Fresh produce is always the game of the day in a quality restaurant and New York restaurateur John Mooney has taken the concept to a modern dimension. The introduction of a rooftop hydroponic garden. This allows food being served at Bell, Book and Candle to have a large portion of its daily produce selected from its vertical roof top garden.
Vertical hydroponics is a fairly modern way of farming and maximising space but the original hydroponic technology linking plants with water isn’t as new as people think. But what has changed is the way people look at food and this is driving modern gardening technologies.
Another important aspect of hydroponics besides being able to grow things on your doorstep is that its also environmental with the reduced cost of water usage to conventional farming which can be using as little as 10% in comparison to large scale agriculture. The nutrient injections to the roots of plants mean they grow faster because they are right at the plants tips. This means for the plants they don’t need a huge root system but instead can concentrate on growth upside. The growth rates are generally double that of soil based plants.
Now the system being used at the restaurant is called Tower Gardens and come in at a hefty $499 a unit. Ok for commercial and restaurant growers but maybe a bit hefty for most households unless mix cropping. The system however uses aeroponics which instead of soaking the roots in water it sprays a mist at the plant roots. This gives high yields and extremly intense flavours for vegetables with very little waste.
SNAP Hydroponics is something that has been developed in the Philippines for sustainable living and livelihood. What makes it a little unique compared to most hydroponics setups is that it doesn’t need any electricity which is a huge difference in money cost for production. Obviously the Philippines climate is a country receiving 12 hours of sunshine as well as constant heat which helps. But the SNAP solution which is mixed with water is a cheap solution for plant production that is initially designed for leafy plants. Maybe this is the first step towards developing different solutions for different types of plant to get maximum growth while still being organic. But for me living out in the Philippines with these lightweight boxes how many would you fit on a shipping container home roof? The boxes themselves come from discarded fruit boxes normally carrying grapes which means your recycling a product that is normally scrapped. How to make a SNAP hydroponics setup from a fruit box can be found here.
For me its a bit of an odd one for sustainable development as an assessment of multi-crops is needed to see if it really is viable for every day use in city dwelling surroundings. Ok we are saving on transportation and lighting,pumps and heat come from solar panels but is it viable?
Many neighbourhoods would see kids running around on the roofs of these units damaging the solar panels at the same time in an upmarket area they don’t blend in. So where do they go?
Not scrapping the idea just trying to see where its viable in urban surroundings as the concept seems mainly to do with reduced travel. Places such as the middle east without a doubt these would be highly useful and productive but in the middle of New York or London?
I think if anything they would be more suited to being hidden away in things like railway arches and other spaces that are often not practical for other use as daylight doesn’t seem to be needed although if doing it myself I have to admit I would look at Louvre ventilation and a roof that allows light to pass. I’m out in the Philippines my main issues are electricity and bugs container farming would work urban scale here but the way things are developed to the West is very different.
Mono-cropping with shipping container farms may be useful for locations such as hospitals,military bases and other high volume and subsidised food locations but still trying to see how this concept fits into Joe public’s way of life. I can see how it works but like many things with shipping container homes and other buildings its to do with planning and surrounding areas more than anything else. Roof top gardens are probably a more viable project in many locations which makes me wonder are we better trying to get people away from daily gardening introducing automated systems or trying to educate people to be more green with the land they have?
SNAP Hydroponics Ideal For Off Grid Living (No Electric Needed)
A system developed in the Philippines which involves nutrient solutions seems to have answered one of the big issues here in the Philippines but also makes it an ideal grow method for container housing or other off grid homes, it doesn’t need electric! Basically the method involves a polystyrene tray that has a lid (often found for food delivery) that you cut circular holes for polystyrene cups to use as plant pots in it before lining the bottom of the tray with plastic sheet to waterproof it. In goes the cheap solution mixed with water and pretty much that’s the pots near enough setup except for a bit of medium to secure the plants but also means that once you have established your tray garden you can literally pick your food from the leaves for lettuce and other crops. I am sure the formula can be adapted for other types of plants as well.
Now bearing in mind a shipping container home has a large roof area which is not only flat but suffers with heat build up I am sure this may be a solution to help drop that temperature down while keeping your greens out of the reach of many garden pests. Adding a ladder to the side of your container means your plants are happily growing away on your roof and the fact they are self watering from the solution your not constantly worrying they dry out continuously. The other obvious benefits of SNAP Hydroponics is it can be up scaled or downscaled for winter or personal needs. I am currently researching it more here and going to put an order in for the SNAP solution so I can trial it but it does appear to be a very cheap option of growing greens, which are often overpriced in the Philippines.
With the downward spiral of the economies around the world one thing is for sure the housing market has well and truly stalled. The main reason being not that there is a lack of demand but the mix of speculative building and the crazy loaning of before 2008 has left many homes oversized for what people can afford. I worked in social housing before and could see it all over the UK where 1 – 2 bedroom homes are shunned for 4 – 6 bedroom luxury homes. Often the smaller homes were remodelled and extended or bulldozed to build a bigger home. Issue with this today is there is a lot of spaces out there that aren’t seeing construction take place as corporations and landowners sit waiting for the next bubble to begin before starting construction again. This leaves many empty construction lots all over the world which could be utilized for urban farming as we see in the photo above. Its all being done in crates so highly mobile. This feeds local needs as well as creates jobs on land that is currently stuck in limbo hope we will be seeing more of these styled projects to remove eyesore land into useable farm lots.
