In today’s world, where a shift from large scale agribusiness to smaller scale, localized growing can be seen, ideas such as hydroponics and aquaponics have begun to take hold in the urban environment. However, we won’t be the first generation to have considered these possibilities. Indeed, hydroponics could possibly be attributed to Aztec cultures, but in Myanmar a large scale traditional hydroponics system can be located and is still being used today at Lake Inle. Hit the jump to learn about this historic growing process, and what we could learn from it.
The principle is very simple. Rather than growing on land and needing a labour-intensive watering system in place to get a decent yield, they float man made islands of matted organic material across a fresh water lake. Anchored into place, the islands are sturdy enough for crops to root successfully, and then the roots simply keep growing into the lake below, thus having access to as much fresh water as they require without the need for the farmers to continually keep them hydrated.
The process for creating the floating fields can take up to as much as 10 years until the requisite amount of growth and submerged, matted organic matter has formed. They try to speed up the process by dredging the silt from the lake floor and add this to the newly formed islands, as this is thought to aid with the fertility of the plant life, and the nutrients in the soil.
Once the islands have matured, they are sliced into 4′ x 600′ strips, and moved into position in the lake. Once in place, the islands can remain suitably fertile for growing purposes for up to 15 years, at which point the islands are rotated, and newly formed islands are put into place. The old islands are formed purely of organic matter, so will bio-degrade naturally and re-enter the life-cycle of the lake system. As the islands rise and fall with the water level, this approach to growing is completely resistant to flooding.
Vegetable crops have successfully grown in this way for many generations, and Lake Inle is particularly famous in that part of Asia for the tomato crops that tend to ripen around December time each year, providing both a sustainable food system and potential income for those in the local area. The lake is also full of fish, the most common being a breed of carp that combined with floating gardens has helped sustain the communities around the lake for many centuries.
As an example of a living, historical hydroponics system, Lake Inle should be a point of interest, and with refinement, the ideas incorporated within it could be very beneficial to a more holistic and less labor-intensive agricultural system in the future.
Images used coutesy of Hybernator / Shannon O’Donnell / Thomas Schoch & Ralf-Andre Lettau via Wikipedia Commons