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Singapore Builds First Vertical Vegetable Farm 141

Posted by samzenpus
from the growing-on-up dept.
kkleiner writes "Short on arable land? One solution would be to plan up. Singapore, a small country that imports most of its food, has now begun selling vegetables from its first vertical farm. And even while they're more expensive the vegetables are already selling faster than they can be grown. If the farms prove sustainable – both technologically and economically – they could provide a much desired supplement to Singapore's locally grown food and serve as a model for farming in other land-challenged areas."
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Singapore Builds First Vertical Vegetable Farm

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  • suggestion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:14PM (#41887047)

    Singapore Builds _Its_ First Vertical Vegetable Farm

    • yes the hanging gardens of Babylon is 2500 years older than Singapore's.

      • When I was in the States back in the 1980's I got to know some friends - refugees from Cambodia - and they were growing their veges in vertical farms, on very tiny plots of land - not more than 200 square feet - in the backyard of houses in urban center.
         
        The Cambodian vertical farms are different from the one featured in TFA - the Cambodian version consist of different kinds of veges growing on "towers" made of bamboo.
         

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If the picture in Singapore news is indicative of the farm it's wasting a huge amount of space. Stick solar cells on it, get some high quality LEDs in the right frequency spectrum. Pack those trays as close as possible and still be able to do automated inspection and if needed maintenance and I'd be surprised if they could not make one acre do the work of 300. It would take compartmentalization so disease would not travel, incoming water would be a torrent that would need processed and filtered, incoming nu

      • by shaitand (626655)

        LED's give a high electrical efficiency but they aren't cost efficient even with the electrical savings and the LED's last forever thing is a myth especially given the larger number of elements to fail. You could achieve a better result with a mix of cool and warm fluorescent lights or daylight spectrum fluorescent. Really anything but those crappy 'grow light' fluorescent.

        • by Khyber (864651)

          "LED's give a high electrical efficiency but they aren't cost efficient even with the electrical savings"

          Absolute nonsense. Several times I've had LED payback in terms of months, not years, over several intense-light required crops.

          "he LED's last forever thing is a myth especially given the larger number of elements to fail."

          I'm holding a Nichia LED right now. Just the bare LED on a tiny square thermal board. I smashed it face-first with a hammer, exposed the substrate and surface topology... [imgur.com]

          As you can see, [imgur.com]

          • by shaitand (626655)

            Every time there is an LED discussion I express my as yet unchanged opinion that LED's are not cost effective and you champion them. Rather than debating the issue again, lets collaborate. I'm willing to commit a reasonable amount of time, money, and resources to being proven wrong.

            As you've indicated in another of my posts on custom lights you are building custom panels with superior output and, more importantly for LED lifetime, superior cooling. Typical off-the-shelf LED units are rated at about 50,000hr

            • by Khyber (864651)

              "Every time there is an LED discussion I express my as yet unchanged opinion that LED's are not cost effective and you champion them"

              That's because I'm globally known for my expertise. Are you, sir?

              "Typical off-the-shelf LED units are rated at about 50,000hrs which is comparable to HID"

              HID, including Low-Pressure Sodium, has a 'usable' lifespan of 30,000 hrs. 50,000 is 40% longer, on average, and some of my units have run that long and longer without fail. That may have something to do with not having to po

              • by shaitand (626655)

                "That's because I'm globally known for my expertise. Are you, sir?"

                On lighting? No. My expertise comes from sourcing information from such sources and from field experience. I work on a part-time basis consulting for medical marijuana dispensaries and individual medical patients producing their own medicine. I am not relying on an appeal to my authority but merely sharing what I've seen in the field. The great thing about debates is that you always win. If you win you've shared information. If you lose you'

                • by Khyber (864651)

                  "I work on a part-time basis consulting for medical marijuana dispensaries and individual medical patients producing their own medicine."

                  If you are using lumens per watt, I must say you're fucking up.

                  Us real biologists use UMOL/M-2/S-1/wavelength/watt.

