If you’ve ever been to the Jayway Malmö office, chances are you have seen our hydroponics system, the Greenheart 2.0. It’s a green wall with pipes and lights attached, with plants sticking out of small drilled holes. Every ten minutes or so, nutrient rich water pumps through the system. This allows for a technology driven, soil free system for growing veggies.
Greenheart is at the center of the Malmö office. It’s beautiful gives the office a welcoming atmosphere. Pre-pandemic it also provided salad for our Friday breakfasts. But we want more! It’s time to build a new system.
I will now take you through our process designing a new hydroponics system, incorporating what we’ve learned from using the hydroponic wall. And it’s going to be an Agile, Quality First project!
Can we make any solid claims about energy use (=sustainability) in indoor hydroponic farming?
How much energy does the system use?
What if there’s a power outage?
What’s the energy consumption of the current system?
Alongside my work as a Quality Cartalyst in IT, I am passionate about permaculture. Permaculture is a type of sustainable agriculture that aims to cut waste. Both human work and fossil energy are precious resources that should be minimized. In permaculture, weeding, watering, fertilizing, are avoided as far as possible by designing the need for it out of the system.
Spoken in IT terms, permaculture is a Quality First, Automation Heavy type of Sustainable Design. We analyse the Lifecycle of the product from the get-go, and we try to avoid waste as much as possible. Work together with your environment, not against it. Agriculture is hard work, and the more we allow for automated systems, such as the sun, to do our work for us, the better.
Greenheart 2.0 is designed for indoor farming, which means it requires quite a lot of electricity to work. Since our office is big and has huge windows, there is a lot of natural light that could be used instead. The new 3.0 system will be placed in a window. This means that we don’t need to start thinking about grow-lights until the fall. Even without lights the system will still need electricity to power the water pump.
So, Greenheart 3.0 will not be grow-light dependent, but will have the option for easy addition of grow lights later. Electricity is a precious resource, and is in most countries driven by fossil fuels.
Using modular systems
How to build a nice, sturdy, bottom-heavy frame?
How to budget the new system?
How to clean up after the build process?
How to know how much time to allocate?
How to build a new system if (when) the prototype is wildly successful?
How to make it easier for people anywhere in the world to make their own hydroponics system?
Unfortunately, there is no build documentation on the Greenheart 2.0. We have to reverse-engineer how it was made and with what design considerations.
Building a frame from scratch will create a mess and it’s unclear at the start of the process how long it will take. There is a small risk of injury when building. Counting on the material use is a tedious task that one needs to do from case to case. One problem with the Greenheart 2.0 is that it is uniformly heavy, as opposed to the ideal bottom heavy frame.
A modular system is calculable. It’s easy to fit into your available space, budget, and predict the time needed for assembly. The modular frame system we’ve gone for is a modular frame system called IVAR.
IVAR comes in three heights and two widths, making it very easy to fit into your available space. It’s sturdy, it’s affordable and its spacious design allows it to let a lot of light in. It’s made of pine wood, which is (possibly) locally sourced. Compared to plastic or metal it’s significantly more sustainable.
Using an IKEA system has an extra benefit. Anyone around the world can use our documentation. You can plan, budget and build exactly this system!
This is the concept behind IKEA-Hacking, a movement of creative people who adapt furniture at a low cost. Afterwards they can share with others how they did it, inspiring others to do the same!
Pipes and pumps
How to plan and budget?
What’s the ideal slope of a pipe?
What’s the ideal wattage of a pump?
How can we optimize for both smaller and larger plants?
How to easily clean and repair?
The heart of the Greenheart 3.0 is of course not the frame, but the hydroponics pipes and pumps! These are also standardised products. We will use 75 mm width pipes from a local hardware store. As far as we know, these look the same anywhere in the world, and are always modular.
The new system will have almost double the amount of growing space as the original, 750 cm vs 400 cm. It will allow for plants that are 50 cm high instead of 30 cm high. The original Greenheart will be used for leafy greens, whereas the new system will have space for veggies!
We’re trying to figure out the ideal slope of the pipes that will minimize the need for pumping, while also giving the best possible output of crop. Thus far we have no definitive answer for this, so we will be doing some trial and error. Luckily it’s easy to drill new holes in the IVAR and adjust the slope as we go. But of course, it’s better to get it right the first time as long as it doesn’t significantly slow us down.
Internet of Things, Data Analysis and Smart Systems
How to make the system “smart” and ask for refills of nutrients etc?
What’s the true electricity consumption per unit of yield?
How much does the system cost in usage?
Now for the science! By Midsummer, the Greenheart 3.0 Minimally Viable Product will be up and running. During the grey Swedish Autumn, it’s time to enter the next step. We will extend the system with Internet of Things (IoT), enabling monitoring, smart features and data-driven decision making.
We want to make an environmentally friendly Proof of Concept built on agile and permaculture principles. In order for us to be able to make any kinds of claims about its sustainability we need data. Not all data needs to be quantifiable, but it certainly helps to collect and analyse many types of data. Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with IoT. The technology in itself has amazing possibilities, but I have strong objections around the privacy implications. Greenheart is not a person, and most parts of its monitoring will not have any privacy implications at all.
Please give us Feedback!
If you’ve read this far, you have probably noticed many concepts that you’re familiar with from the IT world. Greenheart 3.0 aims to be an Agile project:
* We start out with a Minimal Viable Product (MVP).
* We build testability from the start.
* We have a modular, scalable, documented design that can be easily replicated regardless of where you are in the world.
* When the prototype is built, we are able both to fix design bugs on the existing system, and take them into account when building new modules.
You’ve read this article to the end! Thus we believe you are the type of person who will ask smart questions and give good feedback on our design. 1 dollar of prevention is worth 100 dollars in fixing, so your feedback is welcome and valuable. What important things have we not thought about? What research questions should we look into? Are there any extra benefits or drawbacks to our design that are not listed here? And are you interested in building a system like this as soon as the build documentation is out?