Urban Agriculture: vertical and indoor gardening is the new rage

homegardenIt is an increasingly common sight in living rooms, on rooftops and balconies throughout U.S. cities; a vertical garden.  People are installing low-cost vertical structures in order to grow their own food, make salad greens and herbs more readily available and reduce exposure to pesticides and herbicides commonly used in supermarket-sold produce.  In light of estimates that by the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers, this development is a promising and needed one.  With the world’s population projected to increase by about 3 billion people in the coming three decades, a land mass larger than the entire country of Brazil will be needed to grow enough food to feed the additional mouths unless farming practices change. Vertical and indoor farming offer a way in which cities can expand while remaining largely self-sufficient food wise. This would allow for large urban centers that could grow without destroying considerably larger areas of forest to provide food for their people. Moreover, the industry of vertical farming will provide employment to these expanding urban centers.

In particular, indoor vertical gardening has gotten a boost from technological breakthroughs.  LED lights have now become affordable and they offer super energy efficiency and provide plants the full spectrum of light that they need to grow — mainly red and blue light.  By supplementing natural light with LED grow-lights, people are reporting spectacular improvements in production while keeping growing costs low.

Perhaps the best thing about this new gardening development is that building a free-standing vertical garden is surprisingly easy. For a free-standing garden, you only need a few feet of space.  If you don’t have any experience buidling a garden, ask your friends or family to come over and help you – it will make for a fun and productive day!  Moreover there are many different designs for free-standing vertical gardens that you can purchase online or assemble yourself.

If you live in an apartment or condo, you may want to consider an aeroponic installation. Aeroponics is having a big impact on the vertical gardening community. This form of gardening uses absolutely no soil and only about 10% of the nutrients and water compared to traditional gardens. All the water in the system is recycled so there’s no runoff which is why you can grow plants with much less water than traditional gardening. With aeroponics the plants also grow much faster as well (NASA quoted that aeroponic gardens grow at least twice as fast as soil gardens). Pest control is a lot easier as well because the plants are so healthy they can pretty much combat disease and insects on their own (or at least better than plants in soil). Aeroponics systems for the home and commercial use have become so sophisticated and easy to use that all you really need to do is set up the system and check the water, nutrient levels and pH once a week or so.  Unlike with traditional gardening, which can place a great demand on the ecosystem (especially when harmful chemicals are used), aeroponic gardens are safe for you and the environment. The greatest benefit of this system is that it preserves water and energy better than any other type of garden. It has been recorded as using 1/ 10 the amount of water than what would traditionally be needed to grow the same crop.

The way aeroponic gardens are built allows it to receive lots of air exposure. The garden is literally on a tower that extends into the air, giving it lots of oxygen. The plant that is growing in this system is completely in the air. The root systems and stems are free of constraints, allowing it maximum growth and root expansion, due to the lack of physical contact and access to pure water. Since the plant roots are 100% suspended in the air, they are able to get lots of oxygen.  There are different types of systems available, big and small. We used the Tower Garden but there is also the Pyramid Garden, Life-Gro and a number of other types of installations.  We are also exploring the performance of small desktop installations, like MiracleGro’s AeroGarden and a new entrant, CounterCrop.  You can even try making the system yourself. Some people use nothing more than a sealable storage bin, fittings and PVC pipes. A pump is also needed to recycle and deliver the water for your irrigation system. It is low-maintenance and easily transportable in case you move.

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