Monday, February 6, 2012

Planting by Design

The idea of creating a windowfarm has intrigued me ever since I heard Britta Riley's TED Talk. She wanted to grow food at home, but lived in a small Brooklyn apartment with no outdoor space and the rooftop unavailable. She designed windowfarms as a vertical hydroponic systems, where water is dripped down through a column of 3-4 plants, ending in a reservoir below. Hydroponic systems are great for small apartments because plants growing in a nutrient solution don't need as much space as plants growing in dirt. And with the right design, a window farm also uses very little energy.

A unique aspect of windowfarms is how the design is shared with us, the masses. Providing basic designs online, Riley set up a forum on which gardeners could share their tweaks, hacks, and innovations. The best innovations get incorporated into updated "official" instructions. Having spent (literally) hours poring over the site, I can see that the official instructions are a helpful guide, but the coolest designs are in the forum. This is where people have adjusted the basic instructions to their unique situations and made small changes, which together add up to a much improved system. Maybe this method of crowdsourcing is a new way to solve environmental problems - that's what Riley and her company hope for.

I recommend starting with the "official instructions"...
Version 2
Version 3
(Version 1 is a water pump design that led to clogged pumps, pots, and disgruntled farmers. It's no longer posted on the site.)

...and then exploring the designs on the forum.Here are some of my favorites:
James uses virtually no plastic in his construction - quite a feat, given that the original design is meant to re-use old plastic bottles, and requires the usual plastic net pots that are used in hydroponic gardening. He uses wine bottles instead of plastic, and cheesecloth instead of net pots.
D'Artagnon created a nearly plastic-free version as well. He dislikes using plastic net pots, rockwool, and clay pebbles, the typical hydroponic materials. He replaces these with luffah, which holds up for a one-time use, then can be composted.
Brian has a good illustration of the t-joint system, which windowfarmers use in place of the needle insertion method in versions 2 and 3.
Ken in Tokyo has created an elegant suspension system, using plastic pots to cover the bottles. He also staggers the plants to make better use of space. The challenge here is to split the water drip on two sides. 

Learn more about windowfarms here: (main website) (forum) (free registration required)

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