What to plant in the Suspended Garden

Plant Pods by UFO are idea for growing edible plants, in small vertical spaces. Regardles of what you plant, don’t water beyond the water fill line, which is 1″ (2.5 cm) from the bottom of the see-through pod.  If the Plant Pods are hanging in front of a window, you can grow edible plants that thrive in the sun , and don’t require vertical support. These include thyme, mint, green onion, basil, cilantro, chives, rosemary.

If Plant Pods are hanging in a shaded indoor area, you can grow edible plants in them, such as mint, parsley,  lettuce, spinach, aloe, chives, cilantro. Some of these plants grow well in both sunny and shaded areas.

Here’s a post on essential herbs you could plant in your home garden, which also works for a window garden made of Plant Pods.

Solid Rain, or potassium polyacrylate can also be added to the potting mix when starting a set of Plant Pods. This can reduce the watering frequency by half.

Plants that don’t overgrow or need vertical support work great in the Plant Pods. You can choose edible or air-purifying plants:

Air-purifying house plants are another option. All plants remove carbon dioxide during the day (some at night), and some remove formaldehyde, mold spores and other toxins. These include Areca Palm, Bamboo Palm, Spider Plant, Snake Plant, Peace Lily and Gerbera Daisy.

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Earthworm Pods

The Earthworm Pods by UFO differ from other earthworm equipment. They’re a hanging string of small devices. These are designed to properly moisten and aerate the earthworm environment. No bedding or cardboard is used. These hang inside the smalles of kitchens, even a boat cabin, and turn some of your food scraps into earthworm casts, a prime fertilizer. These 23 oz, modular pod mean you can ease into using earthworms in the home, and expand your string of pods gradually. It’s like owning a one fish mini aquarium, and stacking many of these instead of one large expensive aquarium.

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Electric Earthworm Separator

At UFO, my intern and I built and tested an electric earthworm separator. This is an electric appliance developed by UFO, but yet commercialized.

Fig. 1. Testing the electric separation of earthworms

The project was funded by a Carrot Cache grant and the experiment conducted at the Thing Tank lab. I designed the separator and selected the electric current level and type based on the design model I published in Biosystems EngineeringThe tests showed that the separator can drive 50% of the earthworm in a soil or organic medium, without harming them, by using low AC voltages (see Fig. 1).


Fig. 2. Prototype and designed version of the electric earthworm separator

 The electric earthworm separator is essentially an array of semi-cylindrical channels, with soil electrodes running parallel to the two opposite edges of the channel (see Fig. 2). Soil containing earthworms is poured over the array of channels, and the separator has a mechanism to discard excess soil so that soil is only found on the inside of the channels. An electric circuit is then turned on for 2 minutes, and earthworms exit the perforated channels filled with soil, onto a platform underneath the channels.  From there earthworm earthworm are simply collected, typically to be sold. Here is a video of the separator in action (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Video of earthworms exiting the soil under the effect of electric current

UFO’s industrial designer created a designed, digital model of the electric separator (Fig 2). After prototyping this idea, I actually realized that vibrations, from low-frequency radio-waves (like a loud speaker playing base) would be more pratical for driving earthworms out of the soil. This was a useful prototyping experience none-the-less. I hope to follow up soon with a sound-based method from driving earthworms out of the soil, or processed waste.

thanks for reading!


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Sources of earthworms for the Earthworm Pods

The Earthworm Pods, which differ from typical Earthworms devices, require 100 earthworms each. That’s the equivalent of 20 grams, and achieves the published optimal stocking density (150 earthworms per litre). 2 oz of earthworms equip 3 pods, and I think that this is the smallest quantity earthworm suppliers sell. Most sell worms by the lb or 1/2 lb. If you end up with excess worms, you can always place them in your garden, or try to resell them on craigslist. You’re welcome to include a link to earthworms for sale (and your location on the planet) in a comment below. Below is also a list of the suppliers I know of. Let me know in a comment if you know of others I should add. The smaller the quantities they sell, the better (but no fishing bait-prices please!).

