by Amber

Sustainable Desert Growing

In a coastal area, you can grow tons of food year around without using a drop of fresh water, and get 80% of your energy from the sun. You can grow lots of crops with ocean water if you go about it right, and do so with less input capital than traditional business plans for a commercial hydroponic greenhouse operation. There is also no reason that the average person can’t use the same methods to grow their own private food source, but this particular post is about just how much impact the innovations in place at Sundrop Farms.

They grow millions of kilos of top quality produce on the edge of The Outback… at a lower cost than anyone else. And they’re using solar power and sea water to do it. In fact, this indoor farm is so successful they recently gained the attention of an investment group who have funded a massive expansion of their facilities.

Getting something from nothing is obviously possible. Technology and innovation can relieve us of the shackles Big Ag wants to keep the world tethered with. Big business lobbies long, hard hours to keep their complexities glued in place. Ah, but you see, new life arises from chaos, which is basically the state of the world today, while habit is the result of order.

Sundrop Farms is gearing up to install 20-hectares of new indoor growing space in the middle of the desert, and in a remote spot outside of town at that. Summer heat is brutal where they are, but as you can see by the image above their crops are lush and thriving in the climate-controlled greenhouses. Arid conditions don’t exist under their poly-cover. The same system that desalinates the ocean water they use to run the hydroponic systems, also provides both cooling and humidity to the thousands of plants they’re already growing. All mechanical is powered by sun energy too. It’s completely sustainable without any assistance from the grid.

We wrote a little about Sundrop in a post on the Seawater Greenhouses company’s work in the EA and Australia last summer. While their start up was a Seawater Greenhouse design, they have changed all that, re-engineering it to use the sun to desalinate their water. What they’re doing is totally new, while the ‘innovation’ still in use in Qatar and other arid places is actually ancient Greek knowledge written about by Aristotle. SG didn’t invent it, and there are others around the world testing the same method of turning saltwater fresh, but only Sundrop is harnessing the sun to provide all their needs.

They’re using parabolic mirrors that follow the sun from dawn to sunset, capturing every drop of energy it beams down. However, there is still some limited use of fossil fuel in the form of natural gas. This is because even in a warm climate, there are cool periods and cloudy days, both of which lead to imperfect harvests, reduction of production, and plant health problems. No commercial client is going to buy less-than-perfect fruits! Shoppers won’t purchase them.

They only resort to this backup energy system when absolutely necessary in order to maintain everything at a profitable level of quality. They still use very little fossil fuel to grow massive quantities of fresh, pesticide-free tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers at Sundrop Farms.

This change from the original plan didn’t make the Seawater Greenhouse gang very happy, but while it was a good place to start a totally new way to get water for growing, the design had serious flaws. The rest of the Sundrop team bought out Paton’s share of ownership in the venture, and retooled everything. The desalinators weren’t built for the long haul under commercial growing pressure. Still, for making the impossible possible with very little working capital, it is obviously a workable plan that you could make better. How long would one expect cardboard and plywood to hold up being constantly wet? And highly corrosive salt water at that.

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The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.