ROOT Countertop Garden Connects You With Your Food

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On November 18th, Ohneka Farms, an urban farming design company based in New York City, released its most recent project on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding site for investors. The ambitious campaign looks to raise $75,000 for the ROOT: a small organic hydroponic microfarm that can fit and operate anywhere in the house. This countertop garden provides the grower with automated low-energy LED lighting, a smart watering system, and a mobile phone app to control the lighting system or alert the user to refill the systems water and nutrients.

Each ROOT kit comes with the ROOT System, 16 ROOT Pods, 1 ROOT Share (16 seeds), and a nutrient solution. The countertop garden can be used to grow different lettuces, leafy greens, leafy and woody herbs, vine plants, and edible flowers in a soilless medium with 90 percent water efficiency over conventional gardening. The user may plant their own seeds, or can buy ROOT Shares, a seedling subscription from Ohneka that provides you with organic seeds (and also rare heirloom and organic specialties). The seeds are inserted into the ROOT Pods, then put into the system and left until the vegetables are ripe. And with a 12 inch length and a height of just over two feet, the ROOT can fit on most countertops, and even in closets.

In conjunction with the ROOT’s ability to increase the ease of hydroponic gardening, its product sourcing and missions make the product a must buy. It uses cradle-to-cradle design and manufacturing processes, by making systems with fibers that came from existing plastic waste, which will be constructed domestically in the United States, and can be broken back down into usable plastic. The system only uses 40 watts of power, and all ROOT Kit seeds and nutrient solutions are organically sourced. From a social aspect, the system is being created with the hopes of connecting people to their food sources. The company has been working closely with the EVOLVE Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on mental health and development, by implementing hydroponic technology in the food deserts of Philadelphia. The ROOT creators have made sure to create a product that is the pinnacle of appliance sustainability, with a focus on sustainable product sourcing, energy, water, and space efficient design, and the creation of a product with a purpose.

The project is headed by co-founders Eric De Feo and Brielle Pettinelli, projected to be completed by the end of 2015. Of the 75,000 dollars requested, 10,000 will go towards product design, 45,000 for tooling and body setup, 15,000 for electronics set up, and 5,000 for product assembly and shipping. The fundraising page estimates that the system will cost $299 and will be ready to ship by November of next year. Donors have a wide range of discounts available to them, including early donor discounts and various bulk order discounts of up to 15 countertop garden systems for $2,925. The campaign will conclude on December 18th and is available for crowdfunding here.

Robotic Aquaponics System Brings Artifical Intelligence to Your Garden

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German tech start-up, plants & machines is putting the bot back into botanics

Bringing food production back into cities has become a big topic over the past few years. And gardening in urban areas is getting more and more popular. Decks, rooftops and windowsills are used to grow a wide variety of plants. But the wellbeing of our leafy friends strongly depends on the right environmental conditions and the care provided by their owners.

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plants & machines, a german biotech start-up, recently released first impressions of their upcoming “robotic ecosystem”, a fully automated aquaponics system greenhouse that grows food regardless of location and seasonal climatic conditions. The system minimizes the hassle of growing plants while it integrates users into the functionality of ecosystems. The autonomous robotic system senses and controls environmental conditions, which it adapts to the needs of the plants.

Additionally, artificial intelligence (AI) controls the robot and optimizes the cultivation of food. By combining AI with the sustainable cultivation of plants through aquaponics, it’s possible to produce crop such as fruits, vegetables, herbs and ornamental plants as well as food fish, ornamental fish, clams, crabs and shrimp without relying on external resources.

aquaponics-cycle

Aquaponics links aquatic organisms, microorganisms and plants into an artificial ecosystem. This way waste products of one organism function as supporting nutrients for the others. Aquaponic food production works completely without additional fertilizers and only uses around one tenth of the amount of water that is usually consumed in the traditional agricultural process. All in all, aquaponic food production is characterized by the increase in efficiency per square meter, the minimization of the time needed to finish crop-cycles, and by the reduction of external inputs. Next to its functionality, the robotic ecosystems are aesthetically pleasing, with a user-friendly, globally accessible interface for control and management of the system.

plants & machines will show their brand new aquaponics system product this March at GFIA 2015, the world’s largest showcase of sustainable agriculture solutions. Afterwards – beginning of April – they will launch their kickstarter campaign to collect money to produce the first robots. If you’d like more information, have a look at their website here.

All images and image rights from plantsandmachines.de

Reflectors: Boost Your Indoor Garden’s Lighting Efficiency

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Reflectors, also known as reflective films or liners, are another essential piece of equipment when it comes to maximizing the efficiency of your indoor grow lighting. In order to enhance your indoor garden’s lighting system to it’s full potential, your unit will consist of:

  • Light hood
  • Lamps
  • Reflective material
  • Ballast

High Intensity Discharge (HID) reflectors have the best light broadcast and penetration. There are two reflectors needed for your indoor garden to receive the maximum advantage from your lighting.

  1. Reflectors on your lamp. Some reflectors are designed with hoods that have an opening to attach ducting to in order to keep the light from getting too hot as well as ‘cool tubes’.
  2. Reflection material for around your grow area. The best solution for this is some sort of reflective film such as reflective Mylar.

Headache-Prevention Tip: It’s best to keep in mind that reflectors must be matched for compatibility with your ballasts.

Why Use Grow Reflectors

To receive the full impact out of your lighting unit, reflectors are needed as part of the complete lighting system. They come available in many different lengths and thicknesses for different applications. Reflective film can be used to line the walls, floor, and ceiling of grow room areas to maximize the reflection of the light back toward the plants. Reflective surfaces also help illuminate the lower portions of the garden, providing lower buds with light and heat energy.

Using reflective materials reduces the energy requirements of your lighting and ballast unit so that they don’t have to work so hard. Simply put, you receive more energy per output.

White poly is heavy duty, highly reflective plastic sheeting that can be used much the same as Mylar and can also be used to protect floors and other areas from spills and dirt.

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Overhead reflectors increase the lighting’s coverage area. Image via Miami Hydro.

How Reflectors Work

A reflector is needed to mount your grow lights in. They can be placed around the room, increasing the effectiveness of each HID bulb, while reducing the number of lights you actually need for your indoor garden.

There are grow light reflectors for every type of indoor gardener. Whether you’re a beginner, hobbyist, or professional grower. Reflector hoods come in all sizes and shapes available for every type of garden. Reflector hoods come in two styles:

1. Air cool-able: include glass shields with fittings to connect ductwork for cooling the lamps and cooling tubes.

2. Open air: include Wing and Umbrella styles.

Air Cooled Reflectors

Air cooled reflectors allow you to maintain a precise temperature in your garden preventing the climate from getting too hot. Pair the reflectors with inline fans for cooling, ducting to direct the air, bulbs to grow your plants, and ballasts (required) to power your bulbs.

Common Types of Reflective Materials

Foylon: a spun polyester fabric reinforced with foil laminate. Foylon is resistant to most solutions, won’t tear or fade, and can be wiped clean. Slightly more expensive but its durability will more than make up for its cost.

Mylar: reflective polyester film. Not quite as durable as the foylon, but is still fairly rugged.

Elastomere paint: rubberized roofing paint with 90% reflection. Good for growboxes. Mildew resistant. Highly reflective.

White/Black poly: useful if you are setting up a temporary grow room or don’t want to damage the walls. Poly is easily cleaned. Ensures your dark cycle remains dark. If this plastic is put too close to the light, it will obviously melt.

What Not To Do: Do not use a mirror. Mirrors actually absorb light.

You may decide to purchase a light meter to measure your light directly.

Individual Components or Unit

You can purchase all-in-one packages or individual components from your indoor gardening supply store or online. Check out:

How to Recognize and Prevent Plant Stress

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Plants are a lot like humans. They need stability in order to function at their optimal levels. This includes consistent states of health and limited stress inducers. Yes, plants get stressed too. If growing conditions are even altered slightly, plants can be sent into shock, become toxic, or will just slowly wither away.

In order to prevent plants from even getting to this point, it’s important to establish a proper growing environment right from the beginning. This is proactive way to ensure the best possible plant growth. It’s especially important for growing food-producing plants, because your garden should be considered an investment.

However, mistakes happen in gardening. It is after all, a science. As an urban gardener, you should be able to recognize the signs of plant stress and take immediate actions to rectify the problems. By restoring your hydroponic garden back to a stable environment, you can de-stress your plants.

What is Plant Stress?

Plant stress is the state in which plants adapt into based on several different environmental variables. Essentially, this “survival mode” for plants means they are likely no longer performing their main functions, like blooming and producing food. They’re simply spending their remaining energy trying to survive. In order to prevent plant stress from happening, you must be able to know when your plants are actually in stress.

Signs of Plant Stress

  1. Bleached spots
  2. Dark patches
  3. Wilting leaves
  4. Ragged leaves
  5. No blooming
  6. Dried edges on leaves

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How to Prevent Plant Stress

The best way to prevent plant stress is to keep a stable growing environment. This should include:

  1. Not withholding water – maintain water levels at a constant, including temperature and pH levels
  2. Avoid breaking stems and remove dead leaves regularly
  3. Not keeping plants under too low or high light intensity
  4. Maintaining constant appropriate nutrient levels
  5. Maintaining ambient conditions – proper ventilation, air temperatures, humidity levels.
  6. Preventing pests and mold and dealing with them immediately as they arise. Stressed plants invite in further pests and disease.
  7. Ensuring proper Co2 levels are available for plants to perform photosynthesis

By adding organic bio-stimulants to your hydroponic nutrient solution, you’ll help your plants in multiple ways. You’ll help plant roots better uptake the nutrient solution and increase the plant’s resistance to pests and disease. Both of these improvements will better equip your plants to deal with stress when it does occur. These improved conditions also lead to greater yields.

Proper Ventilation For Indoor Gardening

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Indoor gardening requires proper ventilation to maintain the health of plants. Oxygen is in fact, one of the primary requirements for plants to grow. It doesn’t matter what type of plant you’re growing, stagnant air will negatively impact plant health. Initially, stagnant air may not seem like a big concern – especially to beginners of indoor gardening. However, over time the stagnant air will deteriorate the plant because they need a constant flow of carbon dioxide. A constant air flow does many things for your indoor garden. Read on to find out more about the importance of proper ventilation for growing indoors.

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Axial Fan 550 by CFM. Image via Hydrotek.

Prevents Mold and Bacteria Build-up

One of the main problems that results from indoor hydroponic growing is the potential build-up of mold due to the damp conditions. Moisture is a breeding ground for mold and bacteria but can be prevented by proper ventilation and a constant flow of air.

Reduces Heat Impact

An indoor garden has the potential to reach high temperatures due to the grow lights emitting constantly emitting heat. This is not only damaging to your plants but it can further lead to stagnant air.  A properly ventilated room will remove hot air and replace it with cool air to regulate the interior temperature.

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Carbon air filters purify indoor air. Image via Can Filters.

Eliminates Odor Emissions

Indoor growing is known to emit an odor that is naturally produced by plants. To prevent the odor from travelling throughout your home or building, you can easily set-up a carbon air filter which will purify indoor air. This should get rid of odor. Be sure to change out the filter regularly.

Indoor Gardening Ventilation Systems

For beginners there are different types of ventilation systems that can be set-up for your indoor garden. Depending on what your needs are for your garden, well as your budget, you may want to try dehumidifiers or fans. Many of the units available are designed specifically for indoor gardening whereby they monitor temperature and humidity levels so that you can adjust accordingly.

Proper Application of Co2 in Hydroponics

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When plants grow in soil outdoors, they naturally receive sufficient amounts of C02. However, in indoor hydroponics, your plants aren’t naturally exposed to the same amounts of C02. This means that C02 will need to be added to your hydroponic system in order to support the best growing conditions desired by your plants.

Before deciding you need to add Co2 to your system, you should ensure that all other growing conditions are in tip-top shape. This means proper lighting, ventilation and airflow, spacing between crops, and the current nutrient levels all working together in your system. If none of those conditions are properly established, then adding C02 will be a waste as the plants are likely strictly in survival mode.

How to Measure Levels of Co2 in Hydroponics Systems

In order to determine whether or not you even need to increase Co2 levels in your hydroponic garden you will need to take a measurement. Measuring the levels of C02 in hydroponics is an important step in ensuring your garden is functioning at its optimal levels. To measure the levels of Co2 in hydroponics, the more intermediate to advanced grower can use a Co2 monitoring system. These units measure the amount of of Co2 in ppm (parts per million) which is the unit of measurement for carbon dioxide. Co2 controllers and monitors can be purchased at your local hydroponics or indoor gardening supply store. You can also order them online from ehydroponics.com. The average or recommended levels of Co2 in hydroponics systems should be between 1,000 and 2,000 ppm.

For beginners you may alternatively want to use this Co2 calculator which will indicate estimated Co2 levels based on the size of your grow room and other factors.

