View Full Version : Growing food underground

02-08-2011, 06:05 PM
My story is set 25 years after the majority of the population of our planet was wiped out by disease.

My MCs live in an underground military bunker. Obviously 25 years on they aren't going to be getting food left over from supermarkets and stuff.

It's set about 80 years in the future so we have some leway when it comes to the technology but I'd like to be able to explain most of it.

So far I've got that they keep chickens, they use some for breeding, most for eggs and then others for meat. Any comments or advice on this appreciated.

How would they grow crops? Would anyone be able to explain hydroponics/heat lamps etc to me?

There are around 200 people in the base including families. How much food would need to be grown to sustain them? How many people would be working on growing the food and what sort of food would they be eating?

Is there anything else I should be thinking about?

02-08-2011, 06:19 PM
Hydroponics is simply growing plants in water without dirt. Its favored for indoor growing because it is less dirty. Given that one of my aloe plants recently tipped itself over, strewing dirt accross my dining room, I begin to see the attraction. It also is advantageous in that the plant uses less energy on growing roots.

In Neil Pollan's book, the Botany of Desire, he describes how marijuana is grown indoors, using strict controls on temperature, humidity, light intensity, duration of light and dark, and so on. Apparently, this has led to an enormous increase in the fruitfulness of the plant. You may want to take a look at that.

As far as animals, I believe the highest yeild you can get as far as protein/feed is fish. You might even be able to raise your fish in your hydroponic tanks along with your plants.

02-08-2011, 06:55 PM
Rickets and osteoporosis will be concerns. Is there electricity? Plants can photosynthesize on light through a window, but people (and livestock)will not be able to make Vitamin D from light through a window.

02-08-2011, 07:00 PM
You can genetically engineer your life forms to produce whatever nutrients you need. Probably you'd have some bacteria in vats cranking out vitamin D and other essential nutrients.

Heck, in 80 years you might have synthetic meat grown in laboratories, synthetic milk sans cow, etc.

02-09-2011, 09:07 AM
They might use geothermal energy for a gro-light setup.

Here's a link to a pretty good food storage calculator. You can enter how many people you're storing for by age and it'll calculate how many lbs. of each grains, sugars, proteins, etc. you'd need per year.


Chickens don't quite make sense to me as an underground food animal. For one thing, poultry are very messy and sanitation would be a huge issue. Their manure could be recycled into plant food, but then you've got to worry about proper ventilation. Birds are very susceptible to respiratory illness, and their droppings harbor some really nasty disease for humans if they dry out and get inhaled. Also, chickens are photosensitive and require certain hours of light daily for their bodies to kick into egg laying mode. This requires an additional energy expense to keep them producing. When you figure a single egg laying chicken eats 4-5 oz of grain a day, plus extra calcium or they won't be able to produce eggs for very long, you might as well be feeding the grain straight to your human population.

Fish make a bit more sense. They don't need light. You could use catfish or something similar. The risk of disease transmission is much smaller. You could use human waste to grow food for the fish, where you might not want to use it for hydroponics. Then use the waste products from the fish to fertilize the plants in turn. Here's a good link to catfish aquaculture with estimated yields for meat:


You might also consider something like shrimp, or some other freshwater crustacean or mollusk. Freshwater mussels would be handy for filtering waste out of water, and if they weren't fit for human consumption afterward could be used in animal feed.

I'm not sure how you'd go about large scale aquaculture for grains. Possibly rice? That's grown in water above ground. They also might have cultivated nutritional fungi on a large scale.

Here's a good nutritional breakdown for mushrooms:


Hope some of that is helpful.

02-09-2011, 02:48 PM
Brilliant thank you all. Very helpful. I've got some more editing to do but I will take all of this into consideration during the rewrites.

I didn't think about the vitamin D deficiency. I'll look further into that.

Also love the idea of fish and I now know a bit more about hydroponics!

Smiling Ted
02-09-2011, 07:09 PM

You have to brush up on your Google-Fu.
I typed in the words "science fiction" and "food," and I got this website (http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/Science_List_Detail.asp?BT=Food) on the top page.

02-09-2011, 08:05 PM
I did see that a while ago. It all seemed too futuristic for my novel and I also didn't want to be steal ideas from other writers.

However, now that I have some of my own ideas, it might provide more useful.

Smiling Ted
02-09-2011, 08:13 PM
Ideas like edible fungi, yeasts, bacteria and vat-grown meat have been around for a long time. You won't be stealing anything.

02-09-2011, 08:23 PM
I imagine you would have to think carefully about the carbon balance. Plants need carbon dioxide grow. Normally you would expect it to be scrubbed out in a bunker, but that's no good if you want to grow food. You could perhaps use filtered air from the outside (but you might run a risk of disease transmission).

02-09-2011, 10:17 PM
I imagine you would have to think carefully about the carbon balance. Plants need carbon dioxide grow. Normally you would expect it to be scrubbed out in a bunker, but that's no good if you want to grow food.

Best solution may be to send 'used' air to the greenhouses so the plants would 'scrub' it for you.