We live out in the Philippines and these plastic drink containers can pretty much be found all over the place disguarded and dumped. The idea of reusing them for not only container gardening as seen in the photo but also even for transportation as “watering pots”. Makes a lot of sense as well as gets rid of disregarded plastics, making them more useful and recycled. But also even if a flower vendor you could just stick these under a flower display to keep the flowers watered while awaiting customers. Great idea!
Activity on the Shipping containers is a bit slow right now so decided to start looking at other containers that are relevant. This one for example is relevant in two ways as its part of green living as well as housed in a container. For which I am going to start looking to add in more green fingered activities on the blog as well to help expand things out a bit from construction and design of shipping containers into a broad way of container living.
This is the McMurdo Ice Station in Antarctica which is a science and support facility. Everything that is going into the South Pole will pass through McMurdo making it a bit of a mailbox for the most remotest place on the planet. During peak season you will find around 1500 but when the skies turn dark its left with a skeleton staff of support crew and engineers.
What has all this got to do with Hydroponics your probably wondering, well in that container building under a rather white sky you will find a lot of plant life in one of the harshest living condition environments in the world. It all began with someone wanting fresh food over tinned and frozen goods. Initially seeking to start with tomatoes wasn’t long until a pilot was bringing in seeds and a small idea became a big reality. Ok may not seem so big here! but if your used to living on tinned and frozen food having some fresh produce makes a huge difference in life when away for months without it.
Add to that though the bleak surroundings and the dry environment of the Antarctic the hydroponics garden doesn’t just become a food source but a place of life and an injection of light as well as humidifiers giving a more “at home in the garden” feel. It no so surprise that people would want to spend spare time in there with months of living in the Antarctic.
The interesting thing here though is to add most of what you see is more like a scrapheap challenge than some scientific adventure. Reason being is bringing stuff to the remote station is often expensive and infrequent. Budgets may be allowed for projects on going but not for the vegetables for your plate. Everything has been pretty much been salvaged where possible but lucky they have the right people in the right place to pull it off. A hot bed of grey matter working away to get it up and running. No scientific experiment going on just people who love good food and willing to put a bit of effort in to make it happen.
Not always relevant as you may be getting soil from a garden centre at the same time you could be out in the back of nowhere or wanting to use your own soil. Identifying your soil types and the types of plants/crops they can be used for will improve your chance of good yields. At the same time doing a bit of research also means you can adapt the soil to the purpose of the types of plants you want to grow by adding in whatever nutrients the soil could do with being added if any.
Testing soil is necessary and easy to do, doing it at the beginning also means you can adapt it quickly without plant disruption and more importantly won’t suffer with failed plants due to the wrong type of soil used for them. This is why soil testing is the first step in your container garden and you will need to know that it has the right nutrients for certain plants to flourish.
This is also a good way to monitor your soil for its nutrients, the soil will need Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium to continue providing healthy plants. Where possible take the test at the end or a few months before the growing season (plan to plant) to correct the soil problems. Also just as important the soil should be dry as false results could be given otherwise.
There are various test kits available and some are easier to use than others. I would advise checking reviews on places like Amazon to see how other people found them. Some kits are also designated to only test specific nutrients.
Now as this is a container garden and not a general household garden or field I would say try and select soil from areas that you know have good nutrients already (as obviously you don’t want to be repairing an entire field with nutrients when your only needing your container soil improved).
Grab a bucket and a shovel and head to where your looking to select your soil from. Dig around 7” deep with 6 holes and take a shovel of dirt from each hole dug. When dug mix the samples together and remove 2 cups from your test sample.
Then read the guidelines given to you by the test kit purchased.
Soil test completed you are no doubt going to have some results at the same time going to be looking at transferring your soil to containers. The problems your likely to face are below, some of them it would be easier to select soil elsewhere but pretty much everything can be dealt with.
High PH: Mix some sulpher into the soil.
Low PH: Mix some lime into the soil.
Low Nitrogen: Mix nitrogen rich fertilizers into the soil.
High Nitrogen: Water well, and avoid adding fertilizers for three to six months.
Low Phosphorus: Mix super phosphate and bone meal into gardening area.
High Phosphorus: By growing more plants will aid in absorbing extra phosphorus
Now there is also the chance of the figures being out simply because there are other layers of soil below the sample level that could have affected the results. If using the field these are relevant but as we are taking the soil away for planting they won’t be causing anymore disruption in future but will also be a reason why you monitor the soil on a regular basis to get its levels right.
When I started container gardening myself I could see the benefits for having a small space and being able to grow some of our own food. But as you look into it further its surprising where you can grow food in containers. Take for example on top of your air conditioning unit. In an old sink, or pretty much anywhere that has enough space to plant a crop and won’t cause damage to the building or equipment.
In shipping container living adapting roof and wall space for container gardens is often overlooked but something that can be easily done with extra benefits. First one is those who don’t like the look of the metal container wall start to see it disappear amongst your food crops and plants. Secondly its shade that helps reduce heat build up on your shipping container home. Add to that a hobby that is not only interesting to many but offers up a fruitful supply of various types of food on a regular basis. Container gardening has many advantages and not as difficult as it may seem to get one started.