By Andy Corbley
From the ancient rice terraces of Yunnan to modern vertical hydroponics, agriculture comes in many different forms. Now a group of Italian brainiacs have created the world’s first underwater garden for terrestrial plants.
Seaweed and kelp have been cultivated along shorelines for centuries, but in small submersible glass domes, pots of basil, lettuce, tomatoes, and even zucchini flowers, green peas, aloe vera, and mushrooms are growing like in any other home garden.
The large self-sustaining, totally-contained biospheres would in theory be scalable, and perhaps in the future might look like the underwater city from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
The challenges inherent in growing plants underwater, given that they are normally at home in soil, was but one hurdle Nemo has had to overcome. The six air-filled greenhouses (or should that be bluehouses?) suffered major storm damage in October 2019, and before they could be fully repaired, COVID-19 had all the researchers sheltering in place.
Yet the team never gave up hope, as Euronews reports, and the months of abandonment did not harm the facility in any way. June 6th saw the garden fully-operational again, including their livestream where one can watch the plants literally grow.
The biospheres, which sit eight meters (26.25 feet) under the surface off the coast of Noli in Liguria, use solar energy for their minimal electrical needs, and evaporated seawater condenses on the glass of the ceiling which waters the plants. A diver swims under and up into the air pocket of the pod to harvest what’s ready to eat.
The project website says that increased pressure like that found under the ocean is actually beneficial to the speed at which plants can germinate, though they admit very little research has been published on the topic—after all, not so many people are currently trying to grow strawberries underwater.
The conditions create a really intense flavor in the vegetables, and also allow the plants’ environment to be completely controlled, with nothing impacting their life that the growers don’t want.
For now Nemo’s Garden is essentially a research lab, but if the idea were expanded, it’s expected to be able to reinforce food security for the peninsula, and the world.