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“Cnoi cil” gyda #TechTyfu “Food for thought” – Supporting Pupil Success with Vertical

Research has long shown the positive effect of school gardening programmes on pupils, and vertical farming has the potential to make it even easier to cultivate and grow plants in a classroom. https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/syllabi/435/Articles/Klemmer.pdf

Vertical farming can teach pupils the basics of food production as well as developing Curriculum aspects within areas of learning and experience (AoLE) such as science and technology, mathematics and numeracy, languages, literacy and communication and health and wellbeing. It also has the added bonus that it can provide pupils with a supply of fresh microgreens, strawberries, lettuce or herbs every week!

Vertical Farming provides and excellent opportunity to support the four purposes of the new curriculum for Wales:
• Ambitious, capable learners who are ready to learn throughout their lives.

• Enterprising, creative contributors who are ready to play a full part in life and work.

• Ethical, informed citizens who are ready to be citizens of Wales and the world.

• Healthy, confident individuals who are ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

6 reasons vertical farms score an A*

1. Engage pupils with hands on, project-based learning experiences, which are in line with the four purposes of the curriculum.

2. Grow with ease in a classroom, with a lower likelihood of crop diseases, due to growing hydroponically rather than using soil.

3. Promote healthy eating by growing and highlighting the benefits of various crops.

4. Grow indoor all year round rather than during the summer term.

5. Focus on sustainability and energy efficiency of vertical farming and raise pupil awareness of cutting-edge scientific technology.

6. Study marketing and economic trends by establishing routes to market and selling produce grown.

The Tech Tyfu Twf project is pioneering the use of vertical farming systems in schools, and project staff can provide support and materials to support the new curriculum for Wales.

Further information about Tech Tyfu Twf, which inludes a lesson pack for Progression Step 3 in Primary schools, can be found via this link:
https://techtyfu.com/tech-tyfu-twf/

Further information about the Tech Tyfu project can be found on https://techtyfu.com.

Growing Medium

“Cnoi cil” gyda #TechTyfu “Food for thought” Growing medium

 

To maximise the performance of Vertical Farming systems based on hydroponics, it is important to make efficient use of space and resources, such as water, nutrients and growing media.
For example, the growing medium needs to offer space for the roots to grow and can affect the water-economy of the plant and its ability to utilize nutrients.

It’s therefore important to consider which growing medium offers the best performance technically and economically for your system and the crops you plan to grow.

 

Questions to consider includes:
• Which growing medium provides the best results for various crops?
• What are the options available on the market with reasonable delivery costs?
• What are the growing medium costs per kilogram of produced crop?
• Can the growing medium be recycled?
• How much does the fertilizing need to be adjusted in different growing medium?

 

Tech Tyfu have been working with two Vertical Farming systems since early 2020 – a “flood and drain” system and a “nutrient film technique” (NFT) system.

 

Considering the texture of the growing medium as well as their ability to retain water and nutrients has been a key part of managing both systems. Here is some first-hand information on how different media performed, which will hopefully be a starting point for growers when it comes to choosing the best growing medium.

 

“Flood and Drain” System

The “flood and drain” systems were used to grow various microgreens such as pea shoots, wheatgrass, micro leek and radish. We learned that microgreens that are typically harvested between day 7 and day 16 do not need any nutrients added to the water. Nature has already taken care of the nutrient requirements of young seedlings by provisioning it in the seed store. There is also doubt whether young seedlings can absorb any nutrients from water in their infancy.

The best growing medium results we obtained in 2020 for microgreens was the Growfelt Wool matting by a company called Growfelt. Growers found this to have good water absorption and retention, with a good germination rate and lower bacterial growth. A cheaper alternative, Growfelt Purple also performed well, but was outperformed by the Growefelt Wool when it came to water absorption and retention. Growfelt provide a 1m x 10m sample for £25.00. (Based on 2020 figures.) https://growfelt.com/growing-media/

 

Despite being made from 100% hemp and being free of any additives and fully compostable, the German Hemp matting by Schneiderfilz did not perform as well when it came to germinating. It seemed to accommodate bacterial growth more than other materials we used. We also found that individual fibres were prone to separating from the matting causing clogging issues in the systems draining pipes. This could create further issues for the pump later on if we’d left it for longer.

https://www.schneiderfilz.de/en/products/natural-fibers.html

An European Innovation Partnership scoping study, titled ‘Consideration for the application of Vertical Farming’ by Dr Williams Stiles (2020) of IBERS, Aberystwyth University (see https://businesswales.gov.wales/farmingconnect/business/european-innovation-partnership-eip-wales ), highlighted coconut coir as an excellent growing medium, as well as rock wool.

