A plant-growing system without using soil has been developed with LED lighting systems indoors. The system, which can produce 105 different plants, can intensify the taste of products by using less water and electricity. In the system called “Smart Garden” developed by Turkish engineers, no pesticides are used, and plants can be grown three times faster than normal.
Electrical and Electronics Engineer Mert Kalayci and Electrical-Electronics Engineer and Izmir University of Economics (IUE) Rector Prof. Dr. Murat Askar has developed a plant growing system with led lighting systems without using soil in an indoor space. It also attracted the attention of Israel, Britain, and Macedonia.
Electrical and Electronics M.Sc. Engineer Mert Kalayci completed his master’s thesis with IUE Rector and Electrical-Electronics Engineer Prof. Dr. Murat Askar, and then he transformed it into a system together with his professor.
The system, which is used to produce plants even at home using less electricity and more water, has been developed in three different models. The Smart Garden system, which can increase the flavor intensity of 105 different plants and grow the products three times faster than normal, does not contain any pesticides. The duo, who received many awards for their projects, started to market the system to Antalya, Mugla, Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir. Some foreign investors and companies started to show strong interest in the system, and we have sent sample products to Israel, England, and Macedonia.
Stating that the starting point of the project is rapid population growth and global warming, Mert Kalayci noted that soil fertility has decreased by 23% in the last ten years in Türkiye, and product losses have reached 40 %. Kalayci said, “We use 95 % less water in our system compared to traditional agriculture. We can produce uninterruptedly for 12 months without using any pesticides. There are no bugs and no diseases here. Crops are grown in entirely controlled environments. We currently have data from 105 different plants. You can grow almost any product you can think of, such as carrots, potatoes, roses, thyme, cotton, and tomatoes, with these systems.”
Stating that they have built three different business models, Kalayci said, “We are establishing a mega facility with the systems we have developed. In other words, we have developed systems that eliminate logistics and minimize carbon emissions in the heart of the city with rack systems. The hardware systems we have developed can grow plants in a 25-day period by illuminating the area with 33 watts, which our global competitors illuminate with 200 watts. The system is sustainable and extremely environmentally friendly. It requires less electricity and very little water for production. In an era where a lot of growers, especially in Europe, are transforming into sustainable production and where there is a concerted efforted across Europe to reduce carbon gas emissions, we believe this system will contribute significantly to achieving this goal.”
Stating that there are tabletop systems in addition to the shelf system, Kalayci said, “We have a 6-watt system in the tabletop model. With this system, you can grow six different plants in your home by spending about 0.5 USD worth of electricity per month. No special seeds are required for this. Because as long as the seed works, our system can grow it. So you plant the seed once, and then you do not need to do anything extra. The system grows the plant in 25-30 days. In green leafy grass species, it continues to grow as you pluck it. Many products such as thyme, mint, arugula, basil, dill, parsley, and lettuce can be produced in this way. Right now, we have only tested it with 105 plants, but potentially other plant varieties can be grown in this system as well because the system provides full control of the production environment to the grower and eliminates uncertainty and, thereby, associated risk with agricultural production.
Stating that the third model is a greenhouse lighting system, Kalayci said, “Soilless agricultural greenhouses are already common in Türkiye. But even in a 4-hectare tomato greenhouse, you can get 120 tons of yield in summer and 40 tons in winter. In other words, there is a yield loss of 80 tons. With these systems, we provide maximum production opportunities in summer and winter. The projector systems we have developed allow production in indoor environments. You can grow tomatoes, lemons, and orange trees in an office environment. Here, too, we consume much less electricity than our competitors. While a competitor in the Netherlands consumes about 300 watts of electricity, we provide the same photon values as 44 watts.”
Saying that they have developed a system that can interfere with the taste of the plant, Kalayci said, “For example, the flavor intensity in a leaf of thyme is equal to a branch of it with our system. We can grow the same plant in the same nutrient solution, juicier and more intensely sweet. While doing this, no pesticides are used. There are not many companies working in the field of taste globally. Just checking whether it grows or not. We can also grow some plants three times faster. These systems have many advantages. There is no sowing-planting activity, no logistics activity. Since the environment is completely healthy, there is no problem such as washing the product. You can consume it by plucking it directly from the branch.”
Prof. Dr. Murat Askar said, “The project started at the same time as similar projects in the world. As a result of the preliminary study, we revealed the feasibility of such a system. Later, my student wanted to continue this as a master’s thesis. We started working together. A project support grant was received from TUBITAK, and we started our first tests. We measured how different plants grow under different light spectra and at different times. At this point, we have created a tabletop set, a product set to be built indoors, and a projector set to be used in greenhouses. I hope we will have a project that opens up to the world in the future.”