Cube Farm: a Modular, Open Source, Agriculture Platform

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About: Justin Tyler Tate is an artist, designer, animator, teacher, jeweler and maker/hacker who produces with thoughts of culture, science and interactivity.

Welcome to the CubeFarmtutorial series.

CubeFarm is an open source, do-it-yourself, modular, transportable agriculture system for reducing waste materials while growing food. FarmCubes can be laid in rows as space permits and stacked up to three cubes high to maximize plant growth over a minimized land area. The CubeFarm system repurposes commonly available waste materials such as shipping pallets, scrap wood and PVC pipe. Through this tutorial series you will be shown how to construct your own farm cubes and adapt them to fit the needs of your local environment, including how to construct the farm cube module, install the semi-hydroponic system, build LED grow lights, assemble a wind turbine and brew a batch of compost tea to fertilize your CubeFarm.

Join the growing number of CubeFarmers in reducing waste materials while producing healthy food in addition to improving your local and global environment through this easy step-by-step project.

To see more information about the project, please visit http://cube-farm.weebly.com

Step 1: Tools, Cut-list & Materials

TOOLS:

  • Measuring Tape
  • Hand Saw
  • Jigsaw Square
  • Sawtooth Hole Cutter Drill Bit (5cm diameter)
  • 2x C-Clamps
  • Caulking Gun
  • Soldering Iron
  • Hot Glue Gun

CUT LIST:

  • 1x Shipping Pallet: 100cm x 120cm
  • 4x Vertical Supports: 86cm x 5cm x 10cm
  • 4x Depth Cross Beams: 100cm x 5cm x 10cm
  • 4x Length Cross Beams:110cm x 2cm x 10cm
  • 4x Angled supports: 91.5cm x 2cm x 10cm cut at 22.5°
  • 2x Median Vertical Supports: 62cm x 4cm x 6cm
  • 16x Wooden Discs: 9.5cm Diameter x 2cm thick
  • 8x PVC Pipes: 106cm Long x 10cm Diameter (848cm total)
  • 32x PVC Pipes: 10cm Long x 5cm Diameter (320cm total)
  • 6x PVC Pipes: 20cm Long x 1.5cm Diameter (120cm total)

OTHER MATERIALS:

  • 36 red LEDs (3 each for 12 lights)
  • 12 blue LEDs (1 each for 12 lights)
  • PCB board
  • HotGlue Sticks
  • Enameled Wire
  • Red and black insulated wire
  • Solder
  • Silicone caulking
  • A DC motor
  • Screws (4X60mm (5/32”X2-3/8") Wood Screws (100pcs))
  • Screws (4X20mm (5/32”X13/16”) Wood Screws (32pcs))

Step 2: Prepare Your Materials

To make a single Farm Cube, you'll want to begin by cutting all of your wood and PVC to length. With all of it prepared, it will be really quick for you to assemble your Farm Cube and by making multiple Farm Cubes, you'll be able to put them together to make a Cube Farm.

CUT LIST (Metric):

  • 1x Shipping Pallet: 100cm x 120cm
  • 4x Vertical Supports: 86cm x 5cm x 10cm
  • 4x Depth Cross Beams: 100cm x 5cm x 10cm
  • 4x Length Cross Beams:110cm x 2cm x 10cm
  • 4x Angled supports: 91.5cm x 2cm x 10cm cut at 22.5°
  • 2x Median Vertical Supports: 62cm x 4cm x 6cm
  • 16x Wooden Discs: 9.5cm Diameter x 2cm thick
  • 8x PVC Pipes: 106cm Long x 10cm Diameter (848cm total)
  • 32x PVC Pipes: 10cm Long x 5cm Diameter (320cm total)
  • 6x PVC Pipes: 20cm Long x 1.5cm Diameter (120cm total)

CUT LIST (Imperial):

  • 1x Shipping Pallet: 39" x 47"
  • 4x Vertical Supports: 34" x 2" x 4"
  • 4x Depth Cross Beams: 39" x 2" x 4"
  • 4x Length Cross Beams: 43" x 1" x 4"
  • 4x Angled supports: 36" x 1" x 4" cut at 22.5°
  • 2x Median Vertical Supports: 24" x 2" x 4"
  • 16x Wooden Discs: 3 3/4" Diameter x 1" thick
  • 8x PVC Pipes: 42" Long x 4" Diameter (334" total)
  • 32x PVC Pipes: 4" Long x 2" Diameter (126" total)
  • 6x PVC Pipes: 8" Long x 19/32" Diameter (47" total)

*I've provided both a metric and imperial cut list for you, but I really suggest you use the metric cut list if you have access to a metric tape measure. Also, the cut list dimensions may be slightly off if using a non-standard shipping pallet or using a North American shipping pallet. If you are using materials with irregular dimensions, then you should skip cutting all of your materials at once and cut/measure the materials, adapting the basic design and instructions to your materials.

