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Design of an agro-textile cultivation bed for spread rooted plants with hydrogel through soilless vertical farming

Abstract The research is aimed to develop a system to cultivate the plants in a soilless agro-textiles bed. Reduction of agrochemicals, maximization of crop production on minimum land are getting prime issues in case of agriculture nowadays.

This paper shows a solution to the matters of integrating textile technologies with agriculture. Here a system presents agro-textiles based cultivation where plants are grown on textile fabric basements. Hydrogel, a superabsorbent chemical was introduced within the textile fabric to make root support to grow plants. Organic fertilizer was used to provide the required nutrients (micro and macronutrients) and integrated with the beds.

Three agro-textiles beds were prepared with different textile structures (woven, knit and non-woven) and wheatgrass seeds were sowed on them. It was found that with zero soil consumption plants are successfully grown on all of the beds. This process shows a successful medium to grow plants without soil, also proved eco-friendly approaches with optimum water and chemicals consumption, besides the implementation of vertical farming, enhances the production several times.

Keywords Soilless; Hydrogel; Agro-textiles; Vertical farming; Modern agriculture

  1. Introduction

The land area for cultivation is getting collapsed with the rapid growth of population and civilization [1], [2]. In these urban areas, land consumption for the cultivation of our required crops or vegetable is very trivial [10]. So, if there any scope is found of cultivation without the help of soil would be a great approach to resolve these frequent problems in our daily lives.

So far, there are some modern soilless farming techniques but still not in extensive practice due to various constraints.

Therefore, a new approach to soilless farming integrated with the capability of multiple productivities has been presented in this paper with the help of agriculture and textile technology. By this method, the implementation of the concept of vertical farming allows increased amounts of production [11].

The hydrogel is a superabsorbent polymer used in absorbent products. Its non-toxic polyacrylamide can be used for developing the soil-less cultivation system [12]. The hydrogel is under developing stage to be used as absorbent support for the soil to provide better water and mineral supply [13]. This paper shows the overall method of production of such a system introducing hydrogel with textile materials.

  1. Materials

In this research three types of fabric structures were used to develop the soilless cultivation bed- woven fabric made by jute yarn of the following specification: EPI & PPI of 6 and yarn count of 28lb/spyndle, plain weave; knitted fabric of synthetic material (Nylon) with warp knitted 3D spacer construction; and a non-woven structure using absorbent cotton fiber such collected from the baby diaper.

The hydrogel was used in the bed for necessary water and chemical ingredients cushion. The hydrogel was collected from baby diapers. To provide the plants with required macro and micronutrients, an organic fertilizer was used. The dissolved nutrients solution from the fertilizer was collected. And for farming, wheatgrass seeds were sowed to grow.

  1. Methods

3.1. Preparation of nutrient solution

The fertilizer was poured with the required amount of water and mixed well so that the salt content within the fertilizer could be solubilized into the water.

Then the mixture was filtered using filter paper, and the filtered solution was collected. It was the nutrient solution for plant growth. To prevent a bacterial attack in the solution, a small amount of alum was mixed with the solution. With the help of water, the concentration of the salt in the solution was maintained.

Preparing nutrient solution
Figure 1: Preparing a nutrient solution.

3.2. Preparing agro-textile cultivation bed

To produce the cultivation bed, the basic concept was introducing the nutrient solution with fabric basements. And to hold the nutrient solution for long time absorbent (hydrogel) material assisted the system. To make a comparison, a soil bed was firstly prepared taking soil from land into a pot to grow plants; it’s like the conventional farming techniques.

To introduce vertical farming into the system a rack of three trays was taken and three different beds with woven, knit and non-woven fabric were prepared.

Hydrogel Collected from baby diaper
Figure 2: Hydrogel Collected from the baby diaper.

To prepare the woven bed, the fabric was kept on one of the trays, and hydrogel powder was distributed within the pores of the fabric on the tray. Then the nutrient solution was sprayed on the tray equally over the fabric until it absorbed the solution up to its saturation. The same procedures were applied to prepare the knit fabric bed.

Woven Bed
Figure 3: Woven Bed.

In the case of non-woven cultivation bed preparation, the absorbent fibers collected from baby diaper was already included with hydrogel in its construction. Thus, the fibers were taken on the tray and distributed equally; then the nutrient solution was sprayed to prepare the non-woven bed.

Knit Bed Non-woven Bed

3.3. Preparing vertical farming bed and sowing seeds

The vertical farming bed was made by assembling the three cultivation beds as a rack and then it was placed in a place where the plants can get easy access of required natural light and free air to grow well.

