We are pleased to announce that COVE Food and Fibre has approved our project to develop an agritech STEM kit!
This exciting development will give us the leeway to spend time experimenting with kit combinations and creating lesson plans. We already have a list of interested schools in our local area for the pilot. My daughter has kindly offered to be my test subject for beta testing.
I guess I know what I'm doing this summer!
Thanks so much to the board of COVE for their confidence in the project.
We were able to take out a small loan and put in enough equipment to start growing. We bought powder coated racks from Bunnings as we couldn't find the size we wanted anywhere else. However on putting them together we realised they didn't leave much room between racks and it really wasn't ideal. We will look to source a different kind of rack in future. However, we have found a way around this by ordering a flat tank to go underneath. We will pump the drained nutrient out of that through a uv filter back into the main nutrient tank. This will give us extra room for our racks above plus decrease the chance of bacterial growth.
We made several beginner mistakes and our first crop has not done well. However our second set of seedlings are thriving. The silver lining is that we can record this learning and include it in our resource documents for future micro farm owners and agritech STEM students.
We have created a future collaboration with a food bag company called Kete Kai, with the idea of working with community trusts to have their own farms that provide the vegetables to the food bags. We were hoping to start supplying them this year but have made the decision to put it off till 2022 so we can gain expertise in growing the most nourishing crops we can.
We are also applying for the NP1 certification so we can supply crops safely with an approved food control plan. I was going to do an online Food Safety course but the strangest thing happened. First of all, my booking never went through. Secondly, when I contacted them to try and arrange a last minute attendance, they declined me thinking that I was a spy! Apparently they don't want to expose their Food Safety IP to someone who also works in elearning. I was completely nonplussed and will obviously be spending my money elsewhere.
I am now trying to design an area where I can safely clean and dry the crops without insects getting to them, before packaging. I don't want to put it within the container as that wastes valuable growing spaces so I either get a shed or clean out my garage. I do need somewhere I can easily clean.
I have tried out several crop software tools and have realised all of them are just frames within which you are supposed to put all your knowledge of tasks that need to be done. Tend is the best so far with at least some automatic tasks put in for germination, transferring and harvesting dates. This has come with the realisation that knowledge within a technology tool is the best product I can provide.
I just have to learn how to do everything myself now. Time to buy some books and do some online courses!
In May we held our fundraiser and were able to raise $5263 for our project. This enabled us to make great progress and we are so grateful to all the people who are supporting us in this project.
In our own vertical farm we have been able to install rack shelving, for both seedlings and working space. We have used white spectrum LCD strips for the seedlings and RGB lighting for the leafy greens. We have installed temperature control using an air conditioner with timer, wifi and dry mode. After discussion with the team at Perfect Air, the simplest solution seemed to be installing a humidity sensor with wifi and an alarm. If the alarm sounds we can set the air con to dry mode for a short time. Once we have an idea of how often this happens, we can include it in the timer programming. Additionally we are adding a fan input and passive exhaust to change out the fresh air four times a day on a simple plug in timer.
These simple methods keep the build affordable. In time, it would be great to move into a fully automatic system such as the Intelliclimate from Autogrow and the dosing controllers from BlueLab. However part of our mission is to work out a design for microbusinesses, so being able to make this work with simple yet effective methods is key.
Our design proposal has been submitted to our potential education partner and we are hopefully awaiting approval. We were able to find a way to simplify the kits so they are less expensive and not as big to ship. It's important to realise that we can't teach kids that agritech is the future without there being jobs and businesses to step in to. Being able to show video of a working farm gives them something to aspire to while they build their own kits.
In an exciting turn, we realised that using rockwool cubes is not good for the environment and started sourcing an alternative. A small amount of research identified wool as being a super grower, a great holder of water and slow to breakdown even in moisture. We are now experimenting to see if we can use wool as our growing medium rather than the plastic sponges that come with the kits.
Next steps are to install the electrical connections, attach the lights to the hydroponic kits, and start growing some seeds in humidity domes. We are held up slightly by the difficulty sourcing parts for the fresh air fans, but will just keep moving forward meanwhile.
Thanks again and stay tuned for the next great episode of Build, Learn, Grow, Earn!
One of my greatest challenges so far has been to get the Universal Robotics simulator up and running. Not using it, but just installing it. Having never used Linux before it was a challenge to even set it up, when used to automatic Windows installs. However an excellent PDF showing screenshots of the install can be found at the folllowing link and was a distinct improvement on the older instructions.
The trouble was due to my not having extracted the rar file (similar to zip but doesn't look like it, thus the confusion). Once this was done, it was pretty easy.
Now I need to learn to use it!
It was with great joy that our first hydroponic kits arrived yesterday. My daughter and I built them together and it was great to see how easy these were to build. I had my reservations about using kits, feeling that I should go for commercial custom made racks, but I can see how these are attractive for their ease of use. I will be able to concentrate on whether the lighting adapter is working, rather than fixing my garden! As you can see, I made building a family affair and much fun was had by all.
After so long stuck at a desk going through literature reviews, reading articles on vertical farming, interviewing agritechnology experts and brainstorming, the time is finally here to put the foot to the accelerator and get going with the practical part of our research.
The aim is to build a small indoor farm inside an insulated shipping container, using LED grow lights, temperature control and our special adapter on one of the growing racks. We'll be measuring growth, and wellbeing of the plants. Ideally all the nutrient feeds will be automatic but this will depend on how much money we can raise.
The hydroponic kits are ordered one to use with our adapter and one for control.
We need a mobile air conditioner to maintain temperature and humidity control, LED grow lights, nutrients, seeds, seed planters, sensors and electrical equipment. Ideally we would like to have automated nutrient control but that will depend on how much money we can raise!
And that's the second part of the journey, our fundraiser is now live https://www.pledgeme.co.nz/projects/6799-vertical-farming-a-collaborative-science-experimentwww.pledgeme.co.nz/projects/6799-vertical-farming-a-collaborative-science-experiment
I just have to hope that there are other people as keen as me to figure out a solution to reducing our water and land needs for food supply, and making it more local and accessible. Plus the added bonus of upskilling our youth on agritech, automation and robotics.