February 29, 2024


Science It Works

What’s Growing On: Smart Garden Growing Project

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) – Growing crops in the dog days of summer can be quite a challenge in North Central Florida.

So having the ability to grow them all year is something researchers are giving some extra thought to.

When growing any type of plant or crop, you normally think of the essentials: water and sunlight. But UF IFAS and partners are successfully growing plants, all the while using a lot less of those two elements.

IFAS’ Research and Education Center in Live Oak just debuted its Smart Garden Indoor Agriculture Facility.

The 40-foot-long shipping container is one of just fifteen given by the Electric Power Research Institute in different climates across the U.S.

Wanda Laughlin, the program manager for the Smart Garden facility, says “as you have a water source and a power source and you can grow a crop where farming would essentially be unattainable.”

Bob Hochmuth, an IFAS extension agent at the research center adds the facility “uses sensors for many different variables including “the nutrients, the light levels, the ventilation, carbon dioxide, all of those things that work into providing the perfect baby kale, we can provide those conditions here inside this container.”

And all variables that impact these plants can be controlled from the convenience of your cell phone.

There are cameras in the unit for those in charge of the project who can actually look at plants and make any adjustments needed just by visually seeing them on a phone.

The facility uses water that recycles directly to its own reservoir, only using 8 gallons of water per day.

Blue and red LED lights are used to best generate photosynthesis for the kale.

However, because these lights emit heat within the building, temperature control is a must.

And as the kale grows throughout the year, Bob, Wanda, and their team at the research center hope to grow a “high-value” product and will be investigating “what effect will it have on the electric grid if it becomes a more standard kind of a production system.”

The baby kale are donated to Catholic Charities and the Florida Gateway Food Bank in Lake City.

Bob and the team in Live Oak expect to know the electric output of the project by the end of the year.

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