                  • by Khyber (864651)

                    To add, try beating my 49% THC content for Super Hindu Skunk. Not happening without LED. Even the famed Elephant bud fell before LED.

  • by Spad (470073) <slashdot AT spad DOT co DOT uk> on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:16PM (#41887071) Homepage

    Always reminds me of Brass Eye's Science episode [youtube.com]

  • Drinking water (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:16PM (#41887073) Homepage Journal

    And if they can find a good, cheap way to desalinate sea water they could almost declare themselves functionally independant from Malaysia.

  • It's finally looking a bit more like real life!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    http://www.ted.com/talks/stephen_ritz_a_teacher_growing_green_in_the_south_bronx.html

  • Sunlight is finite (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hentes (2461350) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:23PM (#41887139)

    No matter how you align your farms, there's a finite amount of sunlight that you can't get more of. This method can increase yields, but only up to a point.

    • by LunaticTippy (872397) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:27PM (#41887191)
      One cool thing about vertical farming is the fact that we already have lots of vertical surfaces that are just wasting that sunlight. We can convert existing vertical surfaces to create food with unused sunlight.
    • by arcite (661011) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:29PM (#41887211)
      LED technology can replace the sun.
      • by khallow (566160) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @02:41AM (#41890833)
        And I think it's been noted that solar cells plus LEDs are a bit more efficient than raw sunlight for plants (I understand plant photosynthesis can't use the IR, a narrow green band, and UV portions of sunlight).
        • by Khyber (864651)

          "I understand plant photosynthesis can't use the IR, a narrow green band, and UV portions of sunlight"

          This is incorrect. IR has its uses in triggering flowering hormones plus day/night cycles, plus it has an additional photosynthetic effect. Green is used - its quantum yield is higher than blue or red, but ONLY when the photon flux density gets roughly over ~400 umol (which most vegetative/non-fruiting crops do well within 150-300 umol) and UV has photosynthetic and carotenoid reactions - and for those grow

          • by khallow (566160)
            Well, I googled around since I originally posted that. And I still stand by what I said. I don't buy most of the assertions above aside from the possibility that IR might have an effect on flower hormones.
    • Of course a lot of housing in Singapore would be happy with a bit of shade.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      there's a finite amount of sunlight that you can't get more of.

      There's a narrow absorption spectrum of chlorophyll A and B (P680,P700). Sunlight is mostly wasted on plants. Converting sunlight into electricity (full spectrum), and that into just 680nm and 700nm would allow more plants to be grown from a set amount of sunlight. It costs more, and the technology to get the most out of it is relatively new. However, that's not what Singapore is doing anyway.

      • by Adriax (746043) on Monday November 05, 2012 @11:40PM (#41890033)

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grow_light#LED [wikipedia.org]
        ~450nm (blue) promotes vegetative growth.
        660-680nm (deep red) promotes flowering and fruiting.

        Rather tempted to experiment with led christmas light strands if they have any leftover at walmart this year. Make a cheap grid light out of them and see how plants do.

        • by dadioflex (854298)
          Christmas lights tend to be cheap and nasty, ie inefficient, and don't do much but glow. Unless you're planning on organizing trash bags full of them, a few compact fluorescent lights will be a better bet. I've grown chili peppers and herbs in rooms devoid of sunlight with great results. I prefer to use the "natural light" bulbs but as has been discussed, blue spectrum for growth, red spectrum for flowering - though this is really only important when you have a greenhouse full of pot and you're using sodium
      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        Considering solar cell efficiency is not that great, commercial panels do around 20% only, plus the losses in converting this electricity back into light using those LEDs, not too much gain is to be made that way. And it's pretty expensive.

      • by Khyber (864651)

        "There's a narrow absorption spectrum of chlorophyll A and B (P680,P700). Sunlight is mostly wasted on plants."

        Whomever modded this up is wrong wrong wrong just like the poster.

        In fact, green light over ~400-450 umol is more efficient in terms of quantum yield.

