What urban farming could look like in the future

Here’s a good listing of tech for vertical indoor gardens: http://www.hortidaily.com/article/5922/If-urban-farming-took-off,-what-would-Boston-look-like

of course, they will soon have to add UFO’s suspended indoor garden!

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a garden in your condo

How Plant Pods can be used to create an indoor vertical garden in the city, in this blogpost by the Canadian Association of Decorators.

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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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