LIANE HANSEN, host:
If youre fortunate enough to have a bit of land to till, you may be planting a garden by now. This spring, even urban dwellers with no access to soil are getting into the game with hydroponic gardening. In New York City, two young women are promoting what they call window farms.
Jon Kalish has the story.
JON KALISH: Thirty-three-year-old Britta Riley has advised museums on public participation and is well versed in social media. So last year, she was able to raise $27,000 for her Window Farms project through an online micro-donation Web site. Riley said she and her partner in the window farming project are do-it-yourselfers.
Ms. BRITTA RILEY (Co-owner, WindowFarms.org): I grew up on a ranch in Texas, and so we had to always just hack together what we needed to fix fences and so forth. And my partner on the project, she's a gardener, so she's been finding ways of making it work for a long time.
KALISH: Riley's partner is Maya Nayak, a professional gardener who's 29. She's been growing herbs in her window farm at home, which is on a ground floor of an apartment building. There's a sign in her window that says WindowFarms.org and a lot of parents with kids in tow have stopped by to check it out.
Ms. MAYA NAYAK (Co-Owner, WindowFarms.org): We had to put up a curtain because people will come up and look. And then you're, like, wow, this is my living room and there's people staring - what is that?
(Soundbite of laughter)
KALISH: What it is can best be described as vertical columns of plants hanging in front of your window. There's not a drop of soil but vegetables and herbs grow with the help of sunlight and a little electricity.
You can download instructions from the Window Farms Web site on how to put together a system that grows three plants. The materials will cost about $30. Much of the stuff you'll need is not usually associated with gardening.
Ms. RILEY: Water bottles, an aquarium air pump that you get at pet store, air valve needles that are used to pump up a basketball with a bike pump, a hanging system that's meant for hanging art.
KALISH: Britta Riley says recycling consumer goods is an important part of the DIY ethic.
Ms. RILEY: We're kind of showing that we can actually get really, really far in using things that we already have available to us as consumers.
KALISH: Riley lives in a loft in Brooklyn, which is also home to the Window Farm's lab. The day I dropped by, three people were installing a new Window Farm system on a wall above a south facing window.
(Soundbite of drilling)
Ms. RILEY: Here we go.
(Soundbite of laughter)
KALISH: Basically, the least complicated of the Window Farm systems is a column of upside-down spring water bottles connected to each other with plants growing out of holes cut in the sides. An air pump is used to circulate liquid nutrients that then trickle down the top of the column and make their way to the plant roots.
(Soundbite of air pump)
Ms. NAYAK: Britta's favorite vegetable is bok choi and whenever anyone asks her, they're like what grows better in a window farm? She's like, well, I just love bok choi.
(Soundbite of laughter)
KALISH: Window farms have been used to grow strawberries, cherry tomatoes and peppers.
Window farmer, Maya Nayak.
Ms. NAYAK: Buttercrunch lettuce grows great and lots of herbs. Anything leafy and green, essentially. You can't grow carrots and you can't grow root vegetables. Potatoes, garlic, those things don't work.
KALISH: Close 4,000 people have registered at the Window Farm's Web site and people have built window farms across this country and in Italy, Israel, Hong Kong, and Finland. These urban farmers use the Internet to exchange ideas for improving the window farm's technology. It's a process Riley calls R and D-I-Y or Research and Develop It Yourself. One Window farmer figured out how to cope with the gurgling sound these Window farm systems make.
(Soundbite of gurgling)
Ms. RILEY: He just drilled a few holes into a vitamin bottle and stuck it over the end and all of a sudden it completely silenced the system. And then he posted that for everybody else, and all of a sudden we have a new solution that's cheap and that other people can replicate somewhere else.
KALISH: In the coming months, Riley and her colleagues will focus on how much energy it takes to run the air pumps and the compact fluorescent light bulbs used when access to sunlight is a problem. Riley says that in addition to the environmental benefits of growing your own food at home, there are aesthetic ones.
Ms. RILEY: It's just fun to have food growing in your own apartment, and especially during the winter months, you've got this like lush green bunch of lettuce growing in the window that's kind of freshening the air in your apartment and it actually just looks pretty.
KALISH: Britta Riley has noticed that some people who are interested in trying the window farm are not really into building it themselves. So this month her group will start selling window farm kits.
For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish in New York.
HANSEN: You can see what window farms look like and learn how to build one yourself at our Web site, NPR.org.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.