Anatomy of a Vertical Farm

The traditional farming model is one with which so many of us are familiar – flat, far-reaching fields, plowed, sown, irrigated and grown – then, a few months down the line, provided no major calamity has occurred, the produce is harvested.

In the last post, which you can read here, I introduced you to the state of the world, specifically, the impact that agricultural activity has had, and continues to have on the environment around us. At the end, I mentioned how vertical farms and their related technologies could serve as a saving grace for us. So what is vertical farming?

From horizontal to vertical

The traditional farming model is one with which so many of us are familiar – flat, far-reaching fields, plowed, sown, irrigated and grown – then, a few months down the line, provided no major calamity has occurred, the produce is harvested.

As of April this year it was estimated that the global human population had reached 7.5 billion and that largely owes its success to the availability of food, an availability which exists due to our agricultural technologies. However as the global population continues to grow, those technologies have to change too, because we are running out of viable farming space as well.

As mentioned in the last post, those farming technologies aren’t without their side-effects, an array of symptoms which include increased CO2 and Methane production, deforestation, wasteful water consumption, polluted water runoff, soil degradation, and ecosystem destruction.

When faced with an inability to spread out, a natural conclusion is to go up. Thus enter the concept of farming vertically.

Vertical Farming: The Basics

So with the need to grow produce upward instead of outward, how does one do that? Well, there are three main ways in which I have seen this happen.

Strawberries are grown vertically in pipes. src: http://www.handimania.com/uploads/vertical-strawberry-tube-planter-collage-fb.jpg

The first method is to grow the plants in vertical pipes, with holes or sockets in the sides where plants can be slotted. Nutrient filled water is sprayed or dripped down the centre of the pipes which the plants absorb on its way down, and remaining water can be collected at the bottom again. For the space that each of these pipes occupies, each has approximately 30 plants growing in it – far more productive than if a plant was grown in the ground. Because the plants are watered from inside the pipe as well, the system is also far more water efficient compared to traditional growth as well.

Plants being grown vertically in an A Frame. src: https://www.permaculturenews.org/images/Vertical_Farming_2_skygreens_vertical_farm.jpg

The second method is that the plants are grown on revolving A frames, rotating the plant beds to maximise even sunlight distribution and water distribution. Tall and narrow, this growing method also efficiently makes use of limited horizontal space in favour of vertical space.

In this instance, each tower is six meters high and have between 22 and 26 growing troughs, which provides a lot of growing space. To top it off, the rotating mechanism is a self-contained water loop, making these efficient to run as well.

Stacked beds of plant production, illuminated by custom light recipes. src: https://www.hometeka.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/faz_bimbon03.jpg

The final method is stacked growing beds, with LEDs that not only make up for what would otherwise be inconsistent light sources but also often finely tuned into a custom light ‘recipe’ to maximise plant growth. Like the other two methods, this one is also efficient in space usage, and whilst more costly to power, it can grow plants quickly if the tailored lighting is used.

With these three methods in mind, if we think back to the issues of traditional agriculture, we’re already starting to solve some of them. All three of these systems have a vastly more efficient water usage, and no polluted runoff if built to capture and recycle the water used. They aren’t eroding or degrading the soil and they are producing more produce compared to a horizontal arrangement. Both the pipes and A frames have the ability to be grown indoors or outside, while the stacked beds are an indoor approach. If grown outside there it is more than likely that herbicides and pesticides will still be used, however indoors there would be a reduction I chemical usage. While this leaves many issues unresolved, vertical farming has the ability to be taken to the next level.

Vertical Farms: Going Up!

The conversion of a farmyard barn or inner city warehouse into a building that houses a production system like any of the three methods above is an achievement. For a relatively low infrastructure cost, a high yield rate is achieved relative to the space used. While there are many improvements to be had and limitations to contend with, the biggest limitation is still ironically, space. If the farmer wanted to start making the system more efficient and produce an additional product, he can add fish tanks and turn his production into an aquaponics system. The problem is fish tanks take up space, if you have them inside, they compete with the plant arrays. If you have the option to put them outside, they may then be in the way of something else. If the farmer simply wants to increase his production, he is limited by the height of his building. Thus once again, the solution is to go up.

