Azolla is a free-floating aquatic fern that is native to tropical and subtropical regions. It is a fast-growing plant that can be used as a livestock feed, bio-fertilizer, and mosquito control agent. Azolla farming is a low-cost and sustainable way to produce these valuable products.
Growing Conditions and Characteristics
Azolla grows best in warm, humid conditions with a pH of 4.3-7. It requires fully composted manure for nutrients and about two feet of root space. Azolla is sensitive to salinity and requires water with a high phosphorus content.
The most common variety of Azolla grown in Kenya is Azolla pinnata. This variety is tolerant of a wide range of environmental conditions and can be grown in both ponds and tanks.
Azolla can be planted in either artificial or natural ponds. Artificial ponds should be dug to a depth of at least 20 cm and lined with plastic sheeting to prevent water loss. The sides of the pond can be made from bricks or raised embankments. A thin layer of soil is added to the plastic sheeting in the pond.
Azolla culture is introduced by gently rubbing Azolla in your hands and spreading it in the pond. Approximately 500g of Azolla culture is required per square meter of the pond.
Care and Maintenance
Azolla is a low-maintenance plant, but it does require regular harvesting and care. Azolla should be harvested every three days to prevent overcrowding. The harvested Azolla can be fed directly to animals or dried for later use.
To maintain the health of the Azolla crop, it is important to add organic phosphate supplements and cow dung slurry every 5 days. This helps to maintain the mineral and nutrient levels in the water.
It is also important to replace 25-30% of the old water with fresh water every 10 days. This prevents nitrogen buildup and helps to keep the water clean.
Completely replacing the water and soil every six months and adding fresh Azolla seeds is recommended. This will help to prevent the Azolla crop from becoming infected with diseases.
Benefits of Azolla Farming
Azolla has many benefits, including:
- It is a high-quality livestock feed, rich in proteins, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
- It can be used as a bio-fertilizer by fixing atmospheric nitrogen and storing it in its leaves. This can help to improve crop yields.
- Azolla helps control mosquitoes by impeding the breeding process and egg-laying on the water’s surface.
- It can be used as a companion plant in rice paddies, enhancing rice production and preventing weed growth.
- Azolla also contributes to bioremediation by absorbing and degrading environmental pollutants from water.
Azolla farming is a low-cost and sustainable way to produce livestock feed, bio-fertilizer, and mosquito control agents. It is a versatile and beneficial plant that can play a significant role in sustainable agriculture and environmental management.