Vegetables perk up Ladakh's winters

Greenhouses made of plastic and wood are creating a green revolution in Ladakh.

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

NOT SO long ago, Ladakhis would have laughed at the idea of growing vegetables in winter when the mercury nosedives to about -300 C. Not any longer. The greening of the Ladakhi winter market has begun, as defence scientists successfully grow fresh green vegetables in greenhouses.

Scientists believe greenhouse cultivation could revolutionise Ladakh. Besides improving their economic condition, it would also boost the health of the Ladakhis who hardly get fresh vegetables, a rich source of vitamins and minerals, for eight months in a year. It would obviate the costly exercise of air-transporting food for the army during the winter when Ladakh is totally cut off from the rest of the country.

Brahma Singh, K L Jadhav and Eli Paljor of the Defence Research Development Organisation working in Leh, are growing vegetables in what they call a polyhouse, constructed using plastic and local wood such as poplar and willow. They explain their polyhouses are cheaper than the conventional glass greenhouse, which would be beyond the reach of the Ladakhi farmer.

The polyhouse captures sunlight and creates a conducive environment for vegetables to grow in. Moreover, it traps carbon dioxide, which is released by the plants at night and is essential for photosynthesis. By not allowing the water evaporating from the soil to escape, the polyhouse also cuts down on irrigation.

The defence scientists have grown all kinds of vegetable crops, including lettuce, fenugreek and spinach, in sub-zero temperatures. Cucumbers and other vegetables, which require higher temperatures for fruiting, can be grown in the summer.

The scientists have also succeeded in growing vegetables in trenches, which, when covered with plastic film such as polythene, act as perfect greenhouses. Trenches can exploit subsoil temperature, which, being considerably higher than outside temperatures, helps plants germinate early. They are cheaper than polyhouses and can withstand high-velocity winds, which blow away polyhouses if they are not pegged firmly to the ground.

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