  1. To begin with, cut all of the lengths
  2. Remove the center boards from your pallet(s) so that it retains the outer frame with the center support (*See the provided image)

Step 3: How to Assemble Your CubeFarm Module

  1. Begin by Assembling the cube’s sides (x2)
    1. Begin this by laying 2 of your length cross beams, lengthwise against the two longest edges of your shipping pallet, so that they are resting on their narrowest side.
    2. *These two pieces of wood are simply acting as spacers for this step and will not be screwed to anything at the moment.
    3. Take your two of your vertical support beams and put them, alongside the two length cross beams, on the shipping pallet so that they also rest on their narrowest side.
    4. Now place two of your depth cross beams ON TOP OF your vertical support beams so that they are resting on their widest face. These four beams should make a rectangle measuring 86x100cm (34x39”).
    5. Screw the two depth cross beams to the vertical support beams using 2 of your screws for each corner. Repeat the previous instructions so that you end up with two rectangular frames.
  2. Measure and mark the center of each of the length cross beams which make up the rectangular frames of each side.
  3. Place one of the median vertical supports where you just marked on either side and toe-nail two screws through each end of the median vertical supports and into the length cross beams.
  4. Now take two of the angled supports and screw them into your square frame so that they create an A-frame which meets in the center of the top length cross beam, right above the median vertical support.
  5. With your two rectangular frames assembled, stand them up at either of the short ends of the shipping pallet and screw your 4 length cross beams to them in order to construct a box frame which matches the footprint of the shipping pallet. You should use 2 screws for attaching each end of the length cross beam to the rectangular frame and the whole structure at this point should measure 100cm deep x 120cm wide x 100cm tall (40”x48”x40”).
  6. Using 6 screws, toe-nail the 2 bottom length cross beams and the 2 bottom depth cross beams to the surface of the shipping pallet so that they are securely fastened.

With all of the previous steps complete, the result should be a rectangular cuboid with an a-frame on either side. Now would be also be a good time to paint, stain, varnish or weatherproof your farm cube.

Step 4: How to Install a Semi-hydroponic System

  1. To begin with, cut the plywood discs and lengths of PVC pipe, as are provided in the cut-list:
    1. 16x Wooden Discs 9.5cm Diameter x 2cm thick
    2. 8x PVC Pipes: 106cm Long x 10cm Diameter (848cm total)
    3. 32x PVC Pipes: 10cm Long x 5cm Diameter (320cm total)
    4. 6x PVC Pipes: 20cm Long x 1.5cm Diameter (120cm total)
  2. Insert the plywood discs into each of the ends of the thickest PVC pipe sections.
  3. Use 4 of your 20mm screws to securely attach the PVC pipe ends to the plywood disks.
  4. Use silicone caulking to create a watertight seal between the plywood disc and the pipe wall.
  5. Once you’ve closed off 8 pipe sections and sealed the ends, place two of them inside your farm cube so that they sit on the frame of the shipping pallet and between the angled support boards.
    1. Make sure that one end of each of these 2 pipe sections is sitting slightly higher than the other end so that the liquid fertilizer will drain properly and then screw through the angled support boards and into the plywood discs which cap the PVC pipes.
    2. Next you will need to install the other 6 pipes similarly to how you installed the previous two but with approximately 15cm(6”) between them, making sure that the highest end on each of the lower levels is closest to the lowest level on the pipe above it, so that the fertilizer will run from the PVC pipes at the top of the cube to those at the bottom.
  6. With all of the PVC pipes installed, you will need to measure each pipe to drill 5 evenly spaced holes in it. In the 3 bottom pipes you will use a sawtooth hole cutter drill bit to to make 4 holes at the lowest points on the slope of each pipe.
    1. On the top tier pipes you will drill all 5 holes with your sawtooth hole cutter drill bit.
    2. For each remaining mark, which should be the highest point on each pipe, you will use the 15mm (⅝”) Flat drill Bit to make a hole in the PVC pipe.
    3. Use the same 15mm (⅝”) Flat drill Bit to drill a hole through the pipe directly above where you just drilled the 5th hole in each pipe.
  7. With your 20cm(8" Long) x 15mm (5/8") diameter, try to use a pair of pliers to roll down one end of the pipe so that it has fairly flat mushroom cap which will catch on the inside of the hole drilled in the PVC pipe.
  8. Insert the 15mm diameter pipe through the 5cm hole at the lowest end of the largest PVC pipes, passing it through the hole you just drilled and into the top hole of the pipe below it.
  9. Seal where the 15cm pipe passes through each of the two 10cm diameter PVC pipes.
    1. Wait for all of the silicone sealant to cure and test the system by pouring water in the top tier of the pipes and checking to make sure that it filters all of the way down to the bottom tier.
    2. Adjust the system as necessary and fix any problems you may encounter.
  10. Insert each of the 32x 10cm Long x 5cm Diameter PVC Pipes into the holes that you made with the sawtooth hole cutter drill bit, fill them with dirt and a plant in each.
    1. *If you need to replace a plant in the future, it will be easy to do so by removing the whole 10cm Long x 5cm Diameter pipe that houses the root system and plant.

