Sirsi, Sept 22, 2019: Plastic bottles, a growing pollution threat for the environment, are being put to good use by the students of Horticulture College in Sirsi. They are growing organic vegetables which are supplied to the college hostels.
The college came up with the idea of making use of discarded plastic bottles, old tyres, oil cans, paint boxes and other waste to grow vegetables. More than 28 types of vegetables and greens are cultivated on the campus, sufficient for the meals cooked for 250 hostellers.
Over the past six months, college students have involved themselves in experimenting with a new technology which involves low investment, less water and no soil, to cultivate organic vegetables for healthy meals. The students spend less than an hour a day on this garden and also experiment with new vegetables, besides making use of waste and plastic bottles.
The idea of mass cultivation in a small place, enough to feed more than 250 people, came to college professor Shivanand Hongal’s mind during his visit to Israel. He says, “When I visited a house in Israel, I saw plastic bottles used for indoor show plants and they looked very attractive. I returned to my country with the idea of implementing it here, and chalked out plans with low investment and raw materials, including water.”
With the help of B.Sc second- and third-year students, we collected plastic bottles of different sizes -- half, one and two litres -- from hotels, function halls, soft drink shops and even ragpickers. On a trial basis, we curved the plastic bottles into suitable shapes, built some racks and set our project moving, he said.
In the beginning, it was difficult to identify which vegetables suit plastic bottles and give a good yield. On trial and error basis, students and faculty found new ways of cultivating vegetables, including radish, ridge gourd, bottle gourd, beans, brinjal, okra, coriander, dill leaves, spinach and other vegetables and leaves.
Interestingly, they don’t use soil but only coco peat, vermicompost and neem cake. Chemical fertilisers and compost are not used either. In Sirsi region, cocopeat is easily available, and the only investment is vermicompost and neem cake. Minimal water is used, as the cocopeat and plastic bottles hold moisture. Excess water from the bottles fall on those below through holes drilled in the plastic, ensuring that little is wasted.
Not just used bottles, old tyres, oil cans, paint boxes and other waste items available at home and in shops can also be used to grow organic food and flowers. The college has 150 waste tyres, cans and boxes, 600 plastic bottles, 200 grow bags and wooden plank sheets on campus. Each inch of empty space on campus is packed with bottles and boxes.
People from the town, and school and college students visit the Horticulture College campus to see and study the garden of used plastic bottles. Many implement the same techniques in their homes, with advice from college staff and students.
Urban terrace gardens: It is usually city folk, who don’t have a place to grow vegetables and flowers, who opt for terrace gardens. Many grow enough vegetables for families of 2-3 members. But due to continuous dripping of water on the terrace, many people fear for the durability of their terraces. In such a situation, plastic bottles come as a solution -- they are waterproof, suit terrace gardens as water usage is low and cocopeat is lightweight. Water is also not wasted in a plastic garden if planned properly, said a professor.
Student experiment: Around 18 batches of students, comprising five students in each batch, take up kitchen gardening in plastic bottles as their study. The students spend an hour every day to build and maintain the garden.
They made a pyramid: structure with 150 bottles in a 4x4 sqft space. The excess water from one plastic bottle falls on another, so not a drop is wasted. The bottles are also hung from gates and walls and every corner of the green patch on the college campus is utilised. The garden, which is a source of healthy vegetables for the hostel, is an added attraction on campus.