Annex A - Group Research Proposal



Group Members: 
Andrea Loh Yue Heng
Ashley Chan Shi Ya
Bryan Tan Jun Wei

Class: S2-08

1. Group Reference: A
2. Type & Category
  • Type of research: 6  [Improve a product or process: Industrial and applied research]
  • Category: 20 [Plant Sciences]
  • Sub-Category: Others

Application of project relevant to SST Community, Society or the World:

This project allows us to apply the knowledge (amount of water, soil type and nutrients) we have about plants (such as balsam and onion) to build a multi-storied vertical farming system. It benefits our school as students require balsam and onion skin to work on their activity.

C.    Write down your research title:
Development of a Vertical Farming System

D.   (a) Problem being addressed
The school is in need of plants (onions and balsam) for its lower secondary curriculum. After doing some research, we found out the best conditions needed for balsam and onions to flourish in. In Singapore, there is a shortage of land for agriculture. Hence by planting them in a vertical manner, we hope to reduce the space needed for agriculture.
(b) Goals
  • To build a vertical farm
  • To grow balsam and onion  

(c) Specify Requirments 
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

(d) 3 possible solutions
  • We have found 3 possible solutions for agriculture. They are shown in the figure below.

1.4.1 Design 1

1.4.2 Design 2

1.4.3 Design 3

(e) Choice and rationale for choice
  • We decided that the following factors are important for our consideration.
  • Table 1: List of factors for consideration in the design of the prototype 

Table 1: Ranking matrix for factors affecting the choice

  • When we rank the importance, we found that the normalised value are as follows: -

Table 2: The decision making matrix for the 3 most important factors.

E.    Method – Description in detail of method or procedures (The  following are important and key items that should be included when formulating ANY AND ALL research plans.)
 For the house
  • Acrylic glass
  • Wooden pillars
  • Trays
  • Balsam and onion shoots
  • Wire gauze
  • Glue
  • Water
  • Nails and hammer

  1. For the soil testing
  • Soil test kit
  • LaMotte test kit
  • Grinder

So, we decided to choose Solution 3.

(b) Diagrams

  • This is a greenhouse measuring 50cm by 50cm by 50cm excluding the roof of the greenhouse. The two white handles are to show that the wire gauze can be opened in order for easier observation.


  • The back of the greenhouse shows that there is a lot of ventilation for the plants and there would not be any heat trapped inside as air can easily flow. It also prevents any rats from sneaking in to destroy our plants.

(c) Procedures for building: Detail all procedures for construction of prototype

  • Firstly, we would have to cut out the pieces of wood.
  • Lastly, you would have to paint the wood pieces to ensure that they are waterproof and attach everything together in order to get a functional house, including the wire gauze.

Balsam Plants:

- What is the description:
Balsam is a Victorian garden favorite. It is a quick growing summer and you will get blooms in about 60-70 days. Balsam is a member of the Impatiens family. Balsam are native to Asia, North America, and South Africa. The flowers bear double petals. Balsams come in white, red, orange, yellow, violet, and pink. These flowers have thickly spaced petals and tones.

- What is the care needed:
According to Grant, B. (2014, August 24), he used the following steps
  1. Fertilise plants when they are at least 2 inches tall and have a good root base.
  2. Balsam needs moist, well-drained soil and are best in partial shade locations.
  3. Amend the soil with compost and break up clods before.
  4. Spacing is 12 to 18 inches apart.
  5. Use a soaker hose or drip line system for watering.
  6. The plants will need watering at least once a week.
  7. Collect the seed pod carefully at the end Spring for another year of rose balsam beauty in your garden. Let the pod dry and keep in a closed plastic bag or jar in a dark, cool area of the home until spring.
  8. Large pots are recommended to plant Balsam Plant.
  9. If insect or disease problems occur, treat with organic or chemical insect repellents and fungicide.
Plant Height: 14" - 20"
Flowers Bloom: Long flowering, from summer through fall.

  1. Nitrate ---------------------- 12%
  2. Potassium ------------------ 12%
  3. Phosphorus ----------------- 17%
  4. Magnesium ----------------- 10%
  5. Iron -------------------------- 2 to 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
  6. Calcium --------------------- 65%
  7. Sand ------------------------ 30-40% (estimated)
  8. Silt -------------------------- 30-40% (estimated)       
  9. Clay ------------------------- 20-30% (estimated)
  10. Amount of shade ---------- Half sunlight half shade
  11. Amount of water ---------- during dry periods, once or twice per wk
  12. pH level ---------------------- 5-6 pH
  13. Temperature --------------- 24, high humidity
YELLOW - types of soil

GREEN - physical environment


  • What is the description:
The onion (Allium cepa L.) (Latin cepa = onion), also known as the bulb onion or common onion, is a vegetable and is the most widely cultivated species of the genus Allium.