        Almost all wavelength ranges have some effect on plant physiology and development, this includes UV and IR and green.

        Source: I am a horticultural researcher for a global company. Specifically, I design and test their wavelength-and-crop-specific light

  • by kwerle (39371) <kurt@CircleW.org> on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:26PM (#41887171) Homepage Journal

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vertical_farming [wikipedia.org]
    Specifically:
    "The Armenian tower hydroponicums are the first built examples of a vertical farm, and is documented in Sholto Douglas' seminal text "Hydroponics: The Bengal System" first published in 1951.[5] Contemporary notions of vertical farming are predated by this early technology by more than 50 years. link"

    So it's off of "THE first" by about half a century.

  • by vlm (69642)

    Its a very elaborate grow house. I hope they consulted with the experts in the field, the weed growers. Its always funny watching people in the field pretend those black sheep don't exist, tip toe around the whole topic, but everyone knows the black sheep are the ones keeping the hydroponic stores alive so the hippies can pretend the tomato growers are the only farmers doing work in the field.
    Disclaimer, I grow basil, oregano (really) and mint at my house for cooking. Basil butter on toast... mmmm. I re

    • by Tsingi (870990)

      I grow herbs in my living room window.

      Rosemary, basil, chives, oregano, sage, thyme. They are very happy there in a nice looking scaffold sitting in front of the window.

      I may grow vegetables in the future, I'll practice on herbs in the mean time.

      • by peragrin (659227)

        some veggie's are funny grown indoors. tomato's for instance do like a bit of variation in their sun, temperature ranges to get really good ones.

        however my brother in law by accident is growing some awesome spicy pepper plants in his dining room.

        mixed with basil sage and thyme it works well.

        • by Tsingi (870990)

          however my brother in law by accident is growing some awesome spicy pepper plants in his dining room.

          Thanks. I will definitely try that. I have a buddy who has some nice zippy pepper plants, I'm sure I could get something to start with. Yeah, that would be a very nice addition.
          My mother shows up once a year with a bushel of awesome tomatoes from a friends farm and I can them. I'd probably try cherry tomatoes in the window, but I hear you.

          • by jc42 (318812)

            If you like hot peppers, they're an excellent crop for anyone with a sunny window. Some of the tastiest are sold as "decorative" peppers. This term doesn't mean that they're not worth eating; it comes from the fact that peppers like full sun, but many good hot peppers are from small plants that get shaded out in a garden by other, bigger plants. So you grow them in pots that can be put on any sunny level spot, like a porch or patio or window sill. When they get covered with flowers plus green, white, o

          • by TheLink (130905)

            See also: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/brainwaves/2012/09/10/the-science-of-pomato-plants-and-fruit-salad-trees/ [scientificamerican.com]
            http://www.fruitsaladtrees.com/ [fruitsaladtrees.com]
            In theory you might be able to do tomato+ chilli + potato + other stuff in the same family. Not sure if they'd taste good though ;).

            • by Khyber (864651)

              They taste fine. I've done a grafting of potato rootstock + Medusa peppers. Potatoes weren't spicy, peppers weren't starchy and properly spicy (though it looked really strange having a part potato vine loaded with clusters of peppers.)

        • by GNious (953874)

          however my brother in law by accident

          How did that happen??

    • by Khyber (864651)

      "I hope they consulted with the experts in the field, the weed growers."

      Those aren't experts. Expert botanists use photon flux density as their measurement, not lumens. Any electrician will tell you how bullshit the term "grams per watt" is when used how the weed growers use it. Any photobiologist will know that going past ~3,000 umol (50% more photon flux than the sun puts out per meter at sea level mid-summer at noon) is a BAD idea for most plants, including cannabis (yet idiot growers want those white, p

  • by sugapablo (600023) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:43PM (#41887369) Homepage
    http://www.growingpower.org/ [growingpower.org]
  • by Camel Pilot (78781) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:43PM (#41887381) Homepage Journal

    From the article "Just 60W of power – just enough for a lightbulb – is needed to operate one tower per day."

