Garden Thieves Undermine Research Project in Elliðaárdalur

aldin biodome iceland

Recent thefts from a research garden have set back horticultural research by several years, reports RÚV.

ALDIN is a planned biodome project to be opened in Elliðaárdalur, a nature area near Reykjavík. The biodome will use green energy to create a carbon-neutral greenhouse that aims to be not just a horticultural and educational centre, but also a restaurant, yoga retreat, and event centre. In addition to the ambitious biodome project, ALDIN also has special research gardens in Elliðaárdalur, where the suitability of different species of foreign and exotic plants are assessed for Iceland’s climate. The ALDIN biodome project won a special recognition from Icelandic president, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, last year as one of six projects nominated to receive the Icelandic President’s Innovation Award.

However, recent thefts from the garden have undermined the project, potentially setting it back several years.

Karen Róbertsdóttir, supervisor of the project, stated in an interview with RÚV that “the first year it was mostly kale and celery that were stolen. The year after that it was fruit trees and some garden tools. And this year it was pumpkins, rose bushes, and a specially-imported palm from Germany.”

She stated that almost ISK 1 million has been invested in the research garden, and that much of their research has been undermined through the thefts.

“If we’re growing plants here for several years and they’re stolen, then nothing comes of it. So what’s the point?” she stated.

The garden is protected by an enclosure and surveillance cameras, neither of which seem to have deterred the thieves.

The incident has been reported to the police.

Six Million Plants This Year, But Production Still Short of Carbon Neutrality Goal

Iceland needs to rapidly increase its plant cultivation in order to meet the government’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2040, RÚV reports.

Þröstur Eysteinsson, director of the Icelandic Forest Service, says that in order to meet the goal, plant production in Iceland will have to at least double over the next three to five years, and that production capacity will need to increase even more after that. Currently, there is not enough room in local nurseries and greenhouses to meet this demand.

“As the situation stands, our greenhouses are at full capacity,” Þröstur explained in an interview. “Because it’s May, the spring sowing has already been planned out and it isn’t possible to add anything that will be ready in spring 2023, that is to say, next spring. So for any new projects that are coming in, the earliest they could get plants is 2024.”

The Forest Service intends to deliver six million plants this year, says Þröstur, which is equivalent to pre-crash levels of production. “It was around five million last year, and four million the year before that. This is a rapid increase. Then we need seven to eight million next year, which we may not manage, and ten to twelve in 2025.”

Icelanders Say ‘J’adore’ to Pink Poinsettias

A horticulturist in Hveragerði, South Iceland has been experimenting with multicolored poinsettia varieties and given the classic Christmas flower a makeover just in time for the holiday season. RÚV reports that Birgir Steinn Birgisson has successfully cultivated white, yellow, and hot pink poinsettias that will join their traditional red cousins on shelves this November.

Birgir Steinn gave reporters a tour of his greenhouse and was particularly pleased with the pink poinsettias. “We decided to give this variety—it’s called J’adore in French—a shot because October is a pink month,” he explained, referencing Breast Cancer Awareness Month and its pink ribbon campaign. “And also because this colour is so beautiful, which is why it got the name J’adore—that means ‘I love you,’ or ‘I like you,’ ‘you’re wonderful.’”

RÚV screenshot

The J’adore poinsettia cultivar was developed by the Dutch pot plant breeder Dümmen Orange and introduced to the market in 2017, but had not been successfully cultivated in Iceland before now.

Birgir Steinn’s first pink crop quickly sold out and he says that Icelanders have gone crazy for J’adore poinsettias already this year. He hopes the striking variety will continue to be cultivated in Iceland in the future and also that poinsettias return to their previous popularity in Iceland. The flower, which is called jólastjarna, or ‘Christmas star’ in Icelandic, was once a near-ubiquitous holiday decoration in Icelandic homes, but its popularity declined when the myth spread that the flower is poisonous, particularly to young children and pets.

The milky fluid in poinsettia leaves can cause mild irritation or allergic reactions if eaten in significant quantities, but Birgir Steinn says people needn’t be fearful and that most of the local crops are cultivated organically, without pesticides. As evidence of the flower’s harmlessness, he introduced his cat, a “good worker” who keeps the mice population in check around the greenhouse.

Seek Energy for 50 Hectare Greenhouse

A huge greenhouse Paradise Farm is planning to build in Ölfus, Southwest Iceland, would need 150 megawatts of electricity for its operations, Vísir reports. Paradise Farm is backed by foreign investors, who hope to construct a 50-hectare greenhouse for growing vegetables and fruit, with an emphasis on export.

Paradise Farms plans to start operations with 10 hectares under glass, eventually expanding to 50 hectares. The 150 megawatts required to power such a greenhouse are equivalent to the capacity of Blanda Power Station in North Iceland.

“People are quite interested,” stated Gunnar Þorgeirsson, chairperson of the Union of Horticultural Farmers and one of the people behind Paradise Farms, when asked about reception of the project among energy companies. “There is quite a lot of energy in the system, it’s just a question of where it can be used,” adding that there are still technical issues that need to be solved in terms of how energy would be transported to the greenhouse and that it would require considerable investment.

Even small greenhouses produce considerable light pollution. Gunnar says Paradise Farms would aim to minimise that with the use of screens above the lights. Otherwise, he says, no pollution would result from the operations.

“In the new stations there is a circulation system so that the same fertiliser water is always used and not put out into nature.” Excess warm water from the greenhouse could be used in on land fish farms, which there is some interest in setting up in the area. Then we need to work on converting the carbon dioxide that comes from Hellisheiði Power Station into carbon that we can use for cultivation and make the power station more environmentally friendly along the way.”

Geo Climate Biodome Depends on Investors

The establishment of a proposed 4,500 m2 [48,438 ft2] cluster of geodesic greenhouses on the edge of Reykjavík’s Elliðaárdalur valley will depend on private investors, RÚV reports. According to the chair of the municipal Planning and Transport Committee, the city is prepared to allocate land for the project and believes it will have a positive impact on recreation in the area, but does not have funds to offer for its development.

BioDome Reykjavík (previously known as ALDIN Biodome) is a project of the Spor í sandinn consultancy firm and, per a profile in The Polar Connection aims to not only be “the world’s first geo climate biodome,” but also the first carbon neutral one. Capitalizing on the wealth of geothermal energy available in Iceland as well as the country’s “fertile volcanic soil,” BioDome Reykjavík will “…create a lush, verdant oasis beneath a glazed dome…A place that will grow its own food, supporting indoor Mediterranean as well as tropical environments, for the health, nourishment and enjoyment of all who visit.” In addition to its rich plant life, the plans also include a plaza, specialty restaurant, and marketplace focusing on Icelandic produce.

Initial plans for the biodome were approved by the city in December 2017, after criticism from people living in the area led to a reduction of the height of the domes and the removal of proposed buildings on the west side of the site. The proposed parking lot was also scaled down. Spor í sandinn founder and CEO Hjördís Sigurðardóttir says the plans for the project have gone through five or six drafts and changed a great deal in response to a site changes as well; initially, the project was proposed to be located in the more central Laugardalur neighbourhood, but this was rejected by the city.

Having received an initial round of investment during the planning and design phase, Hjördís is currently looking to secure the next phase of financial support. In her interview with RÚV on Wednesday, she wouldn’t give a specific figure of how much the project was projected to cost but conceded that biodomes were “expensive structures.”

See project visualization photos and read more about the proposal for BioDome Reykjavík (in English) on the Spor í sandinn website, here.