“In an experiment undertaken by Khander & Kotzen (2018), chicory (Cichorium intybus) and basil (Ocimum basilicum) were used as model organisms to test the relative differences between a range of substrate types. For both the basil and chicory plants, coconut fibre was shown to perform best, and rock wool was shown to be second best. However, some additional challenges were reported for both substrates, including the blocking of irrigation systems by the coconut fibre material and the lack of recyclability of rock wool, reducing sustainability.”

As with hemp, coconut fibre is considered a viable choice for minimising waste from a growing system. It cannot be produced in Wales nor even in Europe as far as we’re aware, which does unfortunately raise questions about the impact of transporting it long distances. Coconut Coir has excellent water retention and possesses good aeration properties, which leads to stronger roots and good overall health because of its neutral pH level. This sterile grow medium is bacteria free which will prevent plants from developing diseases, pest infestations, or fungus growth.

Image 2 – Growfelt Purple used as a medium for growing micro leeks
Image 3 -Pea shoots growing on Growfelt Wool matting
Image 4 – Micro radish on hemp matting

 

In 2020, a Tech Tyfu pioneer grower successfully cultivated multiple harvests of watercress in a “flood and drain” system. The crop needed more depth to accommodate greater root space and better drainage and was grown in shallow baskets of clay balls. James Hooton at Hooton’s Homegrown successfully grew ‘Anglesey Watercress’ in his vertical farm using this growing medium.

Crops that will need a number of weeks or months to grow generally perform better in such medium, with matting suitable for short term crops that are ready in days or 2-3 weeks.

 

Nutrient Film Technique System (NFT) – Salad leaves and strawberries

In the NFT units, Tech Tyfu pioneer growers have used rockwool grow cubes or plugs. Rockwool holds water and air which encourages fast rooting and growth. Rockwool is finely spun and can be provided with a hole in the top of the cubes, which is ideal for starting off seeds or rooting cuttings.

Strawberries and salad leaves were grown successfully in the NFT system using rockwool plugs, available from suppliers such as Hydrogarden (www.hydrogarden.com) and GroWell (www.growell.co.uk)

Grodan is the leading brand for rockwool based growing medium. See www.grodan.com

 

One of the highlights in 2020 for Tech Tyfu was the trial conducted by Glynllifon College using raw wool plugs in their NFT system.

The team at Glynllifon cleaned and carded the fleece before inserting the grow plugs in small holding baskets in the NFT growing channels. The initial results were very promising, with the wool providing good water retention and aeration for plant growth. The photograph shows a young strawberry rootstock growing in a NFT system and supported by the wool plug. Could this be an innovative and much needed new application for local wool?

 

 

 

REFERENCE:
Khandaker, M., & Kotzen, B. (2018). The potential for combining living wall and vertical farming systems with aquaponics with special emphasis on substrates. Aquaculture research, 49(4), 1454-1468.

Respond to BREXIT with Vertical farming

Respond to BREXIT with Vertical Farming

Vertical farming can play a leading role in facing-up to the challenges faced by a post-Brexit rural economy according to the team behind the Tech Tyfu project.


Launching their latest recruitment drive for growers who are interested to “test drive” a vertical farming production unit, Dr Luke Tyler who leads the Tech Tyfu delivery shared how the innovative growing system can respond to the need for more local growing.


“A key part of the Tech Tyfu project is to facilitate better relationships and understanding across the fresh produce supply chain,” he explained. “We know that local chefs and distributors want to trade more local produce, and we know we have eager growers. Our challenge is to bring all these links together to make the chain work profitably.”


“Set against the current challenges and opportunities of Brexit, we think vertical farming offers a way to produce a range of fresh produce reliably, economically and to the highquality specification expected by customers.”


Tech Tyfu is a vertical farming pilot project for Gwynedd and Ynys Môn is looking to recruit growers for the second year. It can offer new growers a complete vertical farming unit for free for up to one year to learn about the technology and to trial their own market opportunities for crops such as speciality leaves, microgreens, pea shoots, watercress, strawberry and a range of oriental vegetables.


“Vertical farming is part of the solution to grow more of our own food, contributing to the circular economy and reducing our food miles,” explained Luke.


“We estimate the market for pea shoots is worth about £40-50k in Gwynedd and Ynys Môn alone,” noted Luke. “And by growing them locally, a grower would be able to offer unbeatable freshness. We have already had prominent local chefs asking where they could purchase local pea shoots.”


Last year, local grower James Hooton of Hooton’s Homegrown at Brynsiencyn, Ynys Môn successfully used the Tech Tyfu pilot kit to grow bags of watercress that were sold at his farmshop.


“We have been using hydroponics to cultivate crops for many years, such as with the tabletop strawberries you’ll see at our ‘pick-your-own’ site. However, this is the first time we’ve used a vertical farm system.” said James Hooton.


