Discovering soil-less farming – Harvard Gazette

As the world’s population continues to climb, the climate continues to change, and issues of water and food scarcity arise, interest in alternative farming mechanisms is growing. Jiyoo Jye, M.Des. ’16, a recent graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, is attracted to the social and cultural narratives within this agricultural revolution, as captured in her living, open research archive Rooted in Air.

Hydroponic, aeroponic, fogponic, aquaponic, and related systems for growing food require fewer natural resources and can be constructed for as little as $30. A do-it-yourself culture is in full bloom, with more of these methods becoming available to the masses and to the novice farmer. “Rooted in Air” is Jye’s contribution to this blossoming community, an online platform for case studies, idea-sharing, and discussion.

With help from a student sustainability grant from the Office for Sustainability, Jye was able to expand her thesis research into a full-fledged investigation of soil-less farming modules and the urban stewardship that these methods can promote.

Of her research, Jye said, “It’s about growing produce in the absence of soil and investigating ways in which soil-less farming informs plausible solutions for urban food production. In doing so, it reflects upon how the revolution of alternative urban farming practices are engineering new feedbacks within the synthetic ecology of agriculture and considerably influencing the social actors of its domain. The survey of soil-less farming systems offers a framework for comparing how agricultural practices are being aligned with economic viability across scales.”

Jye presented her work at the April 2016 Office for Sustainability showcase. (Photo by Katie Hammer) Jiyoo Jye presented her work at the April 2016 Office for Sustainability showcase. Photo by Katie Hammer

To begin her exploration, Jye turned to research to look at environmental and societal extremes, such as droughts, floods, and food crises, that can move people to these alternative farming mechanisms while also examining the increasingly popular desire to connect more with our food: to know how it’s grown, where it comes from, and often to grow it ourselves.

As part of this “witnessing” phase, Jye gathered case studies on alternative farming, including the MIT OpenAg Initiative, the O’Hare International Airport Aeroponic Garden, Japan’s Granpa Dome, and the underwater Nemo’s Garden in Italy, all of which are archived on her site. From these examples, Jye began to weigh the pros and cons of soil-less agriculture.

She found that these systems save water, often eliminate the need for harmful pesticides (due to their required sterile environments), and offer a higher yield per square foot, thus encouraging the DIY movement of scaling and customizing personal farms.  Additionally, soil-less farming methods are continuously forming new kinds of environments, or rather sealed containers, of synthetic naturalism. However, she also found that most of the systems are still new and rely completely on electricity, and thus are not yet able to be the primary means of urban food production.

Jye’s next step was to “situate.” She immersed herself in the trial-and-error process of creating a personal aeroponic module, which she dubbed “Aeropond.” Before she went too deep into renderings, Jye, who has no farming experience, set out to see if she could grow a seed into a pea. Through this discovery process, she also spent time thinking about containers, moving from growing plants in natural and tradition-steeped terra cotta planters to sterile, synthetic plastic vessels.

Photo rendering by Jiyoo Jye Graphic rendering by Jiyoo Jye

“I’m at a point now where I’m starting to understand their temperaments — how vulnerable plants are, but also how strong they can become,” said Jye, noting also that she has developed a newfound agricultural vernacular.

Ultimately, after successes and failures (she was able to grow the pea), Jye decided that what seemed to be missing was the middle ground. She’s now most interested in bridging the gap between personal experience and communal action, and in urging others to think about their places as social actors in the food system.

Through her research archive, Jye also hopes that the growing number of projects and case studies will not only help build community, but, through dialogue, encourage those who may have felt intimidated to plant some starting seeds.

A thinner, flatter lens By Leah Burrows, SEAS Communications | June 2, 2016

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Growing Soil-Less With Hydroponics: An Introduction to Innovative Farming at Home – The Better India (blog)

Hydroponics can play a vital role in changing the way we think about plant growth and may well be the future of gardening and farming.

Have you ever wanted to grow your own vegetables or herbs at home but were unable to do so for lack of space? If so, hydroponic gardening could be the answer you’ve been looking for.

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The science of soil-less gardening is called hydroponics. It basically involves growing healthy plants without the use of a traditional soil medium by using a nutrient like a mineral rich water solution instead. A plant just needs select nutrients, some water, and sunlight to grow. Not only do plants grow without soil, they often grow a lot better with their roots in water instead.

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Hydroponic gardening is fast becoming a popular choice for many growers around the world due to its more sustainable approach to resource usage than the usual growing methods. Here are a few of its many benefits:

By providing constant and readily available nutrition, hydroponics allows plants to grow up to 50% faster than they would in soil. Also, fresh produce can be harvested from a hydroponic garden throughout the year.Great for both the environment and the grown product, hydroponic gardening virtually eliminates the need for herbicides and pesticides compared to traditional soil gardening.Any water that is used in hydroponic gardening stays in the system and can be reused, reducing the constant need for a fresh water supply!Arable land is often in short supply and gardening space continues to decrease. A great option when you lack yard space or have a tiny balcony, hydroponics also lends itself really well to indoor gardening.

Also Read : 7 Great Techniques by Which You Can Easily Harvest Rainwater at Your Home This Monsoon

Ready-to-use store bought solutions can be used for hydroponics nutrient systems or one can make one’s own special solutions for different types of crops based on the chemical elements the plants need most.

