Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Tiny greenhouse for city dwellers

A greenhouse 49cm wide has been launched which can grow vegetables, fruit, herbs and tropical plants

A British company has launched the world's first app-controlled greenhouse, allowing city dwellers to grow food in tiny spaces.

Niwa is just 49cm wide but can grow vegetables including cabbages and peppers, as well as fruit, herbs and tropical plants such as orchids.

It does not require natural light, soil or gardening expertise and is controlled through a free smartphone app which manages feeding and watering.

The system, available in miniature and standard sizes, costs between £150 and £210 and has been created by a team of European developers based in London.

Javier Morillas, chief executive and co-founder of Niwa, said: "Niwa is made for city dwellers who have no time, space or knowledge to grow their own food.

"It has been designed to fit seamlessly into their busy lives, enabling them to grow a healthy supply of fruits and vegetables right in their living room.

"The entire process is managed from their smartphone and there is no need for them to have a garden, balcony or even a sunny window.

"It is perfect for anyone who wants to be a bit healthier, greener and help the environment."

Mr Morillas and co-founder Agnieszka Nazaruk began developing Niwa two years ago and grew their first tomatoes using a plywood prototype last year.

The team has since travelled to Shenzhen, China, to take part in hardware accelerator project Haxlr8tr, sourced factories and prototypes and consulted agricultural experts to help create the app.

Niwa, made from hardened Plexiglass, uses 100W CFL energy-saving lights and a fan to control humidity and temperature, which reaches up to 40C.

A number of sensors and actuators monitor temperature, humidity and light cycles, while an automated irrigation system waters and feeds the plants.

The plants are grown hydroponically, with roots submerged in nutrient-rich water instead of soil.

"Niwa is hydroponic based, so there is no soil and therefore no digging or mess," Mr Morillas added.

"The pump is silent and the light is a normal living room light, which can be switched off from your phone during the night."

The Niwa app has different programs for individual plants and vegetables - from tomatoes to peppers, salads and herbs.

Seeds from a local garden centre or the internet can be grown in Niwa, though the company has a list of recommended varieties to fit the app's programs.

The system, which runs off electricity, has a maximum consumption of 200W when both heater and lamp are switched on.

"Niwa does include a smart lighting system, which senses the amount of light outside and adjusts the light inside to save energy," Mr Morillas said.

"If you put it next to the window or natural light, it will use much less energy but you don't have to have a window for it to operate."

Niwa is fully automatic after the seeds have been planted and a program selected from the app, though the water reservoir has to be refilled every two weeks.

Dead leaves have to be removed and nutrients added on a regular basis, with a notification on the app when it is time to do so.

Mr Morillas said he had been inspired to create Niwa after watching trucks from his home town of Almeria in Spain fill up with vegetables and leave to drive to Europe.

"It made no sense to me," he said.

"I started wondering why production had gone so far from the consumer. The answer was that we just can't grow them ourselves - a lack of time, space, conditions or skills made this impossible.

"As a technology lover, I decided to start using technology to make the whole process simpler and enable everyone to grow their own food - regardless of where they are."

Hundreds of people have joined a Kickstarter campaign for Niwa, pledging more than 65,000 US dollars (£38,000) towards the company's 100,000 dollar (£60,000) target to manufacture on a large scale.

The company plans to expand the Niwa range and envision it in growing walls, aquarium-like shelves and growing kitchen islands.

An LED version, which will use less energy, is being developed, as well as root vegetable trays and programs for different types of plants.

For futher information, visit http://getniwa.com/ or https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/435284672/niwa-the-worlds-first-smartphone-controlled-growin.

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