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Humans & plants cohabitation at home and in space

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 02, 2020
Indoor jungle - a good way of bringing the plants along for the ride when we venture into space.

The idea is to make our indoor walls maximally useful and life-friendly. One way to achieve this is to cover them from floor to ceiling with living plants that would utilize all of the space and possibly even produce food.

For now, this is an experiment for my place. My initial motivation was to recreate a feeling of springtime during the winter-long short/grey days. Winter forces people to spend a lot of time indoors. I want to see what it feels like to live in an indoor jungle.

Someday, plants could cover the inside walls of space stations and habitats. The green walls could be self-sustaining, fed with decomposed waste, recycled water, and artificial light. They could help convert CO2 into oxygen and provide some food for the astronauts. Could an indoor jungle alleviate the astronauts' longing for nature back on earth?

To maximize the usefulness these are the objectives I would like to achieve:
  • minimal maintainance (cleaning, pruning, watering). The green wall should run fully automatic.
  • Plants that thrive in low light conditions are preferable. This minimizes the energy expenditure for artificial lighting.
  • It's a plus if the plants are edible year-round.
  • It's a plus if the plants didn't require special shelving/support to be built and can just hold onto the substrate by themselves.
  • The plants should keep close to the wall to keep the rest of the space maximally useful for people. There should be no branches or huge leaves sticking out. The plant should handle pruning well.
  • It's a plus if the plants could also cover the ceiling.

How would you design such a wall? Which plant species would you include and why? Any ideas/experience regarding the substrate, watering, keeping air humidity levels in check, etc will be much appreciated.
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Creative contributions

Aluminium wall frames with a plastic felt as substrate

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Nov 20, 2020
This is the 3rd version of my test unit. I made it to play around and gain some experience. It's an aluminium welded frame, filled with 1cm thick felt, bolted onto the aluminium bed. A small but powerful pump turns on for a minute, once every 3 hours (I'm still experimenting with timing). The water then saturates the felt but quickly drains into the bottom tank (seen on the photo).

The choice of plants is random. It's what I could get locally. I will see which ones are suitable and adjust accordingly.

I will build a few more units with different plants, different lighting, easily exchangeable substrate material so that I can test different options. I will post updates

Update: here is the 4th version of the unit




There is no sunlight reaching the plants so they fully depend on this artificial sun made of two 100-Watt LED panels. One is cold white, the other is warm white. The lighs run for about 13 hours per day.
Update: 5th version




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Darko Savic
Darko Savic24 days ago
Version 6 in this tweet https://twitter.com/darko/status/1384191893961990145?s=20
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic2 months ago
These frames are actually empty canvases for botanical artists. The final layout is art. No two are the same
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni24 days ago
Darko Savic Well said!

Ideas to bring the natural light

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J
Juran Oct 04, 2020
As Povilas mentioned, we all love food grown on natural light, rather than on the artificial one. Therefore, no food should be grown in dark. Here are some solutions:

  1. DIY room mirror system
  2. Sunlight tunnels
  3. Sunlight tunnel coupled with ventilation/exhaust
  4. Optical cables (still a bit impractical but promising )
Also, if the plants are being cultured indoors, where temperature and moist regulation are possible, there should be no problems growing plants adapted to various climate conditions. With the sunlight issue solved, the only thing to consider would be the type of food/spices/snacks we want to use or eat.

[1]https://news.energysage.com/solar-fiber-optic-lighting-overview/

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
Those are great ideas! One problem that comes to mind with sunlight is that some plants won't grow/bloom/fruit during wintertime because they measure the duration of daylight to determine when the winter is over. They may need to be tricked with a few hours of LED lighting to prolong the days
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J
Juran7 months ago
Hmm, I must admit I didn't go that far, but it could definitely be a problem for some plants. Warm light LED for a few hours should work and would generate better results than full-time artificial light, for sure.

Vertical garden columns turned into flat wall cladding

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Dragan Otasevic
Dragan Otasevic Oct 03, 2020
Have a look at these vertical garden columns. Here's a product idea in itself:

What if you could create similarly functioning wall cladding that would be flat, modular and directly attached to the wall. By the looks of these columns the wall cladding wouldn't have to be thicker than 7 cm (3 inches). You could build in a timer operated aquarium pump which would pump up the nutrient-rich water.

It would take work to tend for the plants but you would be producing your own food inside your home. That's worth working for.

You would need good ventialtion to prevent the buildup of mold.

Capillary action in space

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Apr 26, 2021
I'm pretty happy with how the solution turned out (featured in various photos throughout this page):


Imagine something like this lining the inside walls of a space station/habitat. The thickness of the plastic felt substrate is 1 centimeter (half an inch). behind it, surrounding the roots of each plant is a little bit of soil - just enough to retain some moisture in between the watering cycles.

On earth, the watering is gravity-assisted. 5 times per day, for a minute, the water is pumped to the top of the substrate. From there it trickles back down into the bottom tank. How would that work in zero gravity? Capillary action.

In zero gravity the water would periodically be released on various sections behind the felt, from where it would spread via capillary action and reach all the roots evenly.

