Urban farming innovation – spatial intelligence

Previous posts have touched on the increasing number of products aim at those of us wanting to grow food in very small spaces. We’ve also written about how you can recycle/upcycle and repurpose items to maximise yield and space in your home. In this post we’ve picked a few specific products that promise to help you grow fresh produce indoors, and would really like to hear from you: which, if any, would you consider?

We've picked just a few as there are so so so many out there, and depending on your responses we may pick others (any of interest?) to cover in the future. But if you’d like to get some more creative ideas, check out our Pinterest page where we’re starting to tag a heap of interesting indoor gardening ideas! 

Grove Labs

Grove Labs have come up with what looks like an all-in-one package: aquaponics in a unit that should be about the size of a large refrigerator. The system will link up with your computer and/or smartphone and allow you to keep track of, and be alerted to, changes in the ecosystem (water, light, ventilation etc.). 

For now, this system will only be available to people in the States, and it’ll unlikely be cheap (price reportedly below $5,000, according to their site). So it’s not for everyone, and as a pioneer product it may face competition from lower-cost manufacturers in time. But the core idea of a self-contained unit and ecosystem – where fish waste fertilises plants, and the plants repay the favour by cleaning the fish water – is very cool, especially if the lighting and airflow works as it should. 

 Courtesy of grovelabs.io

Courtesy of grovelabs.io

Nils Ferber and Charlotte Dieckmann’s Garden Box

 Courtesy of Nils Ferber and Charlotte Dieckman's Garden Box and Parasite Farm design

Courtesy of Nils Ferber and Charlotte Dieckman's Garden Box and Parasite Farm design

The German design duo or Nils Ferber and Charlotte Dieckmann have come up with a twin solution of a, “Parasite Farm … an indoor compost system that can be hung on your kitchen table and illumined plant boxes which fit perfectly in a bookshelf.”  For all you go-green nuts this might be an ideal solution to ensure that the cuttings and inedible parts of the plants you grow can be turned into compost to feed later generations of crops. Composting inside a home is something we’ve tried and can work well, but you do need to be careful; for example, in Singapore it can attract lots of unwanted visitors (roaches and ants mainly) if not kept hermetically sealed and if placed in the logical spot (somewhere in or near the kitchen) it can then see those visitors turn their attentions to your stored food, which isn’t great! 

Again, this is in the conceptual stage, but the modular illuminated plant boxes offer a little more flexibility than the Grove Labs all-in-one solution to allow you to dot them wherever wall and/or shelf space permits. If you want to see it in action, this video provides a bit more detail. In theory, this is a design that could be ‘hacked’ by repurposing existing containers (see previous posts) and adding LED lighting systems. But the convenience of a ready-made set-up is appealing, and, as mentioned, don’t mess around with composting in your home unless you have a love of insects and pungent smells!  

FreshWall

Another concept stage idea is FreshWall, designed by Finnish company Naturvention, which as the name suggests is a wall growing plants. The initial product was focused on businesses and cleaning the air or pollutants and alike common in most urban environments, as described in this video. However, there is nothing to stop people swapping out the air-cleansing plants with herbs and smaller vegetables (peppers, salad stuffs, chillies and so on). 

 Courtesy of naturvention.com

Courtesy of naturvention.com

Similar to Grove Labs the Naturvention products seem to be aimed at the higher end of the market, but for that you get all the funky tech that regulates the ‘wall’ and can be monitored from your smartphone. So this won’t be for everyone, but if you want to really utilise space, this is a good product. Whether this high-tech, or the sort of low-tech in our previous posts maximising wall space is a sensible way to really increase the yield potential inside your home from a few basil leaves to something approaching an urban farm.  

Urbio

On the subject of lower-tech wall-mounted growing platforms, the most established (and unlike most others, already retailing) seems to be Urbio. You can check out some of their current range here. It’s not as expensive as more tech-intensive products, but it’s not that cheap, but then with all these companies they are pioneering and will have high start-up sunk costs. So, as products are proven successful I imagine the economies of scale and competition will creep in to bring prices down a little. 

This set-up is so simple: affix different size and shaped plastic containers (dependent on what plants you’re aiming to grow) and whack it up on a wall. The aesthetic is clean whites and that minimalist Nordic-design look, which might appeal to the trendy urbanites amongst you. 

What’s cool about this set-up is that by offering different pot shapes and designs not only does it allow some flexibility regarding the plants you can grow, but it also allows you to customise according to the amount of space you have available. In theory you could therefore grow different crops in different rooms depending on the light, temperature and airflow conditions. Because these Urbio designs lack the in-built lights that Grove Labs and the Garden Box offers, you’d need to be very careful to ensure you either have overhead grow lights; LED lights are now coming along to a stage where they’re pretty attractive and less ‘chemistry classroom chic’, if your walls don't get the natural sunlight. 

 Courtesy of myurbio.com

Courtesy of myurbio.com

Aqualibrium

 Courtesy of aqualibrium.com

Courtesy of aqualibrium.com

The final addition to this post (and please do send in more suggestions) is Aqualibrium, which has recently completed a fundraising round. These guys, based in NYC, have gone for a simplified version of the aquaponic system – fish and plant, or surf and earth for the Aussie readers – that looks pretty space-efficient. The image below, and those on their Facebook page should give you an idea of what they’re aiming for. 

This therefore might be a smaller and less expensive first foray into aquaponics, if that’s something you’re interested in, as this video helps explain. When we say less expensive, it’s still not cheap at just under $500, but what you’re getting is a set-up that can be quite challenging to compile on your own. Having researched this area quite extensively we’ve seen many of the D.I.Y. home kits where people tend to stick a tray on top of an existing aquarium and then string some lighting above, as well as rigging up the filtration system. The endeavour is no-doubt commendable, but they tend to be a bit scruffy, not function quite as well and if you get it wrong you have struggling plants and fish. So what you’re paying for is someone else doing this all for you. 

Urban Farmerly has no vested interest in any of these products or companies, so we’ve tried to be as objective as possible, and would welcome your views on the products covered in this post, but also on any not covered. So get in touch!