming, a method of growing planets in mineral nutrient solutions.
Practically speaking, many of us would probably like to know, do fruits and vegetables grown using hydroponics taste good? Indeed they do!
In fact, Eurofresh Farms has been recognized by the American Culinary Institute as the home of “America’s Best Tasting Tomato” for the past ten years. Fruits and vegetables grown in hydroponics are also just as nutritious as conventionally grown produce.
David (m): The nutritional requirements of the plants are exactly the same wherever they’re grown. It doesn’t matter how they’re grown. The requirements of the plants are the same. The plant has to take up the nutrient in exactly the same formula. The most important thing is that the plant is grown well, then it will be good for you.
HOST: Much of the fresh produce provided to athletes and officials at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China was grown locally in organic, hydroponic greenhouses.
World-renowned hydroponics expert Michael James Straumietis states that this alternative was chosen because “hydroponics allows strict quality control, reliable supply, environmental benefits and it produces high-nutrition crops."
Where did the concept of hydroponics come from? The idea is actually ancient, and some of the first peoples known to practice this method of gardening were the Incas and Aztecs.
David (m): Hydroponic growing is a very, very old technique.
It was first developed by the hanging gardens of Babylon, which is very, very old. The Americans developed that further in the Second World War to feed their troops further into the islands.
Subsequently, it was developed commercially by Dr. Cooper in England and taken up and expanded very, very much commercially by the Dutch and other countries around the world.
Today, worldwide, I would guess that at least 90% of commercial greenhouse crops are grown hydroponically, using one or another form of hydroponics growing.
HOST: The first book about this form of agriculture was Sylva Sylvarum, written by Sir Francis Bacon of England, published in 1627.
English naturalist, John Woodward, continued in hydroponics experiments by growing spearmint hydroponically. In 1699, he published his results, stating that plants raised in water obtained from rivers or ponds grew more abundantly than those grown in distilled water. He concluded that the plants benefited from nutrition found in natural water.
This was confirmed in 1842, when German botanists Julius von Sachs and Wilhelm Knop identified nine elements they believed to be essential to plant growth. By dissolving these elements in the water fed to a plant, both growth and fruit production were greatly enhanced.
In 1929, the concept of hydroponic gardening began to take root and expand in the US, fuelled by the enthusiastic efforts of Professor William Frederick Gericke of the University of California at Berkeley.
In fact, the term “hydroponics” was coined by Professor Gericke and is derived from the Greek words hydros meaning "water", and ponos meaning "labor."
Today, hydroponic farmers grow plants in water containing several dissolved minerals and nutrients. The six primary nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulfur, along with trace amounts of other elements such as boron, copper, iron, zinc and manganese, ensuring harvests that are abundant, good tasting and filled with nutrition. HOST: Last week, we have been talking primarily about hydroponics, a farming method that requires no soil. Instead plants are grown in a solution of water and minerals with the roots sometimes being supported by an inert medium.
Today we will examine how this system of growing food actually works. One hydroponic technique is the water culture system, in which the roots of the plants are placed on a floating platform, and the roots grow in the nutrient solution.
Mr. David Barton is a greenhouse operator of Island Horticulture in Canterbury, New Zealand who has been growing vegetables hydroponically for over 25 years.
He will further explain about this system, sometimes called the nutrient film technique.
David: NFT stands for nutrient film technique. That is where a thin film of water is running along a channel; all the nutrients are dissolved in that water and the roots are growing in that water. So the plant gets its oxygen and nutrient, everything, out of that water.
HOST: A second, and by far the more widely used type of hydroponic system, is the drip system, in which the plants are placed in an inert growing medium. Then a drip line, which is a hose filled with tiny holes, is placed near the root of the plant, allowing the nutrient solution to be dripped directly onto the base of each plant.
Excess nutrient solution runs off into an overflow, and is collected back in the reservoir for re-use.
David: The plant is getting its water and its nutrient out of the water, and it is fed by a dripper which is linked to a light source.
So the higher the light, the more water and nutrient that plant gets.
So we are matching the demand of the plant with the conditions that the plant is growing in. This gives us very, very efficient use of nutrient and water and virtually no waste. These plants been planted out for 2 days.
They are all grown in a grow wall cube, which is manufactured from rocks, bun basalt rock, basically like commercial insulation.
You can see the roots growing through the media and out the bottom. These are simply set on our pillow of media, which we use coco peat and each plant is fed by a dripper.
You can see the water now feeding each plant.
HOST: Several types of inert mediums, such as vermiculite, perlite, expanded clay, rock wool or coco peat can be used.
These inert materials are disease- and worm-free and can hold varying quantities of both water and air, which aids in root growth and development.
They also provide support for plants, allowing for a wider variety and larger plants to be grown.
David: Behind us at my feet, we have a slab of coco peat, which is the substance that we’re growing in. Coco peat is the waste product from the husk of the coconut. It is graded and compressed into a pillow. We put that onto a hanging gulley and it is fed water and nutrient.
The coco peat as you can see, is quite a fine substance, there is nothing but pure coco peat. The coco peat is inert, it contains nothing at all.
So everything that the plant requires to grow, we give to the plant. We give the nutrient to the plant in the right proportion that it will grow to its very, very best.
Any plant that is growing very, very well, the produce from that plant will be good for you. The important thing is we must keep the plant growing very well without stress.