Vertical Cultivation Arrangement
Figure 6: Vertical Cultivation Arrangement.

 

Before sowing the wheat-grass seeds on the beds, they were soaked into water for germination overnight. After germination, the seeds were transfigured to the three agro-textiles bed as well as the soil bed softly and carefully. Then the seeds were allowed to grow on the beds.

3.4. Observation and data collection

After sowing the seeds, each morning the beds were observed. The trays were sprayed with fresh water to keep the regular moisture supply for the plants, and the growth is observed and recorded.  The height of the plant is measured with the help of a ruler every morning and recorded for evaluation of the cultivation.

  1. Results and discussion

The experiment was continued for nine days and the data was being collected each of those days. After nine days it was found that in all the bed’s wheatgrass plants were growing gradually and freshly. Figure 7 shows the grown plants in the beds after nine days of sowing.

The gradually increased height of the wheatgrass on different beds has been shown in Table 1 and it has been found that plants grew themselves in the three different beds successfully as well as grew in the soil bed.

Plants grown in Soil Bed, Woven Bed, Knit Bed, Non-woven bed
Figure 7: Plants grown in (a) Soil Bed, (b) Woven Bed, (c) Knit Bed & (d) Non-woven bed.

It was found that the agro-textile cultivation beds were actually a function of supporting base for the growing roots of the plants. To understand well about the growth in different beds the plant heights of subsequent days were plotted in a graph (shown in figure 8) and found that plants were growing gradually and with a comparison to soil bed, those were not so deviant.

The plants grown on the woven bed were the highest among the agro-textiles beds. This is due to the structural compactness and supporting capability to the roots. The spreading pattern of wheatgrass is shown in Figure 9, in this experiment the non-woven bed was very sophisticated to support the roots, in case of knit bed the pores among the structure was of more area to support the roots, but in case of woven bed the design was rather compact than the other two beds.

This was one of the basic factors to make growth variations in different beds. The spreading roots were easily entrapped within the inter-stitches of the warp and weft yarns of woven fabric, on the contrary in case of other two beds it was very easy to pick out the plants from beds than the woven bed. Roots were entrapped and spread through the woven bed with strong support, thus grows well almost like the soil.

Growth observation of the plants in different agro-textiles cultivation

Plant growth recorded in different agro-textile beds
Figure 8: Plant growth recorded in different agro-textile beds.

The basic needs to grow plants were proper water and nutrients (macro & micro) supply, access to light and natural air. The soil is here support for the roots to grow and a media to hold and serve the nutrients and mineral water naturally. This research represents the combined action of fabric bed and hydrogel as the substitute of soil, thus the plants could grow in the beds since there was no absence of any required supply.

In modern soilless innovations, this technique can hold a strong position between soil cultivation and hydroponics. It can bring hydroponics and soil cultivation together in a concept as well as offering much more variants of plants to grow by their root nature and spreading behavior in different fabric structures.

Due to the variation of different parameters, the results may show the difference in separate beds, it will require further study to establish various parameters for different plants and supporting beds.

  1. Conclusion

Plants are mandatory not only for the survival of lives but also for the maintenance of the atmosphere and ecosystem. But with the growing civilization since the land area for cultivation is rapidly collapsing, something new implementation is getting the crucial need.

Here the project presents the solution with the combination of agriculture and textile technology. The introduced agro-textile beds and cultivation system will allow plants to grow with zero soil consumption.

Since there is no additional application except for the basic requirements of the plant, growth there may be a greater chance of getting freshly grown plants. Thus in case of urban areas where the roof gardening is getting so much popular, the agro-textile cultivation system can make them reached into a further ahead step.

There are many more variations in the requirements of different parameters for different plants, thus it will ask for further studies to set up specific parameters and methods for different plants as well as different ambient.

But now it’s time to explore textiles as a substitute of soil for agricultural cultivation. And the vertical farming system will allow with the multiple quantities for the production in the same area rather than the conventional cultivation system.

Also, the thin layer agro-textiles based cultivation system will ensure less water and chemical consumption as well as providing safe environmental concerns.

This technology can bring the areas where it was considered not suitable for cultivation like a river or flood-affected regions. Very interestingly there is a long period after the flood the farmers cannot grow plants; this technology can be a wise solution to the concern during this time.

Acknowledgment

The authors are thankful to Prof. Engr. Mashud Ahmed, Honourable former Vice-Chancellor, Bangladesh University of Textiles, Bangladesh; for his active guidance in this work.

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