A vertical farm design. src: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/b5/dd/32/b5dd3266a9e6a8ad37b31fa679ff521d.jpg

By going up, additional space is created, that not only allows for more production, an increase in the range of products, but also more complimentary produce that have byproducts which help to grow other produce. A well designed vertical farm should be self-sustaining, with minimal or non-existent waste, and a range of products that includes not only food but also fuel, electricity, packaging and compost. This ideal vertical farm ‘anatomy’ includes a wide range of plant and animal cultivation, including aquaculture, aquaponics, hydroponics, aeroponics, algae and insect farming. These buildings could meet their energy and water requirements through rain collection and water recycling, solar and wind generation, and electricity generation either from biogas or biofuels. The lowests floors could hold supermarkets, restaurants or packagings plants filled with the produce grown in the floors above and packaged in biodegradable packaging produced on site. Tune in next time as we continue to explore the vast possibilities vertical farming provides.

P.S.

Take a look at these links for more information on the information featured today.

Singapore’s Rooftop Farms

London’s Underground Farm

Where we are & where we could go…

To the best of our knowledge, in the four and a half billion years that our humble planet Earth has existed, mankind is the most advanced species to have evolved during that time span.

Our Beginnings

To the best of our knowledge, in the four and a half billion years that our humble planet Earth has existed, mankind is the most advanced species to have evolved during that time span. This advancement didn’t arise because we had the biggest teeth or the sharpest claws – it came about because we became a bipedal species, our hands, freed from locomotive purposes evolved to serve a manipulative role – developing the long, opposable thumb we know today. Accompanied with a large, growing brain, humans we able to develop tools and technologies that gave us mastery over the flora and fauna around us. Increased survival meant enlargening populations, which required more food than could often be foraged, which led to the development of one key practice: Agriculture.

The Rise of Agriculture

An Artist’s impression of early farming and settlement – src: https://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s–CHMpnqsX–/c_scale,fl_progressive,q_80,w_800/zlh1iknpwenlxpqon60o.jpg

The shift from foraged meat and plant proteins to farmed goods occurred at different times for the different group of humanity, with a wide range of plant and animal species being domesticated between 11,500 BC and 3000 BC, a time period known as the Neolithic Revolution. As time went on, more technologies were developed that enabled more food to be cultivated, that made farming more efficient and widened the range of food that could be grown. As human populations spread out, they brought the farmed species and farming technologies with them, spreading agricultural practices across the world. But they weren’t the only things that were spreading.

The Rise of the Side-Effects

The spread of humanity meant deforestation to make way for farmland. It meant an increase in methane and CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere due to the increasing populations of farmed animals and reduction of forestry.

The farmers didn’t realise it at the time, but their conversion and consumption of land also meant the transition from biodiverse ecosystems to monoculture plantations,  inefficient use of water leading to the degradation or depletion of natural water sources as well as causing run off, which carried nutrients away from the soil, as well as pollutants. Exposed topsoils fell into a cycle of erosion, leading to the degradation of land quality and fertility, and causing subsequent issues such as increased flooding. The introduction of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers began to contaminate not only the land but also the produce is grown in it. These problems have only grown in scale and severity with time.

Cause & Effect: Our Modern Predicament

All of this has led us here, to the modern day. We find ourselves in a global environment where human activity, agricultural processes included, has led to an acceleration climate change process, which is currently in a global warming phase. The world’s forests continue to disappear to make way for additional farmland, 70% of the worlds fresh water is used for agriculture, chemicals have leeched their way into our lands, our foods, our oceans and even our bodies, causing untold harm. Our water ways are clogged with excrement and toxic farming byproducts, old depleted farmlands are abandoned in favour of still fertile lands, leaving behind eroded dust bowls. The oceans fish stocks are over farmed, nevermind the fact that they are also filled with the byproducts of our existence – plastic waste and chemical runoff from the land pollute many of our oceans.