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Active Air Co2 System maintains Co2 levels for indoor gardening. Image via EcoGrow.com

How to Increase Levels of Co2 in Hydroponics Systems

After measuring the levels of Co2 in your hydroponics system, you will know whether or not it needs to be increased. If your Co2 levels are below the recommended average then you can boost carbon dioxide with Co2 enrichment methods. There are Co2 monitoring systems available which will automatically boost Co2 levels if they fall below a certain ppm level. These units can also be put on a timer so that they only dispense C02 during the day/lighting cycle as this is, of course, the time when photosynthesis occurs.

Read more about Co2 enrichment methods for small, medium, and commercial sized grow rooms.Feature Image: Proper Co2 levels in your hydroponic garden, produce deep green leaves on your plants. Image via Food Wise.

Producing Hydroponic Fodder

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Authored by Max Salinger, Research Horticulturist Extraordinaire with CropKing

For years we have known about the human health benefits of eating sprouts and juicing greens, so why not extend the wellbeing to our farms? As winter approaches many of our animals are relegated to dusty, dry hay; but this can be avoided by utilizing hydroponic technology that is new to the United States, but practiced for years in countries like New Zealand and Australia. Through the use of a modified nutrient film technique (NFT) channel you are able to sprout common cereal grains into nutrient dense, highly palatable, fresh greens. These channels are often much wider than their lettuce production counterparts to allow for a larger amount of seed to be sprouted at one time.

These sprouts, or “hydroponic fodder” can be produced in as little as seven days and require no fertilizer and very little light. Some of the most common grains used to make hydroponic fodder are Barley, Wheat and Black Oil Sunflower seeds. Many farmers will make specific grain mixes to cater to their individual animals needs and some grain companies are even offering pre-mixed rations. This fodder can be fed to a wide variety of animals ranging from chickens and turkeys to horses and cattle. The hydroponic fodder mimics these animals’ natural diets much better than that of standard grain mixed rations and dried hay. In certain cases, feeding hydroponic fodder in the winter months can even help reduce the instances of foundering and colic in animals like horses and cows.

One of the biggest obstacles that we face when producing sprouts for our animals is growing a mold free product while still maintaining a high level of germination. What makes this challenging is the fact that both germinating seeds and fungal pathogens thrive in high humidity, warm conditions. By utilizing hydroponic NFT technology, newer fodder systems reduce ambient humidity and water loss often associated with older misting type systems. This reduction in ambient humidity allows us to utilize these systems in slightly warmer conditions, stimulating germination, but not mold growth. Some of the most successful hydroponic fodder systems are operated in highly regulated conditions using environmental control equipment often seen in greenhouse and indoor cultivation complexes.

However, unlike these types of growing operations, hydroponic fodder production relies on very little supplemental light. The sprouting process is on such a short cycle that most of the growth that we see is a product directly correlated to the stored carbohydrates already within the seed and not photosynthetic acquisition of sugars. This fact leads many hydroponic fodder farmers to utilize heavily insulated structures with no light penetration as opposed to a greenhouse; the cost of the minimal artificial lighting is offset by the fuel savings seen in this type of structure. From state of the art, fully controlled structures as described above to at-home DIY units, hydroponic fodder is steadily gaining popularity with farms of all sizes. Whether you are looking to increase the quality of your animals’ life or to mitigate the high cost of hay, hydroponic fodder is a great solution.

Authored by Max Salinger, Research Horticulturist Extraordinaire with CropKing | Reach Max via email.

Prevent Pests in Your Indoor Garden

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Pests are a natural part of operating a garden and should be expected at some point to cause damage to your plants. The best way to fend off nasty bugs is to take initial measures to prevent pests in your indoor garden.

However, pests are known to occur in gardens of even the most experienced growers. Sometimes you can do everything right by maintaining a healthy, controlled growing environment and the bugs still show up. A common misconception is that because you’re growing indoors, you’re free from pest threats. This is typically only the case when we talk about large-scale commercial operations which either bring in plants that were from previously controlled environments, or they germinate their seedlings on-site.

By starting out from seedlings, you greatly reduce the risk of developing pest problems. That’s because when you purchase mature plants from garden centers and bring them into your home, you’re taking the chance that there could already be pests in the soil or on the plants themselves.

5 Ways to Prevent Pests in Your Indoor Garden

Here are some measures to prevent pests in your indoor garden, especially if it’s a new system:

1. As mentioned before, try germinating your own hydroponic seedlings. This is not only a way to prevent pests, but it’s  good learning experience as well.

2. Monitor your garden daily. This will ensure you can catch the pests before they become an infestation. Look for any signs of pest damage including plant discoloration and holes in the leaves.

3. Use only clean, sanitized pots and system components. This prevents the establishment of a breeding ground for insects and other pests.

