Introduction To Watercress Farming:
Today, Let us discuss about Watercress Farming and Planting methods.
Watercress, botanically known as Nasturtium officinale is best known for its super delicious, stimulating piquant flavour and an enjoyable crunch. An avid lover of soups and salads would never undervalue the prominence of watercress. This leaves are considered as one of the oldest known leafy vegetables consumed by humans since centuries. Closely allied to family Brassicaceaegreen mustards, wasabi and Acula, watercress is an aquatic or semi aquatic green that are highly rich in vitamins (Vitamins A, K & C). Genetically speaking, it belongs to the genus Nasturtium. However, it is nowhere related to the common flowering plant nasturtium with the genus Tropaeolum. It would not be wrong if we would call watercress an early spring bird, as its cultivation prefers cool weather.
Climatic Conditions Requirement for Watercress Farming:
- Choosing a sunny location prior to planting would be preferable.
- Treating the soil with 4-6 inches of composted organic matter down to a depth of 6-8 inches.
- Seeds are minute, so they need to be lightly broadcast over the prepared site. Seeding rates differ, but an average is around 1 lbs. per 6,300 sq. ft.
- As the seedlings develop, water has to be let into the bed, but not enough to cover them.
- Seedlings 2 to 3 inch size are big enough to transplant.
- Seedlings and cuttings generally can be transplanted to about 6 inches apart each way.
- Sow three weeks before the frost free date for the prepared area.
- Keeping the area moist but not covered with water is to be primarily adhered.
- This plant germinates best in cool conditions (50-60 degrees Fahrenheit or 10-15 Celsius) but not frigid.
- The planting area should be kept moist but not covered with water.
- Seedlings will appear in about five to eight days.
Under complimentary growing conditions, regrowth of the tops allows harvest about a month apart. In the winter, watercress grows under water. For harvest purpose, Watercress can be pulled with the roots intact during this period, retreating the stand in the process.
Beds planted with seedlings started in the spring or from early summer cuttings produce a crop by late summer or autumn. The main watercress harvest is between March and October when the leafy crop grows above the water.
Read: Microgreens Farming.
Cultivation Practices of Watercress:
Watercress is a perennial (permanent) plant, but can be grown as an annual. It grows wild in clear streams flowing through limestone formations in many parts of the United States. The plant grows well in full sunlight and cool water.
Traditionally, the cultivation of watercress was mostly limited to field level production in flooded beds. With the advent of latest technologies, the hydroponic cultivation has emerged as a modern greenhouse production method. Predominantly, the watercress cultivation can be of the following two types:
- Large scale Cultivation (Commercial).
- Garden scale cultivation.
Watercress can be grown either from seed, transplants or cuttings. Plantings of watercress are either direct-seeded or established in seedbeds in nurseries and then transplanted to main growing area. Watercress cultivation can be cultivated both on a garden scale basis and also on a large scale. Being semi aquatic, watercress is suitable for hydroponic cultivation, growing best in water that is slightly alkaline. Watercress can be grown in the steadily moist area with a pH of 6.5 -7.5 sun.
For large scale cultivation of watercress, an area with a stream flowing across it is the elementary requirement for getting into production. Channels need to be dug end-to-end to the stream, either perpendicular or parallel to the flow of water. The channels should be oriented north and south, if possible, ought to be connected in a “zig-zag” manner on a steady slope to allow for water flow. More intricate systems include side-by-side beds with wooden or solid dikes and pavements.
In case of a garden plantation the same conditions can be created by tunnelling out channel of 6-inches, lining it with4-6 polyethylene and filling 2 inches of composted soil.
Most growers avoid the watercress farming due to its aquatic nature.
Storage and Shelf life of Watercress
Prompt handling and refrigeration is of vital importance looking at high perishability of watercress. Improper handling of watercress leaves makes it wilt, yellowish and slimy.
Few tips for storage and handling in Watercress Farming
- You need to pre-cool the produce after harvesting. This can be achieved by vacuum cooling or hydro-cooling process.
- It needs to be stored at 32° F. with high humidity (95 to 100 percent).
- It is recommendable to be bunched and packed in alternative layers with flake ice.
- Watercress stored at 32° F in waxed cartons with top ice holds up well for 2 to 3 weeks.
- A similar storage life is possible by using perforated polyethylene crate liners and package icing to minimize sagging. Bare bunches of watercress are very delicate, even at 32° F., and may be kept only 3 or 4 days. On an average, around 15-percent weight loss will cause only a trace of wilting, and a 40-percent weight loss will cause moderate wilting.
Health Benefits and Nutritional Composition of Watercress:
The major content of watercress is water and has a low count of carbohydrates, protein, fat and dietary fiber. A 100-gram serving of watercress provides 11 calories, is predominantly rich in vitamin K and also contains substantial amounts of Vitamin A, B6, C, riboflavin, calcium and manganese.
Naturally, watercress is very low in calories, practically fat free, but an essential vitamin and mineral rich food. It is also a cradle to a number of phytochemicals with impending health benefits including isothiocyanates, including phenylethylisothiocyanate (PETIC).
PEITC is a key contributor to the distinctive peppery flavour of watercress which aids in propelling the anti-cancer effects.
Furthermore, watercress is very multipurpose, and can be enjoyed as a salad vegetable, in soups and smoothies or as an ingredient in cooked dishes such as stir-fries, sauces for pasta and other meals, pizza and fish dishes.
It adds a boost of vitamins A and C, along with niacin, ascorbic acid, thiamine, riboflavin and iron to your ho-hum salad or an added zing to compound butters or sauces.
Concerns of Watercress Farming:
Few major concerns are enumerated below:
- Constant moisture is the number one concern in the care of watercress; after all, water is its milieu.
- As the Watercress grows in flowing water during production up to harvest, it poses a direct risk if the water is contaminated with microbial pathogens.
- The crop becomes adulterated through the presence of mud snails (Lymneatruncatula / Galba truncatula) within the crop. These snails act as a carrier of liver fluke from infected animal faeces to humans.
How to control?: Production beds can be bounded by either a three metre well drained grit (or similar material) track or minimum one meter wide water course not bridged by vegetation, to prevent ingress of mud snails which may be present on neighbouring land.
- The plant is not nutrient rich; however, it may show signs of potassium, iron or phosphorous deficiencies.
How to control?: A complete soluble fertilizer applied at the recommended rate can alleviate the issue.
- When planting in a garden, the area around the plantation can be kept free from weeds and mulch to aid in water retention.
- Insects/pests such as whiteflies, spider mites cause leaf discolouration and general declining of the plant.
How to control?: Natural predators such as lady beetles, predatory mites might act helpful in controlling these pests.
Diseases in Watercress Farming
Two major diseases affect watercress. They are:
Crook root is a waterborne fungus (Spongosporasubterranea f. nasturtii) that is one of the major reasons for swollen and curved roots, and breakage of the anchor roots.
- How to control? The problem can be controlled by addition of zinc.
Turnip mosaic virus is spread by several types of aphids
- How to control?: It can be controlled through seed propagation and insect control.
Read: Thyme Farming.