Blimp Farming

Blimp Farming

California as an excellent climate zone for growing strawberries in the ground, but water consumption, pests and diseases are always a major concern wherever you grow. Well-designed and managed greenhouses can often help battle these concerns for farmers and gardeners by allowing them the complete control over how their crops are grown including aspects like soils, watering, heating, available light and pest/disease control. Although this control is beneficial to the crop production, it may not always be cost effective to build and manage large greenhouses.  With quality production and cost analysis in mind a relatively new structural design coming out of Oceanside, California has helped encourage greenhouse style gardening at a fraction of the cost. Daivd Chelf is the President of a company called Airstream Innovations and he has designed a unique organic greenhouse that helps conserve water consumption, naturally eliminate pests and diseases and improve photosynthesis making their strawberries more flavorful and nutrient rich all at a relatively low cost.

By using physics and technology Chelf has engineered a 300ft plastic tunnel with constant 3mph air flow. The structure has similarities to the high tunnels we’ve seen, except the constant airflow comes from two giant fans suspended in an intake tower and creates enough air pressure to keep the plastic tunnel inflated without a frame. According to Chelf, “The benefit (of the constant air flow) to the plant is that it ultimately has more water, more nutrients, more carbon oxide to the leaf and more photosynthesis for the flowers and berries” (Pico, P. & Schoolov, K.) The airflow is only 3mph so that it doesn’t damage the plants but can help strengthen them.  We can see that just the wind tunnel effect can be beneficial to photosynthesis, but how can it help reduce water usage or pest and disease issues?

In conjunction with the constant airflow, Airstream Innovations also uses bubble wrap to protect the soil and reduce water evaporation. Plasticulture is used often when farming or gardening productive strawberry patches and the use of the bubble wrap inside a plastic wind tunnel is a similar concept. Minimizing water consumption is a high priority for production farming because water resources are limited and excessive use can lead to high economic and ecological costs.

With all this plastic in a plastic enclosed structure, pests and disease seem like they could be a big problem, but because the pressure of the constant airflow, it actually reduces the number and variety of pests and diseases and Airstream Innovations uses no pesticides, not even organic ones. Instead, the airflow forces intruding bugs into a thick insect net in the greenhouse. The net is near the fans and if the insects can get through the new they must also make it through the network of fans and mechanical equipment. Of course some pests must make it inside and to help fight those company imports ladybugs and other predator insects that are not harmful to the plants.

Not only do these new Airstream greenhouses improves berry quality, reduce water consumption and avoid pests and pesticides, they seem to be doing with high cost benefits. The business is saving money on structure materials and setup, electricity, water and by not purchasing pesticides. Although you can farm strawberries very successfully outdoors, you can also use this system very productively at a relatively low cost.  LH Fairbanks

There is a video and a short article about the strawberries grown in one of these Airstream greenhouses and a little connection to the strawberry market here. http://www.kpbs.org/news/2011/jun/22/berry-farm-blimp/

And the home page for Airstream Innovations is here. http://airstreaminnovations.com/

Both of these are worth the browse. Getting a good visual for this tunnel style greenhouse is helpful to understanding the cultivating properties it encourages.

Airstream Innovations Inc. 2015. Online: http://airstreaminnovations.com/. Accessed: 18 Oct. 2016.

Pico, P. & Schoolov, K. Berry Farm in a Blimp. 2011. KPBS News. Online: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2011/jun/22/berry-farm-blimp/. Accessed: 18 Oct. 2016

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One response to “Blimp Farming

  1. That airstream greenhouse is interesting technology. Back in the 1970s, UAF bought a structure similar to the one you describe. Only this one was a solid cover, not clear. It was located just south of the Student Rec Center and was the home of UAF skating and hockey. It had the same air pressure inflarable as described. It lasted for years, but was a headache because the Univ would have to hire a helicopter to blow off the snow after heavy snowstorms. They finally dismantled the thing, and it was moved to Anchorage where it is still in use as a recreational facility.

    The airstream design has been used for greenhouses for at least 30 years. The only real problems is its high energy demand to keep it inflated and cool, as well as the totally unsnstainable use of all that plastic.

    Never heard of using bubble wrap on the soils before. Probably not very economical, but would be interesting to try. 

    Like

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