City-garden: why farming in apartments and on roofs is great

    24 Nov 2021

    When people fill the whole earth with asphalt and build high-rise buildings, vegetables will grow inside homes – on shelves and roofs. That is already growing. Have you ever tasted a salad with green onions grown on your own windowsill? If so, you have already joined the city farm.

    We’ve found an excellent explanation by how urban gardens develop across the world.


    The city is growing and moving away from the countryside, and urbanization is winning in the steppes and deserts. However, even the city dwellers want to eat fresh, and the reflexes to grow something are too ingrained over the millennia of agriculture. That is why the inhabitants of megacities bring rural value – fresh vegetables – into their space. Beds on the windowsill, in containers, on the roofs are the inevitable future for those who want to eat healthy food all year round. And if not only cacti managed to survive at your home, you can try to grow something edible.

    “Once I just planted basil at home, it grew, and I liked it so much,” says “home farmer” Elena Zikina, who is studying to be an economist. After basil, the girl began to grow tomatoes and now switched to microgreens. This is a kind of demo version of familiar vegetables: radishes, beets, cabbage, broccoli. When the seed sprouts and the first leaves – it’s time to cut them and eat. Due to the small size of microgreens grows no more than 14 days, but during this time, accumulate enough nutrients. If you do not take farming on an industrial scale, micro- or standard greens are the most profitable option because they grow quickly (from 7-14 days to 2 months, depending on the species). And basil, which is gradually becoming more popular than parsley and dill, generally grows continuously, and you do not need to buy seeds constantly.

    However, of course, not everything is so simple. Houseplants need careful care: daily watering and, if natural light is not enough, special lamps with a red and blue spectrum in a specific ratio. “But you can’t leave it at home, like any serious electrical appliance. You can’t even go somewhere for even two days – the plants will die,” Olena warns. And yet, she plans to enter a new niche for Ukraine (her country of living – Ecolife) with a commercial project – to grow greens at home and sell it.


    Farm instead of political science

    There is also another project that has not yet yielded, but the idea is sown and will soon germinate. Maxim Mammadov is a future city farmer who, having learned about the technology of vertical gardens, has suspended his studies of political science abroad and now plans to create his garden right in Kyiv (the capital of UkraineEcolife). Maxim wants to plant the roof and part of the premises of the capital’s Art Factory “Platform” with vegetables and greens, and then sell what will grow in the capital’s restaurants and supermarkets.

    Roofs are an unjustifiably empty space in the city. Why leave them empty if there, closer to the sun, you can plant a whole garden? Moreover, now there are methods by which you can grow greens without soil, but only in water with the addition of nutrient solution. This technology is not new and has long been known, for example, to science fiction readers – it’s called hydroponics. Growing vegetables on the roofs not only saves space, but also contributes to the energy efficiency of the building: in summer the plants protect the house from overheating, and in winter from heat loss.

    In addition to the roof, Maxim plans to grow greens in the art factory and later to breed fish. This will allow organizing the water cycle on the farm: the fish will feed the water with their products of life, where, according to hydroponics technology, plants will grow that will take everything they need from the water and purify it again for the fish.

    “According to the UN, the world’s population is growing and by 2050 will reach 10 billion people. 70% of them will live in cities, and to feed all, they need more than 100 million hectares of arable land, which simply do not exist, – says Maxim Mammadov. “That’s why the idea came to move part of the production to the cities and occupy, for example, empty roofs.”

    In Western countries, such urban agriculture is already quite developed. Living in the city, many people cut the freshly harvested salad into a salad during the year. For example, Kimbal Musk, the brother of the world’s leading visionary Elon Musk, is seriously educating future urban farmers to promote urban vegetable growing. In 2011, he taught students in more than 300 schools to plant a garden in the city. And last year, he installed 10 freight containers in which young developers built a mechanism for growing greenery. With the help of artificial light, the vertical arrangement of containers with plants on the shelves, and hydroponics, dark boxes have become a space for new life.

    Urban farms solve several problems at once. In addition to the fact that they are mobile and can be placed both near the restaurant and at home, such production does not depend on the season and weather conditions. Indoor cultivation also limits the impact of pests, in addition, human resources are saved because most processes on urban farms are automated.


    Agriculture without land

    Urban farmers are abandoning not only the use of large areas of land, but also the use of land in general. Instead, take various mixtures, a substrate of gravel or coconut fiber, cotton wool, or planted in the water itself, adding a nutrient solution of fertilizers. In addition, due to the intensive direct supply of minerals to the plant, this technology allows you to accelerate growth. However, hydroponics, which is often used as the basis of urban farms, is not suitable for all vegetables. With this technology, you cannot grow, for example, roots or tubers – carrots, potatoes.

    Connoisseurs of traditional agriculture also welcome innovative urban gardens. “Hydroponics technology allows you to quickly get several times more products due to a balanced diet – moreover, out of season,” says Associate Professor of Horticulture and Viticulture, Lviv National Agrarian University Igor Didov. – And whatever it is, this product is not enough. There is a proposal – so you need to satisfy that proposal. Our grandfathers germinated onions in buckets near the stove, and now there is modern equipment, lamps, nutrient solution. And the correct ratio of all components creates for the plant such conditions under which it quickly acquires the necessary mass.


    How to start

    If you start growing greens at home, it is possible to do it even just on a sunny windowsill. There are many instructions and sites on the Internet where you can buy seeds.

    Add the cost of the container in which you once ordered food from the restaurant “with you,” a pile of earth from a flower pot, water, and constant attention to watering. And here – the home garden is arranged. You can learn more about such gardens reading William Texier’s book “Hydroponics for Everybody: All About Home Horticulture (Gardens).” Or just enter a query like “grow basil at home” – and read a few articles. You can also watch the video instructions on Youtube – we’ve found 1 million 40 thousand videos.

    Roof-sized gardens are, of course, fun for the most avid. First, if you live in a house that is owned by condominiums, you need to agree with all residents to use the roof. To do this, you can, say, distribute the harvest to everyone or pay rent. Secondly, wait for the crop of tomatoes or cucumbers for a long time; such vegetables are faster to buy in the store. But if you grow systematically and a lot, and have enough time for it, the city farm will be a great alternative to a weekend in the garden.

    The Aztecs were the first to use the technology of landless cultivation, creating floating islands with vegetables on Lake Tescoco. Currently, hydroponics is used on spacecraft. Isn’t the urban space adapting?


    Many people in the UAE have started their own mini-farms. There are methods developed for this called “water farming.” You don’t need soil for such cultivation, as the plants grow in floating containers. The water, by the way, doesn’t disappear in the sewers but is instead reused, going through three treatment cycles. There are also “urban farmers” who use regular soil to grow food for themselves.

    Do you know that the Zayed Foundation for a period of time was awarding the Prize for Urban Farming? Read our interview with CTA Zayed Intl. Foundation for the Environment here!

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