Sustainable Design: Growbooks

The Beginnings of a Seed Pod

I’ve been itching to do some recipe work in terms of the seed integration. While I am learning a lot from the administrative tasks I’ve been setting myself, I find more happiness in building and creating things. So I took some time to work on these measures.

Prototype I:

So the original concept was to integrate seeds into the cover of the book. The idea was that the user would plant the entire book when ready. Several different items were used to create this effect.

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CAD representation of paper pulp book seed and growing medium pocket.

The first idea was to use balsa wood as a frame. A board of balsa was cut to the following dimensions: 6”x6”x1/16”. Four long 1/16” thick pieces of balsa were cut to size and pasted onto the larger board to act as a frame. Newspaper and recycled paper were boiled, blended and squeezed through a cheese cloth to create the paper pulp. After this was applied, dried coir and chia seeds were sprinkled over the pulp. Nontoxic white glue was used to attach the paper pulp to the balsa wood. Once dried, a canvas of burlap was pasted over the growing medium again using nontoxic white glue.

Once dried, the prototype was sprayed with water. Unfortunately none of the seeds germinated. This could have been due to the absorbent properties of the burlap bag and that the white glue acted as a barrier. If the cover had been submerged underwater perhaps the glue would’ve dissolved thus allowing the chia seeds to germinate. Another issue was that the burlap weave was too large, thus the coir could easily escape if the cover were turned over. This concept was abandoned because of the large quantity of ingredients used to make the cover and because the process used to create the cover was fairly impractical.

Prototype II:

The next idea was to use paper pulp as the cover of the grow book. A makeshift mold was made out of cardboard. The same process used to create the paper pulp in the previous prototype was also used for this prototype. The pulp was applied over the entirety of the mold. Because no glue was used, it was difficult to attach the pulp over the mold. A press and vacuum would’ve offered better results in terms of the paper pulp’s durability and geometry. The dried paper pulp was crumbly and had inconsistent thicknesses.

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Cover mold

Despite a poor prototype, I was set on this idea, but a friend of mine suggested that the seeds and growing material be separate from the book so that the children/adults could read the books repeatedly. This would allow the consumer to use the book multiple times versus the suggested single-use time. This would also make assembling the books easier especially if we continued to use board books as our medium.

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Cover

Because we still wanted the seeds and growing material to be integrated into the books, we decided to incorporate a cutout into multiple pages of the board book. This cutout would take the form of the seed. Effectively a seed pod would need to be made and then adhered to the internals of the book. This would allow the user to read the book, remove the seed pod, plant and then re-read the book if necessary.

Prototype III:

In order to create the seed pod a number of different prototypes were made. The idea was to use bioplastic to house the seeds. Using bioplastic would shield the seed from outside forces and then deteriorate after a series of days under ground or submerged in the soil. It would also give the pod a seed-like look and feel. *Please note that the subsequent prototypes have repetitive procedures and descriptions because usually only minor changes were made.*

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Bioplastic Test I

The first bioplastic was made of the following on 10/10:

  1. 1 tbsp of tapioca starch
  2. 3 tbsps of water
  3. 1 tsp of glycerine
  4. 1 tsp of vinegar
  5. 1-2 tbsps of walnut powder

The ingredients were mixed together until it formed a watery paste. This was later poured into a pan and mixed together on low heat. The mixture began to harden after 10 minutes. The substance was placed onto an aluminum foil, rolled and then placed in the oven for a few minutes on each side at low heat. The bioplastic solidified after two days of drying.

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Seeded test tube vs non-seeded test tube

The bioplastic was chopped up and various pieces were injected with seeds on 10/17. The parts that were injected with seeds were submerged in water. The bioplastic shown on the black cap was submerged for a week until the water evaporated. The bioplastic then dried and no seeds had germinated. Additional pieces of bioplastic were submerged in test tubes with and without chia seeds. After almost two weeks the bioplastic is relatively malleable and soft, but has not completely dissolved. The seeds did not germinate. No mold growth has been seen on the wet or dry pieces of this bioplastic.

This bioplastic became pretty hard, but was relatively malleable. It felt a bit like sandpaper and had uneven distribution of color throughout. This may have been due to nonuniform mixing or heating. It was prone to warping after submerged in water and dried out.

*Note 11/20, mold has been seen growing on the test tubes because they were exposed to the air vertically. 