With all of these steps complete, your rectangular cuboid should have a gravity driven semi-hydroponic system installed. Additionally, you can install a pump at the base of your farm cube to circulate the liquid fertilizer through the system. If you are stacking your farm cubes, up to 3 cubes high, use some additional PVC pipe or hose to connect upper levels to lower levels so that the liquid fertilizer trickles down through the whole system.

Step 5: How to Brew Compost Tea

  1. Dig down in your compost pile or bin till you hit some well composted material, but avoid compost that contains animal manure.
  2. Fill a container with 1 part compost and 4 parts de-chlorinated water or, ideally, collected rainwater.
    1. *Optionally, you can add something sweet and sugary to the mixture such as molasses, maple syrup, cane syrup or fruit juice, to aid the growth of the bacteria in the compost tea.
  3. Use an air pump setup, like you would find in an aquarium or something more powerful, to oxygenate the brewing compost tea.
  4. Allow your compost tea mixture to brew for 1 to 3 days, out of direct sunlight. The finished tea will look like coffee and smell sweet and earthy.
  5. Strain the mixture to remove the particles of compost out of the liquid.

Keep the air pump running or refrigerate until you are ready to use it. Your compost tea can now be used to deliver nutrients, hydration and microbes directly to the plants in your CubeFarm. Additionally, it can be sprayed onto your plants to deliver nutrients directly to the foliage.

Step 6: How to Make LED Grow Lights

  • To build your LED Grow Lights, you will need:
    • 36 red LEDs
    • 12 blue LEDs
    • 4 PCB boards that are perforated with 5 holes by 50 holes
    • Solder and a soldering iron
  1. Start by soldering 2 solid two bare wires that run along each long side each of your PCB boards.
    1. Then solder one RED wire coming out from one of the bare wires and one BLACK wire coming from the other, these will be your positive and negative terminals.
  2. Then insert your RED LEDs, next to each other in 12 groups of 3, evenly distributed among the 4 PCB boards, so that the anode (which can be identified by its short leg or flat side) is pointing towards the negative terminal.
  3. Solder the pins to the PCB board, neatly connecting the anode pins to the negative terminal and the cathode (or positive) pins, of each grouping, together.
  4. Insert the BLUE LEDs so that their anodes are pointing towards the center RED LED’s cathode pins and so that the BLUE LEDs’ cathode is pointing towards the positive terminal.
    1. Neatly solder the BLUE LEDs’ anodes to the connected RED LED cathode pins, and then the BLUE LEDs’ cathodes to the positive terminal on the PCB board.
  5. With your LEDs soldered together properly to your PCB boards, you can power them using a 5v power supply, meaning that they can be driven using USB power, a 4.5 or 5v wall adapter, battery power or other options which will be explored in the following steps.

The red and blue LEDs that were used to build grow lights have been salvaged from discarded electronics but you can also buy new LEDs or you can use magenta colored LED strips to encourage the plants in your CubeFarmto photosynthesize.

Step 7: How to Build a Joule Thief

  • Begin by gathering a few simple components:
    • 1K resistor
    • A NPN transistor
    • A ferrite toroid
    • Two pieces of differently colored enameled wire
    • Red and black insulated wires
    • Dead batteries
    • A small PCB board (optional)
  1. First Wind your toroid with your two lengths of enameled wire.
    1. After winding it, connect one end of one colored wire to one end of the other colored wire and solder them together.
    2. *You can also wrap your toroid with just one color of wire but it will be easier to identify the separate wires if you use two.
  2. Solder together one of the single wires wrapping your toroid to the COLLECTOR pin of your transistor as well as a length of red insulated wire. This will be the positive terminal to power your LED Grow Lights.
  3. Solder the other single wire coming from the toroid to one end of the resistor and the other end of the resistor to the base of the transistor.
  4. The emitter of your transistor is your ground connection so you will solder two black wires to it, one will go to the negative terminal of your batteries and the other will go to the negative terminal of your LED Grow Lights.
  5. The pair of connected wires coming from your toroid will go to the positive lead of your batteries.