A polluted landscape in Bangladesh – src: https://digitalsynopsis.com/buzz/environmental-pollution-pictures-earth-day/

Looking ahead, with the current rates of expansion, global temperature increases and current farming technologies, all paint a bleak picture. Melting permafrost and underground erosion are opening sinkholes in the all over the world – swallowing up the ground around them and emitting greenhouse gases that were frozen or trapped underground. Melting ice caps cause sea levels to rise, drowning coastal cities and farmlands – to make matters worse, the ocean itself not only becomes warmer but also acidic, killing off thousands of ocean ecosystems and species. Reductions in available or usable farmland, as well as increased global temperatures and more extream weather patterns, strain agricultural production, leading to food shortages and leading to violent clashes as hungry people fight over food.

While this may seem like a hopeless situation, there is hope, not only for humanity but also for the planet.

“We have a single mission: to protect and hand on the planet to the next generation.” – Francois Hollande, ex-President of France

A Path to Salvation

There are multiple issues that we face, and subsequently, there are also multiple solutions that can be developed, not only to halt the current destruction but also to reverse it. Many of these technologies have the potential to be combined into single, multipurpose structures, that are clean, renewable and efficient production and processing centres – otherwise known as vertical farms. Extend this concept a bit further and we also see the possibility of eco-cities becoming a possibility. At this stage, you may be wondering what are vertical farms are, what eco-cities are, and what are all these technologies that can combat and overcome the current issues. Well to find out the answers to those questions, you are going to have to stay tuned.

What to be the first to learn the answers? Follow the blog by clicking the button in the sidebar or in the footer and be notified as soon as the next post goes live.

P.S.

Want to explore some of the points I’ve mentioned in this post? Check out the links below for further reading.

Environmental impacts of farming

Agricultural Timeline

History of Agriculture

The Neolithic Revolution

MY WRITING: THE JOURNEY SO FAR (PART 2)

If you haven’t read part 1, check it out here.

A new idea was born in 2011. It followed Special Crime Investigation Unit Agent Tom Smith (Very original character naming) as he is assigned a case that has seen the previous two agents assigned to it, vanish. The case is to investigate a secretive society linked to multiple attacks and fatalities of criminals. As Tom digs deeper into this society and its members, he uncovers a culture that has fought for humanity for thousands of years, dealing out justice to criminals that see the rest of society as being unwilling to deal out.

The members of this society were called Venators, and each Venator, in the timeline of the stories, was genetically enhanced, providing an advantage as they hunted down criminals. Five sequels stories were written in the same year, still following Tom, who had now been gifted the same genetic mutations as the Venators, and his ongoing collaboration with the Venator society as a liaison between there culture and human law enforcement.

I was also studying at Te Kura, a correspondence school in New Zealand, through which I became friends with a fellow student and writer. Together, we co-wrote a story, combining the worlds of her stories and mine, in this case, an agency of assassins and my own Venator stories.

The world I had crafted continued to hold up and in the following year, a further 8 stories were written; 5 that featured Tom as a supporting character (although one story wasn’t completed), two spin-off stories who followed Walter, a young man who is a Venator by birth, but living in a time where the Venator society has been destroyed, and a sequel crossover story with my friend.

2011/2012 was also significant for me as it was around this time that I started exploring poetry, and had begun writing poems as well, only sharing them with a group of fellow students studying at Te Kura.