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Mold Growth

Prototype IV:

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Bioplastic Test II

The second bioplastic was made of the following on 10/10:

  1. 1 tbsp of tapioca starch
  2. 3 tbsps of water
  3. 1 tsp of glycerine
  4. 1 tsp of vinegar
  5. 1-2 tbsps of used coffee grounds

The ingredients were mixed together until it formed a watery paste. This was later poured into a pan and mixed together on low heat. The mixture began to harden after 10 minutes. The substance was placed onto an aluminum foil, rolled and then placed in the oven for a few minutes on each side at low heat. The bioplastic solidified after two days of drying.

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Seeded test tube vs non-seeded test tube

The bioplastic was chopped up and various pieces were injected with seeds on 10/17. The parts that were injected with seeds were submerged in water. The bioplastic shown on the black cap was submerged for a week until the water evaporated. The bioplastic then dried and no seeds had germinated. Additional pieces of bioplastic were submerged in test tubes with and without chia seeds. After almost two weeks the bioplastic is relatively malleable and soft, but have not completely dissolved. The seeds did not germinate. No mold growth has been seen on the wet or dry pieces of this bioplastic.

This bioplastic was relatively hard compared to the other bioplastics made this day. It is both difficult to bend and not very malleable unless submerged for a long period of time. The coffee grounds give it a very interesting textured appearance and has a nicer sheen compared to the other bioplastics. It was prone to warping after submerged in water and dried out.

Prototype V:

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Bioplastic Test III

The third bioplastic was made of the following on 10/10:

  1. 1 tsp of agar agar
  2. 1 tbsp of water
  3. 1 tsp of glycerine
  4. 1 tsp of vinegar
  5. 1-2 tbsps of walnut powder

The ingredients were mixed together until it formed a watery paste. This was later poured into a pan and mixed together on low heat. The mixture began to harden after 10 minutes. The substance was placed onto an aluminum foil, rolled and then placed in the oven for a few minutes on each side at low heat. The bioplastic solidified after one day of drying.

This bioplastic seemed relatively malleable after ½ a day of drying, but it shattered after drying completely. I believe it shattered because agar tends to shrink once the moisture is fully evaporated. No additional tests were used with this recipe.

Prototype VI:

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Bioplastic Test IV

The fourth bioplastic was made of the following on 10/10:

  1. 1 tbsp of tapioca starch
  2. 3 tbsps of water
  3. 1 tsp of glycerine
  4. 1 tsp of vinegar
  5. 1 tbsp of coir
  6. 1 tbsp of walnut powder
  7. 1 tbsp of used coffee grinds
  8. 1 tbs of paper pulp

The ingredients were mixed together until it formed a watery paste. This was later poured into a pan and mixed together on low heat. The mixture began to harden after 10 minutes. The substance was placed onto an aluminum foil, rolled and then placed in the oven for a few minutes on each side at low heat. The bioplastic solidified after one day of drying.

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Seeded test tube vs non-seeded test tube

The bioplastic was chopped up and various pieces were injected with seeds on 10/17. The parts that were injected with seeds were submerged in water. The bioplastic shown on the black cap was submerged for a week until the water evaporated. The bioplastic then dried and no seeds had germinated. Additional pieces of bioplastic were submerged in test tubes with and without chia seeds. After almost two weeks the bioplastic is relatively malleable and soft, but have not completely dissolved. The seeds did not germinate. No mold growth has been seen on the wet or dry pieces of this bioplastic.

This bioplastic is the most papery and pulpy among this group of bioplastics. It is not as hard as the other bioplastics and it does not warp as easily as the others once submerged in water and thereafter dried. The coloration of the bioplastic is pretty cool. It’s almost like a cheetah print due to the dispersion of the coffee grinds and the walnut powder. It feels very similar to faux leather.

Prototype VII:

The following bioplastic prototypes were tested for durability, appearance, germination and longevity.

The fifth bioplastic was made of the following on 10/17:

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Bioplastic Test V
  1. 1 tbsp of tapioca starch
  2. 3 tbsps of water
  3. 1 tsp of glycerine
  4. 1 tsp of vinegar
  5. ¼ tsp of spirulina
  6. 1 tbsp of paper pulp
  7. 1 tsp of coffee grinds
  8. 1 vitamin E tablet

The ingredients were mixed together until it formed a watery paste. This was later poured into a pan and mixed together on low heat. The mixture began to harden after 10 minutes. The substance was placed in an ice tray where chia seeds were sprinkled into the mixture. It solidified after almost a week of drying.

The bioplastic was difficult to use and the process of making it was fairly complicated. I did not like the texture (very gel-like) of the bioplastic nor the smell (very acidic) and decided to use a different recipe next time. The vitamin E oil was used as a means to prolong the shelf-life of the item due to the organic materials being used. No seeds germinated.

