Can you tell us about how you originally got into the hydroponic grow systems and how that evolved?
Yes. I inherited a 1000 Watt lamp from a friend of mine along with his plants. At the time, I was living in a trailer with very little external sunlight coming in so I was quite intrigued by the idea of having this additional artificial indoor grow lighting. I was originally from southern Ontario where there was lots of sun light year round and now I am living on the west coast of Canada in the northern rain forest where you do not have a lot of sun light, especially throughout the winter season. I was happy to inherit the lamp as I was experiencing what's known as "SAD" or "Seasonal Affected Disorder", and the lamp had a pretty amazing effect on my mood.
As you can imagine, a 1000 watt lamp is very bright, and very hot, so I was dismayed that the plants would grow right into what I call 'the land of scorch', the area less then 1 foot from the lamp, and burn themselves. To avoid this burn, I would end up raising the lamps higher and higher, however, there is a perfect zone around the bulb where it is not too cold, or too hot. The Goldilocks or 'habitable zone' for the space enthusiasts. This zone is in the 1-2 foot range, and when you raise the lamp the zone goes with it, and everything that is left behind gets stretchy and confused, so I was not terribly happy with this arrangement.
I thought I had found the solution, in a water-cooled lighting fixture new on the market. If you can image, it was a sort of glass dome that you were able to fix your bulb into. The 1000 Watt metal halide bulb was a globe about 1 foot across. and as mentioned before, put out a lot of heat. The concept was great, but this fixture was cumbersome, over complicated and problematic, so I ended up creating a water cooled fixture of my own, for smaller 400 Watt to 600 Watt lamps. I was living on an island off the West Coast of Canada, traveling back and forth to the mainland on the ferry and I noticed marine lighting fixtures with glass globes that were on the ferry decks, protecting the bulbs from any waves that could crash onto the deck, breaking the hot bulbs. These marine fixtures had a threaded neck like a mason jar, so I had a rubber stopper/fixture molded, with a barbed fitting to hook water lines to, there was an opening for the neck of the much smaller 400 watt or 600 watt bulb and this was now clamped onto the threaded glass and voila, my own much more reasonable water cooled lighting fixture for about $20.00, versus the $400.00 I had paid for the problematic cumbersome one.
With this new cool bulb technology, the plants are able to grow right to the lamps without scorching, however, this created a new problem. I would get a plant that was about a foot tall that was trying to produce a thousand fruit/flower sites. A foot tall tomato plant, trying to produce a thousand tomatoes does not produce any tomatoes very well, so it now became all about spatial coordination.
Prior to this I started practicing Tai Chi, or Tai Chi Ch'uan, for it's therapeutic effects due to a spine injury from working construction, and this practice greatly influenced my thinking process.
Practicing Tai Chi, led me to 'The Book of Changes', or 'I Ching' and a martial art study called Bagua Zhang, or 'Eight Direction Palm' and circle walking. I would alternate between reading the 'I Ching' and following the practices, and working with the lights and plant growing. I describe it as Taoism (sounds like Dowism) meets hydroponics. I decided to base my garden on this 8-direction symbol pattern (the Bagua), with 8 vertical PVC pipes surrounding the water-cooled lamps hanging in the center. The pipes were held in place with T's and elbows at the base, inside a small kids pool that served as a reservoir, with a plant at one foot intervals on each vertical pipe. I was trying to grow plants on their sides thinking that the light would penetrate nicely, however I soon realized that gravity came into play, as the plants would turn away from it's pull quite rapidly, and every time I returned to my garden, all of the plants would be upright. I ended up spending some time each day turning them around 180 degrees. After some trial and error I thought, maybe I should solidify the design by connecting the tops of the vertical PVC pipes as well, creating a cylinder and now all of the plants could be turned over once a day like a sand clock.
My thoughts now turned to the maintenance and cleaning of the system, because without the ability to easily clean the system, it would not be successful. This changed everything. A horizontal rotating cylinder made cleaning easy as I needed only to clean the part right in front of me, and instead of many feet (80'+) of plumbing, with drip emitters for each individual plant site, the plants would now contact the watering solution at the bottom of the rotation eliminating all but about 3 foot of plumbing, and a small motor would do all of the rotation work. I was so inspired by this vision that I set out to build this first prototype version out of wood in the garage.
The first creation creaked and popped and took only 8 minutes to make a full revolution. It looked amazing with the plants rotating around the water-cooled bulbs. I took a video of the prototype, this was before the Internet was popular and I sent a few VHS tapes to some friends. Soon I received an order to make ten units to be sent to Switzerland. The money was deposited into my bank account, and with this funding we went into business. Since that time, the business has all been customer driven, solving problems, and refining the design from that very first system.
