Unconventional forms of agriculture are on the rise. But what does that mean in concrete terms? What alternative forms of food production are there exactly? And what to do in view of increasing urbanization, population growth and climate change? We will get to the bottom of these questions in the coming weeks.
When talking about agriculture, most people probably have in mind almost endless arable land on which any crop can grow. A tractor on the horizon, the warming sun above us, maybe a few fluffy clouds, a tired “Moo!” comes from the right. So far, so idyllic. Because that's what can be summed up under the heading of conventional agriculture.
And as for the unconventional farming methods? Growing and harvesting food in the middle of cities instead of in the countryside, that is the idea behind vertical farming. And the idea behind it is simple: to grow fruit and vegetables in a few square meters, on several floors, often in so-called indoor farms. As the name suggests, plants are not grown outdoors but rather in a closed system , be it indoors, in a container or in a greenhouse. In view of this, Controlled Environment Agriculture, or CEA for short, represents an extreme case. The special feature: the system works without sunlight, among other things.
As you can see, the boundaries between vertical and indoor farming are sometimes blurred . Therefore, both terms are often used synonymously in linguistic usage.
The question arises as to which cultivation methods are also available?
Indoor farming as well as vertical farming can be assigned to hydroponics . This also includes aeroponics and aquaponics - have you ever heard of this? While in the first variant a fine mist of a nutrient solution (the so-called aerosol) is applied to the plant roots, aquaponics is characterized by the combination of fish farming and plant cultivation .
When it came to growing plants on site and for use in the restaurant, we at Mana Farms felt aquaponics was an inappropriate option. Instead, in addition to the aeroponics described, approaches such as the wick system, the drip system or deep water culture came into focus. Our first farm variant used the nutrient film technique (NFT), while the mana farm now uses the ebb and flow system .
But what exactly can we imagine by hydroponic processes? How does it work?
Unlike in the flower box on the window sill or in the greenhouse, plants in indoor or vertical farming systems grow in water. Derived from “hydro”, the Greek word for “water” , we refer to this growing technique as hydroponics . The trick: all the minerals necessary for plant growth are dissolved in the water . Seedlings growing in soil can be attacked by pests . Not in hydroponic cultivation. A decisive advantage that is used above all in the cultivation of medicinal plants .
However, hydroponic systems are not only found in medicinal plants; some plant lovers also grow indoor plants in hydroponics. However, it can be assumed that hydroponic systems are primarily used for the cultivation of useful plants.
Instead of soil, hydroponic cultivation uses substrates. These are either organic or inorganic . A decisive advantage: the plants grow faster . Because the substrates used in hydroponic systems have a higher porosity than soil , they allow easy root penetration and also promote the supply of nutrients , as oxygen can penetrate better to the roots. Thus, substrates represent an ideal drainage .
The substrates suitable for hydroponics are extremely diverse and range from hemp and jute substrate to coconut fibers and gravel to lava stone. But rock wool or peat substrate are also considered alternatives. At Mana Farms, on the other hand, we use compostable cellulose for our seed pads for the microgreens.
Unconventional agriculture - yes and further?
Now that we have clarified what differentiates indoor farming from vertical farming and that both methods are hydroponic cultivation systems, we would like to talk about another trend that has been going on for years: urban gardening .
No, urban gardening has nothing to do with hydronics, at least not in the first place. The purpose is for city dwellers to find ways to grow flowering plants and harvest their own fruit and vegetables - no matter how small the balcony or terrace. In short: gardening in the city is very trendy ! Urban gardening is expressed in many ways: whether as a herb bed in a planter or in the form of a raised bed in the inner courtyard that is managed jointly.
Just like urban gardening, where the main thing is to see plants from your own, harmless cultivation grow, you can use our Mana Seedpads to grow a wide variety of small-format varieties in just a few simple steps. How about micro radishes, for example? Optimum growing time: Only 10 to 14 days. No previous gardening knowledge is required for this either. Try it out and see for yourself, they are always healthy , as numerous studies have shown 😉