“The success of our Anglesey watercress’ proves that there is demand for fresh, local produce,” he added. Tech Tyfu are looking for two new growers for 2022. Each grower will be provided with a vertical farm unit, technical support and will join Tech Tyfu’s ongoing programme of workshops and webinars.


A Tech Tyfu event titled ‘Becoming a Vertical Farmer in 2021’, will be held virtually on Wednesday, 17th February, where the Tech Tyfu team will share information on opportunities available to work in partnership with the project. This will include a presentation by Chris Nelson, founder, and co-director of the famous London vertical farm, ‘Growing Underground’ and Managing Director of GrowStack.


“GrowStack came together in 2016 when we realised that the vertical farming market was about to explode. I look forward to sharing our experience of building a largescale bespoke vertical farm deep under-ground in London.” said Chris Nelson, who has worked in the industry for the last 40 years.


The virtual session is open for all, and anyone interested in the programme is encouraged to attend and register via the following link in advance.


“Do get in touch with us if you are interested in vertical farming,” said Luke. “E-mail me at luke@mentermon.com, have a look at our website www.techtyfu.com or connect via our Tech Tyfu Facebook page.”


TechTyfu has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

January 2021 Press Release

Tech Tyfu innovators create vertical farms for homes.


Pioneers from Gwynedd and Anglesey have honed their engineering skills and creativity to create innovative “grow your own” systems suited for homes of any size.
The challenge to develop innovative domestic growing systems was set by Menter Môn’s Tech Tyfu project, to encourage interest in hydroponic growing as part of the project’s work supporting vertical farming in Gwynedd and Anglesey.

 

Dr Luke Tyler, who leads the project, explained “those who tackled the challenge began by pitching their idea to secure support and funding towards the purchase of components.
“The ‘Tech Tyfu Challenge’ encouraged local pioneers to develop their own vertical farming concepts in response to increasing interest in producing your own food,” said Luke. “It’s been amazing to watch the pioneers creating solutions for people to cultivate fresh nutritious food at their homes.”

 

Thorin Dhillon Peter (18) a gardener from Newborough took on the challenge over the last few months.
“The vertical farming hydroponic system I set up was based on the Kratky method, which involves suspending growing plants above a reservoir of nutrient rich water,” explained Thorin.
“I created a wooden frame and included aquatic pots to hold the plants. I
considered the spacing between the frame for the pots, in order to maximise root space and yield growth,” said Thorin.
“As I created an outdoor unit, I also used a Mylar polyester film in order to conceal the frame and prevent any light reaching the roots of the plants. The lettuce crops were planted in coir fibre which worked very well.”
“I can see this system working well for people to cultivate their own salad leaves or possibly strawberries in small spaces such as backyards.”
Thorin, a passionate grower also experimented with creating his own nutrient feed for the produce made from comfrey leaves and washed seaweed.


John Storey (43) from Bangor received support from Tech Tyfu to create his own indoor hydroponic unit. A technician at Arloesi Pontio Innovation, Bangor University’s FabLab and Innovation Centre, he believes that utilising hydroponics could be one way to address the complex challenges faced by food producers and distributors.
“Having had an interest in growing for some time, the project was the perfect excuse to trigger the development of a hydroponic unit. With Brexit looming, having fresh greenery on demand was appealing’.

His journey can be tracked via his Instagram page, ‘QuarterMetreFarm’.
“I started with a regular commercial shelving rack and installed LED lights. Adding Mylar reflectors also helped to keep the light in.” The unit carefully considers all aspects needed for a successful domestic vertical farming system, boasting an impressive lighting system, and is an ideal size to fit within most kitchens.
“I used readily available components to build the unit, so that it could be easily replicated by anyone else who wish to follow the same path,” he shared. “The electronics were fairly routine. It was the practicalities of propagating and growing that were the new challenges for me.”
Growing hydroponically is an effective way to grow indoors when space is limited, and keeping control of conditions to help the crops grow healthily. Thorin and John both demonstrated that vertical farming can be done on a micro scale all year round.

 

“Tech Tyfu is very much about innovating, and we have recently worked with Glynllifon Colleges who are also showcasing very exciting ideas,” said Luke. “The team at Glynllifon has recently been using loose cleaned wool as a growing medium to support crops of strawberries. We will report further on this work later in the year.”


Further support is available for more Gwynedd and Anglesey residents to respond to the Tech Tyfu challenge. Further information can be found at www.techtyfu.cymru or contacting Luke Tyler at luke@mentermon.com
Tech Tyfu will be recruiting new growers during January and February who are interested in piloting the project’s micro vertical farms during 2021.


TechTyfu has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.