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Future of Vertical Hydroponics

Posted Jul 20 2012 6:00am

If there’s one thing humans do better than any other animal on this planet, it’s take up space. Since dawn of the agricultural revolution, man has been fueled by an endless quest to grow, expand, and conquer every horizon that dares get in his way. With this spirit it could be suggested that vertical hydroponics are just another evolution of the same idea, tackling the problems of land scarcity the same way John D. Rockefeller did with New York’s overpopulation in the 1900′s.

vertical hydroponic gardening

Vertical hydroponics system

While Rockefeller was busy forging the castles of tomorrow with brick and steel, most farmers were still shackled to the previous century by rusted equipment. Many were forced to plow miles of fruitless fields with rented mules on their last legs. Of course, we’ve all but eliminated the need for pack mules by this millennium, replacing them with high-octane, GPS-controlled wheat threshers with scythes as wide as a football field. Instead of planting our seeds in the ground like before, we have found a way to combine two favorite pastimes; playing Jenga and stuffing our face. Vertical hydroponics may hold the key to saving the rapidly dwindling food supply, or at least give us some extra, home-grown food.

Taking a cue from Rockefeller’s skyscrapers, the hydroponic system is raised off the ground and separated from the earth below. Each pod in a vertical setup has a certain number of plants varying dependent on the crop. Once several pods are stacked together they form their own mini ecosystem, complete with a recycled stream of nutrients and water that everyone on the line shares. Because plants in vertical hydroponics tend to stagger up instead of out, it’s now possible to harvest an acre’s worth of food off a plot  occupying a mere quarter of the space. Think of it as an apartment building for produce, with rows stacked 12-high trying to squeeze the biggest possible yield out of the smallest backyard.

On average, green thumbs who used vertical growers were able to plant 5-10 times more seeds than those who didn’t, and suffered from less pests/diseases throughout the grow cycle. They used less water, wasted fewer nutrients, and despite all signs to the contrary, still managed to produce larger fruits than traditional methods in side-by-side comparisons.

If what I’ve just described sounds like the end of world hunger, unfortunately the limited menu of what can actually grow in these cucumber condos will prevent them from picking up the Nobel Prize anytime soon. Harvests are restricted to shallow-growing plants and vegetables, most of which need to be able to share a diet with the others just to survive the process. If you’re a middle-class homeowner who wants to put a few extra tomatoes on the table every summer, vertical gardening is a great investment for your pocketbook and your family’s health. But if you’re someone, like me, who was expecting it to take the next big step towards a much-needed revolution in agriculture, keep on searching because we definitely aren’t going to find it hanging off a 15-foot tower of chili peppers and squash.

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