    Why is do journalist always mix-up the notions of instantaneous power and quantity of energy?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      because they are dumb?

    • by Dekker3D (989692)

      Nah, you're just misinterpreting the units. 60 joules per second per tower per day. Do we know anything else that has time in there twice? Yep, acceleration. For each day that happens, they can power another tower with the same 60 watts.

      They are illegally copying power!

    • by fm6 (162816)

      Watt?

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Another question: why are those journalists still using obsolete and wasteful lighting technology? Modern bulbs give plenty of light on just 8-12W each.

      • by TeknoHog (164938)
        It's probably one of the established but obsolete symbols, like the floppy disk for saving files. For example, I've never experienced a LED light up over my head whenever I get a brilliant idea.
  • This guy has been at it for a while http://www.omegagarden.com/index.php?content_id=1500 [omegagarden.com] I know people who grew cannabis in these and other rotation gardens although getting good yields out of these depends on the strains. Usually Nebula, Cherry and Diesel do pretty good. The "Kush" strains are way to finicky and a pain to get going but doable.

    They don't state if they use a NFT/Aero system or Rockwool/Flood and Drain. Also I wonder what their pesticide usage is like?

    • by Khyber (864651)

      It's rockwool NFT.

      If you have a good room with barriers, not much pest control.

      That's not vertical farming, though. That's rotary. Vertical implies large stacks of trays or channels. Most weed growers use 'vertical' for the vertically-oriented NFT systems, but that's not true vertical.

  • economic feasibility (Score:5, Interesting)

    by prisma (1038806) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:28PM (#41887833)

    They may not be the first in the world to do this but any new competition should be welcome as being another team and another chance at finding techniques to improve cost effectiveness.

    My first thought after seeing the headline and thinking "That's cool!" was whether or not they could stay in business and what kind of future this setup could have elsewhere. It's probably a concept very much like fuel prices: When prices rise high enough to support more expensive production methods, these fancier methods will have a better chance of gaining traction and staying in business.

    The Singapore government should consider what value they put on food security for their population. If they value it highly enough, then perhaps a subsidy for the company to help them expand would be justifiable.

  • by Traiano (1044954) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:42PM (#41887987)
    The value and challenges of hydroponic farming might not be obvious to those of you in the west (I live in Singapore).

    First, the local vegetable market is dominated by Malaysian and Chinese imports. Both of these countries have questionable laws limiting the use of pesticides and fertilizers. I have no doubt that their products are grown unsustainably. Most people wash Chinese vegetables with soap for fear of the chemicals that may remain on them.

    Those imported vegetables are incredibly cheap locally. Its possible to get all the food you need for a stir fry for a small family (with meat) at a local wet market for just a few dollars. But, as I said above, the safety of that food is dubious. Singaporeans are now rich enough (average income second only to Japan in Asia) to expect a better quality of food.

    The one vegetable that we simply cannot get in quality is the tomato. Most are flown here under ripe so they do not crush in transit. Of course the carbon footprint of those tomatoes must be massive. The higher quality ones come from Japan, but apparently were shipped frozen. Tomatoes are mushy, mealy, and never taste like a proper tomato picked in southern Europe's late summer. Sky green's web page [appsfly.com] shows they are only tackling non-flowering vegetables (greens). This is probably because they are not able to farm the bees needed for tomato pollination. I've never seen a bee in Singapore and don't know what the concerns are of raising honey bees on the island.

    Just a few thoughts from an American in Singapore...
    • The one vegetable that we simply cannot get in quality is the tomato

      Thats interesting. I have seen tomato plantations in the Cameron highlands, but given the small land area there I assume the price they get must be high.

