By Talia Beechick
Before you start humming “The Lion King,” take a look at Italian design firm DesignLibero’s latest creation—a wheel that enables owners to grow herbs and edible plants from the comfort of their home. Known as the Green Wheel, the design was originally conceptualized by NASA in the 1980s as a way to produce a steady supply of fresh produce while in space, according to the Gizmag website. Decades later, DesignLibero took the design and developed it into a practical tool for those of us still planted on Earth—pardon the pun.
According to the Gizmag website, NASA first envisioned the Green Wheel as a large rotating ring with plants growing inside. The plants would be nourished by built-in hydroponics, or solutions which contain mineral nutrients, rather than soil. This idea was placed on the backburner and eventually forgotten about until it was picked up years later by Italian designer Libero Rutilo. Nearly eight years ago, Rutilo began discussing micro gardens and, more specifically, the Green Wheel idea, with two acquaintances. Since then he has founded DesignLibero, a firm based out of Milan, Italy, which works on residential, recreational, retail and office designs internationally. Rutilo also slightly adjusted the Green Wheel’s design plan to develop it as a consumer good.
The Green Wheel: Mechanics, Watering System and Lighting System
Rutilo designed a sleek, non-rotating outer ring housing a perforated, motor-driven ring, which rotates at one revolution per hour. Tiny vases are nestled in the rotating ring and the vases are filled with coconut fiber to perfectly nourish the plants as they grow. This fiber, according to Clean Air Gardening, is packed with nutrients, absorbs water easily and efficiently, protects against harmful bacteria and can be used for up to 5 years.
In terms of which plants can be grown in the wheel itself, Rutilo stated that his design is built mainly to grow fine herbs, small vegetables and flowers. “Many kinds of orchids, for example, love hydroponic culture,” he said. In terms of dimensions, Rutilo described the wheel as approximately 40 inches tall (roughly 3 feet and four inches), and it holds 16 pots of plants. “The limit is its gravity. You can grow small cherry tomatoes, but not giant Italian tomatoes,” Rutilo said jokingly.
DesignLibero’s website offers extensive information on the Green Wheel’s efficient and simple watering system. Rather than having to remember to water your plants, users can sit back and watch as their plants rotate toward the bottom of the wheel where a water reservoir awaits. The plant-filled pots are then dipped into this reservoir, supplied by a water pump disguised underneath the wheel, and nourished before they continue their cyclic journey.
If you are worried about the plants getting enough sunlight, don’t fret because DesignLibero has it figured out. A tube-shaped LED fixture suspended in the middle of the rings provides proper, full-spectrum lighting. “In a growing period the plants need more blue light,” Rutilo said. “In a flowering period the plants need more yellow or orange light.” Ensuring your plants get the correct amount of light as well as the color of light is important to the life of the plants.
The water reservoir and lighting system are monitored and controlled wirelessly via smartphone or tablet app. This app not only adjusts the color temperature and amount of light received by the plants, but it also alerts the user when the water reservoir is running low and needs to be refilled. Also, “The app can control the illumination time—you can regulate the day and the night [cycles],” Rutilo said. For example, “if you grow fine herbs the best illumination time is 18 hours and the light is more blue because you don’t want to flower your fine herbs,” he said. You can also set the app to a growing program and flowering program. These programs will automatically know which color the LED bulb should be, but the user can also control the app with special RGB controls, according to Rutilo.
Rutilo said that DesignLibero intends to produce the Green Wheel for commercial use. This invention would give people living in apartments an easy method to grow a fairly large quantity of plants without needing an abundance of space or land. From an environmentally-friendly perspective, the plants rotate around a constant light source which translates into less lighting, and therefore, less power consumption. Since herbs and vegetables can now grow in our homes, the wheel also reduces transportation to and from the supermarket as well as plastic packaging consumption. It looks as though this little “circle of life” is actually helping a far larger one function.
What is Gravitropism and does it affect the Green Wheel?
One question may arise when considering this design—what about gravitropism? According to the studies of Charles Darwin, plant roots have a positive gravitropism, that is, they grow downwards, whereas the plant stems have a negative gravitropism, which means the stems grow away from the gravitational pull. So if we send plants spinning on a wheel, it would seem their growth development is bound to be pretty unstable, but according to the Growco Indoor Garden Supply of Michigan, this isn’t the case. The company stated that the rotation actually helps the plants grow because by placing more stress on the plants they are forced to grow shorter stems, which encourages greater nutrient uptake.
Growco features some examples of rotating hydroponic gardens on their website. The Volksgarden, for example, was created by Omega Gardens and costs $2,595. Growco said this design helps plants absorb water and nutrients in a highly effective manner. Plants ranging from herbs and vegetables to fruits and grains can grow within the structure. Larger than the Green Wheel, this design is 76 inches tall (roughly 6 feet 4 inches tall) and can grow up to 80 plants. Clearly, this design has been developed and modified by various garden and design experts, but who will come out as the leading supplier still remains to be seen.
According to Rutilo, “we are working on the prototype at the moment [and] we are also discussing partnerships with large companies to supply the wheel to a large, international public.” His estimated price of the wheel is around $886.20 (€700), though they aim to create a cheaper version without the smartphone controller app. Check out the DesignLibero website for more information about this ingenious new invention and its availability.