A gardening method which is healthy for humans and for the Earth? Aquaponics is a farming method Palestinians are turning to as the fertile land shrinks and the water crisis deepens. We go to Gaza City to get a glimpse of what gardening has come to as a necessity for many of them; and has been growing in popularity in North America as an alternative farming method. Aljazeera.com shares this story of Salim Abu Nasser and his success with aquaponics.
At sunset on a warm January day, Said Salim Abu Nasser’s three grandsons crouched on the ground, using bricks to crush chalk into powder for calcium to help grow vegetables in water. Abu Nasser, 53, has grown 3,500 kilogrammes of organic produce without any soil, transforming his rooftop and concrete lot in Gaza City into an organic oasis. He grows a dozen different types of vegetables and herbs for his family, including eight children and eight grandchildren.
Using hydroponic techniques, Abu Nasser can grow twice as many crops than with conventional techniques, and he saves 90 percent more water by recycling nutrient-dense water. His broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce and cauliflower float on polystyrene squares with holes cut into them, while their roots absorb nutrients from the water.
“For six months, I don’t need to change the water,” Abu Nasser said. When the power is out, his solar panels produce enough energy, even in winter, for his pipes to pump oxygen into the water for his crops. On his rooftop, he grows herbs, lettuce and peppers with aquaponic farming. The water, containing excrement from fish swimming in a barrel, is used as a vital nutrient to grow produce.
“We previously thought that it would be impossible to grow anything in high-salinity water, but after [Abu Nasser’s experiments], we found out that we can,” said Mahmoud Jawad al-Ajouz, a professor of agriculture at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University.
A carpenter by day, Abu Nasser received a grant and basic training from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to start up his hydroponic micro-farm. “When I first started farming, I only encountered problems. After 15 days, my plant would die,” Abu Nasser said. Hydroponic farming is not an easy task; the water typically requires a mix of 16 different elements for the crops to grow successfully. After constant experimenting and following research from Al-Azhar University, Abu Nasser learned all the right tricks. Mineral fertilisers are expensive to buy in Gaza, so as an alternative, he has learned to mix dried, crushed eggshells with ash in the water as a source of calcium, potassium and phosphor. The chalk that his grandchildren help to grind is also used as a cheaper, alternative source of calcium.
“Every home must have a farm,” Abu Nasser said. “Farmers are only thinking of how they can make money; they spray too many pesticides, chemicals and fertilisers on their crops, which affects the food, the land and the water … We are working for future generations so they can, in turn, grow their own healthy food.” Today, 96 percent of Gaza’s water is unfit for human consumption after decades of over-pumping from its aquifer, which has lowered the groundwater level and allowed seawater to seep in.
Do you have an interest in beginning a small scale aquaponics system in your own yard? Here is a 5 minute video where “Aqua Annie” explains how to start up your own system. Food Farmer Earth has a wealth of videos around “Bringing the people behind or food to life”.
This ‘alternative’ farming method may be the answer to all of our healthy existence in very near future.