Ornamental Pepper Project
This trial aimed to compare pepper growth between two hydroponic systems: drip-to-drain and deep water culture (DWC). AfriPonics seeks to cultivate bell peppers on a large scale in a Lesotho greenhouse, emphasizing affordability and accessibility. The Cornell Hydroponics Club, an education-focused group, collaborates with AfriPonics to conduct preliminary research and identify optimal growing practices and systems for AfriPonics' objectives.
In the heart of Sub-Saharan Africa, where agriculture faces numerous challenges such as unpredictable weather and limited arable land, hydroponic farming emerges as a promising solution. This trial, a collaborative effort between AfriPonics and the Cornell Hydroponics Club, delves into the realm of hydroponic cultivation with a specific focus on bell peppers. The objective is not just to grow these vibrant, nutritious peppers but to do so sustainably and efficiently, utilizing two distinct hydroponic systems: drip-to-drain and deep water culture (DWC).
Bell peppers, scientifically known as Capsicum annuum, have much more to offer than their colorful appearance. These versatile vegetables are rich in essential vitamins like vitamin C, providing a nutritional boost to diets. In hydroponics, their growth can be precisely controlled, ensuring optimal nutrient uptake and minimizing water wastage. For Sub-Saharan Africa, where water scarcity is a pressing concern, mastering efficient hydroponic techniques is crucial for a sustainable future.
AfriPonics' vision of establishing a greenhouse in Lesotho holds significant promise. The choice of Lesotho, a landlocked nation with variable climate conditions, showcases the adaptability of hydroponics. By using readily available and affordable materials, AfriPonics aims to make hydroponic farming accessible to local communities, empowering them to produce fresh, healthy bell peppers year-round. This initiative aligns with the broader context of hydroponic farming's relevance in Sub-Saharan Africa, where food security and sustainable agriculture are paramount. Through the collaborative efforts of AfriPonics and the Cornell Hydroponics Club, this trial is poised to unlock valuable insights into the most effective hydroponic systems and practices, paving the way for a greener, more bountiful future in the region.
Seedlings in DWC
Seedlings in Drip-to-Drain
Germination: Seeds were sown individually in a seedling tray filled with germination mix and lightly watered. The trays were placed in a propagation house with timed misting for optimal germination conditions. Mist cycles occurred regularly before germination, and after germination, seedlings received daily hand watering with nitrogen fertilizer. After six weeks, the seedlings were ready for transplant.
Transplant DWC (Deep Water Culture): Seedlings were transplanted into the DWC system. Peppers were carefully removed from their previous medium and placed into rockwool cubes, which were floated on the DWC system's water surface.
Transplant (Drip-to-Drain): Seedlings were transplanted into the drip-to-drain system on the same date. The medium for this system consisted of a peat and perlite mixture. After cleaning the pepper roots, each plant was placed into a pot filled with the peat/perlite mixture. Drip stakes were inserted near the plants, allowing access to water without disturbing root growth. The drip system drained into an 8-gallon bucket.
Plant Monitoring: The water in both systems was monitored twice a week, with pH and EC adjustments to maintain targets. Sulfuric acid and nutrient solutions were used for adjustments.
Final Data Collection: Final data collection included height measurements in centimetres and counts of flowers and fruits for each plant. In the drip-to-drain system, four plants were omitted due to death or differences in vegetative growth. Height was measured from the soil to the highest point on the plant. Flowers were counted if open, and all fruits, regardless of maturity, were counted.
The experiment proved successful. In both the drip-to-drain and deep water culture, fruit and flowers formed. Below is a summary of the results and achievements of the trial
During a plant growth experiment, we closely watched how our plants were doing. We checked them twice a week. On April 21, 2023, we noticed some interesting things. The DWC plants were a bit smaller, but they started flowering earlier. All of them had flowers, and half of them had tiny fruits growing. On the other hand, the drip-to-drain plants were fuller on average, but it seemed like the 4-inch spacing wasn't enough for them as they grew bigger. By April 21, most of our plants had just started flowering, and only 3 had small fruits.
We also looked at how we watered them. The drip-to-drain system started with 2 minutes of watering every 8 hours and later changed to every 6 hours as the plants grew. We were surprised that we collected more water than expected. The sump pump worked well, and setting up the system was fairly simple. In the deep-water culture system, we noticed some algae around the edges, but it didn't seem to bother the plants much. We didn't prune the plants because we were worried they would get too crowded. We also let the plants pollinate naturally with the greenhouse air. When we recorded data, we only counted 15 of the 19 drip-to-drain plants because two had died, and two were a different type and taller than the others.