With more Australians living in apartments and garden space a limited commodity, interest in low-space food growing options has taken off.
Looking to create a practical and functional option for the Australian market, brother-sister duo, Prue and Tom Bauer created the Airgarden; a slick looking, freestanding unit that uses low-pressure aeroponics to grow a wide range of produce for home or commercial use.
Prue Bauer told The Fifth Estate that Australia was lagging behind Europe and the US in catching on to the benefits of aeroponics, which due to its high efficiency is used by NASA to grow food in space.
Aeroponics involves placing seeds in foam which are then watered and nourished through a nutrient-laden mist or drip.
To create their product, the Bauers teamed up with Queenlsand manufacturer, the Evolve Group, which is responsible for bringing to life other sustainable Australian inventions including the Flow Hive and Seabin.
“The key criteria in creating the Airgarden were to make it easy for everyone, make it sustainable and environmentally friendly and not take up giant amounts of space to grow food,” Bauer said.
Each unit occupies just one square metre of floor space, with a base reservoir that holds around 75 litres of water. Nutrients are added to the water which is then pumped through internal tubing to the top of the system, where it is trickled down at 15 minute intervals onto the roots of the plants.
Currently the system plugs into a wall socket to power the pump, consuming roughly one fourth the energy of a residential fridge each day. However, Bauer said later iterations of the design may incorporate solar power.
Due to food safety requirements, the Airgarden is made out of white coloured plastic to avoid potential contaminants from other materials, but Bauer said the plastic can be recycled to create new products.
It functions using a fraction of the water and labour required by traditional methods and due to its simplicity, claims to have a far higher success rate too.
Users can grow a variety of around 150 fruits, vegetables and herbs including zucchinis, cucumbers, chilis and eggplants, Bauer explained.
“You can’t grow root vegetables like potatoes or carrots, or things that grow on trees like mangoes or apples, but anything else you can virtually grow in that system,” Bauer explained.
“All you have to do is put them into the system, make sure that there’s water in there, top up your nutrients, balance your PH and harvest.”
Already the system is being utilised by several restaurants and eliciting positive feedback from customers and chefs, who report much better flavour.
Locally grown produce reduces food waste, packaging and transport emissions, and Bauer sees the system working well in a community garden setting as well.
“You’re only picking what you’re actually consuming instead of buying a big bag of herbs that then goes rotten in four days,” Bauer said.
“And inner city farms is something we’d really love to do as well, so creating these edible precincts where people can come and learn about the future of food and aeroponics and different ways that we can produce and consume right where we are.”