- What is the care needed:
According to Plants, B. (n.d.). Growing Onions - Bonnie Plants

  1. Requires abundant sun and good drainage
  2. Raised beds or raised rows made by mounding up soil are ideal
  3. Mix a 2-inch layer of compost into the soil before placing an organic fertilizer into planting furrows, following label rates
  4. Set plants 1 inch deep, so that their roots are well covered with soil so that plant’s neck is not buried too deeply
  5. You don’t want the part of the neck where the leaves grow away from the clear sheath to collect soil or water down between the young leaves, or they can rot.
  6. Space plants 6 inches apart in furrows 12 inches apart. Plants will appreciate a starter solution of liquid fertilizer after planting.
  7. Get the plants off to a strong start by mixing an organic or timed-release fertilizer into the soil before your plant your onions. This fertilization technique, called “banding,” places nutrients right where young onion roots will find them
  8. fertilise with (mulch) light layer of weed-free and herbicide-free grass clippings
  9. tops of the bulbs are allowed to bask in dry sun
  10. Remove mulch that might keep the bulbs excessively moist
  11. Plant the largest ones together only 2 inches apart to start enjoying as green onions in just two or three weeks.


  1. You can harvest young onions just a few weeks after planting if you want to use them as “spring onions” or scallions. There is no perfect size, just pull when they are big enough to suit you.
  2. Keep them in a cool, bright place but out of direct sun until you are ready to plant
  3. each plant will start growing within days after you plant, so eep them in a cool, bright place but out of direct sun until you are ready to plant
  4. Bulbs must stay dry and have good air circulation


  1. Nitrate ----------------------- 15%
  2. Potassium ------------------- 15%
  3. Phosphorus ------------------ 15%
  4. Magnesium ------------------ 10 mg (3%)  
  5. Iron --------------------------- 0.21mg (2%)
  6. Calcium ----------------------- 23mg (2%)
  7. Sand -------------------------- 40% (Estimated)
  8. Silt ---------------------------- 60% (Estimated)
  9. Clay --------------------------- % (Estimated)
  10. Amount of shade ------------ Half sunlight half shade
  11. Amount of water ------------ you want to provide a thorough soaking to a depth of six inches once a week rather than just a light sprinkling each day.
  12. pH level ------------------------ 6.5-6.8 PH
  13. Temperature ------------------ 10- 35, max 40

ORANGE - nutrients

YELLOW - types of soil

GREEN - physical environment

Types of Soil:

There are many different types of soil as listed below :-

  • Soil can vary from pH 3.5 to pH 8.5. There are four basic types of soil which are SANDY, LOAM, CLAY and CHALK.

  • SAND (pH 4.5):
  • This soil feels gritty. It is free graining, so plant’s nutrients are washed away. One advantage is that is warms up quickly so sowing and planting can start early. To help retain moisture, feed in winter with leaf mould and well-rotted manure.

  • LOAM (pH 5.5-8.5):
  • This is often considered as the optimum soil for herb growing.. There are various types of loam. A sandy loam is the best for growing Mediterranean herbs.

  • CLAY (pH 6.5):
  • This soil has many tiny particles that stick together when wet, making the soil heavy and difficult for roots to penetrate. In summer, when dry, it sets hard. Even though it can be rich in nutrients, improve its structure by working in well-rotted leaf mould. This will enable young plants to establish themselves.

  • CHALK (pH 8.5):
  • This soil is light and has lumps of chalk. It drains well. Nutrients can be increased with compost, but it is hard to reduce alkalinity. It is easier to grow them in raised bed for root depth and moisture.

Types of Nutrients:

  • The different types of nutrients are….

Nitrate , Potassium , Phosphorus , Magnesium , Iron , Calcium

According to Hawaii, U. O. (n.d.). Essential Nutrients :
The primary nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These three nutrients because they are required in larger quantities than other nutrients. These three elements form the basis of the N-P-K label on commercial fertilizer bags. As a result, the management of these nutrients is very important.  

According to Lamb, J. A., Fernandez, F. G., & Kaiser, D. E. (n.d.). Understanding nitrogen in soils:
      Nitrogen is the nutrient most often deficient for crop production in Minnesota and its use can result in substantial economic return for farmers. However, when N inputs to the soil system exceed crop needs, there is a possibility that excessive amounts of nitrate (NO3--N) may enter either ground or surface water.

