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No Soil, No Pesticides: Meet the Self-Taught Punekar Who Grows Veggies in PET Bottles!

“How many of us know where our food comes from? At a time where everything we pick from the grocery store is laden with pesticides, growing our own food can help cut down health risks and also ensure our children get their food in its freshest form.”

Rudrarup was in class eight when his father, a mechanical engineer, came home with a library book on Hydroponics, long before urban farmers in India began experimenting with the farming method.

It was as if a different world had been opened up for the young boy. Armed with earthen pots, the father-son duo conjured nutrients like scientists in a lab and grew different leafy vegetables without soil.

Cut to 2018, at 41, this Pune-based IT professional is helping people, even those with no farming backgrounds, grow everything from herbs to mustard, tomatoes to spinach in PET bottles and homemade planters using hydroponics.

No Soil, No Pesticides_ Meet the Self-Taught Punekar Who Grows Veggies in PET Bottles! (3)
(L) Rudrarup at a workshop. (R) Rudrarup Mitra

While Rudrarup lost touch with the hydroponic method of farming after he graduated school and moved to a hostel, he decided to return to farming nearly three years ago.

When he looked for workshops happening around the city, he was surprised there weren’t any.

In an exclusive conversation with The Better India, the weekday IT professional who doubles up as a farmer by the weekend shares his journey.

What is Hydroponics?

Growing up, most of us were taught that plants need soil to grow. Hydroponics turns this concept on its head by helping a farmer grow fruits, vegetables and flowering plants that traditionally grow in soil, by helping them grow in water.

Before you confuse them with aquatic plants, let us tell you that they aren’t completely submerged in water. Only the roots of these plants are exposed to the mineral solution which has a balance of macronutrients (Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorus) and micronutrients (boron, calcium, magnesium etc.).

Further, the Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and Ph balance are checked before growing plants in it.

At times, when the plant needs stability, the roots are supported with the use of cocopeat.

How is it better than regular farming?

Rudrarup speaks at length about the advantages of hydroponics, saying, “How many of us know where our food comes from? At a time where everything we pick from the grocery store is laden with pesticides, growing our own food can help cut down health risks and also ensure our children get their food in its freshest form.”

Hydroponics has several advantages over the conventional soil-based method of farming.

First, you don’t have to own land to practice it, as it can be practised in the small space of your balcony or window sill. Because of this, it works best for urban farmers facing a space crunch.

Since the method doesn’t use any soil, it completely eliminates the risks of any soil-borne diseases affecting your plants, thus ensuring healthy pest-free produce.

As a hydroponic farmer, you don’t have to fret over weeding, spraying fertilisers or pesticides, tilling, maintaining soil texture, or other arduous tasks. It involves minimum labour. Even if you water the plants and the nutrients once a week, they can maintain themselves.

The growth of crop is twice as fast with hydroponic gardening as nutrients are dissolved in water and directly fed to the roots, proportionately. The yield too can be doubled over time in the same amount of space once you have reached an advanced stage of farming.

Also, it uses just 1/20th of water compared to traditional soil-based gardening.

Rudrarup’s pursuit of self-learning hydroponic farming

Along with his wife, who works as an HR professional, Rudrarup founded the Maker’s Club about two and a half years ago. Under this platform, several freelancers conduct workshops throughout the week and Rudrarup decided to use it to spread the joy of hydroponics to enthusiastic individuals.

“I do not own any farmland. I practice hydroponics near my window sill and balcony. I cannot say that I am self-sufficient about my food needs. But everything I have experimented with during this time has helped me make steady progress towards getting fresh plant-to-plate food,” says Rudra.

From old Chyawanprash cans, yoghurt containers, PET bottles, and even food delivery dabbas, the man uses easily accessible home containers to make planters for his soil-less crops. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, mint, cilantro, basil, fenugreek, and others like lettuce, chillies and tomatoes, he grows them all on his balcony!

Speaking about his journey from being a self-learner to a teacher in hydroponics, he reveals, “When I did not find any workshops, I spent nearly six months juggling my job and researching about the innovations in hydroponic farming.”

Preparing macro and micronutrients and attempting a variety of crops, Rudrarup has come a long way. His first workshop had only 12 participants, but he recalls that by the next one, the number had doubled.

“More than anything, it is the best way to connect with children,” says Rudrarup. He further adds, how it can help children turn to healthy eating too.

“When kids grow their own veggies, they eat them. My son enjoys our experiments with growing food in the same way that I did with my father. It is a delight to watch him pluck spinach, herbs, and tomatoes from our own plants, wash them, sometimes even eat them raw. It is a great way of connecting with children and relieving the stress from your monotonous schedule, all while growing your own veggies,” he signs off.

If this story inspired you, get in touch with Rudrarup on 9881149080 or write to him on  rudrarup.mitra@gmail.com.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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