In the past decade, particularly in urban centres across India, we have witnessed the steady evolution of hydroponics, a farming technique where, instead of soil, plants are grown in mineral nutrient solutions in water, which helps them to grow faster and garner a better yield.
This technique uses up to 90 per cent less water than conventional soil-based farming and allows people to grow vegetables and herbs organically at home.
However, Agro2o, a Delhi-based startup, has developed a proprietary smart garden which uses a completely automated indoor hydroponics system.
“It’s an IoT (internet of things) solution which automates the complete process of growing plants using advanced hydroponics and intelligent growing algorithms. The device contains a combination of micro-controllers, sensors and actuators. Depending on the plant you’re growing, our system can intelligently discern how much water, light and nutrients are required and all these facets are customised according to the plant,” begins Yash Vyas, the Founder and CEO of Agro2o, in a conversation with The Better India,
How to use it?
Once a user purchases the smart garden device, they can grow multiple types of plants and across numerous crop cycles. Users need to choose what type of plant they want to grow, and plug it in the pre-seeded pods (there’s a variety of herbs, veggies, greens or ornamental plants on offer).
There is a slot for a nutrient cartridge which needs to be inserted. Once the system is up and running, all that needs to be done is top up water at regular intervals—users will be notified of this through a mobile application or touch panel on the system.
“We have developed two models of this smart garden—Savor and Renaissance. On the Savor, you can grow four plants at a time (a four-pod garden), while Renaissance has the capacity for 12 plants (12-pod garden). If you’re growing lettuce, for example, you can grow nine crop cycles of lettuce in a year. On this device, you can have similar plant types growing alongside each other. For example, you can grow multiple types of herbs but don’t ever mix it up with cherry tomatoes. There are differences in their nutrient requirements. For example, fruit crops require more potassium while herbs require more nitrogen,” explains Yash.
The Origin Story
Yash was working for a multinational company in Dubai when he first read about hydroponics in a newspaper article sometime in 2013.
“I was quite fascinated by hydroponics because it’s a clean and sustainable technology, which uses 90% less water, no harmful chemicals, and you can grow plants vertically. There are a lot of inherent issues and inefficiencies in our current agricultural practices, particularly in terms of land and water usage. For the kind of food we are eating, we don’t know what chemicals and pesticides have been used to grow them. All these problems can be addressed through hydroponics. That fascinated me, and thus I continued my research into it for a good four to five years. This is how I got deep into hydroponics,” he recalls.
Nonetheless, the transition from basic hydroponics to what Yash calls ‘automated hydroponics’ was triggered by something closer to home. His mother wanted to set up a kitchen garden inside the vicinity of her home. So, he imported some conventional hydroponic kits from China and helped his mother set up her kitchen garden.
When he inquired about it a month later, his mother had already shelved those kits because operating it was too much of a hassle for her, particularly with the technicalities involved like maintenance of pH levels, electrical conductivity, etc.
“After the initial excitement, using a standard hydroponics kit is a rather tedious task. Secondly, the climate in Dubai is harsh, and for a good part of the year, you can’t grow anything outside on your balcony. This led me towards figuring out a solution that is convenient enough, even for a 5-year-old child, to grow exotic herbs at home. Secondly, the solution needs to be universal. The kit should work whether you’re in Delhi, Dubai or Mumbai and you can grow plants in it regardless. Universality and convenience are the foundational principles of my product. That’s how I arrived at my smart garden,” he recalls.
After nearly five years of intensive research, Yash incorporated Agro2o in March 2018.
Helping his startup along the way are two primary incubators—Union Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology. A lot of the research and development in plant science was done in collaboration with the Department of Plant Molecular Biology at the University of Delhi.
Simple to Use and Pre-Order It
For a person who doesn’t know gardening at all, this device developed by Agro2o is straightforward to use. Along with the device, there are pre-seeded pods. When they want to change the crop cycle from lettuce to green veggies, users can select pods of their choice. There will be a package of pods and nutrients together. It’s an easy plug and play type of system.
“All users need to do is plug in the device, insert the water and nutrient cartridge, and the system will take care of the rest. How does a user interact with the system? They either interact through a touch screen on the device or through a mobile app. Plants grown on our device are much nutritious compared to conventional ways of gardening because the system is giving nutrients in precise quantities and durations. There is a glow light in the system which contains a tailored spectrum for photosynthesis. Many plants require sunlight to grow, but now plants like cherry tomatoes can be grown indoors as well,” explains Yash.
For urban residents, the system addresses three key constraints that prevent them from gardening–lack of living space in apartments, lack of time, knowledge and resources. It brings people closer to nature without compromising their lifestyle. Agro2o has already initiated the manufacturing of both the Savor and Renaissance and started taking down pre-orders by paying a fully refundable amount of Rs 799.
Thus far, the startup claims to have received 300+ pre-orders. The tentative price for Savor is Rs 7,999 inclusive of GST, while the Renaissance stands at Rs 17,999. Yash believes that actual sales will commence sometime in the third quarter of the next financial year.
If you’re officially clueless about gardening, but want to learn without expending too much time or energy, then Agro2o definitely has the solutions for you.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)