Bubbles and the Biosphere: Micro Farms at Home
I just planted a row of sweet peas: a big deal for this green dumb (I mean thumb). Now I must remember to irrigate every day. Which makes me think: How can we use water more efficiently in the growth of plants and food? That happens to be a question posed by the inventors at a small San Francisco company called Inka Biospheric Systems. They have developed sculptural, free standing, self-contained “micro-farms” that combine a fish tank and “vertical hydroponic grow structure” to provide protein, vegetables, and clean water in a “self powered environment.”
Shown at Curiodessey –a science museum in San Mateo, California – Inka’s Sun Curve is an especially ingenious and elegant contraption that uses an arching steel frame to support solar panels and the vertical garden. The water from the fish pond acts as a reservoir and a nutrient source. Inka’s patented “Bio-Quilt” (which holds the plants without any soil), the plant roots, and a film of micro-organisms act as a biological filter, cleaning the water for the fish. The closed loop system recycles the water. The solar panels produce enough power — stored in a battery bank — to run a built-in water pump, ultra-violet filtration system, and a lap-top computer or cell phone. (Maybe that should be a salad-to-shore phone!)
shows how the basic elements can be adapted to a residential entry. With their bubbling tanks, pipes, hanging gardens, and brightly colored fish these inventions have a wonderful mad scientist quality, as if Dr. Frankenstein had studied agronomy and The Whole Earth Catalog instead of Hungarian anatomy and high voltage electrical charges.
Other Inka “micro farms” omit the tank, like this custom-designed planted flange.
The standard Inka Wall Garden measures 3- by 4- feet and has a 2 foot 7 inch-square growing area.
It circulates water and nutrients to the seedlings, which aids the plants’ vegetation production rather than root production — this usually increases the standard growth-rate of plants. The Wall Garden costs $349.
NOTE: a version of Inka’s micro farm is an important plant source
aboard the Plastiki, the boat (photo above courtesy Doug Millar) made of 12,000 plastic bottles that is now sailing to Australia from California to call attention to the perilous amount of plastic refuse now present in the oceans. You can see the tall plant cylinder and solar panels. The boat is a modern-day descendant of the famous Kon-Tiki raft that explorer Thor Heyerdahl used to cross the Pacific in 1947.
I’m eager to see Inka’s next green invention.
Spring means getting outdoors more, so here are three designs to fuel your deck-building dreams.
This classic contemporary example by San Francisco architect/sculptor Olle Lundberg shows how the house, deck, and a wine tank pool form a seamless unit celebrating outdoor living. The Australian landscape design firm Eckersley Garden Architecture takes a similar approach for a more compact urban site
(photo courtesy Trendir.com). Or for something even smaller, where the wood deck alone shapes a quirky and appealing outdoor room, take a look at the aptly named Pork Chop Garden
by CMG Landscape Architecture (Conger Moss Guillard) of San Francisco.
If you already have a deck, now may be the time to do a little maintenance. I asked a contractor friend, Brian Garrison, for advice on getting a cedar or redwood deck back in shape. Here’s his step-by-step guide:
- Repair. Replace any nails or screws that have popped. Use galvanized square head deck screws: they last longer than nails and don’t pop out as easily. Fix squeaks by adding screws.
- Clean. A power washer is quick but strips all of the softwood along with the dirt and grime, so use a deck wash or cleaner such as Behrs or a diluted bleach and water mixture of 10% bleach to 90% water. A broom or brush will help lift the dirt and tannins from the deck. Most of the deck wash systems recommend 2-3 rounds of applications. Do this early in the morning – don’t let the cleanser dry before you can rinse it off because it contains bleaching chemicals that will stain the wood.
- Rinse thoroughly. Allow 2-3 days drying time before applying finish.
- Apply a durable and long-lasting finish. An oil-based deck stain protects the wood longer than a water sealer, which must be applied at least once every 6 months to work properly. The finish should be water repellent or waterproof, not just water-resistant, provide UV (ultraviolet) protection, and contain a mildewcide if mildew is a problem. Brian used Preserva Wood® Pacific Redwood Penetrating Finish stain. Apply with a paint brush or sprayer — a roller will create a sticky mess. Don’t leave puddles or pools, which dry slowly and can become sticky. Allow a couple of days to dry thoroughly. Cost for finishing a 1,000 sq. ft. deck: about $75.