As an additional note, you can make one of these circuits with a 3 hole connector attached to it, where the transistor should be, so that you can test salvaged transistors to see if they can be used in future Joule Thief circuits.

Step 8: How to Make a Wind Turbine

  • You will need:
    • 2x rigid flat steel, wood or plastic which is at least 40cm(16”) long
    • 1x 2cm(1”) diameter piece of wooden dowel around 15cm(6”) long
    • 2x 30cm(12”) lengths of PVC pipe that is 10cm(4”) in diameter
    • 1x DC motor2x 15cm(6”) scraps of telescoping PVC pipe that are just bigger than your DC motor
    • Some small screws.
  1. To begin, use a jigsaw to cut your PVC pipes, lengthwise in half.
    1. *Optionally, you can build a quick wooden jig out of some scrap wood to hold them securely while you cut them.
    2. Each of these halved PVC pipes will be your wind turbine blades.
  2. If your pieces of rigid flat steel, wood or plastic are not equally weighted, trim one of them to make sure they are even.
  3. Drill a small hole, just bigger than your screw, in each of the pieces of rigid flat steel, wood or plastic, as close as you can to their center of mass.
  4. Drill a pilot hole for your screw in the end of your wooden dowel.
  5. Screw through the two pieces of rigid flat steel, wood or plastic so that they are exactly perpendicular to each other and into the wooden dowel.
  6. Measure the diameter of the DC motor’s axle and drill a hole of the same size or slightly smaller into the center of the other end of the dowel.Place one of the scrap pieces of PVC so that the DC motor fits into it snugly and the other on the end of the dowel so that it can also fit over the DC motor, loosely but without much room. The two pieces of PVC should shield the motor from any rain while adding stability to the structure but also allowing it to move freely.
  7. Screw your turbine blades to the end of the arms making sure they are evenly balanced from the center.
  8. Connect two wires coming from each lead of the DC motor and mount the wind turbine in a elevated and windy location to generate power. Those two leads will provide you with current to charge batteries or power your LED grow lights depending on how much power your turbine produces.

Step 9: In Conclusion


After building your first FarmCube, you should have a pretty good understanding of how it works and how to reproduce 2, 10 or 100 more so that you end up with aCubeFarm that is constructed out of waste materials, producing healthy food and oxygen in the process, while also utilizing minimal land as well as fresh water resources. Your FarmCubes can be stacked, laid in rows or a combination in order to best occupy your available space. They can be left open for greater access to the plants inside or they can be covered to make greenhouse structures so that you have greater control over the climate your plants are growing in.

Additionally, because the FarmCubes are built on shipping pallets, they are easily transported by two people or can be moved around by use of a forklift. Due to the size and modularity of the FarmCubes, they can be replicated in both rural and urban locations – providing the potential for access to nutrition in food deserts.

The goal of CubeFarm is to be a platform that is adaptable to the user’s environment, location, skills, and resources to create a democratized, open-source, modular agriculture system with aspirations of reducing material waste and greenhouse gasses while increasing food security through collective production. Through all of this, CubeFarm denies singular definitions such as art, design, engineering, activism or agriculture but creates a hybridized form for the purposes of addressing real issues through creative problem solving and aesthetic solutions.

See more about CubeFarm by visiting the project’s website: https://cube-farm.weebly.com

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    8 Discussions

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    OutofPatience

    4 weeks ago

    Fascinating concept...and a whole lot of work! I can clearly see the benefits of this, but it makes me glad I currently have a little bit of land where I can do raised beds, containers, a small orchard, and a greenhouse! I've saved it anyway for the "just in case" scenarios of life. One never knows...

    4 replies
    0
    None

    Yes, of course it may not be for everyone, especially as it sound't like you have a very fertile property, but ideally it could make any plot of land more efficient. It was a lot of work to research so I really much appreciate your comments :D

    1
    None

    On the other hand...this would definitely make it easier to protect one's produce from the chickens, scavenging rabbits, etc., as wrapping the cubes with protective mesh, etc. would be easily accomplished. I'll have to give this some more thought. I do appreciate your research and passing this concept along!

    0
    None

    You make a really great point OutofPatience! I think you would probably want to attach the mesh or chicken wire to removable frames which would easily attach to the front and back faces of the FarmCubes while the sides and top could have the mesh secured directly to the cubes.

    1
    None

    Good idea...as long as one is able to access for harvesting! This "cube" really does provide for a lot of options. Versatility and flexibility might be among it's strong suits!

    0
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    sarafletcher

    22 days ago

    Justin, this is awesome! Seriously, this Cube Farm is one of the coolest creations I have ever seen, very impressed. Keep hustling!