Agricultural consultant Isidoro T. Cabrera is promoting the use of hydroponics technology in the CNMI, describing it as “less costly” and “low maintenance.”
Cabrera said yesterday that he has been hearing for years about hydroponics, a method of growing plants without soil by using mineral nutrient solutions, but never got into it until December 2012 when he began his experiment.
For an estimated $125 budget, Cabrera said he was able to set up a hydroponic farm on Navy Hill. Early last month, he began cultivating his main crop-Buttercup lettuce-which is now ready for harvest.
Cabrera started off with the germination of his lettuce seeds in a small pot for two weeks. The seedlings are then contained in the starter plug and tied with a rubber band before being placed in the actual hydroponic farm.
The farm works by having a 27-watt electric pump push rainwater or processed water from a small water tank up to the downspouts to nourish the roots of the seedlings before the water is pumped back to the tank. The water contains a water-soluble fertilizer rich in nitrogen and phosphorous to make the crops grow.
The success of Cabrera's little experiment encouraged the long-time farmer to expand his crops to include Salad Bowl and Romaine lettuce, Chinese cabbage, and even tomatoes.
“It's not really difficult to start your own hydroponic farm and I want to introduce this concept to other farmers. As an agriculturist, I want to transfer my knowledge; I don't keep things to myself,” Cabrera told Saipan Tribune.
According to Cabrera, hydroponic farming eliminates issues that farmers typically deal with when using the traditional method of planting crops on soil.
With hydroponics, farmers can do away with weeding and the produce gets more nutrients, Cabrera noted. The method, which is viable for both commercial and non-commercial farmers, also eliminates issues on bacteria, fungi, and nematodes, producing crops without blemishes and improving the taste of the produce.
Those who think they would incur a higher utility bill because of the use of electric pump need not worry, said Cabrera. His small plot consumes only about $2 in electricity per month.
However, farmers who will venture into hydroponics will have to monitor the pH level of the water in the tank and to be cautious if they plan on using water coming from the Commonwealth Utilities Corp., he said.
Cabrera plans to take his experiment to another level by trying to see if he can place the seed directly in the starter plug and into the hydroponic farm, with plans to also expand the farm and cultivate other vegetables.
He urged farmers to avail of technical assistance and grants available when venturing into hydroponics, adding that he is willing to help anyone who is interested to know more about the technology.
“Hydroponics is possible and easy,” stressed Cabrera.
For more information, call Cabrera at 483-1785 or NMC-CREES at 234-5498 Ext. 1707.