Why One Man Wants to Grow Basil Under the Sea

September 23, 2015 | Sarah Tse

Nemo's Garden
Photo credit: Courtesy of Nemo's Garden

People just keep multiplying, and the world isn’t getting any bigger. Here’s one innovative solution to food production, born from a scientist’s passion for scuba diving.

Imagine lush fields abundant with every type of crop ever grown, spreading as far as the eye can see. The roots luxuriate in rich soil, chock full of nitrogen, phosphorus, and every other mineral a plant might desire. Periodic rains cascade on these fields, delivering just the right amount of water to quench their thirst.

This agricultural dream is a reality in so few places around the world. Because of the ever-growing world population and dwindling resources, food production is a critical problem with few potential solutions. Enter Sergio Gamberini and his underwater greenhouse. It sounds almost as fantastical as the above scenario, but in the past few years, Gamberini, president of the Ocean Reef Group based in Genova, Italy, has worked to make his idea a reality. He calls his genius plan Nemo’s Garden.

SEE ALSO: Fantastical Tree Produces 40 Different Varieties of Fruit

Nemo’s Garden takes advantage of inherent properties of large bodies of water, such as a relatively stable temperature and evaporation at the water’s surface, to support small-scale agriculture. The project uses “biospheres,” constructed of clear plastic and metal, that are pulled to the ocean’s bottom with a pocket of surface air—the same thing that happens when you push an inverted cup straight down into the water.

Along the edge of the sphere, scientists plant seedlings in hydroponic cultures, using solutions of minerals and nutrients without soil. The seawater at the bottom of the biosphere evaporates and condenses on the plastic walls, eventually dripping down and watering the plants. The surrounding mass of water maintains a constant interior temperature, while the seedlings receive sunlight that filters through from above. Being underwater, the farm is plagued by few pests.

So far, Nemo’s Garden has successfully grown a variety of herbs, greens, and root vegetables, from mint to arugula to garlic. The Ocean Reef Group continues research into optimal planting methods and conditions, but the basic formula has proven to be a successful new alternative for sustainable agriculture.

Watch this video for more information on Gamberini’s kickstarter campaign. 

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