It was in 2013 however, that my writing took a huge leap forward, as I discovered and joined the online writing community, Scribophile. Learning to read and critique the writing of others, and in turn, having my own writing critique was a huge learning opportunity, as it highlighted the many shortcomings of my works to date. The site also facilitates writing groups that allow for focused discussion and critiquing of genre or topic-specific writing, a handful of forums to discuss writing, publishing, books and everything in-between, as well as a few dozen writing resources that teach key writing concepts.

To top it off, I found the community on Scribophile to be incredible friendly and helpful, as well as very self-regulating, thus there were very few negative personalities floating around, as they simply couldn’t swim in the waters that the community nurtured.

Inspired by my newfound knowledge and experience, I took the core idea of the Venators and went back to the drawing board. As this reinvented story began to develop, it naturally grew bigger than any of the stories that I had written before; where the original set of Venator stories had averaged about ten and a half thousand words each, this new take reached the dizzying new heights of 70k! And objectively it was an altogether better story too – the dialogue was more natural and structured better, as well as more of it, creating scenes that flowed and flew like conversations people would actually have. The world was more fleshed out and shown rather than told.

That reworked story has gone through 4 separate rewrites to date, incorporating new feedback from friends, family, and other writers, as well as new lessons learned along the way. One of my goals is to continue the development of this story, as I would like to become a published author one day. My current WIP is a sequel to that reworked story, which I feel I’m currently half way through and sitting at the 50k mark currently. And that, in short, is my writing journey to date, and hopefully it will continue to develop and grow, leading to who knows where 🙂

My Writing: the Journey so far (Part 1)

So here I find myself, at the start of a new year. And, as many of us do, we make resolutions and set goals for the things we’d like to achieve in the year to come.

I’m setting quite a few goals this year, one of which is to get this website up and running (and to actually use it), but two of my other goals are to a) improve the technical quality of my poetry and b) to make more consistent progress on my current fiction WIP.

As I’ve starting thinking about these goals and how I want to develop my writing, I thought it a good opportunity to reflect on my writing journey thus far, where I started, and where I’ve managed to get to.

I started writing somewhere between the ages of 11 and 14 – I can’t remember exactly when – but I’d written my first story by 2008. This first story was told over the course of 9,801 words, and was dubbed “Sivhardar: The Dawn”. Its protagonist was a boy called Dino Sivhardar, a member of a race of super-powered humans, known as Wild Humans (naming conventions of an 11-year-old :/ ). Each member of this race was imbued with a range of powers, the full range of which was known, and each individual having some combination of those known abilities. Our MC, was special (because chosen one cliche) and had all of the known powers. As such the story followed Dino and his sibling’s journey as they ran from a villain trying to exterminate Dino while he was young, fearing the power he would learn to use with time.

That first story was followed by four sequels, each story averaging around eight and a half thousand words, and they followed Dino’s adventures into adolescence and then through adulthood, as he faced off against one villain or another.

Another year lead to 5 spin off stories, four of which followed the adventures of Dino’s nephew. These stories were shorter compared to the original stories they had grown from, and one didn’t even get finished off, both of which were perhaps symptomatic of an idea going stale.

At 15, a new story came to mind: Futuretech was set in an alternative, future New Zealand, and followed Norman Ironsditch, whose inventions started to revolutionize the world and accelerate humanities technological development. From handheld, multi-functional smart devices to small spacecraft capable of flying in and out of the atmosphere without rockets, Norman was creating it all.

Three sequels followed Futuretech’s adventures as they made first contact with aliens as a battle-damaged mother-ship limped its way through the solar system, moon colonies, time travel, personal fight suits, mind-control devices and for the grand finale, the colonisation of another world.

After those stories, I came up with an idea for a new story, and that idea, broadly speaking, has been my working focus for nine years. But the details about that idea will be coming in part two, so stay tuned!

An Introduction

Hello, and welcome!

My name is David. I’m a young and enthusiastic software developer and writer from New Zealand.

While this blog isn’t quite about life, the universe and everything, it does serve as a platform for me to express myself and my projects, with a few references thrown in.