List if earthworm suppliers:

Toronto: Cathy’s Crawlers

Massachusetts: Cape Cod Worm Farm

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What problem does UFO solve?

In simple terms: We eat food that comes from plants, and plants grow from fertilizer, which works really well when it’s made of garbage. So, instead of throwing away our polluting garbage, and spending boring hours buying food at the store, my business makes equipment that turns the garbage to fertilizer, then plants grown at home!

The problem: People’s income is limiting their healthy food intake. City residents also suffer from air and visual pollution among others. Visual pollution is due to the harsh urban landscape that lacks greenery. Air pollution is prevalent outdoors and indoors as well. Indoor air is not filtered enough, in urban nor in rural settings.

Cities also generate food waste that increases their ecological footprint, and their food security depends on food imports. In case of an increase in transport cost, transporting food waste to central processing facilities and importing food into cities will become problematic.

Waste has been recycled into fertilizer in the past, through time, labor, and odour-producing composting. Earthworm-based methods are an alternative, but this is done using under-designed, error-prone equipment. As to structures for growing plants anywhere, these fail to incorporate either recycled organic matter, energy-free self-watering, or appealing design.

The Solution:

All of these problems can remedied by processing food waste into fertilizer on site, and recycling that material into urban edible gardens. This solution includes odour-free and low-labor earthworm systems, and low-labor structures for growing plants fertilized with earthworm casts (waste processing by-product). Both the Earthworm System and plant pots are designed to have zero footprint inside a kitchen or office. These systems apply to gardens on a roof as well. The same effortless recycling of waste to fertilizer, to plant would increase living standards in villages and towns as well as in cities.
UFO produces this equipment that generates edible plants from waste, allowing people of all income levels to eat free healthy vegetables and fruits. It also diverts the food waste stream while doing so.


Competing products:
1. household energy-passive composters. These have side-effects that require them to be placed outdoors, and require manual aeration (by turning a crank).
2. Electric composters. These generate odour when collecting the material, and kiek energy-passive composters their product needs 2 months of curing before being safe to apply to plants. It’s curing that requires compost to take 2 to 3 months time.
3. Earthworm Bins that fit indoors. These require manual separation of earthworms from the finish material. They are designed to attract earthworm out of finished material, towards fresh waste bu their design fails to account for the fact that earthworms migrate too slowly, unless it’s mainly in response to moisture. They also under-supply earthworms with air, which leads to slow turn over rates, and accidental fermentation, odours and flies. In contrast, UFO’s earthworm system is well aerated, self watered and designed for earthworms to self-separate. It’s error proof, requires minimal labor when adding waste and retrieving finished product. It also comes in a wall or ceiling-suspended -suspended version that has no footprint.

UFO created the early models of a technology that will truly green cities, as in add actual green plants to its landscape, while recycling some of the city’s waste and making it more affordable for city and rural residents to eat well, regardless of income.

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The Earthworm System fits in a futuristic condo, or developing village

UFO’s Earthworm System turn waste to valuable fertilizer, and then edible plants. It fits in a futuristic condo, or developing village.

Ikea featured the kitchen of 2040, which will look like an indoor garden, recycle its own food waste and grown some of its own food. UFO, Inc. aims to equip such kitchens! The Clean garbage and its future versions will dry waste and keep it from smelling, the Clean organic fertilizer device will use indoor earthworm cells to turn the waste to fertilizer, and hanging indoor gardens will use the fertilizer to grow food. 

In Nairobi villages the Farm-in-a-sac technique was promoted by COOPI, the Italian NGO. The method successfully produced free food on site, but they concluded that to sustain their mini farms they need to recycle waste on site, into fertilizer. Compost needs 2 months of curing, and fresh compost is toxic to plants. Therefore compost mishandling could damage the farms-in-a-sac. Compost also needs to be supplemented with fertilizer to sustain plant growth. The product of the Earthworm System however, earthworm casts, does not need curing. It’s safe to use on plants when fresh, and it releases plant nutrients gradually and does not need to be supplemented with fertilizer. This is based on published science, summarized in an OMAFRA factsheet. This is why the Earthworm System would help developing villages better sustain themselves, and city kitchens produce free healthy food.