Placed anywhere in the room, a dehumidifier would collect excess moisture out of the air. The same water would then be returned to the plants in the next watering cycle. That would keep the air at desired humidity levels - perfect for the well-being of people. The excess would be stored for watering.

one more photo:


[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capillary_action

A great example of a green wall

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Dragan Otasevic
Dragan Otasevic Oct 03, 2020
I think you pretty much asked for this. The rest is just a matter of chosing the right plants for your lighting situation
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
Another cool idea https://youtu.be/IzO8OKmC5yc
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
Yes, that looks amazing. What happens to the excess water though? I mean if the system overwaters the pockets, the water needs to drain somewhere. I guess it could be made to trickle down into the bottom pockets, and there could be a drainage hose leading outside (but protected from freezing)

If you want edibles, I'd recommend a different approach

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Povilas S
Povilas S Oct 03, 2020
Seems like you have a bit too much of requirements. Of course, everything is possible, but you'd have to either put some considerable hand labor yourself or have a pretty sophisticated mechanized system to do it for you. Good quality edible plants require enough warmth and sunlight (or artificial light). If you don't want to use artificial lighting for the plants at all, living in Slovenia this might be too complicated. I don't know enough about native flora and climate in Slovenia, but I guess it's something in between the Mediterranean and middle latitudes. Your best bet without artificial lighting is to make walls with fern-moss-low grass plants. Heather (Calluna vulgaris) is a good species to consider. The best is to use native wild plants that are common in your area and stay green all year round. If you'll find some edibles amongst them - even better. There are quite good apps for plant identification from photos, "picture this" is one I can recommend, you can go around, take photos and google edibility. Plant walls are usually made of these type (moss-grass) of plants, because they don't stick out, therefore giving a more wall-like appearance, don't require cropping, don't produce droppings, and require very little care. But they are hardly edible.

The tendency in nature is this - the closer you get to the equator and tropical habitats, the more edible plant species you'll find, but they'll require warmth, a lot of sunlight, and humidity. If you want hardy plants (that are the best fit for plant walls in temperate regions) - you need to look amongst northern species, they're evolved to withstand harsh conditions and will do fine on their own, but there will be little edibles and their nutritional value will be much poorer. Another complication is that you want to minimize care for these plants. Then once again - you need mosses and grasses, something that won't stick out much, won't have leaves that could wither and fall, what to talk about fruits and berries. Parts of plants with the greatest nutritional value are seeds, roots, fruits and berries, sometimes starchy stems, etc., but you see the complication here. If you just want some greens for spices and microelements like basil, that's easier, but they will nevertheless require enough light and care.

If you want to focus on edibles, it's best to have a separate space for this to give them enough care in an easier way and don't mix living spaces with it because of dirt, humidity, etc. I personally wouldn't want to grow edibles under artificial lighting, cause I believe plants grown under natural light are tastier and healthier. So I have an idea to make a roof of the house into a garden. It would be a greenhouse with a clear roof and walls and a heated floor (from a general heating system of a house). So in the cold season there would be room temperature and the only limiting factor would be the lack of light, but then you could have much more edible species that meet the criteria and could provide food all year round, you could include more shade-dwelling species and also species from northern regions like bushes producing berries, nuts, etc., that you can't really have on a wall.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
Regarding the glass roof and underfloor heating idea - I've done that too. It was difficult to make energy-efficient while livable at the same time. During winter it was either mold on the glass/walls or too cold to live in. During summer it was either too hot to live in or too much shading for some of the plant species I had. The summertime problems could be solved with a good automated shading + ventilation systems. The wintertime problem could be solved with triple glazed windows and good recuperation ventilation. Will have to give it another try in the future
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Povilas S
Povilas S7 months ago
Well it's good to hear initial reviews on that from experience, because I haven't yet tried it. I'm planning it for when I'll have a house with a roof instead of living in an apartment;) As I understand you still tried to incorporate it into living spaces - like in an attic, etc.? My idea would be to just make a greenhouse on an actual roof, separately from living spaces, only for plants. Would require a straight roof with a tiny angle for precipitation, or at least a part of the roof should be straight, like a roof terrace. So that part of the roof under the greenhouse - "the floor" would be heated. There shouldn't be any shading at all in a roof greenhouse, the problem might be too much sun and heat in the summer, but as you said - good ventilation might help or there might be a need to create artificial shading for some plant species. And for winter there should be good thermal insulation and everything should be made hermetic, so an air pump to regularly get fresh air from outside might be necessary.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
Thank you for this amazing insight. It was really helpful and I appreciate it very much

Infuse the walls with the seeds/plantlets of slow growing vines

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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Oct 11, 2020
If the aim is to build an indoor wall covered with plants, we might start right from the beginning. For this, can we design the walls to contain special pockets that are infused with the seeds/plantlets of some of the really slow-growing creeper plants and vines? For example, Wisteria plant can be a good candidate for this. This plant is a slow grower, adding at most a couple of its woody vines each year. Similarly, Clematis spp plants are also easy to grow and control. Additionally, some evergreens could be also tried with this idea. The grape ivy (Cissus alata) in particular is one such plant that grows slow and remains lush mostly throughout the year.
The same can be done for edible, fruiting vines. However, the infusion must be carefully designed. The pockets should be built in optima distance from each other, supplied with soil/nutrients. Also, drip irrigation might be incorporated into the design of this system.


Mini plant frame

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Feb 06, 2021
I also made this small frame variant that is suitable to be used in small apartments, tiny houses, and anywhere where there is not a lot of space.

  • frames are made of aluminium (2kg in total)
  • pockets are made of plastic felt material, 2mm in thickness
  • Plants are potted with soil directly into the pocket
  • The latest version takes approximately half a liter of water, poured in from the top. The water gradually trickles down through all 9 pockets. The frame needs watering around every 3rd day.
  • each frame takes about 3 hours to build (1 hour goes into polishing)
  • the dimensions of the latest version are 42 x 42 cm because it matches the 9 felt pockets
  • the cost of production per frame is about 39 EUR



DIY aquaponics wall

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 03, 2020
I'm drawn between these two options:

  1. Except for the plants not being edible, this guy has an amazing DIY green wall system.
  2. Alternatively, I could put such aquaponic towers against the wall. This guy lists a few crop plants. They are not suitable for low light conditions though.

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