Prototype VIII:

The sixth bioplastic was made of the following on 10/17:

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Bioplastic Test VI
  1. 1 tbsp of tapioca starch
  2. 3 tbsps of water
  3. 1 tsp of glycerine
  4. 1 tsp of coir
  5. 1 tsp of used coffee grinds
  6. 1 tbsp of paper pulp
  7. 1 vitamin E tablet

The ingredients were mixed together until it formed a watery paste. This was later placed into a pan and mixed together on low heat. The mixture began to harden after 10 minutes, but was fairly flaky. The substance was placed onto an aluminum foil, rolled and then placed in the oven for a few minutes on each side at low heat. Chia seeds were sprinkled on the paste before while it was still wet. The bioplastic solidified after almost a week of drying.

Because vinegar was not used (due to the smell), the bioplastic was super malleable and it was easy to break apart. It seemed like this bioplastic would have great absorption properties, but it lacked durability. It was not tested for seed germination.

Prototype IX:

The seventh bioplastic was made of the following on 10/17:

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Bioplastic Test VII
  1. 1 tbsp of tapioca starch
  2. 3 tbsps of water
  3. 1 tsp of glycerine
  4. 1 tsp of vinegar
  5. 1 tsp of coir
  6. 1 tsp of walnut powder
  7. 1 tsp of used coffee grinds
  8. 1 vitamin E tablet

The ingredients were mixed together until it formed a watery paste. This was later placed into a pan and mixed together on low heat. The mixture began to harden after 10 minutes, but was fairly flaky. The substance was placed onto an aluminum foil, rolled and then placed in the oven for a few minutes on each side at low heat. Chia seeds were sprinkled on the paste before while it was still wet. The bioplastic solidified after two days of drying.

This bioplastic was fairly similar to the first and second bioplastic prototype. It was fairly hard and not very malleable once dry. It did not dissolve easily in water when soaked for a few days, thus making it difficult for the seeds to germinate. I like the color and the texture of this bioplastic, but it wasn’t very easy to work with. I removed pulp from this recipe to see how the bioplastic may be affected, this was evident in its density and thickness.

Prototype X:

The eighth bioplastic was made of the following on 10/17:

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Bioplastic Test VIII
  1. 1 tbsp of tapioca starch
  2. 3 tbsps of water
  3. 1 tsp of glycerine
  4. 1 tsp of vinegar
  5. 1 tsp of used coffee grinds
  6. 1 tsp of walnut powder
  7. 1 tsp of coir
  8. 1 tbsp of paper pulp
  9. 1 vitamin E tablet

The ingredients were mixed together until it formed a watery paste. This was later poured into a pan and mixed together on low heat. The mixture began to harden after 10 minutes. The substance was placed onto an aluminum foil, rolled and then placed in the oven for a few minutes on each side at low heat. The bioplastic solidified after two days of drying.

This bioplastic was interesting in that it had a combination texture between prototype five and eight. It still felt a bit rubbery in terms of hardness, but was fairly rigid in terms of final shape. Removing the coir and the walnut as filler seemed to make it less hard. However, this bioplastic was very apt to warping, This warping may prove difficult to dry the seed pod into a certain configuration. No seeds germinated.

Prototype XI:

The ninth bioplastic was made of the following on 10/17:

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Bioplastic Test IX
  1. 1 tbsp of tapioca starch
  2. 1 tbsp of water
  3. 1 tsp of glycerine
  4. 1 tsp of coir
  5. 1 tsp of used coffee grinds
  6. 1 tsp of walnut power
  7. 1 tbsp of paper pulp
  8. 1 vitamin E tablet

The ingredients were mixed together until it formed a watery paste. This was later poured into a pan and mixed together on low heat. The mixture began to harden after 10 minutes, but was fairly flaky. The substance was placed onto an aluminum foil, rolled and then placed in the oven for a few minutes on each side at low heat. Chia seeds were sprinkled on the paste before while it was still wet. The bioplastic solidified after almost a few days of drying.

The water was reduced to make the mixture less moist from the offset. Less moisture meant that this recipe may be more similar to prototypes nine and eight while still having a similar composition to prototype seven. Again there was warping after drying, but the material was fairly durable compared to prototype seven. Again, no seeds germinated.