First, a little bit more about myself. A year ago, I completed my tertiary education by earning a Bachelor in Information Technology, and have since then been learning more every day in through my work as a junior applications developer.

I started this website at the start of 2018, in the hope of building and maintaining a personal… professional… space where I could write posts about coding and writing and anything else that tickled my fancy either through my work or through my other pursuits in my spare time (Ha! What is spare time?????)

However, adjusting to full-time work and my role, as well as dealing with what life was throwing at me proved very time consuming, and well, this site went nowhere.

But, it’s the start of a new year, so I’m ready to go round two with this project and see where I get too.

So in addition to my job, I write and experiment with code, and have a few projects on the go, parts of which I hope to share here as I go along.

I am also a creative person – I’m learning to draw. I’ve taken up photography in the last year and I also write both poetry and fiction.

Now in case you are wondering about the name, Tech Scriptor?

Well when I was thinking about a name that I might use for a website, something that represented me, I needed a name that represented both sides of me – the technical skills and the creative skills.

Thus the first part is fairly self-explanatory, and as for the second part, scriptor is Latin, translating roughly to author or writer. I like that viewed as two halves, the name represents each side of my skills, and the name viewed as a whole still represents this – a tech writer would be one way of describing a coder, or a writer of technical topics, as I aim to do here on this site.

Anyway, that’s me for now. I hope you’ll stay tuned, and continue to explore some of my other posts 🙂

Real programmers count from 0… right Microsoft?

What number does an array’s index start from?

3 years of study taught me that an array’s index starts with 0 – indeed I imagine that if you asked this question of a lot of programmers, they’d also tell you the same thing. The languages that I encountered during my studies all use 0 based arrays – VB, Javascript, PHP, and C#.

However, in the vast realm that is software development, it turns out there are 1 based arrays. I know, I know, I can hear some of you muttering under your breath, saying “I knew that,”.

Well, it was quite the revelation when I came across 1 based arrays. A little bit of research shows that 1 based arrays do exist, in a handful of languages, although 0 based arrays are more common, as shown here.

Now don’t get me wrong, if it’s the convention of the language, there is nothing wrong with a 1 based array. Where it becomes wrong is when you find 1 based arrays in a language whose convention is 0 based arrays.

I encountered this anomaly when I was programming a word plugin, which is done with C#, which, wait for it… uses 0 based arrays. So much to my frustration and surprise, attempting to access the first item via position 0 was met with a critical error. An hour later and with the help of my boss, we stumbled upon the solution – targeting position 1. The function worked flawlessly. Naturally, the next question that sprung to mind was what dark magic is this?

It turns out that Microsoft Office applications use 1 based arrays, going against the convention of the languages that MS Office applications are programmed in – namely VB and C#. Now, despite this *ahem* violation on Microsoft’s part, I could live with this if a) it was made clearer that this is the convention that Office applications use and b) if this was actually the convention for Office applications.

Yeah… it gets worse, for straight from the horse’s mouth:

“Most collections used in Office applications (except Access) are one-based, that is, the index number of the first item in the collection is 1. However, the collections in Access and some components, such as ADO and DAO, are zero-based, which is, the index number of the first item is 0.”

The key gem to take away here is that even the convention-breaking convention doesn’t stick to convention, and at this point, one needs to ask the real questions.

Tell me Microsoft... what even is convention?

I’m not the only developer to encounter this strange phenomenon like Jacob Binstein did in his blog article here. What I hope that posts like this, or Jacobs achieve, is that they will show up in a google search and spare you some bewilderment, however small, as you try to decipher why your non-Access Office plugin fails to grab array item 0. I think that Jacob summed it up quite nicely when he said:

“If you’re using C#, arrays start at 0. Unless you’re using C# with an Office application, because then it starts at 1. Unless that Office application is Access, a Data Access Object (DAO), or an ActiveX Data Object (ADO), because then it’s back to 0.”