I’ve long wanted to grow my own produce, even if it’s just lettuce. But since I live in a third-floor walkup the size of a Macy’s fitting room (and that includes the fire escape), outdoor gardening is out of the question.
At one point vertical farming as a solution would have been an outlandish solution, but it’s a growing industry, and more than one company now offers setups that the average person can fit into their home and operate without any assistance from an agriculture expert. Armed with that encouragement, I’ve been shopping for an indoor farm that will a) fit into my tiny apartment and b) compensate for the fact that I’m such a bad gardener that I once killed a cactus.
Here’s what I found:
CityCrop‘s farm has automated much of the science behind plant care, so that a user just buys the device and downloads an app, drops seeds into the farm’s base, then lets the system do the rest. Via notifications to the app, the software will tell you how to adjust the temperature so it’s ideal for your crops and when to water, and will even give plant care tips based on snapshots of your plants.
The farm is also small, which means it easily fits into tiny living spaces. Predictably, leafy greens are the most common crops, though the UK-based company also says you can grow things like edible flowers and strawberries. If the point is access to fresh greens even when you’re a city dweller with no time to grow, this makes sense as a solution — though it doesn’t come cheap. CityCrop is shipping in Q1 of 2019, for £999 (about $1300 USD) excluding shipping and VAT fees. As with any product that has yet to ship, proceed with a grain of caution as there’s no guarantee as to when it’ll actually hit the market.
Ponix promises on its website that “you neither need a balcony nor water to grow your vertical farm at home.” The company’s hydroponic farm, named Herbert, is a wall-like slab with shelves mounted to it where the plants grow accompanied by overhead LEDs.
To use Herbert, you place seeds into the pods, which then fit into the shelves. Add water every one to two weeks, and fertilizer every three to four weeks. The system does the rest of the work in terms of helping you maintain healthy plants, adjust light settings, and perform other maintenance tasks. Herbert can grow up to 15 plants at a time.
Because it lives on a wall-mounted panel, Herbert definitely takes up the least amount of space of any farm on this list. Right now it’s selling for €490.00 (~$553 USD) not including shipping. From a cost-point and a space perspective, I’d say Herbert is probably most appropriate for a dressing-room-sized apartment.
Smart Kitchen Summit alum SproutsIO has a smart microgarden lets you grow up about 36 servings of leafy greens in the span of one month, and on your coffee table. The actual “farm” is basically a smart device in a potted plant, and at a mere 12 inches wide, is a self-contained farm that would fit on your coffee table with no problems.
The microgarden uses a proprietary combination of wavelength-tuned LEDs, sensors (for light, temperature, etc.), and an onboard camera, and connects to your smartphone via the SproutsIO app. The base of the device, meanwhile, can includes and electronic mister, to circulate water, and can expand as plant roots get larger. And it’s dishwasher safe.
The product is expected to ship in Q3 of 2019, for $799. As of right now, SproutsIO is for U.S. orders only.
Ava Byte also uses a combination of hardware, software, AI, sensors, and a smartphone app to bring intelligent gardening to your tabletop. One thing about this grow system that’s different from others is that Ava Technologies developed lights that adapt to different types of plants, rather than the standard “on/off” timer used with most systems. A time-lapse camera lets you monitor plant growth remotely, and Ava claims its plants can grow three times faster than those farmed with traditional methods.
Ava Technologies, who raised a $2.6 million seed round last year, is another SKS alumni, and you can see company Valerie Song pitch the product in this video to get a good idea of how it works. Byte is by far the cheapest on this list, at $299. Throw in an extra $99 for a year’s worth of seeds.
Opcom’s farm is a little bit bigger but will still fit in larger houses. The five-foot GrowWall2 grows up to 80 plants at once, which means you could supply the family with fresh greens every day and still have enough to moonlight as a farmer’s market retailer if you wanted. Opcom also makes a smaller GrowFrame, which fits on a wall. Its smallest, most affordable offering is the GrowBox.
GrowBox is a tabletop, automated hydroponic system that manages its own lighting and water circulation. Each GrowBox is shipped with seeds, and the device itself is super portable, despite its 50-plant capacity. It’s $599, though Opcom sells a ton of different products, and there are even smaller, cheaper options. But if you’re looking to get familiar with vertical farming or just want better greens in your life, this is a good route to travel.
As of this writing, I’m leaning towards Ponix Systems’ Herbert as the best option for indoor farming in a tiny space, as it only requires a wall, not floor or table space. However, this is not an exhaustive list of at-home vertical farms, so if there are others that merit mention, drop ’em in the comments. And stay tuned for further adventures in urban farming.