Spring Prototype 01

In order to jump start the process I decided to go back to the electronics and sensor network aspect proposed in earlier presentations.


This arduino and sensors connect to a php script which writes the data to a mongo database.

In order to view this data I built an html5/  javascript visualizer http://thesis.piuggi.com/systems/prototype_001/


Filtration Updates

Its been quite a busy week, Monday morning arrived on schedule with a surprise. A giant leak on the floor! Of course this became priority number one, finding the leak and stopping it. In the end this leak provided a turning point after analysis of my failed prototypes inevitably spawning a change in direction.

During the past weeks prototypes proved hopeful; successfully using the arduino to control solenoid valves. Solenoids provided the ability to have water continually recirculating for fish while intermittently watering plant beds, augmenting a hydroponic method known as an Ebb & Flow System (EFS). An EFS is achieved by filling and draining a grow bed with nutrient rich water. The bed is filled and drained every 15-30 minutes depending on climate. The modification to the EFS was in the continual flow of water for fish. Generally in an aquaponic EFS a bed is filled and drained as the only filtration for the fish. When the system is not running the water sits stagnent, generally with an aerator for oxygenation. The solenoids were a means to circumvent all stagnant water in an EFS providing continual flow from the tank to the filter. The hypothesis was to generate more oxygen, remove ammonia( fish waste ) through its conversion into Nitrates( plant food ).

Implementing the flow control into the EFS illuminated 3 main issues: 1. Wire tensions  2. Circuit/Water Safety 3. Filtration Methods. The areas of insight provided a new more cohesive direction for the ecosystem itself.

Wire tensions proved to be a big hurdle; with limited space the connections were pulled causing solenoid miss fires. A pretty big issue when these valves are intended to regulate watering cycles. After re-soldering the devices, with extra slack, the prototype was re-tested. But, again a fail.

Upon circuit analysis a flaw in the system was discovered. When a solenoid was the lowest resting point for water and the valve shut off, it trapped liquid in the tube above it. Eventually, this water dripped (slowly) on to the valve and caused more malfunctions – luckily not shorting out the valves. After this point the valves no longer fired as individuals, but only fired synchronously, the opposite of their intended function within the system. This prompted a day long investigation, where each part was dismantled, analyzed and reassembled. The task resulted in an unsuccessful diagnosis, the only outcome was to realization that the circuit must be rebuilt.

Before pushing further down the same path, it became apparent that there might be another means to achieve the goal of continuous flow. This led to the inquiry of other aquaponic filtration methods (in this sense also nutrient delivery methods). The EFS is one way to achieve a thriving ecosystem, but has flaws in aquarium based aquaponics. An EFS uses the bed as its filter however this means that large waste particles are not removed, and water clarity can suffer although it is nutrient rich.

Research presented itself in the form of an online video (via the urban farming guys) and a direction to clearer water, through the use of a raft system (RS). Raft systems demand the utmost of clean water because the roots of the plants live directly within the water, if the roots are coated with build up it will hinder their absorption of nutrients. The means to executing this method is through adding a filtration measure known as a clarifier. Clarifiers remove large waste from the system before it get to the filter. Their purpose is to provide a simple means to remove fertilizer from the system.

In an apartment and aquarium water quality are extremely important. A cloudy tank looks unsightly due to implied negligence. The goal of the last prototype was to run water through a filter more ofter in order to provide cleaner water. However research suggests that rather than use a control point for this a water flow filter should be used to remove larger particles from the water.

Waking up this Monday, after a day trying to diagnose the ails of the solenoid circuit to find the custom filter leaking, pushed the realization that there is an alternative method to  clean presentable water in aquarium aquaponics. Moving forward a clarifier and new sump are being created from materials as quickly as possible. A raft bed and vertical planters have been created. The clarifier and new sump will have the new system ready and online shortly.





The methodological module provided the opportunity to examine successful projects, in
order to understand the methodologies they implemented. During this time period a
variety of precedent projects were researched. Three projects were highlighted as key precedents to the body of research being conducted. The rationale for their role as a precedent was articulated and then each project was examined by a framework, in order to best understand its approach and results. Download the methodological presentation here (presentation-wk9).

Each precedent was outlined by its Approach, Medium, Planning and Result. The three projects analyzed were Fritz Haeg’s Edible Estates, Britta Riley’s Window Farms, and Ken Rinaldo and Amy Youngs’, Farm Fountain. These projects showcased themselves as the most relevant to UNAS, and their successes, warranted further analysis (figure5.a). In the end, this task facilitated a keen understanding of the competition’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as avenues for adoption and an outline of what makes successful projects in Urban Agriculture.

The exercise highlighted the need for community involvement, through the methodology of both Edible Estates and Window Farms, and their success being related directly to fostering communities of people. Farm Fountains inability to foster a community highlighted a disconnect and a potential area of growth for them. Overall the methods for success were noted and are key to set the methodology for which this work must observe. At the same time this analysis facilitated the projects analysis into the Evaluative Module.

the Technical Module

After researching the conceptual and social aspects of local food production, and getting a good idea about who and what I am talking about, I decided to tackle the technical aspects of what I am building. In the end I have come to the realization that I am building a system to create an efficient networked aquaponics garden to foster sustainable communities. By creating a network of small gardens, urban producers/gardeners/farmers will be able to spread their gardens out and receive vital update dynamically via the control and tracking system.  

Take a look at my presentation for an update to my thinking.









Had the opportunity to sit down and chat with a few people about my project but more importantly about the idea of Aquaponics and its relation is society. I spoke with Michelle Callabro, fellow MFADt Student, and Derek Haviland, Communications & Outreach Director at CAFCA.

Michelle has been working on documenting urban agriculture, in Harlem with her cousin. Her examinations of the users provided me the opportunities to discover what she has found. Her short videos are coming out soon, and I hope to link to them. Michelles connections with the community and her documentary research provided me with the ability to see what has failed in the past working in communities and how I can better position myself within the areas I am trying to help. Quotes to follow.

I had an interesting discussion with Derek about Aquaponics. Derek was in charge of investigating the use of aquaponics systems in urban, low-income communities in Connecticut. He discussed the benefits, to a community, the potential job creation and increased access to fresh vegetables. Derek also provided great insight into the limitations of setting up a system as such, telling me that he believes the government(state and federal) will need to get involved to get something like this started. I will follow up with him again as he is proving to have great insights.

Brooklyn Hydroponics

There was a recent article in the New York Times highlighting, a successful local hydroponic farm. The article brings up many interesting points about the segment to the restaurant business and the benefits of taste vs. soil based vegetables. Chefs, and restauranteurs discuss pros and cons hydroponics in a very intriguing NYT article.

The article makes me think that there is definitely a market for fresh local goods (hydroponic even); I wonder who is buying this produce? I am also curious about how these individuals feel about hydroponic vegetables, and if they have ever considered growing there own.

To me it seems there also might be another potential user group for my ideas.

The Beginning

This is a recap of my work to date exploring urban agriculture. Last semester I used two courses as a jumping off point to explore the subjects of data visualizations and urban aquaculture/ agriculture. You can see my final posts for each of the projects that combined together here: http://makingtoys.net/2011/05/17/easy-edibles/http://teaching.vargatron.com/dataVisSpring2011/?p=304

Additionally, you can check out a pdf of my first presentation, check back for more information about this project.