As we mulch the cutting edge of DIY, what’s the latest in gardening technology? From growing fish to using air instead of soil, here’s a quick guide to three forms of farming science ripe for maker revolution.
Aquaponics: Leaves + Fish
Aquaponics grows both fish and plants, utilizing the waste from one to feed the other: fish excrement makes great plant fertilizer, and many plants are tasty for fish. This is ripe for hobbyist experimentation right now, with a “closed system” vision of fish + veggie production, meaty automation problems to solve, and all kinds of opportunities to integrate sensors. The “barrel-ponics” guide (PDF) is a good crash course, and there are 500+ serious aqua-farmers hang out on the aquaponicfarm group.
Hydroponics: Water as Soil
Hydroponics means growing without soil, using water with nutrients instead. Claimed benefits include reduced water usage and faster plant growth. Here are plans for the an ebb-and-flow system, and pictured above is a DIY vertical nutrient film technique (NFT) setup. There’s also water culture, drip, wick, and…
Aeroponics: Growing in Mist
Appropriately, NASA is interested in the most space-age and spaceship-appropriate food production system, defining aeroponics as “growing plants in an air/mist environment with no soil and very little water” and claiming:
Aeroponics systems can reduce water usage by 98 percent, fertilizer usage by 60 percent, and pesticide usage by 100 percent, all while maximizing crop yields. Plants grown in the aeroponic systems have also been shown to uptake more minerals and vitamins, making the plants healthier and potentially more nutritious.
I bought the Aeroponic Encyclopedia CD-ROM from the company that NASA contracted to do some aeroponics system development, and I was disappointed: the recommended high-pressure pumps and 10-micron nozzles would cost hundreds of dollars, even for an experimental setup. Fortunately, a group of high-schoolers called Tribe Awesome had a better solution. For less than the cost of the aeroponics research CD, they helped me build a bucket-based aeroponic system at a Workshop Weekend class. It produces the fastest plant growth I’ve ever seen; one might even call it space-age:)
We’re still debating whether agriculture is 10,000 years old or more, but it feels in many ways like we’re just beginning to learn how best to grow food. Dive in to some more experimentation about the future of growing things to eat here: