With quarantine keeping us all at home, people are growing plants both for mental health and as a food source. But even if the enthusiasm is there, there are still plenty of pitfalls to accidentally kill your plant friends — overwatering, underwatering, not enough light, etc.
For those reasons, plus a growing (ha!) interest in food sovereignty, coronavirus could actually present a real market opportunity for smart gardens; automated indoor grow systems to manage the health of your plants. But, as Mike Wolf noted in his piece last month, one big hurdle standing in smart gardens’ way is their cost. The systems can range in price from hundreds to even thousands of dollars.
That’s where Pico, a new automated indoor garden currently making a splash on Kickstarter, could really distinguish itself. Early Backers can secure a Pico for only $32. The intended MSRP is $45.
When we say Pico made a splash on Kickstarter, we’re not exaggerating: at the time of writing the company has raised $1.3 million on Kickstarter (its initial goal was $10,000). The small self-contained grow system that can be affixed to walls and features an LED light mounted on an adjustable arm, which can be moved up as plants grow. It can also self-water, provided someone fills up its tank once a week.
Like most indoor garden systems, Pico is limited in terms of what plants can grow. The Kickstarter says it can be used for decorative plants, like succulents, as well as to grow herbs and leafy greens. It even claims it can grow cherry tomatoes and chili peppers, though its small size could limit the amount.
Pico may be extremely affordable, but it doesn’t have quite the same stramlined user experience as some of the pricier home gardens. For one, Pico has to be plugged in to work. It’s powered with a USB Type-C cable, so it can plug into a phone or computer charger. Pico comes with a 3-meter long cable with magnetic organizer loops to more easily route around kitchen appliances, so that helps. But it still seems like kind of a pain to set up. That said, Pico is small enough to fit pretty much anywhere, and can also be mounted on walls to position it closer to a wall outlet. You can also connect three Picos together at a time and power them with the same charging cable.
The Pico price only includes the device. Users have to add in their own soil and seeds. To be fair, that’s not a huge lift, but it does mean the Pico isn’t a straight plug-and-grow option, like Aerofarm or Click & Grow.
It also isn’t 100 percent automated. Users have to manually turn the LED light on and off to imitate the rise and fall of the sun. They can also purchase a timer to automate the process for an additional cost.
Altifarm, the company behind Pico, has some experience making automated grow systems. They’ve already launched Herbstation, an indoor farm that was also funded by Kickstarter. The company has just concluded fulfillment of Herbstation preorders after a self-admitted “share of delays, mixups, and drama.” Buyer beware.
As of now, Pico is slated to begin shipping in May/June, though a small disclaimer at the bottom of the campaign notes that that could be delayed due to stay at home orders. Buying a product off a crowdfunding site is always a risk — especially now, when COVID-19 is disrupting manufacturing supply chains across the globe. However, Altifarm states that since Pico is their third global product launch, they’ve learned how to efficiently get a hardware product to market.
Despite the risks, Pico couldn’t be hitting the market at a more opportune time. With COVID nudging consumers to be more aware of where their food comes from — and people consequently gaining an interest in food sovereignty — home gardening is blooming (okay, last plant pun).
Pico’s stellar Kickstarter campaign illustrates just how enthusiastic consumers are about finding ways to easily grow their own food at home. Now we’ll have to see if they can follow through to make all those backers happy home gardeners.