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Extreme Alternative Agriculture: Growing Basil Underwater

In one of their most famous songs from the late 60s, the Beatles sing of an octopus garden. They describe this imaginary garden thus:
“I’d like to be/under the sea/in an octopus’ garden/in the shade/We would be warm/below the storm/in our a little hideaway/beneath the waves.”
This fantasy garden may not be as far-fetched as you may think. Join us on a stroll to Nemo’s Garden, an actual hydroponic garden on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.
Nemo's Garden
The garden in the early days/Source
Just off the coast of the small Italian town of Noli, there’s a prosperous garden you can reach only by scuba diving.
Sergio Gamberini, the founder of the diving equipment company Ocean Reef Group, came up with the idea of marrying his two biggest passions, gardening and diving, while on vacation in 2012.
Nemo's garden started as a small venture with transparent PVC balloons and a plastic food container with basil seeds. Gambarini and his group did not think much of their experiment's potential. At first, they wanted to see if they could succeed at all. They had low expectations and thought of it as a fun project.
The outcome was a successful patch of basil. It is then that Nemo’s Garden developers reestablished the garden's goal. They wanted to create an alternative kind of agriculture - one that utilizes existing resources to yield crops in inclement environmental conditions. A series of studies made on the garden's crops revealed that the pressure under which they grow results in accelerated growth. Moreover, the plants grow stronger and have higher-than-average levels of chlorophyll and essential oils.

The garden is operated by volunteers and researchers. It runs on renewable energy from the sun, and irrigation water comes from condensation. This is made possible thanks to the relatively stable temperatures the sea provides.

Every year, Nemo’s Garden grew and expanded, and in 2016, they started hydroponics. This was also the first year the garden lasted through winter. They also established pressurized underwater labs and observatories in addition to the underwater greenhouses. 


Nemo's Garden - A volunteer in a pod
A volunteer in a pod/Source

In 2018 the garden suffered a hit when sea levels rose, destroying everything. This was the biggest storm ever recorded in the Mediterranean Sea.

So how does this garden work? Several air-filled plastic pods are anchored to the bottom of the sea by ropes, chains, weights, and screws. A floating platform under each pod allows divers to stand firmly with their heads above water. Jump in for the video tour to see it for yourself:


Nemo's Garden - A diver standing on the platform, shot from beneath
A diver standing on the platform shot from beneath/Source
Nemo's Garden - Inside the bubble pod
Inside the bubble pod/Source
Nemo's Garden - A diver with a crop on the way back to shore
A diver with a crop on the way back to shore/Source
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