In Patuakhali the days of having a 'watermelon season' may be numbered. The introduction of hydroponics, growing watermelons without soil, relying instead on nutrient-rich water solution delivered by pipes to nurture the plants, promises ripe watermelons year-round. Moreover, hydroponics brings the garden out of the field. Hydroponics is suitable for any available space, such as rooftops.
The technique is being introduced to farmers by the regional office of Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI) in Lebukhali area of the district. Several months ago officials constructed a 200-square-foot demonstration plot in their office compound with 140 holes in its pipe network suitable for watermelon seeds. Now, with watermelons hanging on every vine, it's time for harvest.
“The life cycle of a watermelon vine is only two and a half months,” says BARI laboratory assistant Md. Bellal Hossain. “We have already harvested 100 watermelons, with 30 more ripening.”
“Initially, producing watermelons with hydroponics is more expensive, but thereafter the cost reduces since the pipe network is in place,” he explains. “The demonstration plot cost us about Tk 3,000 to set up; but this harvest should fetch over Tk 10,000 in the market. It is profitable.”
The watermelons are fed with a liquid mixture containing essential minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper and zinc, as well as hydrogen phosphate and boric acid. “With these dissolved elements the water solution is spread to the plants through the pipes regularly,” Bellal says. “It's the main food for the melons.”
“We have already succeeded in our hydroponics demonstration,” says Md Mostafizur Rahman Talukder, a chief scientist at BARI, “From next January we plan to make a plot on a larger scale. This way of growing watermelons promises to be low cost and good business.”
“It's environmentally friendly agriculture,” he adds. “The produce is organic and hydroponic farms can be situated in yards and on rooftops.” According to the scientist, hydroponically grown watermelons require no pesticides or irrigation.
Among local farmers, the BARI demonstration has already generated interest. “I came here to see the technology, how to cultivate watermelons year-round,” says Abdus Sobahan Akon, a farmer from nearby Badorpur village. “The experts have assured me they will provide assistance so I intend to try this kind of farming.”