Credit: Grove Labs
We’ve seen a number of off-the-shelf aquaponic solutions targeting amateur urban gardeners. They may sound like a good option for anyone too busy or scared to tread the DIY route, but they aren’t necessarily any less challenging to maintain, especially if you’re a brown-thumbed gardener who’s just as hopeless at fishkeeping.
Aquaponics—in case you’ve never heard of it before—is a portmanteau of aquaculture (raising aquatic animals) and hydroponics (any soil-less plant-cultivation technique). It describes any system that combines the two into a symbiotic whole. Such a system typically consists of a fish tank and a grow bed: Water containing ammonia-rich fish excreta is pumped up to the grow bed, where nitrifying bacteria make short work of the ammonia, breaking it down into plant-sustaining nitrates and rendering the water clean. In short, your plants get organic fertilizers and the fish clean water (ammonia is toxic to them in high concentrations). Trust us, it only sounds like magic.
The Grove Ecosystem: Aquaponics evolved?
But if you think aquaponics is a piece of cake requiring no oversight, a simple Google search on the subject should be enough to disabuse you of that notion. A Somerville, Massachusetts-based startup named Grove Labs is trying to make it simpler, though. It has developed a smart indoor aquaponic system, called the Grove Ecosystem, that it says even novices can use to grow their own veggies, herbs, and small fruits.
The Ecosystem leverages a gaggle of onboard sensors—air temperature, humidity, water temperature, and water level—to keep you informed at every step. This way, you can visually track your progress, monitor plant growth, and identify any problems or imbalances in the system. The readings are relayed to you over Wi-Fi via a companion app called Grove OS.
Grove Labs co-founder and CEO Gabe Blanchet tells us the app is what truly sets the Ecosystem apart. He claims there’s not much for you to do beyond planting seeds, checking plant health, and adding water and fish food when notified. Simply tell the app what you’ve planted, and it will automate the fans, lights, and water pumps accordingly. Of course, you can also use it to control these components manually anytime you like.
The seeds for the Ecosystem were sown in an MIT fraternity house some two years ago, when Blanchet’s green-thumbed roommate Jamie Byron put together a compact aquaponic system in their room. It quickly became the talk of the town, and the duo realized they were onto something. Their next stop was MIT’s Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator, where they did much of the spadework that was necessary to take their idea to the world.
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