Nitrification is a biological process and proceeds rapidly in warm, moist, well-aerated soils. Nitrification slows at soil temperatures below 50 degrees F. Nitrate-N is a negatively charged ion and is not attracted to soil particles or soil organic matter like NH4+-N. Nitrate-N is water soluble and can move below the crop rooting zone under certain conditions.

Denitrification is a process by which bacteria convert NO3--N to N gases that are lost to the atmosphere. Denitrifying bacteria use NO3--N instead of oxygen in the metabolic processes. Denitrification takes place in waterlogged soil and with ample organic matter to provide energy for bacteria. For these reasons, denitrification is generally limited to topsoil. Denitrification can proceed rapidly when soils are warm and become saturated for 2 or 3 days.  

According to L. B., J. L., G. R., G. R., & M. S. (n.d.). The nature of phosphorus in soils: Phosphorus
        Adequate P availability for plants stimulates early plant growth and hastens maturity. Although P is essential for plant growth, mismanagement of soil P can pose a threat to water quality. The concentration of P is usually sufficiently low in fresh water so that algae growth is limited. When lakes and rivers are polluted with P, excessive growth of algae often results.  

   Phosphorus in soils is almost entirely associated with soil particles. When soil particles are carried to a river or lake, P will be contained in this sediment. When the sediment reaches a body of water it may act as a sink or a source of P in solution. In either case, it is a potential source of P that may eventually be released.  Most soils have a large capacity to retain P. Even large additions of P will be mostly retained by soils provided there is adequate contact with the soil. Increasing the amounts of phosphate in soils results in increased levels of phosphate in soil solutions. This will generally result in small but potentially important increases in the amounts of phosphate in water that passes over or through soils. Phosphate in soils is associated more with fine particles than coarse particles. When soil erosion occurs, more fine particles are removed than coarse particles, causing sediment leaving a soil through erosion to be enriched in P.

According to G. R., & M. S. (n.d.). Potassium for crop production:
         Potassium is associated with movement of water, nutrients, and carbohydrates in plant tissue. If K is deficient or not supplied in adequate amounts, growth is stunted and yields are reduced. Various research efforts have shown that potassium helps stimulates early growth,increases protein production, improves the efficiency of water use, vital for stand persistence, longevity, and winter hardiness of alfalfa, and improves resistance to diseases and insects.  

Soil Moisture: Higher soil moisture usually means greater availability of K. Increasing soil moisture increases movement of K to plant roots and enhances availability.
Soil Aeration and Oxygen Level: Air is necessary for root respiration and K uptake. Root activity and subsequent K uptake decrease as soil moisture content increases to saturation. Levels of oxygen are very low in saturated soils.
Soil Temperature: Root activity, plant functions, and physiological processes all increase as soil temperature increases. This increase in physiological activity leads to increased K uptake.
Tillage System: Availability of soil K is reduced in no-till and ridge-till planting systems. The exact cause of this reduction is not known. Results of research point to restrictions in root growth combined with a restricted distribution of roots in the soil.
According to Management, S. F. (n.d.). Magnesium in plants and soil :
           Magnesium is an essential plant nutrient. It has a wide range of key roles in many plant functions. One of the magnesium's well-known roles is in the photosynthesis process, as it is a building block of the Chlorophyll, which makes leaves appear green. Magnesium deficiency might be a significant limiting factor in crop production. Since magnesium is mobile within the plant, deficiency symptoms appear on lower and older leaves first. The first symptom is pale leaves, which then develop an interveinal chlorosis. In some plants, reddish or purple spots will appear on the leaves.

Magnesium in soil solution – Magnesium in soil solution is in equilibrium with the exchangeable magnesium and is readily available for plants.
Exchangeable magnesium – This is the most important fraction for determining the magnesium that is available to plants. This fraction consists of the magnesium held by clay particles and organic matter. It is in equilibrium with magnesium in soil solution.
Non-exchangeable magnesium – Consists of the magnesium that is a constituent of primary minerals in the soil. The breakdown process of minerals in soils is very slow; therefore, this magnesium fraction is not available to plants.    

According to Management, S. F. (n.d.). Iron Nutrition in Plants:
       Iron deficiency is a limiting factor of plant growth. Iron is present at high quantities in soils, but its availability to plants is usually very low, and therefore iron deficiency is a common problem. When iron deficiency is identified, it can be treated in the short term by applying a foliar spray of iron, but the best course of action is prevention. Therefore, the grower should identify the real cause of the deficiency and treat it, in order to prevent the problem from occurring in the future.