Do you feel like you have perfected the Volksgarden model?
Absolutely. I built the first model 14 years ago. It was 12 foot long, made from sixteen 4 inch diameter 10 foot long PVC pipes, connected to 4 foot diameter discs at either end, surrounding 5 water cooled bulbs in the center. The system took several hours to assemble, and cost $12,000.00. The Volksgarden TM is the sixth rotary system design for Omega Garden Int. It is a 'one piece' molded cylinder, with the air-cooled light in the center and the plants radially growing in towards the middle. A night to day comparison from where we started. The Volksgarden TM is sort of a one-size-fits all. It is a 'stand alone' unit that you can use at home, or it's a base module you can enter the vertical farming concept with by stacking units in pallet racking, or fully automated containerized carousels with auto-storage and retrieval capacity, for industrial scale applications. I think there is always things that can be improved upon, so it's maybe not "perfected". but certainly close.
How has the Kardashev Scale influenced the design of the Volksgarden?
Kardashev scale is not really something that influenced the creation of this system, but more a confirmation of the design. I had been looking for the mathematical model that quantified the difference from an external lighting application, to a central lighting application, and the Kardashev scale does this and more.
It was first proposed in 1964 by the Soviet Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev. The scale has three designated categories called Type I, II, and III. These are based on the amount of usable energy a civilization has at its disposal, and the degree of space colonization. His scale is about who we are searching for with regards to extra terrestrial intelligence. A Type I uses all of the energy and resources available on a planet wide basis (external lighting application). Type II uses all of the energy on a solar basis, so it surrounds the light source (internal lighting application). This is usually thought of as a sphere (Dyson Sphere) because the solar output was spherical, but our lighting output is cylindrical, so a cylindrical receptacle is appropriate. A Type III is galactic in scale with it's civilisations having mastery over a whole galaxy, which is a cluster of Type IIs (solar systems).
So, from a plant growing perspective, a Type 1 can be equated to a top down lighting application, like the supplemental lighting seen in modern commercial greenhouse operations. A Type 11 can be equated to a rotary cylindrical garden, with a central light source, and a Type 111 would then be a large number of rotary cylinder gardens housed together. I would argue that is what you see in our Farmdominium TM model, which is essentially a large cluster of rotary cylindrical gardens ganged together on carousels, with the ability to reach each individual module, all housed together in a large climate controlled silo.
According to Kardashev, going from a Type I to a Type II, is a 10 billion times efficiency leap, and going from a Type 11 to a Type III was an additional 10 billion times efficiency leap. So going from a Type I to a Type III is a 10 billion squared efficiency leap.
How far are you away from creating the Farmdominium?
We are very close. If the funds where there, we could build it and introduce it rapidly. The silo that will be housing the stack of shipping containers can be erected in just a few days. The process for making this type of silo is to start with a big inflatable model of it, spray concrete on it, fiberglass it and spray concrete on it once more. You remove the inflatable and you are then left with a silo. Once we are in production, we could be making several a week. An interim step is to use just an inflatable building.
When building the Farmdominium TM silos, do you take into account sustainability?
This whole model has been about producing something that endures. When I first heard the idea of sustainable business practices, I mistakenly thought that they meant that the purchaser would be sustainable, but soon realized that what they meant was for all the connected aspects of production, and everyone in the process to be sustainable. For 6 years we have had the Volksgarden TM on the market and there are no wear points to date, so we are very confident that they are going to be a truly sustainable option. We are now perusing electrode-less induction lamps to make that part of the process sustainable as well. They have a life expectancy of about 20 years (100,000 hours) of operation.
Where do you see the future of Omega Gardens to be?
The short answer is 'to unite all lands in peace'. We hope that at some point we will not be fighting each other for resources that other individuals or countries have. We hope to close the gaps, and allow everyone to have their resource needs met, first, and foremost in regards to healthy, nutritious foods.
Inventor of the
Hydroponic produce will be grown via twenty Omega Garden™Volksgarden urban agriculture units. Each unit will be housed on a racking system, two to three levels high. The Volksgarden® utilizes a rotating cylinder housing the plants arranged around the light at the center. The result is highly effective use of LED's, water, and nutrients to produce a garden that grows fast, strong, and healthy through each season of the year.
Hydroponic Volkswagon design was chosen due to the following factors:
Efficient use of light
Efficient use of energy
Efficient use of water
Efficient use of land
Efficient use of labor
Hydroponic Volksgarden produce is:
Grown in fully controllable environment