Since my last post I have been working on building my own DIY WindowFarm for my apartment. To begin, I committed to this project being very DIY, test lab. While beauty is important and I want it to be presentable (since it is located in my living room and kitchen), I also knew this was my version 1.0 build — the first steps from theoretical urban agriculturalist to urban farmer. Future expansions and versions will focus more on beauty and greater efficiency, for now it was take what I know and get my hands dirty (sometimes quite literally).
I started with the four column design from WindowFarms and besides using comments from their opensource blog to make small design changes, I added a composting component to convert food and other compostable waste to soil to be used for a seed starting component.
Using old coffee containers, I began by building and filling a 1/58,080 acre vermiculture tower in my kitchen. Vermiculture, which uses red worms to more quickly break down compost, is actually an easy process to manage and keep odor free in my apartment (Growing Power). Within the containers is food waste, torn up newspaper, and a couple thousand red worms.
Holes have been drilled into each container to allow the system to stay moderately dry and prevent fruit flys. Also stacking the containers allows any liquids to flow downward and eventually into a base pan, further keeping the whole system moderately dry. Using separate cells will allow them to be filled in a progressive pattern, so by the time the third one is full, the first is ready for me to harvest the soil.
Once enough soil was procured from my compost, I reused old yogurt cups to start seeds. Between my first few cups I’ve started seeds for heirloom black cherry tomatoes, kale, and alpine strawberries. Using a heat mat that raises air temperature above it approximately ten degrees, the cups have been placed in an aluminum pan and covered to hold in heat and moisture. This should help to reduce propagation time. I have also placed a sheet of scrap rigid insulation below the heat pad to direct more of the heat up and protect the table surface.
Finally, in the window I have installed three of the four planned columns for the WindowFarm. I am waiting to assemble the fourth in case I want to test any design changes with it.
Using old soda bottles I have cut holes for the plants to grow out of and filled the base of each with clay pebbles as found in typical hydroponic systems. An air pump pushes water from the base container to the top level, allowing the water to drip down each column (see video below)
In the next week I will wire up the lighting system that will work with this system to extend daily growing hours. Then as plants sprout and get large enough I will replant them in the columns and set the system on timers for the light and pump.
Why do this?
For starters, it sounded like a fun project and I like the idea of converting waste to fresh produce in my apartment. In architecture school my favorite projects were the hands on design builds where I ended up with physical installations (many of which can still be found, serving other purposes, around my apartment). In the long run, I would like to design a marketable system for apartments that produces a decent amount of produce while being beautiful and affordable (A more realistic application of the Phillips Food Design Probe that I previously shared). At some point I will add a hydroponics layer with fish, a soil bed for root veggies, and will improve the efficiency of my system to ramp up production, however that will be saved for future builds and versions.
In my next post I am planning to zoom back out to the urban scale to look at historical Utopian city designs to compare with the proposals of recent private company start-ups with visions of the colonization of the Moon and Mars. I find some of their goals and designs fascinating and they can be utilized in thinking about how our cities here on earth will change in the future as well.