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It only takes a day or two to build this genius device that could help increase food security in the remote Yukon

David Landsel
September 26, 2017

When all was said and done, the tallest tomato plant had grown nearly eight and a half feet tall, bearing tomatoes close to five inches in diameter. That's no small feat in Whitehorse, Yukon, one of Canada's most remote cities, less than a day's drive from the Arctic Circle.

The man who grew it, Chris Bartsch, didn't just get lucky—the retired radial floor heating installer invented invented a device, easy to build, powered by the sun and made entirely from local materials, that he calls a solar collector. In the industry, it's usually called a root heater, more frequently found in greenhouses, where they're often installed at great expense.

Bartsch, 82, got his tomato plants that tall—and that productive—all with a few pieces of scrap metal, a refurbished circulator pump, and some tubing. It works much as a solar panel would, collecting the sunlight, heating the water, which flows through a system of tubing laid out beneath the soil, creating favorable conditions for crops to grow, regardless of how long spring lingers, or how early fall chooses to arrive. Best of all, he's doing it outdoors.  

"What I'm really trying to prove here is that this can be done at a reasonable cost ... but the benefits of it are huge," Bartsch told Canada's CBC News, in a recent interview.

"You can shorten your growth time, possibly do two crops a year."

The town—and agriculture experts in the region—are certainly paying attention; at a time when gardens are being shut down for the year, Bartsch's plot at a local community garden is still going.

Bartsch acknowledges that he's still in the test phase, and there are questions as to whether or not you can scale up a project like this to actually have a long-term impact on regional agriculture and food security, but, no matter— Bartsch appears to be having a grand time with the project. That big tomato he grew? It was presented to the mayor of Whitehorse, who pronounced it the biggest he had ever seen—and the best tasting, too. 

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