Iron Fertilizers

Ferrous sulfate (FeSO4) contains about 20% iron. This fertilizer is inexpensive and is mainly used for foliar spraying. Applied to soil, it is often ineffective, especially in pH above 7.0, because its iron quickly transforms to Fe3+ and precipitates as one of the iron oxides.

Iron chelates. Chelates are compounds that stabilize metal ions (in this case - iron) and protect them from oxidation and precipitation.   

According to S. A. (n.d.). Agronomic Library :
        Calcium is present in adequate amounts in most soils. Calcium is a component of several primary and secondary minerals in the soil, which are essentially insoluble for agricultural considerations. These materials are the original sources of the soluble or available forms of Ca. Calcium is also present in relatively soluble forms, as a cation (positively charged Ca++) adsorbed to the soil colloidal complex. The ionic form is considered to be available to crops. Calcium is essential for many plant functions. Some of them are proper cell division and elongation and proper cell wall development, Nitrate uptake and metabolism, enzyme activity and starch metabolism.  

Soil pH: Acid soils have less Ca, and high pH soils normally have more. As the soil pH increases above pH 7.2, due to additional soil Ca, the additional "free" Ca is not adsorbed onto the soil. Much of the free Ca forms nearly insoluble compounds with other elements such as phosphorus (P), thus making P less available.
Soil CEC: Lower CEC soils hold less Ca, and high CEC soils hold more.
Cation competition: Abnormally high levels, or application rates of other cations, in the presence of low to moderate soil Ca levels tends to reduce the uptake of Ca.
Alkaline sodic soil (high sodium content): Excess sodium (Na) in the soil competes with Ca, and other cations to reduce their availability to crops.
Sub-soil or parent material: Soils derived from limestone, marl, or other high Ca minerals will tend to have high Ca levels, while those derived from shale or sandstone will tend to have lower levels.

Amount of water: They need sufficient amount of water to survive. We plan to water both plants with their respective amount of water.

Amount of sunlight: The balsam needs partial shade while the onions prefer full sun. We will modify the structure to allow the optimum amount of sunlight

Amount of shade: There will be a retractable cover where the plants can have their full or partial shade.

pH level: The type of soil will determine the pH level.

This soil texture triangle has actually helped us to better understand what soil is more suitable for each plant.

BLACK - soil requirement for balsam
BLUE - soil requirement for onion

Table for Nitrate, Phosphorus, Potassium

Table for all the 7 factors of sand, silt and clay.

For Onion:
We used 40% Nitrate, 48% Potassium, 12% Phosphorus

For Balsam:

We used 75% Nitrate, 25% Potassium, 0% Phosphorus

(d) Procedures for testing: Detail all procedures for testing of prototype

  1. Maximise the amount of sunlight directed onto the plant.
  • To test the maximum amount of sunlight that the plant can use, we are going to put the plant in various different set-ups that have varying amount of light in them (use shoeboxes and poke a varying number of holes to let light pass through). If the plant survives after a set number of days, the test is successful.

  1. Control the amount of water that needs to be used
  • We will test for the minimum amount of water that is needed for the plant to survive. We will water the plants with varying amounts of water from time to time and see whether the plant survives.

  1. Use the soil test kit to test for the soil components and make sure it matches the plant requirement.
  • The soil test kit will be used to test the soil components.

  1. Use soil type.

  • We will measure the types of soil (sand, clay and silt) via weight to make up the percentage.

(e) Risk, Assessment and Management: Identify any potential risks and safety precautions to be taken.

Table 3: Risk Assessment and Management table 

(f) Data Analysis: Describe the procedures you will use to analyse the data/results that answer engineering goals

1.  Tabulate the data and calculate the difference in growth for plants in different soil.
2.  Plot a table that shows the different soil content and compare them.
3.  From the graph, we can find out which soil component is best to create the best soil for the plant to grow in. (Aim)

F. Bibliography: List at least five (5) major sources (e.g. science journal articles, books, internet sites) from your literature review. If you plan to use vertebrate animals, one of these references must be an animal care reference. Choose the APA format and use it consistently to reference the literature used in the research plan. List your entries in alphabetical order for each type of source.

(a) Books
McVicar, J. (2010). Grow herbs. London: DK.
(b) Journals
BOWLER, I.. (2002). Developing Sustainable Agriculture. Geography, 87(3), 205–212. Retrieved from

Platt, P. (2016). Vertical Farming: An Interview with Dickson Despommier. Gastronomica, 80-87.

(c) Websites  



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