Microgravity Planter Concept, and Its' Failures.

Introduction: Microgravity Planter Concept, and Its' Failures.

I have been trying out a concept for a microgravity planter setup, only to have it fail.

However the old Mythbusters Motto was "Failure Is Always An Option", and I failed four times. So here are pics of what I did and HOW I did it, so that whoever else is trying to make a planter to grow food plants in microgravity- Zero G- will know what NOT to do.

Step 1: Materials.

After looking up a description of EXACTLY what microgravity was, and how it affects objects, I used logic to determine what would happen to a soil-filled container in microgravity.

First of all, water forms drifting spherical droplets in microgravity- Which if it escapes the container could hit and short out equipment.

Second, soil itself can dry out and become dust under many conditions- Again becoming a hazard to equipment.

So, I decided to try out Gel balls as a planting medium. This was only a Proof-Of-Concept so I used commercially made gel balls and whatever small containers I could get my hands on.

My reasoning was this: Gel balls absorb and hold water so there would be no floating globules of water or dust drifting about to damage equipment. The moisture would be kept inside the container next to the seeds. And since they start out as tiny, a packet of the gel balls the size of a matchbox could fill up several decent-sized containers.

Step 2: Gel Balls and Containers.

My first container was just to see how large the balls grew in size and was made from a capsule from a vending machine hot glued to a plastic cup left over from a bottle of cough medicine. Then I cut open the bottom of the capsule. I later used, as you can see here, a small potato salad box and a covered bowl from a fast food place.

To make a liquid nutrient for the plants, I bought a dollar package of plant food spikes, then cut them up and dropped them into a container of water, where I ground them until they were pulp then set the water container aside for five days to steep

After my special water was ready, I opened up my package of gel balls and dropped into my capsule an amount that would cover the nail on my pinkie finger. Then I added in the water and set it aside. A day later all of the gel balls had expanded to the point where it was overflowing from the capsule.

I removed the excess gel balls then slipped three uncooked beans from the kitchen into it: Beans grow very easily so I figured they would do as a test.

And, they didn't grow. They got moldy and rotted. I dumped everything out, the refilled it, again tucked three beans into the moist gel balls, added a little more water, then set it aside to see what would happen...

Yes... They molded and rotted a second time.

Step 3: Failures

We had bought some dinner from a fast food place, and some of the food was packed in these black bowls with clear lids so I washed them out and used two bowls for the next test.

One of the bowls I half filled with the gel balls, and as a control the other bowl didn't have any. I bought some new seeds from the store, then cut a paper towel into four pieces, folded two of them in half then placed the seeds inside each of the bowls so that one had paper towel/seeds and gel balls, and the other had only paper towel/seeds. I put the lids on them, with a tiny hole cut in the top for air exchange, then set them on a dresser side by side. I made sure to water them every two days with equal amounts of water.

The results? the seeds in the paper towel only slowly began to sprout, but the ones with the gel balls didn't. Instead a kind of fungus or mold began to grow in the paper itself-Which is the third picture. I dumped everything out and replaced the gel balls, paper towel, and seeds. And it happened a second time. And a third... in which I used another bowl.

Step 4: More Failures.

My next try was with a potato salad box with a lid. I thought maybe the paper towel itself was the source of the mildew/mold and changed the layout. I half filled the box with gel balls then put a piece of plastic canvas on top of it, then placed three beans on top of that. As a control I dropped three beans in the paper towel only bowl.

I kept these two containers both evenly watered and the beans in the bowl/paper towel/water began to sprout. But the other one grew moldy. Again I dumped everything out, used a second box/gel balls/plastic canvas square/beans... And again it grew moldy. As can be seen here.

These were all failures: The seeds never grew. Even the beans that sprouted were counted as failures: This was for a zero-G microgravity situation and growing plants in a tiny puddle of water simply would not work on a space station or ship: Due to the chances of the liquid water drifting out its' box and shorting something out.

So that is it for this experiment. After I post this I'm going to throw everything away. I have already shown how it can't be done, so now it is up to someone else to look at my failures and succeed where I failed.

I've already shown a way it can't be done, so to whoever is out there... doing a similar experiment, try another way. Mine didn't work.

Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest

Participated in the
Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Laser Challenge

      Laser Challenge
    • Hide It Challenge

      Hide It Challenge
    • Paint Challenge

      Paint Challenge



    1 year ago

    Very smart solution for water!
    I think the problem is in the gel balls, they retain too much water. Try using agar instead. There's a lot of information about the use of agar in orchids on the internet, sure that this will work for you.
    PS: I've seen how many instructables you have and it's awesome, you have my respects


    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks! I'll try that.


    2 years ago

    I think that there was too much moisture in the air and not enough on the beans.
    Try with some cloth or a thin layer of rock wool maybe?
    You need to keep the water touching the beans.
    Well, I don't grow beans, but I do grow other plants like wheat or tomatoes, and to germinate it, you need water to be in contact with it, not in the air, like the grid separated experiment.
    Thank you for sharing your tries!
    I hope you will test other things and learn a lot too!


    Reply 2 years ago

    I had thought of thin cloth but opted for the damp paper towels instead. And the problem was what I had stated earlier: That since this was to be in zero G, the water would be in a gravityless environment, which meant that water droplets would form inside the container and float around in the air inside it. I thought the gel balls against the seeds would keep them moist enough to germinate and sprout, but it didn't work out that way.

    Growing plants on Earth is time-tested and well understood: It is growing in microgravity that is NOT well understood. That is what my Proof-Of-Concept was from the start. One possible way but this particular way failed.

    I do have another way in mind but again I have to allow for microgravity(Zero G) effects on it. Plus the stated parameters set out for this... It is THOSE that are difficult to overcome, and there will be more failures until the right way to do it is discovered.