    • by fm6 (162816)

      According to this web page [pollinator.com], greenhouse tomatoes are pollinated either by hand or using cultured (not wild) bumblebees. I suspect that Sky Green is simply starting out with crops that are easy to grow

    • by shaitand (626655)

      "Both of these countries have questionable laws limiting the use of pesticides and fertilizers. I have no doubt that their products are grown unsustainably."

      Does it really matter? I mean I know it is trendy to do the organic green thing but it literally makes no difference for anything with a rind, peel, or substantial skin and for the rest... there really weren't any restrictions here in the states a decade or two back either. It isn't like they are going to use anything that isn't being used elsewhere and

      • by Khyber (864651)

        "You aren't going to get one through hydroponic farming. Hydroponic tomatoes look beautiful and big but they are dense and flavorless."

        That would be the cultivar chosen for mechanical picking and shipment, plus a combination of poor nutrient choice. Get an heirloom cultivar and you will notice a world of difference in taste, using the same nutrients. Using more diverse stuff like SEA-90 (supplementing for the nitrogen and potassium [I think, don't have that chart handy right this second]) will show even bet

    • by olau (314197)

      If you are really concerned about the quality of your food, I don't understand how you can be intrigued by hydroponics where the plants aren't grown in their natural habitat, i.e. soil. Are you really sure your crop will contain all the interesting ingredients from the mixture added to the solution by the grower?

    • by Khyber (864651)

      "This is probably because they are not able to farm the bees needed for tomato pollination."

      Most tomatoes commercially produced are self-pollinating and have been for well over 50 years.

  • by Michael Woodhams (112247) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:46PM (#41888033) Journal

    So each tray gets its time in the sun while going up the tower, and in the shade going down (or vice versa). It seems this would work well only if the plants you are growing are happy getting half the sunlight available at your location. I'm sure you could get a similar effect in horizontal format with little difficulty.

    If you can get friction low enough, you might be able to make the whole thing run simply by watering the plants at the top of the down part of the cycle, so the weight differential makes it go.

    Scientific American had an article on vertical farms some time back (paywalled here [scientificamerican.com].) As I recall, they had a much more energy intensive design (growing lights etc.) My objection was that for anything like that you could make work in a sky scraper, you could much more cheaply put the same technology out in rural areas.

    The Singapore plan only works if there are areas you're happy to cast into shade (and block views from) with these towers. They can't be close together, or they'll be in each other's shade.

    Incidentally, Singapore's climate has remarkably little annual variation [wikipedia.org]. The hottest month has average high temperature of 31.7C, the coldest month has average high temperature of 30.0C. Rain is more variable, but still by less than a factor of two through the year. (This is not from personal experience.) If anyone knows of somewhere with less weather variability, I'd be interested to hear of it.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      The Singapore plan only works if there are areas you're happy to cast into shade (and block views from) with these towers. They can't be close together, or they'll be in each other's shade.

      Singapore is almost right at the equator, so if you have a row (or wall) of these towers in north-south orientation then they should not cast much shadows onto one another. And besides most of the sun they catch is the first half of the morning and the second half of the afternoon, as the rest of the day the sun is so high up that you basically don't have sunlight hitting the sides of your towers.

    • My objection was that for anything like that you could make work in a sky scraper, you could much more cheaply put the same technology out in rural areas.

      What rural areas of Singapore are you talking about - the ones that are Malaysia or Indonesia?

      As for blocking views, the Singapore skyline already has loads of high rise buildings, so blocking views is hardly a concern. Especially since it is a tiny island nation with a population density that almost rivals New York City.

      To a certain extent, it'd probably

    • by Khyber (864651)

      "They can't be close together, or they'll be in each other's shade."

      That problem got solved long ago. Rotating floors. Allows for much more even sunlight dispersion across the entire crop.

  • They should probably go with a more efficient design that uses torches instead of relying on sunlight. It may require a fair amount of cobblestone (or stone if you're feeling fancy) but it is much easier to harvest than their design.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2DaL3kHRZA [youtube.com]
  • the vegetables are already selling faster than they can be grown

    So people are buying vegetables that haven't even been grown yet?

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