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Kitchen Gardening

Watering Plants with Sunlight and Air

A demonstration garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens uses a solar-powered atmospheric water harvesting system to irrigate a honey of a vegetable garden.

  • A solar-powered atmospheric water harvesting system uses the sun's energy to speed condensation for watering vegetables and herbs.
    Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey
  • The SOURCE unit uses two hydropanels to produce almost a gallon of water a day.
    Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey
  • Students from CU Boulder's Environmental Design program created a bee "bungalow" to attract pollinators to the garden.
    Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey

While on a visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens, I stopped to admire a planting system like I had never seen before. It wasn’t the white plastic planters in a honeycomb-like design, it was the sign posted near the garden that drew me in:

Water from the Air

This standing garden is planted with tomato and herb plants that are watered with the technology that turns sunlight and air into water.

The SOURCE unit is a solar-powered atmospheric water harvester on display at the Denver Botanic Gardens in Denver, Colo. The system irrigates plants by speeding up condensation to convert water vapor into water. 

Zero Mass Water, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., is the manufacturer of the SOURCE unit. A solar panel at the center of the unit provides power. Two additional hydropanels contain special materials that attract water molecules to produce about two gallons of water each day. A storage tank can hold almost 8 gallons.

The SOURCE unit is an off-the-grid system “that uses solar energy to raise the dewpoint inside the panels, driving passive condensation,” according to the Zero Mass Water website. The resulting water is high-quality drinking water similar to distilled water.

Students at Colorado University at Boulder’s Environmental Design program designed and fabricated the hive-like hexagonal planters, an artsy bee house to attract pollinators and a solar-powered light for the garden.

While the water harvester at the Gardens can irrigate edibles like tomatoes and herbs, the demonstration is a small example of what the technology can do. Zero Mass Water is using the SOURCE unit to help provide clean drinking water to thirsty people in 26 countries across 6 continents. 

The demonstration at the Denver Botanic Gardens shows the potential for being able to grow vegetables in places without a source for irrigation or reliable precipitation to either water gardens or fill rain barrels.

The SOURCE demonstration is one of the many collaborations and initiatives at the Gardens for innovative ideas for water-wise gardening. Even in Colorado’s relative low humidity climate, the SOURCE unit produces plenty of water to grow vegetables and herbs.

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