Hydroponic gardening system now at Four Winds

Four Winds Window Farm by Adeline McKinlay

The window farm towers are made out of recycled materials and attached to bamboo sticks. The conserve electricity, a single, low-wattage battery pump has been used.

February 25, 2015 / Volume XXXVII / Issue 2

There is a new addition to the Four Winds that offers fresh, campus-grown produce. Standing in the back corner of the patio are two window farm towers. These hydroponic vertical gardeners were constructed in January as part of the Permaculture Independent Study Project (ISP).

Permaculture ISP was conducted mainly on Caples Campus and utilized the student garden there in order to practice permaculture techniques. The permaculture movement, founded in the 1970s by David Holmgren and Bill Mollision, focuses on the idea of sustainable agriculture. Gardening TA and thesis student Hannah Gilbert, who taught Permaculture ISP, has been working on implementing a variety of gardening forms in the Caples garden.

Some of the projects that were built this past January demonstrate urban gardening methods. The window-farm, built by first-years Ava Howard and Jenna Molen, is one of those projects. Urban gardening focuses on maximizing gardening space, working with available land, repurposing items that would otherwise be considered trash and planting in areas that have little or no soil. The window farm fits all of these criteria.

“Recycled water bottles are used as containers for plants and they’re watered hydroponically,” Howard said. “They’re meant for basically an urban environment, hanging from a window or wherever it fits, and it fits pretty well most places. It’s powered by an aquarium pump.”

Window farms are nicknamed such after the company that began developing and producing them, Windowfarms. The project became popularized through an international online community that worked to develop sustainable urban agricultural techniques.

“Our TA, Hannah, showed us a project that was started in Brooklyn,” Howard said. “The lady who started it did a TED talk on it. Basically it seemed like a really cool design. They produced an open source set of instructions. I’m really interested in urban gardening and urban sustainability. Jenna and I just agreed that it would be a good project for us so we could expand gardening away from just Caples.”

The plants are grown mostly in clay, and an aquarium pump is set to feed a mix of water and nutrients to the plants at specific time intervals. Howard is still working on perfecting the system. She checks on the towers frequently. Soon, she believes, a sustainable system will be reached that can be spread across campus.

The window farm’s vertical, no-soil design supports indoor gardening. This type of garden would produce fresh produce for most of the year with little time commitment: a college student’s dream.

“I think that the window farms are awesome,” thesis student and Four Winds employee Ganga Devi Braun said. “It would be great to cover the entire window on the porch with them.”

One tower is currently growing kale, cilantro and mint. The other holds arugula and garden bean seedlings.

According to Howard, making the towers is a simple process once all the supplies are acquired. There is a strong online community that frequently offers advice.

“Building it we came up with a lot of problems, which makes sense since we were building our own plumbing. There was a lot of water all over the floor. We tweaked the design to make it fit for New College, so all of the problems that we had were basically like troubleshooting,” Howard said. “We ended up just changing the design completely because of those issues. But overall, it was a pretty smooth process. None of the problems were too big.”

In the future, Howard and others are looking to spread green projects like these across campus. Pei campus is the site of serious consideration, given that it houses the majority of students and has less available room for garden plots.

“The Pei side of campus could avoid a lot of the logistical and bureaucratic issues that come with trying to make garden plots by using urban gardening techniques,” Gilbert said in an email interview. “Since the Pei side is essentially a high-density tiny ‘city’, it makes sense to incorporate those techniques, and then more food could be grown by students for students.”


Information obtained from http://www.windowfarms.com/about-us

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