Fabrication

Online shoppong, trips to home depot and Canal plastics, and few days in the shop; and here’s the outcome: a greenhouse box.

First I made a drawing by taking into account all the dimensions, storage volumes, material quantity etc. I planned to make a compartment on left to house all the nutrients, electronic circuit, pumps etc.

I placed an order with estoconnecotrs and received aluminum members and connectors for the frame. These people were super helpful and they also cut to order.

The connectors and members were really easy to assemble with a mallet, without using any screws or bolts.

I first made the base frame, replicated the same for top face, and then constructed the whole box by joining together top and bottom faces with vertical members.

I tested this frame with the plants and light to make sure everything looks good.

Next, I cut a piece of ply for the base. This makes the box much heavier than what it was before.

I attached 8 rubber stoppers to the base. This prevents box from sliding, and will also allow me to vacuum-clean the space.

Then I mounted studs to join together the ply and frame:

Next step was cutting and mounting the wall panels. I used acrylic sheets, translucent white for computation and storage, and turquoise for the plants volume. Turquoise acrylic reduces the harsh purple light to soothing, slightly blue light.

Storage volume is divided into two compartments to utilize the available space.

Quick and dirty thesis show

We presented our in-progress thesis projects at ITP’s quick and dirty thesis show which was open to public. It was a great opportunity in terms of working on presentation skills, understanding user perspectives from the ones whom I’d never described my project before, and also validating my design process from an external standpoint.

Most people who visited my project were incoming fall 2017 ITP students, students & teachers from other NYU programs, and acquaintances of my teachers & classmates at ITP. As mentioned in earlier blog posts, I’d identified three different user groups and wanted to see the overlap between these groups at Q&D show: 1. People who love gardening &/or farming, 2. People who follow a precise diet by carefully avoiding certain foods (GMOs, frozen foods, meat, chemically processed foods etc.) or those who carefully consume certain foods (organic, fresh, vegan foods etc.), and 3. People who identify themselves as makers, DIY enthusiasts, nerds, explorers.

Almost all visitors (around 15) belonged to group #3 of makers and DIY enthusiasts. This was somewhat expected because of the setting of the exhibition- most visitors were aware of the nature of projects. To me the most interesting observation was that most of them either had a previous or ongoing experience with gardening, or were extremely careful about food they buy from markets. There was hardly anyone who belonged exclusively to group #3. This was the most important takeaway from the show. I got a chance to listen from people who buy only from farmers’ markets (5 persons in 15), who eat vegan only (2 in 15- it is a big number!), and who have plants around their apartment/ workplace (9 in 15). I met at least 6 people who belonged to all 3 groups (indoor gardeners or farmers, loyal customers of farmers’ markets, and makers/DIY enthusiasts). In my understanding, this number presents a good evidence that people in urban settings are interested in indoor farming that is experimental in nature, and that promises fresh food with great quality. Many said curious & inspiring things about the platform, such as

“I’d like to have this in my apartment”

“Will it grow plants like tomatoes, eggplant, strawberries?”

“I like its bright purple appearance!”

“Can I make it into a smaller version to grow just one plant?”

“Can I make a bigger model to grow a full farm in my apartment?”

“What are the energy figures?”

“What’s the cost of building this? Can I buy it from you once it is in production stage?”

“It can also support fish or other life forms in the water container.”

“I’ll love to club this with my little garden.”

“Automate it! I often forget to water my plants!”

“Please please don’t make a smartphone-operated IoT product. I’m sick of cellphone notifications from my door knob, microwave, PS4, and bike.”

“Please make a smartphone-operated IoT product! I’ll love to take care of my plants via my cellphone.”

“I once went on a road trip and tasted bananas grown organically by some random farmer. That day I noticed how significantly different it feels to eat something fresh without any pesticides and chemicals, and I decided to buy only and only from farmers’ market.”

“Indoor farms are like pets. Some prefer smaller, some want huge ones.”

“I tried building a hydroponic system once, but it failed.”

“I once harvested from hydroponic system, but the once-fascinating purple light was so irritating that I dismantled everything after the first yield.”

“I tried it once but without any sensors- would love to see where you take it from here!”

“My boyfriend loves gardening, I don’t. But it’s my job to regularly remind him to water the plants. I notify, he acts. The plants would die if just one of us tries to takes care of them!”

Apart from these interesting thoughts, I came across some knowledgeable insights from people who had tried basic hydroponics before:

  • Using BSF (Black Soldier Flies) bugs as complementary actors in the ecosystem. These bugs eat all the byproducts from plants, and provide organic waste in exchange. The bugs are extremely great source of protein and you can consume them. (Personally, this idea of eating bugs for proteins is gross to me.)
  • New contacts with experiments happening around NYC: Eagle street farms, GrowingChefs, BlueApron, Taylor at LaGuardia studio with a huge experience in indoor farming
  • Similar systems for growing plants without soil: Fog-ponics, aquaponics, mist-ponics