Vertical Hydroponics Farm in Our Science Lab


#1

My students and I have been working on a vertical hydroponics farm in the back of our science classroom for several years. We monitor and automate our system using arduino and raspberry pi. We account for air temperature, humidity, water temperature, pH, light intensity, water volume usage, power consumption and use it to calculate the efficiency of our system. We are using a combination of a DWC tower and a wall mounted NFT/Drip hybrid that we have built from scratch.

Later this fall we will be comparing the efficiency of soil vs hydroponic growing using a FarmBot as our soil automation mechanism. We will integrate our own sensors and eventually design and 3D print our own tools for it.

We are currently engaged in a citizen science project where we collect the g/liter and g/kWh of yield in each of these growing systems. I would very much like to get involved in the PFC as we are very much engaged in a lot of what seems to be taking place in this forum. If anyone could give me some direction to bring our school and its students into the fold that would be much appreciated.


#2

I have a good deal of experience with FarmBot. From my experience it is useful for automatic watering but other than that is relatively limited. The UI to build “Sequences” is great though!

I am extremely interested to hear more about this - who are you reporting your data to?

It looks like you could integrate a Raspberry Pi to log data onto one of your systems relatively easily - that would probably be the best place to start. You might be interested in this project: $300 Food Computer - MVP it is the most affordable/approachable version of the PFC at this point in time.


#3

Hey Peter. We will be working with Princeton University. We already have a RPi logging data via the MyDevices Cayenne platform. I guess my biggest question as a NEWB to this forum is if “food computers” are simply self contained farming mechanisms or if there is a blueprint everyone is following to standardize the process of data collection. It is my goal to expose my students to as many avenues of good science as possible and would love to get them involved here.


#4

In their current form, yes.

Several “blueprints” have been put out (V1, V2, Foam Farm, MVP) but as of now, there is no standardization of data collection across these. That being said, we (members of the community) are making an attempt to begin doing this using the MVP hardware. We have put out a Data Model and are now working towards developing a UI with data entry capabilities as well as remote access: https://github.com/futureag/blog/wiki/Data_Model


#5

I really appreciate the time and effort that went into your documentation for the MVP. Love the price point and the build is very achievable. We have already made quite an investment into the vertical NFT and DWC tower. Our price for each system is roughly $1,000.

As I mentioned earlier, we have arduino/pi sensors taking data on just about any environmental variable you can think of. All data is able to be viewed remotely, stored in a .csv file and converted into graphical form. Certain actuators can also be controlled via phone app. The system sends SMS alerts or emails when thresholds are reached and human-corrective action is needed. Most tasks (fans, lighting, dosage pumps, top watering) have all been automated.

The focus of our project with Princeton is to have DWC systems that grow a variety of crops simultaneously. We are experimenting with lettuce, bok choi, strawberries, wheat, and various herbs. Each of the members of our research cohort will target a specific pH to see which species thrive. All of the other variables will be held as consistently as possible. Upon harvest, we would also like to look at the sustainability of this practice with respect to yield vs. energy, water consumption, and physical footprint of the growing space. We’d ultimately like to give students the data to compare the carbon footprint of growing your own produce hydroponically vs in soil vs buying it commercially out of season.

Participants will include students ranging from 12-18 years of age. In addition to the agricultural education, students will learn how to create the electrical circuits for data sensors, write the code necessary to run them, and use CAD software to design and 3D print or CNC enclosures and mounts.

If there is a place for us in this project, we are ready and excited to participate!


#6

Absolutely, I love that you have a solid understanding of what data you are trying to collect. I’m curious to hear how you are currently logging phenotypical traits.

Also interested in your approach to curriculum. Full disclosure: I have a startup who is developing curriculum for use with Food Computer kits. We hope to work with students to provide meaningful data for researchers - sounds like we might have a lot in common!


#7

Hey Peter,

Sorry for the delay as our school year is just getting up and running. As far a curriculum, I have just finished writing a complete NGSS 5e’s Unit Plan for hydroponics. I’ve got distinct plans and worksheets for K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. It begins with introducing the concept of alternative agriculture to the little ones, allowing them to compare it to traditional soil for upper elementary, comparing hydroponic systems in the middle school, and evaluating the efficiency and carbon footprint at the high school level. I know the NGSS standards inside and out as they apply to hydroponics and engineering at this point.

In full honesty, I was hired to write the curriculum for an international education group as part of a global project we are organizing. I am not sure I can simply hand it out as a result, but I am more than happy to lend what I know if you have specific questions.

Our phenotypical data involves fruit and edible vegetation yield in grams. We will eventually be employing

PhotosynQ

https://photosynq.org/

Additional Photosynthetic Data to Collect with This Device:

This equipment gives accurate measurement of photosynthetic electron transport rate. Electron transport rate is the production of chemical energy from the absorption of light by a leaf. Stress, damaged or growing leaves will give different values that could then be extrapolated to know the status of the plant and how productive they are in function of their environment

Please let me know if there is any knowledge or data me or my students can contribute to the overall project. It would be great to get groups of students from our schools involved in communicating with one another as we work on our respective projects.

Best,

Chris Regini

Raspberry Pi Certified Science Teacher

West Hollow Middle School

Half Hollow Hills CSD

Twitter: https://twitter.com/reginius214

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/reginius214/


#8

I would be interested to know how you are having students do this. From my experience, there is too much variability in source water, PH, and nutrient consumption based upon phases of growth to collect valuable data.

Is this done throughout the growth cycle, or only at harvest?

Are you collecting any data regarding leaf area, count, color, etc.

I have a very similar vision. Please elaborate on how we could do this: specifically for high-school. How are you calculating a carbon footprint metric?

I don’t know how I missed this project before, thanks for sharing, this is incredible. What are you planning to use it for specifically?


#9

Hi @cregini!

What a fantastic project! It’s always great to see innovative project-based learning in action.

Thanks for checking in on our work in education. The OpenAg team has been working around the clock on a new PFC specifically for education. We are really excited about the PFC_EDU as it is much easier to build than previous versions and it is also less expensive than earlier models. Accessibility of Food Computers has been an issue for us in the past, and we are hopeful this is the solution.

We are in the process of testing the PFC_EDU and are collaborating with i2 Learning and the Media Lab’s Learning Initiative to design a curriculum to be used with Food Computers in schools and informal educational institutions.

This fall we will be running a pilot, in which educators around Boston will be using the new curriculum to build and grow in Food Computers as part of i2’s STEM Month program - Building a Lunar Colony. We will be observing the PFC_EDU in action and getting feedback from educators and students on their experience with the PFC_EDU and its associated curriculum.

As always, we will keep these resources open source and will be posting all build documentation and curricula sometime around mid-October. Please keep an eye out for the release and let us know how the vertical hydroponics farm is working out!

@OpenAg