When it comes to at-home vertical farming, who will be first to grow a watermelon?
That’s a question posed by HECTAR Hydroponics, a project that wants to open-source the at-home vertical farm concept. Rather than mass-producing a whole farm and selling it to consumers, the project’s creators have instead made a manual and documentation available for free download, so that any DIY enthusiast can build their very own HECTAR.
Felix Wieberneit of the Royal College of Art and the Imperial College of London conceptualized HECTAR, which eventually became part of Imperial College’s Venture Catalyst accelerator program, a competition for entrepreneurs sponsored by Huawei. The HECTAR vertical farm is the size of a regular bookshelf and can grow up to 128 plants, according to the project’s website. So far, users have grown kale, spinach, and other leafy greens, as well as green beans.
According to the publication Springwise, HECTAR was partly inspired by what Wieberneit saw as a need for more affordability and versatility with at-home vertical farming: “Wieberneit wants to change the market for hydroponic systems from ‘overpriced smart planters and costly seed subscriptions’, to systems that people design to meet their own needs, which use local materials.”
Thus far, most large-scale vertical farming companies use either proprietary tech developed in-house or a proprietary mix of off-the-shelf technologies. Information on what works and what doesn’t in terms of the technology is few and far between right now, a situation that also applies to at-home versions of vertical farms.
Hence, Hectar. The plans, released under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International, include a step-by-step guide, an instructional video, and a list of materials, all of which can be purchased from the average hardware store.
A few questions come to mind when thinking of HECTAR in the larger context of at-home vertical farming. For instance, how much does it cost? Do all the materials listed add up to something cheaper than, say, a complete farm from Rise Gardens ($549+) or Gardyn? ($899 for a starter kit). What will the quality of the produce be like compared to those or even compared to what you could buy at the store?
Those questions will no doubt be answered in time on the project’s community forum, where growers can share tips and advice as well as any improvements and/or changes made to the design. No one’s reported any watermelons yet, but open-sourcing the vertical farming concept might just be the way to get there.