Christmas spices from the indoor farm

Christmas spices from the indoor farm

Exotic spices are key to baking cookies. But instead of coming from India, vanilla and pepper could soon come from domestic indoor farms.

Plätzchen und Nüsse mit Tannenzweig
Many cookies contain exotic spices such as vanilla and pepper.

From vanilla crescents to pepper nuts: Cookies and pastries are very popular at Christmas time. Many of these treats contain imported spices that only grow in faraway countries like India. As an alternative, vanilla and pepper could soon also thrive in domestic indoor farms. Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences has now paved the way for this. After two years of construction, the "Indoorfarm - Agricultural Systems of the Future" research center was officially opened at the Haste campus at the end of November.

Domestic cultivation of exotic spices in indoor farms

As of now, future-oriented and sustainable cultivation options for numerous herb and vegetable plants are being researched here - including vanilla and pepper - i.e. plants that have not been cultivated in this country so far. In this way, the researchers want to investigate how indoor farms can be used in urban areas in the future to make tomorrow's food supply climate-independent.

Ideal growing conditions

A total of six separate indoor farm chambers are available on the second floor of the new building for growing vegetable and spice plants. The chambers are designed in such a way that plants can grow upwards here in the smallest possible space according to the principle of vertical farming. All the necessary environmental factors, such as light, temperature, CO2 content, water and nutrients, can also be monitored and controlled in order to cultivate each plant optimally and thus ensure reliable product quality regardless of the weather.

"Our drive has always been to think from the plant. That means we want to create absolutely ideal conditions for plant growth. This also distinguishes us from many other approaches that have become established around the world," says Andreas Ulbrich, professor of vegetable cultivation and processing at Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences and one of the main initiators of the new research center.

Share findings with growing countries

A 160-square-meter greenhouse on the roof provides space for researching more plants. Here, the first vanilla and pepper plants are already growing upwards, as Ulbrich reports. "On a pepper plant, you see blossoms, blossoms with more developed peppercorns and ears that are ready to harvest - you very rarely see that in this form in the original growing countries." The researchers plan to pass on the new knowledge they gain from their work to the growing countries.

Indoor farms with a smart energy cycle system

Not only exotic plants such as vanilla and pepper, however, but also sweet potatoes and lettuce are to be grown in the Osnabrück indoor farm chambers. The design took into account the issue of sustainable energy use, as Sebastian Deck, research associate and co-initiator of the research center, explains. "The cube is equipped with an intelligent energy cycle system that connects the indoor farm culture chambers with the glass greenhouse on the roof. For example, we want to use the energy from the LEDs in the ground-floor chambers to heat the greenhouse on the roof."
Several companies from the region are already involved in the new research center, and many more have expressed interest, Ulbrich