Let’s face it, agriculture is not an industry we’ve given much thought to in urban Singapore. But if you’re one of those who decided to start growing your own vegetables during the circuit breaker, you’re not alone.

“Growing food at home gives you that feeling of self-sufficiency,” says Darren Tan, the education and outreach manager at local rooftop farm Comcrop. “After the experience that a lot of us had during the outbreak – going to the supermarket and finding that the produce is out of stock – most people have realised that growing vegetables at home that they can eat is quite a practical solution.”

Darren Tan, education and outreach manager at Comcrop.

Growing your own produce isn’t a new trend. It’s been around for some time, but it’s been dramatically accelerated by the disruption of supply chains during March and April this year, and a subsequent increase in public awareness of food security issues.

Growing at Home

Apart from the practical aspect, growing your own vegetables has other positive effects on your wellbeing. Your little patch of greenery doesn’t only add aesthetic value to your home; it helps you to be more focused on the present and establish a much-needed sense of control despite the uncertainty of today’s turbulent world.

You get bragging rights, too, especially if you post pictures of your homegrown strawberries or kale on Instagram. Yes, it’s now possible to grow varieties beyond the usual herbs and leafy vegetables that flourish in Singapore’s hot and humid climate, thanks to the advancement of hydroponics.

Soil or Water?

While soil is the more common choice, a hydroponics system has its benefits: it’s easier to clean, and allows for more control over the growing conditions.

Rows of Japanese Caixin grown in a hydroponics system. 

Since there’s a lot less mess compared to soil, a hydroponics system can be placed just about anywhere in the home as long as you have adequate lighting, whether natural or artificial. It can even be housed in an air-conditioned room – which means you’ll be able to grow more exotic plants such as strawberries, blueberries and kale.

Darren cautions homeowners to do their research first, though. “Growing berries is possible, but it requires a bit more research and understanding of the growth cycle, how to adjust the nutrients and the lighting to encourage the fruiting process. Typically, the flowers of these plants tend to wilt quickly when exposed to heat. They’ll need a carefully-controlled climate in order to reach the fruiting stage.”

Transitioning to Hydroponics

While setting up a hydroponics system may sound intimidating, it’s an investment that pays off. A hydroponics system takes up a lot less space – where one square foot would typically be enough space for only one plant in a traditional soil-based system, the same square foot can take three or four plants in a hydroponics system. This means you can grow plenty more vegetables even in the limited space of a small home.

Purple komatsuna in a hydroponics system.

It’s also easier to control the nutrients. You can purchase nutrient formulations that have already been mixed in the right ratio for plants, so there is less opportunity for excessive nutrient buildup (which can potentially be harmful to health) as is the case for soil.

These days, hydroponics systems come in all shapes and sizes. You can purchase off-the-shelf kits online, or even build your own as a home project. “Look for videos on YouTube on how to make simple hydroponic systems. All hydroponics systems essentially use the same concept. The most basic and accessible form would be one where you’ll have a container that holds water and nutrients, with the plants suspended in it. More common ones include a pump that circulates the water throughout the system,” shares Darren.

Comcrop, which aims to educate the community on food security and sustainability via outreach efforts, is also developing an online step-by-step guide that takes you through the basics of growing your own produce at home. It comes together with a kit that homeowners can use to kickstart their growing journey.

The post-setup maintenance is relatively easy. After setting up, all you need to do is regularly check that the pump is running and do occasional cleaning of the container. It’s also essential to look out for pests when growing produce at home. Common ones include aphids, mealybugs and caterpillars. However, if your setup is in an enclosed room, the chances of these pests finding their way to your plants are greatly reduced. 

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