India: Ladakhi greenhouse lets farmers grow tomatoes in frost

In Ladakh, the availability of locally grown fresh vegetables is usually restricted to summer months, given how the region is characterized by extreme variations in temperature, particularly during the long and harsh winter season when temperatures hit as low as -30°C.

These long winters reduce the cropping season to barely four or five months in a year. Other factors include low precipitation largely in the form of heavy snowfall, high wind velocity, sparse plant density, a thin atmosphere with high volumes of UV radiation, and a fragile ecosystem. As a consequence, most farmers pursue single-cropping, while double cropping is only possible in parts of Ladakh, which fall under the altitude of 3,000 meters above mean sea level.

The lack of locally grown vegetables necessitates obtaining them from outside the region through goods trucks that come from Manali (480 km) and Srinagar (420 km) and cargo planes from Delhi or Chandigarh where the freight costs are very high.

Prices were soaring so high during the winter season that, in 2019, the Leh district administration had to artificially fix the retail price of fresh vegetables like tomato (Rs 110/kg), okra (Rs 130/kg), cauliflower (Rs 110/kg) and spinach (Rs 110/kg), just to name a few. In fact, according to a market survey organized in February 2019, it was found that fresh vegetables are nearly three times costlier in Leh than they are in Delhi during the winter season.

To address this critical concern of the Ladakhi people, researchers at the Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR) led by senior scientist Dr. Tsering Stobdan have developed a new model of the Ladakh Greenhouse, a passive solar greenhouse, for local farmers.

“We studied the positives and drawbacks of traditional greenhouses which are used extensively in Ladakh. Accordingly, four major changes were made. First, we replaced the polyethylene sheet with a triple-layer polycarbonate sheet. This results in an over 7-8 degree Celsius increase in temperature at night during the winter season since polycarbonate has much better insulating properties. Second, the unbaked mud bricks were replaced with stone walls, since the latter has more heat-absorbing capacity. The heat absorbed during the daytime is released back into the greenhouse at night. Third, we have constructed the greenhouse three feet below the ground level. Therefore, the ground heat helps in keeping the greenhouse warm in winter. Finally, we standardized the length, height, and width of the greenhouse,” says Dr. Stobdan.

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