Twycross Zoo’s elephants were treated to a futuristic free lunch this week courtesy of an innovative new vertical farming project which plans to help revolutionise food production in the UK, and any part of the world that struggles to grow enough food locally because of a lack of space or hostile environment.
Project ‘Urban Grow’ resulted in a crop of 2,000 lettuces being grown from seed to full size in just over half the time it usually takes to grow a lettuce using traditional methods. The company and hydroponics experts behind the project, HydroGarden, based in Coventry, has created a fully-controllable modular environmental system which uses mobile racks fitted with inclined gully trays through which a water and nutrient solution is circulated.
Project ‘Urban Grow’ was launched at the Vertical Farming and Urban Agriculture (VFUA) Conference in September at the University of Nottingham, and hopes to set a new industry standard for vertical farming, especially since the Government announced its commitment to support British farmers by increasing its own spend on locally-sourced food to £400 million by 2017.
The vertical racks are on tracks and can be moved together to save space and maximise production, as well as enable harvesting to take place, either automated or by hand. The ‘Urban Grow’ room is fully insulated for temperature control as well as ventilation, and the whole system can be monitored and controlled remotely via smart phone, tablet or PC. Optimum lighting conditions for crop growth are achieved via Valoya LED lights. The system can be adapted to suit most salad crops and HydroGarden is in discussion with several food producers regarding the creation of bespoke systems.
Not only was speed of growth of the lettuces significantly increased, but their nutritional content is expected to being considerably improved. Complete analysis is currently being carried out to give a detailed comparison.
Over 1800 lettuces were donated to Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire for its group of Asian elephants which reside at its popular Elephant Creek attraction.
Julian Chapman, Team Leader of Large Mammals at the zoo comments: “It’s great to get such an influx of lettuces donated to the zoo as our elephants do eat substantial amounts of food every day. We always ensure our animals receive a varied diet and lettuces are a firm favourite.
“When I visited HydroGarden to see the project in action I was very impressed. It’s great to see how far hydroponics has come and we’re looking forward to keeping in touch about future projects. It’s even better when our animals get treats as a result!”
Stephen Fry, commercial hydroponics specialist for HydroGarden, spoke about the work that has taken place to refine the system and grow this first crop: “We’ve been developing and fine-tuning this project for nearly two years and are confident that it is a reliable, accurate and easy to use, even though it’s highly advanced in terms of the technology it uses. This will ensure that it can successfully translate to areas where space is at a premium or where climate and soil conditions make traditional farming methods problematic or inefficient.
“We know how important the future of vertical farming is, to be able to use otherwise unused spaces and have the option to grow crops in urban environments will be an essential part of the UK and international farming industry in the future.
“We are continuing to run extensive trials on different processes to see where we can take it next, and believe that the continuing rapid advances in technology mean that the possibilities will be endless.”
Check out this video of HydroGarden's lettuces growing in just 28 days!