Vertical farms are all the rage, yet these systems are often expensive, messy, and utterly impractical for most urban dwellers. The Robotic Urban Farm System (RUFS) by Better Living Through Robotics improves on nearly every shortfall of the typical system: It uses very little water, no soil, and is made from accessible, affordable parts, with instructions free online.

The brilliance of the RUFS DIY tutorial comes in the excellent use of everyday hardware store goods. The two key structural elements are just about perfect for their use: a plastic downspout you'd find on a gutter to host the plants and PVC pipe for a frame. The small amounts of water that you do use run on a closed loop, meaning that anything which drains down to the bottom of the garden is collected so it can be used again. The planters themselves are simply regular plastic pots filled with hydroponic media—which can be coconut coir, clay, or perlite (silica flakes). And for those who are super-tight on space, it multiplies your growing capacity by eight times just by bringing the garden upright.

Of course a fancy garden means nothing if you don't take care of it. RUFS takes all the guesswork out of farm maintenance. An Arduino-based monitor will water the plants and also keep tabs on soil pH levels, while a fan and lights can provide natural ventilation and illumination for indoor garden applications. There's even a bonus Raspberry Pi-enabled app that will let you track and care for your plants remotely.

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While it's certainly not ugly, the setup isn't exceedingly pretty, so if you're worried about coordinating with your teak patio furniture you might want to look elsewhere for your tomato-growing. But what do you think? Would this turn your brown thumb green? [BLT Robotics via Hack A Day]

Photo via Hack A Day