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The right nutrient mix combines primary nutrients (nitrogen, potassium, magnesium), secondary nutrients (calcium, sulphur, phosphorus) and micronutrients ( iron, copper, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, boron). Here is a recipe for a basic nutrient solution that you can make yourself by diluting the nutrients in 20 litres of filtered water.

25 ml of CaNO3 (calcium nitrate)1.7 ml of K2SO4 (potassium sulfate)8.3 ml of KNO3 (potassium nitrate)6.25 ml of KH2PO4 (monopotassium phosphate)17.5 ml of MgSO4 (magnesium sulfate)2 ml of trace elements

Store your solution in a food-grade container at room temperature and away from light. Make sure to shake it well before using. Also, your plants will inform you if they are receiving too few or too many nutrients – not enough and the leaves will turn yellow; too much and they will look brown, burnt or curled.

While you can grow almost anything hydroponically, some vegetables thrive more in hydroponic systems than others. Choose plants that don’t mind moisture and that don’t get too big for their set up, such as cucumber, tomato, capsicum, strawberry, lettuce and leafy greens.

Also, when setting up a hydroponic garden, depending on the size, sturdiness and root development of the plants to be grown and the structure of the system, one needs to decide whether to use only a solution culture or some sort of a growth medium.

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Plants with shallow roots, like leafy greens, do fine in solution cultures. On the other hand, plants with deep roots, such as beets, and heavy vegetables, such as cucumbers, do better with growth mediums such as foam, coconut husk, sponges, and peat moss.

Also, flowering and fruiting plants need exposure to sunlight while leafy greens grow well even under inexpensive fluorescent lights that are placed above them.

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For beginners, a simple raft system is ideal. It’s easy to make, doesn’t cost much to get going and will give you vegetables much more quickly than conventional gardening methods. Here’s how you can make one.

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Vertical hydroponic systems provide an excellent option for gardeners lacking space. Try and remember to use recycled materials to put the system together and make your hydroponic system as green as they can be.

Here’s how you can build a hydroponic system using PVC pipes.

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A small yard, a corner in a community garden or an unused space in your home can easily be turned into a thriving aquaponic farm for vegetables and fish. An aquaponic system combines elements of aquaculture and hydroponics in a symbiotic environment by putting fish waste to work as fertiliser for crops. The system is mostly enclosed, with little to no waste and no need for fertiliser or pesticides.

A typical household-sized vertical aquaponic system can fit into a 3ft by 5ft (1m x 2m) area. A small pump draws nutrient-rich water from the fish tank to the tops of the vertical columns. The water trickles down through the roots of the plants, gathering oxygen from the air as it falls back into the tank.

Simply put, hydroponics can grow the healthiest food possible, in large quantities, in the smallest space and in a sustainable way. Not only does hydroponics accomplish all the goals set by organic farming, but it takes a step further by offering people the ability to grow food in places where traditional agriculture simply isn’t possible.

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Urban Farming Alternative: Soilless Farming in the Sky

In heavily populated urban areas, growing space is where you can find it. In areas where space is taken up by residences and businesses, individuals and families have to find unique ways to produce fresh produce, whether it’s in pots on their balconies or in their apartments.

Where you once saw gardens growing in vacant lots next to buildings, you can now find soilless farming on rooftops, as more and more individuals take to the skies to grow their vegetables. To take it one step further is to incorporate the use of hydroponic systems, with no need for soil!

Alternatives is an international organization based out of Montreal, Canada, and has promoted the use and conversion of unused spaces such as rooftops, terraces, and balconies into usable green spaces. In particular, Alternatives promotes the use of rooftops as gardens, especially in urban environments.

By utilizing these unused spaces, we can produce foods that are affordable, ecological, participative, and easily transferable. These urban production systems are a unique way to deal with food insecurity, especially in urban environments where you typically would not have access to fresh produce.

Rooftop gardens in Manhattan, New York. Image via PisaPhotography. Rooftop gardens in Manhattan, New York. Image via PisaPhotography.

Alternatives describes the goals met when utilizing these rooftop growing systems, which include:

Producing their own organic fruits and vegetablesBeautifying the landscapeEncouraging the practice of productive physical activityMitigating heat island effects around the cityPutting organic waste to good useIncreasing biodiversityImproving air quality

An example of soilless farming in the sky, a commercial practice can be found in New York City in the West Village. A local restaurant, Bell, Book & Candle, uses their restaurant’s rooftop as a growing space where they produce a large portion of their fruits, vegetables, and herbs – and all without the use of soil.

Bell Book and Candle’s Chef, John Mooney, produces two-thirds of the vegetables that the restaurant requires to serve their customers. Mooney utilizes vertical towers that relies on hydroponic systems which provide the plants with food and nutrients.

Featured Image: An array of rooftop garden beds located in a dense urban area. Image via PHG.

Heather Sowalla My name I Heather Sowalla. I have a passion for the environment starting from the time I was a young girl. I fell in love with hiking and fishing, even playing with bugs! As I grew older my passions began to develop into something that I could mold my education around. Starting with my undergrad degree I focused on fish and wildlife management which took me from central Pennsylvania the entire way to Alaska for an internship with the Student Conservation Association. After that I decided, due to health reasons, that I needed a change of pace and so I moved in a direction of sustainability, in particular agriculture and food security and now as I work through my internship – I plan on graduating in the Spring of 2015 with my Masters. What will I do after that? Well … I’m not really sure. Maybe I will be the next great of the Environmental Era? Maybe not … but I will do my best to try!

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