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Hydroponica: Growing in the Fly’s Eye Dome

By Peggy Bradley | Last updated: August 31, 2021
Key Takeaways

Part two of Peggy Bradley’s examination of the Fly’s Eye Dome examines how and which crops would be grown in the dome.

In 1991, Biosphere 2, a large greenhouse structure, was constructed in Arizona. The original idea was to have eight people live in the enclosed structure for two years, eating only foods provided by the crops in the greenhouse.

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Things did not go right. Even though they had 3.14 acres of land under the greenhouse, they struggled to provide the daily needs for eight people. Although people all around the world provide for their families on a lot less land, the biosphere began to fail. If the Biosphere 2 experiment taught us anything, it is that best laid plans are not necessarily going to be successful.

In the future, a biosphere home, or Biodome, could allow for a new lifestyle, where food is grown in the family home. The idea may seem easy, but it is a complicated task; a balance between what can be reliably grown, what provides good nutrition, and what would be a desirable diet.

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The crops chosen and the spaces allocated for them is an approximation. Experiments in a real dome would be needed to verify the possibility that a Biodome could produce nearly all of our daily food needs.

Whatever food is chosen for the dome, hydroponics will need to be used for food production. The failed Biosphere 2 project did not use hydroponics and filled the greenhouse with soil. Those mistakes doomed them from the start, with low food production and far too much carbon dioxide from the soil.

Figure 1. Hydroponica is built in a Buckminster Fuller Fly’s Eye Dome of a 15.24 meter (50 feet) diameter and height of 7.6 meters (25 feet). The windows are 2.29 meters (7.5 feet) diameter. In this design, the interior includes hydroponic growing systems to produce about 3.5 kilos of food a day, enough for two people.

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Fly’s Eye Dome

The structure imagined for our Biodome, called Hydroponica, is the Fly’s Eye Dome designed by Buckminster Fuller. A previous Maximum Yield article outlined how the Fly’s Eye Dome could be used as a Biodome. This article is a potential plan for plants in the dome.

Food Values for the Dome Crops

The first task is to plan a diet that provides for daily nutrition. The choices are constricted by what can be grown in the dome. The daily diet shown in Table 1 has a target of 1,450 calories a day, 48 grams of protein, 34 grams of fats, and 314 grams of carbohydrates.

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Vegetable

Amount

Weight(g)

Calories

Protein(g)

Fats(g)

Carbs(g)

Bell Pepper

1 cup

150

42

0.15

0.4

9

Cabbage

1/2 cup

50

11

0.77

0.05

2.25

Carrot

1/2 cup

35

21

0.5

0.05

5

Cucumber

1 cup

120

16

0.4

0.13

2

Garlic

2 cloves

30

8

0.4

0.2

2

Garlic

one inch

7

5

0.11

0.05

1

Green Beans

1/2 cup

50

15

1

0.06

3.6

Leeks

1/2 cup

45

27

0.76

0.15

7

Lettuce

1 cup

75

10

1

0

2

Zucchini

2/3 cup

75

22

1.6

0.4

4

Onions

1/4 cup

13.5

9.5

0.3

0.025

2.75

Peapods

1/2 cup

31

13

1

0.07

2.5

Quinoa seeds

1/2 cup

100

312

12

5.8

54

Quinoa greens

1/4 cup

25

50

4

0.1

2

Salad greens

1 cup

100

25

2.09

0.42

4.65

Corn

1/2 cup

75

265

4.5

13

35

Sweet Potato

4 cups

500

390

12

0.4

164

Tomato

1/2 cup

100

14

0.6

0.33

3

Avocado

1/2 fruit

100

161

2

8.75

8.5

Olives

1/4 cup

45

43

0.7

4

2.2

Table 1. Expected Daily Food Production of a Hydroponica for one adult. Values are for fresh raw weights of foods.

There are very valid arguments about the health of this diet and the foods suggested in Table 1 is only a starting point. This will change as Hydroponicas are built and used. Some crops will fail, or fail to be useful in the daily diet.

What About Meat?

Our Hydroponica does not include any meat or dairy products. Instead we envision a future device that puts corn and quinoa in one end and produces a meat substitute on the other. Part of the corn and quinoa can be used with 2.2 pounds of grain producing 1.2 pounds of plant-based meat.

The most difficult part of a biosphere-grown diet is the protein. Most of the protein-rich crops are grains and legumes. Some crops like wheat and soybean require a lot of plant growth that is not edible or not eaten. According to current research, they require more space than we have in the dome.