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in comment to a Nature News article on “Organic not being enough”

The comment is to a Time article

It’s interesting that the same mainstream that considered organic futile a few decades ago, now acknowledges that organic produce is more nutritious. It’s been a scientific fact, for a while, that NPK fertilizer promote structural carbohydrates in plants and creates plants deficient in micronutrients and protein (and flavor). The effect of organic fertilizer on nutrient content is described in http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J512v13n02_02 . As to the efficiency of organic farming, it’s not just a matter of land surface area. What’s relevant is how fertile that land is a few decades later. Synthetic fertilizer deplete biological activity and therefore fertilizty of the soil. Synthetic fertilizers are salts that kill soil microbes through osmotic drought. In an organic farm soil fertility is sustained over time, hence the world “sustainable”. Organic farms also use water more efficiently, because organic matter retains water more efficiently than sand, clay and loam (soil). Mader published a science paper in 2001 demonstrating the higher resource-efficiency of organic farming: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/296/5573/1694.abstract . As to what’s next, new technologies for organic farming are continuously emerging, and I tried summarizing them in this review: https://www.bioeng.ca/publications/meetings-papers?sobi2Task=sobi2Details&catid=21&sobi2Id=377

More on why only organic famring can feed the world: it does not degrade land while conventional agriculture does. According to a FAO report, 25% of agricultural land is degraded. More urgently, GMO’s (which are illegal in organic practices) were scientifically proven to cause cancer and other healthy issues related to endocrine disruption, in rats.

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Why grow local, and organic: famrers occupy Wallstreet

Dave Murphy: Video: Farmers March With Occupy Wall Street, Sowing the Seeds of Hope and Democracy.

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OMAFRA published a guide for urban farming, including a guide on vermicasting, by UFO’s founder

OMAFRA published a guide for urban farming, including a guide on Vermicasting, by UFO’s founder

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Why parsley (or wheat!), and how to sprout it

UFO is exhibiting its waste processing equipment at Nuit Blanche in Toronto (October 1st), along side a cricket chef. Yes crickets! They’re a sustainable way to produce proteins, locally (my apologies if you have a beloved cricket pet, and I agree there might yet be less emotionally taxing ways to eat).
This will be the Hart House exhibit, themed “sustainable food”. The exhibit will show a food to waste to food cycle. The restaurant will use UFO’s equipment to turn its food waste into an odorless fertilizer, used to grow plants (herbs) in-house. Hence the parsley! It is used to demonstrate the last part of the cycle.

Parsley seeds can take a month to germinate, unless pretreated. A published peer reviewed study showed that pre-treating seeds with a polyethylene glycol solution (302 g PEG “6000” per 1 kg distilled water) at 15°C for 3 weeks, the surface drying the seeds led to seeds germinating in 1 or 2 days.

Update, I ended up planting wheat because I ran out of time! Crickets eat wheat too, so that’s ok. The wheat seeds sprouted in 2 days. I pre-treated them by:
– submerging them in water in the fridge for a day
– draining them
– putting every 1/2 cup of these seeds in a sealed plastic bag on top of the fridge, to use the appliance’s wasted heat. This was for a day as well.

At the end of the second day most seeds had sprouted, and I placed them in pots. These were filled with a 1:1 soil to vermicast mix. In fact, I placed them in self-watering mini pots I created.

Nuit Blanche is in 2 days, and the wheat grass is already 10 cm tall, 3 days after planting them and 5 days after starting the pre-germination treatment. In my Nuit Blanche exhibit, the grass display will illustrate how vermicast cycles nutrients from waste back into plants.

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