1. Introduction

Our project is researching about which soil is perfect for both balsam and onion to thrive in and grow to its full potential and creating a mini version of a house with the proper environment to meet the growth factors of the plants.

We would like to use the perfect soil so that the plants can grow to its fullest condition and will be at the best state it can ever be in. We want our plants (onions and balsam) to grow well. According to Kathy Van Mullekom (2001), there is no such thing as a perfect soil and all soil has some sort of problem -- structure, texture or chemistry. Therefore, we would want to try our best to create the soil from the best of our ability which best suits the plants

We chose the plants balsam and onion because these plants are needed in our SST Secondary One Biology curriculum. It is a win-win situation in where we can help to supply the plants and not waste the school’s money buying them and we can also complete our project.

Type of research: Improve a product or process: Industrial and applied research
Category: Plant Sciences

1.1 Problem being addressed
 (1000 Word)

In Singapore, land is scarce and due to competing for land use for different purposes (residential, commercial, industrial and recreational). As there is so many stiff competition between different purposes, there would end up having very less land for agriculture or farming. Therefore, we have to create an environment that can house plenty of plants but yet with a smaller amount of land. We investigated and finally came out with a good idea. We decided to build a vertical greenhouse with rags that stack on top of each other, resulting in a small amount of land being used. We can also plant more plants at the same time. This vertical farming system would be containing balsam and onion which would be used for our lower secondary curriculum. According to Wikipedia, vertical farming is a component of urban agriculture where food is produced in vertically stacked layers, vertically inclined surfaces and/or integrated into other structures. The modern idea of vertical farming uses controlled environment agriculture technology, where all environmental factors can be controlled. In this case, my team actually has many controlled variables such that the environmental factor is ideal and suitable for the growth of the plants. Some variables that we took into consideration are the amount of ventilation, the amount of shade for the plants and the amount of water that we will be giving the plants. We also focused on controlling the type of soil and each of these factors: pH, nitrate, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium. If each of these factors does not match the ones that we researched, we would add nutrients such that it becomes the most optimal results for the balsam and onions. The reason why these factors are vital to our greenhouse is because we want the most optimal environment for our plants to flourish in. We want both our plants (onion and balsam) to grow the best and in that case, we have to ensure that all the 13 factors (pH, nitrate, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, sand, silt, clay, amount of shade, amount of water, temperature) meet the amount that we researched. Some troubles that we were facing as a group in this project are the controlled variables. It was hard at first to engineer the soil. We had to test the pH, nitrate, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium of sand, silt and clay before mixing them together. Testing was not the issue but collecting the data was difficult. We experienced a tough time when trying to apply our findings to the final soil as we had to ensure that the soil criteria was met before we end the experiment. We also had to grow our balsam at the start so that it would not be a hassle trying to find it once we were done with our project. The vertical greenhouse that we built was done on task and fulfils the 3 environmental factors (amount of shade, amount of water, temperature) that we were looking out for. We were having some problems with the measurements at first but we managed to come out with a better idea and there is also more stability for the upper layer of the house. However, according to our research, there are many challenges regarding vertical farming. According to the National Science Foundation (2012), there is estimated to be around 9 billion people in 2050 and an estimated 1 billion hectares of new land to feed everyone. Unfortunately, already 80% of usable farmland is already in use and 87% of the earth’s water is already used for agriculture farming but yet 850 million people are still undernourished. This would then lead to a decrease in agricultural productivity and a vulnerability to disease and pests. In this case, my team ensures that we make use of a small amount of land to actually farm food for the people. Although we did manage to complete the house with the criteria matched, we are still determined that we would like the further improve and enhance on the quality of the growing conditions of the plants and also not forgetting the structure of the house. We would like to include an irrigation channel with a water pump to ensure that the amount of water given to the plants are automatically controlled, therefore, it would be easier for the farmers so that they do not have to manually water and the roots of the plants can also easily access the water. We also intend to insert a ventilation fan which can help circulate the air inside the greenhouse such that it will not be too stuffy for the people and the plants in there otherwise it will result in the plants dying due to overheating from the sun. After completing all these, we would like to finalise our greenhouse with a key factor that can help control the amount of sunlight. We would like to create a system on the rooftop such that the acrylic would be covered automatically with something that can directly block the sunlight when the temperature hits a certain amount which will all be controlled by a temperature detector. This way, we can ensure that our plants would not die due to any overheating by the sun. Apart from that, we also have to make sure that the water used to water the plants through the irrigation channel are properly filtered and that there are no impurities that could either kill the plant or affect the growth of it. We would also further secure the wire gauze to ensure that rats or any pests would not enter the greenhouse and destroy the crops inside. With all these factors included into our greenhouse, we can ensure that the number of problems faced within the parameter of vertical farming is overcome as we ensure that our plants grow well in the best environment and will not die easily with the controlled factors included into our project. We can then ensure that the plants would not be in any way poisoned or in defect when being consumed.

     1.2 Engineering Goals

To develop a vertical greenhouse for balsam and onion such that it meets the growing conditions of the plants.

1.3 Specific Requirements

  1. Build a house that measure 50cm by 30cm by 60cm
  2. Grow balsam and onion
  3. Carry out soil testing for pH, nitrate, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, iron and magnesium.
  4. Engineer the soil and add nutrients the get the right quality of soil for the plants

1.4 Alternative Solutions

1.4.1 Design 1 (Figure 1)

1.4.2 Design 2 (Figure 2)

1.4.3 Design 3 (Figure 3)

1.4.4 Decision Making Matrix

Table 1: This is the table which we used to evaluate which factors are the ones that we would like to consider as a team.

1.4.5 Best solution and rationale

Table 2: This is the table used for voting our ideas and coming up with the best idea to focus on.

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