Quinoa represents a crop that produces a very high-grade protein, or one that has almost the same amino acids as cow’s milk. It also has the advantage of leaves that are edible and makes a nutritious substitute for spinach or other green.


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Path of the Sun

Figure 2. A fireplace is located in the center of Hydroponica and has a hydroponic trough grower under the spiral staircase.
The sun will follow a path over the dome through the daily earth rotation. This sun path will determine how much sun is available to the plants in the dome, depending upon location and the amount of sun. The nature of the dome’s windows also has an impact on how much sun each plant sees. Some dome plants will need supplemental lighting depending upon season and the location in the dome.

Fireplace with Trough Grower

The center of the dome has a cone-shaped fireplace that goes from the ground floor and exits the dome at the top center eye window. It is almost 10 feet wide at the bottom and upon exit has a diameter of two feet. There are three center stove pipes in the chimney that serve as exits for smoke or heat from the fireplace and pizza oven on the main floor, and the fireplace in the second-floor bedroom. A spiral staircase goes to the upper floor, and a sweet potato grower is placed under part of the staircase. The 10-foot long fireplace hydroponic grower takes up about 22 square feet of growing space.

Trough Growers Circle Outer Wall

Figure 3. The main floor plan has trough growers that circle the outer wall of Hydroponica. All growers are identified in Table 2.
Around the outer wall of the dome, there is a trough grower that’s a foot wide and a total of 69 feet of linear space along the wall which has about 226 square feet of growing space for corn and sweet potato, primary carbohydrates in the diet.

Sweet Potato Storage

The sweet potato crop will have slower growth in winter seasons, so sweet potato storage is recommended in the floor that is large enough to store 661 pounds of sweet potato, or a year’s supply for two people. This was the primary survival strategy of the American African slave: a strategy common in Africa, and important for the unforeseen circumstances of the future.

The bedroom area on the second floor has a quinoa grower three feet wide and about 33 feet long with 107 square feet of growing space. Quinoa is planted to produce four crops through the year and should be productive enough to produce a cup of seeds a day, half a cup each for two people. Cooked quinoa triples in size so it is enough for a cup and a half of quinoa a day for each person.

Figure 4. The top floor of Hydroponica is the bedroom area, has a meter wide trough grower inside of the outer wall. This is set up to grow quinoa.

The bedroom also has a fireplace in the center stone chimney. The balcony has an iron railing along the edge to downstairs. The windows in the bedroom area look out to the night sky for watching stars and planets as the earth rotates.

Kitchen

The circular kitchen is the primary area where vegetables are grown and food is prepared. About half of the kitchen space is devoted to growing plants. This includes most of the vegetables and herbs used in the daily diet.

Figure 5. The circular kitchen includes a rotator grower, two vine croppers and an herbal salad green grower.

Rotator

Figure 6. The rotator in the kitchen is modeled after a rotating closet Buckminster Fuller designed for the Dymaxion house. The ten trays are .6 meters wide and 2.5 meters long.
Placed in front of the south-facing window eye is a rotating plant grower. This rotator is based on the rotating closet Buckminster Fuller designed for the Dymaxion house.

In Fuller’s design clothing is placed in cloth containers that rotate to an access panel when clothes are needed. Our plant rotator has 10 trays that are two feet wide by eight feet long. The trays rotate up to 10 feet high and slowly rotate during the day for all trays to see both LED light at top and natural light during the day.

The rotator is home to carrots, green onion, shallots, lettuce, bok choy, and salad greens. The 155 square-foot growing space is compactly placed in only 37 square feet of floor space.

The food is accessed from the grower by pushing the button and moving rotator to the trays that are needed. After harvesting, the rotator goes back to its cycle before interruption.

Vine Growers

To each side of the rotator there are two troughs that contain vine crops such as tomato and cucumber. Two longer vine growers are placed outside the bathroom wall to grow peapods and beans.

Figure 7. Vine growers are placed in the kitchen, next to the rotator grower. The two vine growers are two meters long and grow the vine crops such as tomato, cucumber, beans and peas.

Herbal Shelf Grower

There is in the kitchen a beverage production area. This features a coffee maker, a water boiler, cutting board, mortar and pestle, blender, cups, glasses, sink, as well as hot and cold running water. One wall of the kitchen includes a shelf that serves as a herbal grower to produce culinary herbs for cooking and the herbs for teas. One of the herbs grown is stevia which substitutes for sugar in the beverages and cooking. Herbs grown in the herbal grower include basil, sage, tarragon, oregano, thyme, stevia, peppermint, dill, spearmint, and other culinary herbs. The top shelf is the home for extra greens for salads or cooking.

