Category Archives for "Growing without soil"

Vertical gardening – Coming soon to a work place near you…

Image of a type of vertical wall garden known as PodPlants

​Vertical gardening is slowly but surely becoming mainstream, even spreading to environments that one would not normally associate with much greenery like the work place. One such example are PodPlants which were developed specifically to cater to the office environment. PodPlants are 2.4m high sealed vertical garden modules that are designed to be free-standing and low maintenance. The units are made out of recycled ABS plastic but the walls of the unit are kept very thin making each PodPlants unit weigh in at only 20 kg which is unusually light given the overall size. They use a patented irrigation system developed by the creator where the exposed roots of the plants dangle within the device, and is based on the increasingly-prevalent aeroponics technology which feeds plants using an air-suspended mist of nutrient solution. One of the problems with many aeroponics setups is that they are also a breeding place for bacteria, but the inherent design of the patented PodPlants is designed to address this issue. As a result, plants grown in PodPlants are healthier allowing them to grow more vigourously. The PodPlants are very easy to install, with the only requirement that they be located next to a power socket - no additional piping or drainage is required as with other vertical gardens. One reason for the increasing popularity of plants in the work place is the recognition that they not only increase the health and wellbeing of their workers but also increase worker productivity as much as 15 percent! Now that’s a compelling reason for any company to install a vertical garden and why PodPlants are becoming so popular.

Hydroponics made simple

Image of the Grow Float, a simple table-top hydroponic system

​The Grow Float

​There are many ways to ‘grow your own’ using hydroponics but it is a fast moving area and new ideas are coming to the market all the time. The Grow Float is one such design that really shows how simple the technology can be. It essentially reduces hydroponics down to a receptacle for the nutrient-laden water and some floating baskets for the plants to grow in (you also need a water aerator but that is only used intermittently). The nice thing about the Grow Float is that it is so simple, you can almost just make your own DIY version, but part of the appeal of the official version is the 'polished' finish designed to look like a hip house plant that is comfortable on your kitchen countertop. It debuted on Kickstarter in 2014 and has since evolved into a small business for the creator. 

Image of the GrowGrip, used to provide physical support to plants in large-scale hydroponic systems

Another Kickstarter project, the GrowGrip, which is a new design for supporting plants in large-scale hydroponic systems is almost ridiculous in its simplicity. The GrowGrip units look like someone just did a quick cut out of some foam packaging (and maybe they have), but once you understand the idea behind it, you realise it really does solve an efficiency problem when growing lots of plants hydroponically, and it does so in such a simple way.

The era of indoor farming is upon us

Image of front entrance to the AeroFarms company building, where the world's largest indoor vertical farm is housed

​These days everybody, it seems, is opening an indoor farm! The US company, AeroFarms, is the latest enterprise to hit the news with their soon-to-be biggest indoor vertical farm in the world. As with other iterations of the indoor farm, the idea behind it is to provide more nutritious fresh produce to the local population in a more environmentally-friendly way. It is well-established that as fresh produce sits after harvest, even when refrigerated, the nutritional content begins to degrade, so having to extensively transport produce from distant traditional farms is generally detrimental. In addition, indoor farms do not have to use fertiliser (in the traditional sense), nor do they need any pesticides as the plants are grown in aseptic conditions where pests are kept at bay simply by the plants being isolated indoors. One unusual feature of the AeroFarms set-up is the use of a technique known as aeroponics in place of the more commonly-used hydroponics technologies. So what's the difference? Aeroponics, as the name suggests, delivers water and nutrients to the plants by creating a mist in the air space around the plant roots. This is different from hydroponics which delivers the same feed as a watery solution that bathes the roots. Is aeroponics better than hydroponics? It is not clear. One thing for sure is that it is more difficult (and expensive!) to create an aeroponic set-up than to build a hydroponic system, so it probably won't be the preferred system used by us amateur indoor gardeners just yet.

‘Open-source’ hydroponics

Image of the Mini Farm Grow Box hydroponic system from FoodRising.org

​If you are the DIY-er type (and you also happen to have a 3D printer lying around), then you might be interested in the 'Mini-Farm Grow Box' concept from FoodRising.org where you essentially build your own compact hydroponics system from common household parts and a little bit of 3D printing. As an 'open-source' project, the design work has all been done for you and you just have to follow the build instructions after you have downloaded and printed the 3D parts. The most interesting thing about the kit is that it does not require any power to operate, instead relying on gravity to 'feed' the plants - so once assembled, it is just a matter of planting the seeds or seedlings and waiting for your next (vegetable) meal to grow! Of course, you still have to do a little bit of work topping up the reservoir now and then unless, that is, you are a true tinkerer and make it completely automatic by adding a mains water line and a nutrient dispenser to replenish it when it is running low - maybe that's asking a little much (!?) but then again that's why they call it open-source...