Now advances in horticulture such as hydroponics and associated fields like aquaponics and aeroponics allow farming in places once thought impossible, from the most arid desert to the densest city, and even out into the far reaches of space. Here are some of the most extreme places where hydroponics have a home and a future.
McMurdo Station (Ross Island, Antarctica)
Finding fresh produce on this barren, ice-covered wasteland, where all supplies for the 250 inhabitants must be brought in by boat before winter, might seem impossible. However, the station’s heavily insulated 649-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse provides fresh salads and other produce throughout the four months of complete darkness. During peak harvest periods, the garden can yield 250 pounds of fresh greens (and reds) monthly, including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, herbs, salad greens and chard.
As all growers know, a closed system without ventilation can get hot quickly. This is an advantage when the temperature outside is -58F. Hot air from the lamps is recycled to keep the garden warm. This also makes the greenhouse a popular hangout among residents.
Gotham Greens (Greenpoint, Brooklyn)
New York City is well known for having just about everything a person could ever need (and more) within a walk or a train ride. Until recently, however, that excluded truly fresh produce, as the city’s fruits and vegetables had to be hauled in from elsewhere. But a recent movement toward buying locally grown and manufactured goods has gained momentum in urban areas nationwide, leading to a surge of rooftop gardens.
Gotham Greens, located atop an old warehouse in Brooklyn, is the city’s first commercial rooftop hydroponic greenhouse, employing a staff of more than 25 people and supplying stores like Whole Foods and restaurants throughout the city. The company, led by co-founder and CEO Viraj Puri, is an example of how entrepreneurs can use hydroponics to succeed while supplying a high-quality product to the masses.
NASA (Hydroponics in Space)
Though travel between the United States and the International Space Station is now being handled solely by private companies like SpaceX, NASA is still alive and researching, and planning for some pretty big things. The agency’s current agenda is pushing toward manned spaceflight beyond the moon, Mars and eventually the solar system. But before humans can travel that far into space, we need to be able to sustain life on long voyages. For the scientists at NASA, hydroponics may play a pivotal role in the future of space exploration.
Because plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, they can be an incredibly valuable tool in sustaining life aboard a vessel. Plants act as mini CO2 scrubbers, and in large quantities they can process a lot of the stuff. NASA plans to use what it calls “bioregenerative life support systems” for long flights, using specially chosen plants to regulate gas levels onboard and to provide food and medicine. The agency is currently experimenting with various hydroponic techniques, light sources, temperatures and types of plants to determine how to best equip a manned spacecraft for deep space travel. Hey, NASA – sign us up for that flight as hydroponic specialists. You won’t be sorry!
Negev Desert (Israel)
At the opposite end of the heat spectrum lies the Negev Desert, which makes up more than half of Israel’s landmass. In this cradle of civilization, man has avoided any kind of farming for millennia, but for the last 30 years intrepid farmers have developed their own system of aquaponics and drip irrigation, growing a variety of plants and raising hearty tilapia for sale to restaurants and markets.
Tilapia thrive in all kinds of water, so the brackish well water of the Negev is not a problem. As in all aquaponics, water from the tilapia tank is filtered and used to water the plants multiple times. In a place where water is such a valuable commodity, the ability to use this symbiotic relationship between the fish and plants is truly amazing.
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Friday, 01 March 2013