Innovation

The ‘grow your own’ tech revolution

Grow your own - compost. Watering cans, welly boots and mud. The Good Life. The idea of growing your own food doesn’t exactly conjure up the most dynamic image but there is a movement that is putting food higher on the tech agenda than ever before and it’s perfect for domestic users and even businesses to invest in.

November 1, 2017

So-called ‘traditional’ farming has turned to technology in a big way for a long time now, particularly to guarantee yields against the risks of weather and pests, and some of that tech has trickled down into smaller scale domestic products that are absolutely deserving of a place in homes and offices. Kickstarter and Indiegogo have seen many successful projects smashing their target goals, which would certainly indicate a great deal of interest in what used to be something your grandparents would be into.

There have been a number of different driving forces behind the grow your own revolution. The main one is a huge increase in the use and investment in hydroponic and other soil-less technology. In terms of carbon footprints, soilless growing methods used to be a side step in growing tech, with energy hungry lamps providing both heat and light to the plants offsetting potential energy savings, but with recent research and advances in LED technology, the size and efficiency of hydroponic units has shrunk putting them into the hands of consumers, and turning all sorts of places into veritable greenhouses, even disused WW2 bunkers 100ft underground.

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There are three main methods that commercial soilless technology use – hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics. Hydroponics is the most familiar, using an inert substrate to support the roots such as expanded clay balls or mineral wool, with a nutrient solution washed through the substrate to feed the plants. This is the system used commercially for crops such as tomatoes and peppers. An interesting system that can be used in conjunction with a hydroponic set up is the fishplant system, where a fish tank is attached to the growing area and the fish waste is filtered and used as the nutrient supply for the plants.  Aeroponics lets the roots develop without support, feeding the plant solely by either a water and nutrient rinse or fogging, where a mist is propelled into the root chamber. This method is used mainly for leafy crops such as lettuce and is useful where water is limited or needs to be controlled. Aquaponics is where the plants are grown in tanks filled with a nutrient rich water solution. A lot of supermarket herbs such as basil are grown this way as more exotic varieties of plant can be grown all year round as indoor temperatures can be controlled.

The systems themselves have become very well designed, not only with regards to the plants, but also how good they look either in your lounge, kitchen or on your wall. Systems to look out for are Smart Garden 9, Plantui, and Herbert, even  Ikea has jumped on the bandwagon, although their systems are more workmanlike than the others mentioned. People have realised the intrinsic value of plants and bringing them into the home, and for good reasons such as natural air purification and filtration as well as just looking good. This is a key area which has been addressed with gusto by the new wave of tech inspired horticulturists – how the product looks. Having something that can not only provide for your family, improve the air quality but also be a piece of art is a real triumph.

Another reason people are turning to growing their own food is that you can guarantee its providence. In a time when more and more people are becoming vegan, and are eating organic or other diets, being able to guarantee where and how your food is grown is becoming more and more important. ‘Food Miles’ is an idea that has become more of an issue recently, meaning how far your food has travelled to arrive in your local shop, so being able to express that in mere feet and inches can only be a change for good. There is also the issue of not using up valuable resources of nutrient rich soils, which has recently become a world-wide problem as a growing population puts an ever increasing burden on the Earth’s resources.

Soilless systems aren’t just restricted to Earth though. One of the fundamental problems facing space agencies on longer missions has been how to feed the crews, particularly with fresh food.

Soilless systems aren’t just restricted to Earth though. One of the fundamental problems facing space agencies on longer missions has been how to feed the crews, particularly with fresh food. As we all know, fresh fruit and vegetables are much higher in vitamins and minerals than the freeze dried food normally given to the crews so experiments have been conducted on the International Spaces Station to assess the viability of different soilless systems with a great deal of success. The Royal Horticultural Society have also teamed up with the European Space Agency to launch an award winning campaign called Rocket Science, to try and encourage children into science, in particular growing technologies, which was launched at RHS Chelsea in 2015. The project also involved Space-X who sent rocket seeds to the ISS, which would then be brought back to Earth and distributed to schools to grow on, with the idea to see if time in space had changed the seeds growth patterns.

Whether it is on the ISS or the kitchen table though, the fact that there are so many ways to grow food for yourself and your family without making an impact on the environment is undoubtedly positive, and massively encouraging for future generations, where tech will play a much greater role in food production.

Herbert