Prototype XII:

The tenth bioplastic was made of the following on 10/17:

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Bioplastic Test X
  1. 1 tbsp of tapioca starch
  2. 3 tbsps of water
  3. 1 tsp of glycerine
  4. ¼ tsp of spirulina
  5. 1 tsp of used coffee grinds
  6. 1 tbsp of paper pulp
  7. 1 vitamin E tablet

The ingredients were mixed together until it formed a watery paste. This was later poured into a pan and mixed together on low heat. The mixture began to harden after 10 minutes, but was fairly flaky. The substance was placed onto an aluminum foil, rolled and then placed in the oven for a few minutes on each side at low heat. Chia seeds were sprinkled on the paste before while it was still wet. The bioplastic solidified after almost a few days of drying.

This was a second iteration of the fifth prototype, except removing vinegar from the recipe. The bioplastic was fairly similar to the previous iterations but it looks like it may have grown mold on it after only a couple of weeks. It was not tested for germination.

Prototype XIII:

The eleventh bioplastic was made of the following on 10/17:

  1. 1 tbsp of tapioca starch
  2. 3 tbsps of water
  3. 1 tsp of glycerine
  4. 1 tsp of walnut powder
  5. 1 tsp of used coffee grinds
  6. 1 tbsp of paper pulp
  7. 1 vitamen E tablet

The ingredients were mixed together until it formed a watery paste. This was later poured into a pan and mixed together on low heat. The mixture began to harden after 10 minutes. The substance was placed onto an aluminum foil, rolled and then placed in the oven for a few minutes on each side at low heat. The bioplastic solidified after two days of drying.

This texture was fairly similar to the ninth bioplastic, but less bumpy. No seeds germinated.

Prototype XIV:

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Seed mat

While the bioplastics were interesting to create and work with, they seemed pretty impractical to use currently as the seed pod. More work needs to be done to allow for seed germination. The recipe was also fairly complicated and I wanted to remove any heat used in the manufacturing of the pods. This reduces processing energy and compromising the seeds.

The next idea was to use a seed germination mat like the one found off of amazon and used to grow microgreens. These mats absorb water and then allow seeds to germinate. Because the mats are fairly malleable, roots can easily push their way downwards. Ignore the colors on the mat (used it for removing paint from one of my brushes).

While this seemed like a good idea, attaching the seeds to the mat seemed fairly difficult and this meant that the seeds may be exposed unless they’re sealed in the mat somehow. The unit price for this mat is around $2 per sheet–not bad.  But in using these, we may generate excess waste to match the shape and size of the seed pod I’d like to achieve (more on that later). The last con is that it dissolves into mush after soaking in water. This is problematic.

Prototype XV:

Moving away from the mat and bioplastics I used an age old recipe used to make seed balls. This technique is inexpensive and helps repopulate areas where there is deforestation or wildfires.

Recipe is as follows:

  1. 1 part bentonite clay
  2. 1 part water
  3. 1 part coco coir
  4. 1 tablet of vitamin E
  5. Sprinkle of Chia Seeds

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Submerged seed pods

The clay acts as an excellent binder and allows the seed pod to hold its shape even after molding. It took about a day to remove 75% of its moisture and after two days it was fairly dry. The seed pod was not flaky, seemed fairly durable and did not seem to absorb too much water even in high humidity. The seeds did not sprout during periods of high humidity.

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Dried seed pods

Soon the seed pods were submerged and absorbed water for a few days. The first seed pod to be planted had a difficult time sprouting seeds because it had a layer of tapioca starch and water (more on next page) covering it. The seed pod had also been mashed up after absorbing water for a few days and maybe some of the seeds had been compromised.

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Seed pods with protective film layer

Tapioca starch and water were mixed in equal ratios to produce this fairly thick layer of protection around the seed pod. It seemed to do more harm than good.

Recipe of protective layer:

  1. 1 tbsp tapioca starch
  2. 3 tbsps water
  3. 1 tsp glycerine
  4. 1 tsp vinegar

The ingredients were mixed together until it formed a watery paste. This was later poured into a pan and mixed together on low heat. The mixture began to harden after 10 minutes. The mixture was then applied onto the seed pods before it fully set.

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Seed pods with protective film layer

While it seemed like a good idea in the beginning, this barrier ended up barring seeds from germinating. I don’t think the seedlings had enough force to push past this clear and gelatinous layer. Maybe a thinner or weaker protective layer is needed?

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Seed pod germination tests

I then experimented with a few more seed pods with the recipe that did not use the bioplastic barrier. The seed pod was submerged in water for a few days and I believe that after the fourth day, the chia seeds began to grow.  After two days we reached continual growth.

This is good news. By substituting the bentonite clay with red clay, we could potentially create a ton of seed pods with a very simple recipe that is less energy intensive than the bioplastic recipes.

More recipe iterations are necessary as well as testing the seed pod for various amounts of time in various conditions.

Author

smundon@bu.edu

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