No soil, less water, greater yields: Modern farming methods for sustainable food supply

Words: Crush

Farming methods are changing. With the need for more sustainable practices and alternatives to traditional methods, there are many exciting ways that people are employing to grow fruit and vegetables.

In South Africa, we are beginning to see a shift towards alternative farming methods. Retailers like Woolworths are partnering with local farmers for the supply of fresh produce grown through sustainable means. This is encouraging many community farmers to seek out alternative ways of farming with less inputs, including harsh chemicals. This is great news even for consumers as we know we’ll be getting more organic goodness in our meals.

Below, we will discuss different farming methods such as Sack farming, Hydroponics and Aquaponics.


Aquaponic farmers use fish to give nutrients to the plants. The advantage of this system is that it is a closed-loop; the plants are fed nutrients through fish waste, and the plants both feed the fish and clean the water for the fish. This farming method saves water and can be used to raise aquatic animals like trout, tilapia, crayfish or prawns.

Aquaponics is best for plants found in a salad; tomatoes, lettuce, pepper, and cucumber. Growing plants using aquaponics is entirely organic; you cannot use any harsh chemicals while growing your plants because they will harm the fish.

One of the most common systems in aquaponics is the “Deep water culture set up”:

In this system, a foam raft is placed above a tank of water so that the roots of the plants drop into the water and soak up nutrients from the water in the second tank. The second tank will have the fish inside it and will be joined to the first tank by pipes. Between the tanks is a filtration system, with a pump and a filter to remove solid waste.

Once everything is set up, there will not be much maintenance or work needed. This system can be used anywhere; in a greenhouse, a backyard, or even indoors in a room. This system can be adapted to suit different needs, for small families or even whole communities.

sustainable farmingSack Farming

As opposed to traditional farming, which needs vast amounts of space, urban farming makes use of whatever space is around – rooftops, backyards or vacant spaces in the community. One of the ways this is done is through sack farming.

Sacks are filled with soil alternatives like Pine-shavings and small stones to drain water. Seeds are then planted, and the plants are grown from the tops and sides of the sacks. This method is most effective for vegetables, especially leafy greens, tomatoes and onions. In areas with low income, think about how many people could supplement their income or even create an income using this method.

sustainable farmingHydroponics

Hydroponics is similar to aquaponics, excluding the fish. It is a method of farming that doesn’t use soil. Instead, you use water and mineral nutrient solutions to grow the plants. This technique is often used to grow smaller plants that take less time, such as lettuce, baby greens, herbs, and strawberries.

This method uses gravity to give the roots of the plants a continuous flow of the nutrient solution. A planting tray is placed at an angle on top of a bigger tank of water that contains a nutrient solution. The nutrient solution runs in a thin film over the roots, watering and feeding them but without totally soaking them. The thin film of nutrient solution keeps the upper section of the roots dry and allows them to get oxygen from the air. This solution is then drained back into the bigger tank, filtered, and pumped back into the planting tray.

Although this method can be used for large-scale farming, the system can be adapted to smaller spaces. Hydroponic systems can be stacked on top of each other in smaller spaces and placed on rooftops, in houses or backyards.

It is no secret that water scarcity and climate change have affected farming in South Africa. All three farming methods use much less water than traditional farming methods, and plants are not limited to a season. It looks like these methods are the future of farming, together with traditional farming methods for larger plants and trees.

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