4. Care for your plants by removing dead leaves and isolating the specific plants you feel may be infected.

5. Maintain proper growing conditions at all times including sufficient air flow.

5 Pests to Watch for in Your Indoor Garden

Some of the most common pests you will encounter in your indoor garden include:

1. White flies

Look for black film that almost looks like sooty mold build-up.

2. Aphids

Aphids are usually thought of as tiny green bugs but they come in other colors too. Look for clusters of these insects on the undersides of leaves.

3. Scale

These are small, brown insects that are usually found on the undersides of leaves.

4. Mealy Bugs

These are noticeable white fluffy bugs that look almost like cotton. They are often found on the undersides of leaves or on the plant stems.

5. Spider Mites

Spider mites can usually only be detected with a magnifying glass. Look for their signs of damage which are discolored leaves. Spider mites are also not actually considered insects.

3 Ways to Eliminate Pests from Your Indoor Garden

To eliminate pests when they do occur, many growers opt for organic methods of pest elimination such as neem oil, beneficial bugs, or organic sprays.

1. Neem Oil

Neem oil is derived from the neem plant and destroys insects by preventing them from laying eggs.

2. Beneficial Bugs

Beneficial insects like ladybugs can fight off aphids. They do this by eating the insects that damage your garden. Live ladybugs can be ordered and shipped to you.

3. Organic Pest Sprays

You can purchase or create your own pest sprays. Often times soapy mixtures are blended with citrus which can be sprayed over the leaves of your garden to kill insects.

What methods have worked to prevent pests in your indoor garden? Share your story with us!

PowerHouse Hydroponics Top Lists of 2014

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As soon as something interesting flashes by the screen our attention is lost and we become entrenched in the next best thing, latest gossip, or the newest technology. This is likely the reason that lists have become the new hot digital content format and why they’ve been trending in 2014. Lists provide a quick overview. They introduce us to new ideas and provoke opinions that often lead to conversations and ideally, inspire action.

Controlled Environment Agriculture is a hot topic that uses  technology that enables the grower to manipulate an environment in order to achieve the desired conditions for a crops success. These ‘CEA technologies include greenhouse, hydroponics, aquaculture, and aquaponics.’ –  Wikipedia 

Hydroponics is a very hot topic. People care about where their food is coming from and are taking on the responsibility of looking for alternatives for food security. These are some of PowerHouse Hydroponics top lists of 2014. These lists introducing new concepts, unique growing methods, and insight on what people care about.

Hydroponics

8 Hydroponics Gardening Apps for Smartphones

3 Winter Indoor Gardening Tips

5 Environmental Benefits of Commercial Hydroponics

7 Ways Hydroponics Solves Food Security

3 Ways Hydroponics is a Closed-Looped Food Production System

5 Hydroponic Grow Methods

8 Benefits of Hydroponic Technology

3 Fully Integrated Hydroponics Systems

6 Advantages of Soilless Agriculture

5 Ways Hydroponics Improves the Food Supply Chain

13 Plants you Can Grow Hydroponically

21 Benefits of Hydroponic Growing

Gardening

9 Important Benefits of Urban Gardening

3 Cloud-Based Controllers For Your Garden

8 Economic Benefits of Commercial Hydroponics

15 Benefits of Aeroponic Growing

3 Types of Indoor Gardening Services

10 Vertical Hydroponic Gardening Systems

4 Vertical Farms From Around The World

See all lists here.

16 Plant Factory Benefits

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A Plant Factory is a fully-automated commercial food production facility that operates in a controlled environment. Further technological and economic investments are being made in the Plant Factory concept as experts respond to growing concerns over food security. With an estimated 9 billion people to feed by 2050, Plant Factories will prove to be a vital component of ensure a sustainable and healthy future for all.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of reasons why a Plant Factory is a practical option when it comes to agriculture.

1.  Ability to grow food consistently
2.  Ability to grow food locally
3.  Repurposing of old warehouses for growing food
4.  Ability to grow food in the home
5.  Provides fresh, healthy food consistently
6.  Ability to produce organic food
7.  Ability to grow vegetables 24 hours a day, year-round
8.  Allow for new farming technologies to evolve
9.  Provides an environment sheltered from the elements
10. Controls weeds
11. Increases yield amounts
12. Increases yield growth rate
13. Can be constantly monitored
14. Production can be scaled to meet supply and demand requirements
15. Ability to control quality of crops
16. Offers economic solutions for high-value crops