This week marks the end of the Vertical Farming Design Challenge here at Element14, and I can truly say that we are all sad to see it come to an end. I thoroughly enjoyed writing about all of the design challenges over this past year, but the Vertical Farming Challenge has definitely been my favorite. For those of you who do not know, I have been into farming, specifically gardening, my whole life, and one of my first electrical engineering projects was attempting to automate a small greenhouse many years ago.


This love of gardening led to a Master Gardener Certificate from Clemson University about five years ago, and since then I have been planning to revisit the automated garden idea. Unfortunately the lack of expendable funds have prevented me from jumping back into this arena. So naturally, I was exuberant when I found out that Element14 would be hosting a farming-based Design Challenge! If you have read any of my Weekly Wrap-ups or Project Summaries that feature Vertical Farming projects, you will notice this excitement.


Since I have covered so much of this challenge in those Weekly Wrap-ups, and Summaries, I am going to change up the format in which I write this Design Challenge Summary. Instead of listing out every project, and its highlights, I am going to take this opportunity to reflect on some of my favorite project updates throughout the challenge. Not all projects will be mentioned, but I am hoping the content I do highlight will give everyone a sense of how good this Design Challenge was.


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If you would like a complete listing of all the the projects chosen for this challenge, head over to the Vertical Farming Design Challenge main page.



It appeared early on that the projects in the Vertical Farming Design Challenge were going to be massive undertakings that would require many hours, and lots of labor to complete. One of the first indicators of this was project Ferris Farm. The system that Shane Sissions (shanesissons) devised was nothing short of ingenious. A vertical farm designed around the mechanics of a Ferris Wheel simply blew my mind. It allowed for plants to achieve optimal nutrient dosage, light exposure, and water. Unfortunately, Ferris Farm was one of the projects that seemed to fizzle out about halfway in.




Another project that had so much potential in the beginning was Automated Farm by Ognyan Chikov (ochikov). His plan seemed solid, and the initial progress was great! Unfortunately, it appears that the requirement to use the Silicon Labs EZR32WG Wireless kits added too much complexity to the project for Ognyan to continue. The last project blog update was on September 10th, in which he laid out his plan to utilize a pair of Arduino’s to handle his systems data acquisition and delivery.




Keith Earns’ (ickkii) project Eden was another project that seemed to be poised to become epic. His initial few blog post were great, and featured a lot of intricate planning, great diagrams, and excellent blog structure. Like many others, it never made it past its third update, and Keith left us with a great concept, but an empty project.



One of my favorite projects early on was the Vertically Oriented Modular System by Rick Reynolds (RWReynolds), and it quickly became one of the lead contenders in the challenge. Rick’s blogs were well laid out, and filled with information. This project even convinced me to embrace a new cloud service called Initial State in which I now use on a daily basis for several of my home environment monitoring projects. Unfortunately  Rick stopped posting updates to the project on September 29th.



Project: Ambient Growth by John Henderson (sftwrngnr) was one of those projects that I followed but never truly got into. It’s concept was solid, and his progress seemed to be somewhat regular. Unfortunately John never posted any photos of the project, and his blog post seemed to die off near the end of October.




All in all, three projects really stood out to me due to their creator’s dedication, good documentation, and innovative ideas. The first of these three is project Modular Farm by José Marques (jmbranco76). This project has seen its share of ups and downs, but José has always managed to work out the issues that arose. As you can see from the image above, Jose has had very good success with his Modular Farm prototype, and things are growing very well as the challenge draws to a close.




James O’Donnell’s (jamesod) project, Vertical Hydroponics is another favorite of mine. I have been thoroughly impressed from the very beginning to its current state, and while the project did seem to stall out for a few weeks while James became a new dad, we can not help but be impressed with the project’s outcome! As you can see from the image above, James is already harvesting lettuce from the project, and said that he is growing enough to provide his family with a salad each meal.



Finally we come to my favorite project of the entire challenge, and it just so happens to be the most updated of the challenge as well. Project Adapted Greenhouse by Michael Ratcliffe (m.ratcliffe) is simply astounding for lack of better words. The updates to this project go way beyond the scope of the original plan, and Michael thoroughly covers every aspect of every section of his system. Almost every update includes a video explaining what’s going on, as well as photos, diagrams, and code. Furthermore, Michael has been a champion of collaboration on his project as well as others that are part of this challenge, or related to it in some way. I highly urge everyone to take an hour or so to go back and read through the entire project’s blog post.



That is going to wrap up my coverage of the Vertical Farming Design Challenge for now. This challenge has truly been a pleasure to write about week after week! I am going to be sad next Monday when I login and there is nothing for me to write about. Finally, I want to thank everyone who has read my weekly summaries, project summaries, and other Design Challenge related post. Your feedback, support, and comments have been truly inspiring, and I can not wait to start a new series of them in 2016! I will be back to cover the winners announcement. I hope everyone enjoyed this challenge as much as I did, and I can not wait to see how the Open Source Music Tech Challenge turn out.