HOST: Almost any type of plant can be grown using hydroponics.
David: You can grow strawberries, you can grow lettuce, you can grow silver beet, you can grow beans, tomatoes, cucumber, the list is endless. With lettuce, you need a media or straight pure film of water, NFT. With silver beet, because of its rich structure, there media is better, that can just be a fine shingle, crushed metal, or in our case, coco peat.
You can have a variety of different systems in the one basic set up.
HOST: Hydroponics is actually very simple to apply and even home gardeners can grow produce without the use of soil.
David: It can be grown outside. We only use the greenhouse as a controlled environment. But a basic set up can be done in anybody’s backyard for very little expense and great enjoyment.
HOST: You’re watching Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. When we return after these brief messages, we’ll learn more about hydroponic farming, one of the ahimsa agricultural methods in which no worms are harmed in the cultivation of crops.
Please keep your dial tuned here to Supreme Master Television.
HOST: On today’s Planet Earth: Our Loving Home, we continue to explore farming methods which would be considered as ahimsa agriculture, in which no sentient beings, such as the beneficial worms, are harmed in the cultivation process.
HOST: David Barton, a veteran hydroponic farmer, explains the importance of hydroponics for our ecosystems.
David: Hydroponic growing today is all about growing with nature, not against nature. We need to enhance and complement Mother Nature. It is about doing the best for the customer to ensure the customer gets healthy produce, and for us to do the best in an environmentally responsible manner.
Hydroponic growing I believe is going to advance further and further as more technical advances are made, as water becomes more precious, as land use becomes more scarce for horticultural purposes, we have to look after what we’ve got and ensure that it is used wisely and to the best manner, so we can produce efficiently what our people, our customers require.
HOST: The benefits of hydroponic farming far outweighs the initial costs of setup, which are eventually offset by the savings of this more efficient method.
With hydroponic growing we do have to put a lot of infrastructure into our greenhouses. This is expensive but it is warranted because we can produce the quantity in a small area, which brings about efficiencies.
So, we are using technology and Mother Nature, I think, in harmony together. So, we can lock out the harsh environment, we can lock in the heat from the sun during the day.
I personally enjoy the challenge of hydroponic growing and the rewards that it gives.
HOST: Recently, a derivative of hydroponics called “aeroponics” has been developed. In this system, plants are grown only in an air or a mist medium. The roots of the plants are suspended in the air and misted by a nozzle coming from a nutrient pump.
The system usually operates on a timer, and after misting, the unused nutrient solution drips back down into a reservoir to be recycled for later use.
The plants are usually grown in a closed or semi-closed system, which helps to minimize plant diseases and prevent insects from entering into the growing areas.
One of the advantages of this system is that root crops such as potatoes can be harvested just by opening the growing box and selecting ones that are ready, without having to dig up soil or a growth medium. In addition, aeroponics is extremely efficient, using even less water than traditional hydroponics.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States has conducted extensive research on aeroponics, including the development of a natural solution called ODC (organic disease control), which eliminates the need for pesticides. Also, in Hà Nội, Âu Lạc (Vietnam), a post-graduate doctoral program in aeroponics has been established.
The main crop being grown there is potatoes, with distribution planned to farmers whose seed potatoes will be disease-free and grown without pesticides.
Currently, lettuce, salad greens, herbs, potatoes and other root crops and medicinal plants are most commonly grown in aeroponic systems.
Another type of farming that involves no harm to worms is “raised bed” gardening. Traditional raised bed gardening is done by placing soil in elevated beds or pots above ground.
However, another version of so-called raised beds is being developed in which plants are grown in pots filled with an inert porous medium.
The pots sit in a shallow solution of water and dissolved nutrients, and the water solution is drawn up to the roots by capillary action.
The main types of inert materials used in this method are expanded clay or coconut husks, both of which have more air space than traditional potting mixes, allowing more oxygen to be delivered to the roots.
This method, like traditional hydroponics, eliminates much of the labor from weeding and tilling soil, and requires a minimal amount of water.
It can be used to grow several types of plants from leafy greens to orchids. Additional techniques of ahimsa agriculture are currently being tested and developed, one of which allows farmers to grow lush, productive crops entirely in sand, where worms are not present.
For farmers in the coastal village of Đông Bàn, in Hà Tĩnh province, Âu Lạc (Vietnam), fresh water and available soil are scarce.
However, white sand is everywhere and sweet potatoes, peanuts (khoai lang) (lạc) and vegetables (rau) can be grown there. Peanuts are grown from November to April, while the season for sweet potatoes is August to January.
Another area, Bãi Dù, also specializes in planting sweet potatoes in the sand along with other vegetables such as lettuce.
If provided with sufficient water, sand can provide abundant produce.
For many years, farmers in China have grown plentiful crops in the sand washed up in drifts by the Mekong River. Crops such as peanuts, corn and sweet potatoes are planted at the end of the rainy season around October and harvested around March.
The roots of the plants are nourished by the retreating water table in the sand. The effects of global warming is seen through the shortages of both water and food. With these highly efficient types of farming, that also respects all life, may more people opt for this viable solution of organic vegan food production.
HOST: Thank you for joining us for today’s Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. Our show airs every Wednesday on Supreme Master Television. Up next, stay tuned for Enlightening Entertainment, right after Noteworthy News. May your life be graced with abundant fulfillment and happiness.