Figure 8. Cube growers of one meter diameter are used for trees and larger bushy crops such as ginger and zucchini. The growers can be wheeled around to a new location or spun around to a new sun angle.
The center island in the kitchen includes the cooking area, with a solar cooker and an induction cooker, or other form of food cooking. Solar can be used as a direct source with sun energy directed to the cooker, or with solar cells that provide energy for an induction cooker.

Cube Growers

Cube growers in the dome feature three-foot cubes of concrete, placed on wheels that can be moved in the dome. The cube growers are used for bush crops such as ginger, bell pepper and zucchini, or trees such as olive and avocado. We use cube growers in this dome for four avocado trees, two olive trees, one zucchini, one ginger and one bell pepper.

Fat Provided by Trees

Most vegetables do not have much fat, and the better sources of fat are olive and avocado trees. An olive tree can produce enough olives in a year to supply one quarter cup or 10 olives a day for each person or 20 olives a day for two people. We place two olive trees, one at each side of the entrance door and that should supply enough of the needed olives.

An avocado tree can produce about 90 avocados a year so two avocado trees can produce 180 avocados, or enough for half an avocado a day. We place four trees on the second floor for optimum sun.

Grower
Width
Length
Depth
Plant Grown
Grow Space (m2)
Yield (g/m2)
Daily Yield (g)

Fireplace Trough

1

3

0.25


3

110

330

Trough Grower 1

1

5

0.25

Sweet Potato

6

110

660

Trough Grower 2

1

8

0.35

Corn

7

18

126

Trough Grower 3

1

7

0.35

Corn

7

18

126

Wall Grower 1

2.5

2.5

0.5

Green Beans

1

25

25

Wall Grower 2

2.5

2.5

0.5

Snow Peas

1

25

25

Cube Grower 1

1

1

1

Olive Tree

1

45

45

Cube Grower 2

1

1

1

Olive Tree

1

45

45

Cube Grower 3

1

1

1

Zucchini

1

44

44

Cube Grower 4

1

1

1

Bell Pepper

1

75

75

Cube Grower 5

1

1

1

Ginger

1

45

45

Rotator

0.6

25



15

50

750

Vine Grower 1

0.5

2

0.25

Cucumber

1

200

200

Vine Grower 2

0.5

2

0.25

Tomato

1

240

240

Herb Shelf

0.3

3

0.08

Greens

0.9

50

45

Table Grower

1.3

1.3

0.08

Carrot

1.69

90

152

Couch Grower

0.5

2

0.5

Garlic

1

60

60

Bathroom Grower

1

2

0.25

Onion

2

50

100

Second Floor Trough

1

10

0.2

Quinoa

10

20

200

Cube Grower 6

1

1

1

Avocado

1

50

50

Cube Grower 7

1

1

1

Avocado

1

50

50

Cube Grower 8

1

1

1

Avocado

1

50

50

Cube Grower 9

1

1

1

Avocado

1

50

50

Totals




67.5

3,538

Table 2 represents the areas used by plants in a Hydroponica and expected daily output for each planter. The weights are fresh wet weights in grams per day.


Conclusion

While it is easy to make plans, the actual operation of a Hydroponica is quite complicated. We can start with a basic plan, and then will learn by experience what really works. We would need to build a prototype, a proof of concept.

The actual production of crops will take environmental controls, supplemental lighting, and management to obtain all crops needed for a full diet. In the first Hydroponicas, we will have the outside world to rely on for any crops that fail to produce what is needed.
But if we go to other planets, or areas where the outside world is far away, the dome food design should seek complete self- reliance.
So the “Dream” of Hydroponica could help solve both environmental problems such as global warming, soil erosion, and reduction of forested lands. It could help reduce medical problems such as heart issues, diabetes, and cancer tied to a poor diet.

If these new dome homes with food production could become the new normal, then the impact humans would have on the environment could be reduced. And the quality of food and health benefits of pure food could change some of the health issues facing humans in the future.

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Article Sources

Maximum Yield uses high-quality sources to support the facts within our content including peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, professional organizations, and governmental organizations.

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Written by Peggy Bradley | Engineer, Founder of Institute of Simplified Hydroponics

Profile Picture of Peggy Bradley

Peggy Bradley has a Masters degree in civil engineering and used to own her own hydroponics business until she switched focus and became the founder of the Institute of Simplified Hydroponics, a US non-profit. Since 1995, Peggy has worked on creating and teaching simplified hydroponic systems to help people living in impoverished nations.

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