Did you know that Click & Grow was inspired by NASA? Way back in 2005, CEO Mattias Lepp felt impressed after reading an article about NASA growing plants in space. He asked himself the question: ‘If it’s possible for plants to grow in space, why can’t we develop a way to grow plants in cold urban environments where they could benefit so many people?’ That was the first spark in what would prove to be a fascinating journey for Click & Grow. Mattias pursued his vision to create the first ever self-sufficient indoor garden, able to care for plants all by itself. After fine-tuning the technology with the expertise of various universities around the world, the concept of the Click & Grow Smart Garden was born.
Today, Click & Grow has grown to become a worldwide community and we never forget how a research paper about growing plants in space set the tone for what was to come. Let’s take a look at some of the challenges of growing plants in space and how they’ve inspired us to build smart gardens for modern day life.
Light without sunshine
Light is a basic need of every plant. Without it, they can’t photosynthesize. Photosynthesis is the plant’s process of converting light, water and oxygen into carbohydrates (energy). Plants need this energy to grow and produce seed. So how do plants grow without sunlight in space? The answer is light emitting diodes (LEDs) in growth chambers. An array of LED lights are placed above the plants and these produce a spectrum of light suitable for plants’ growth. One of the best examples of this is in an Advanced Plant Habitat (APH), the size of a small fridge. It features an LED system that can be used to vary the intensity of the light. This helps scientists investigate the effects of different light intensities on plant growth in space. Without gravity, plants rely more heavily on environmental factors such as light to orient and guide their growth.
NASA’s Advanced Plant Habitat and Click & Grow’s Smart Garden 9
In a similar way, Click & Grow smart gardens use LED lights so plants can grow in homes with very limited sunlight. Considering the variety of grow lights out there, why do we use LEDs? Several reasons. Firstly, they’re small and compact. Secondly, they emit less UV rays than other grow lights, meaning energy and water can be used to grow plants that thrive. LEDs are also durable. Their bulbs contain no moving parts, meaning they’re less likely to be damaged by external shock. Furthermore, they’re energy efficient. For instance, the Smart Garden 3’s LED lamp consumes 8w of power, using just 3.8 kWh per month. The Smart Garden 9’s LED lamp consumes 13w of power and uses only 6.2 kWh per month. Considering the average US resident consumes 897 kWh per month, the lamps of a Smart Garden 3 and Smart Garden 9 (combined) would contribute to just a little over 1% of that amount. Our newest product, the Click & Grow 25 is also the most energy efficient among its competitors, costing $45 on average per year in electricity. Since LED bulbs are so energy efficient, they emit less heat than a lot of other light sources. This reduces the risk of plants being burned.
In space, low gravity makes water distribution a nightmare to manage. Roots are starved of oxygen while stagnant air reduces evaporation and increases leaf temperature. Watering plants becomes a whole new challenge when there’s no gravity. As Simon Gilroy, a botanist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, points out: "Watering plants in space is really hard /.../ water moves differently because there's no gravity. If you get the water onto soil particles, it'll just creep over the surface." NASA’s astronauts currently water plants with a syringe, pushing it into containers known as ‘plant pillows’. These containers can only hold a limited amount of water. This solution works well for leafy greens such as lettuce. For larger plants that need more water, NASA uses a plant growth unit known as ‘PONDS’ (Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System). The unit is passive and doesn’t rely on electricity, pumps or moving parts. It’s essentially a free-standing reservoir of water that plants can draw from when needed. The advantage is that astronauts spend less time watering plants during growth intervals.
Filling the reservoir of a PONDS unit and a Click & Grow Smart Garden
Similar to the PONDS concept, Click & Grow smart gardens are designed to water themselves. We use Capillary Precision Irrigation (CPI) to control moisture in the soil, distributing water and nutrients in mediated amounts at specific times according to the needs of the plant. Each Click & Grow plant pod is housed in a plant cup with a wick extending into a water tank. Wicks absorb water from the tank and transfer it to the smart soil in the plant pod. Smart soil already contains all the nutrients for each specific plant, so there’s never any need to add liquid nutrients to the water tank. Smart soil automatically releases minerals according to the plant’s growth stage, temperature and how moist the soil is. While doing this, smart soil keeps nutrient levels optimal so the plant can thrive. (Check out the benefits of smart soil here.) On average, a full water tank in a Smart Garden 3, Smart Garden 9 or Smart Garden 9 PRO can last for 2-3 weeks, depending on the plant type and its growing stage. Young plants naturally take up less water than older plants. Smart gardens don’t require a special type of water. A simple rule of thumb is that if your tap water is drinkable, it’s also good for your Click & Grow plants.
In the cramped quarters of a spacecraft, space is at a premium. There are no farmlands, no balconies, no patios, no front lawns. The challenge is to develop compact growing systems such as the Advanced Plant Habitat we talked about earlier. To make life easier for astronauts, it’s helpful for apparatus to be space-efficient and automated whenever possible.
In addition to making our products energy efficient and time-efficient, we also believe it’s important to be space-efficient. As a result, all of our smart gardens are designed to make efficient use of space, no matter the size of your home. The Smart Garden 3, Smart Garden 9 and Smart Garden 9 PRO can easily fit on most kitchen counters or even windowsills. The Smart Garden 27 and Wall Farm make effective use of vertical growing space. Our latest product, the Click & Grow 25, is designed to grow significant yields while taking up floor space the size of a microwave oven!
What does the future look like?
While NASA’s research is important for space programs and budding astronauts, its relevance doesn’t end there. As humans we have a desire for exploration. One of the key benefits of space farming is to enable long-term space exploration. A vitamin-rich, regenerative source of food is crucial for astronauts. The average mission length for an astronaut is six months. If this period of time extends in the future, it’s impossible to expect all astronauts’ food to be packed and stored on the spacecraft in advance. Plants can also be used to recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen and to purify water. Growing plants in space could increase our agricultural knowledge and teach us more about cultivating food in hostile climates. This is especially significant when we consider the effects of climate change on agriculture. An example of this is how rising sea levels contribute to increased flooding on coastal farms. Flooding affects crops, accelerates soil erosion and pollutes water. Having experience of growing crops in inhospitable conditions can prove vital for us in the long run.
The Click & Grow 25: the most space and energy efficient indoor garden ever made
In the same way NASA is revolutionizing our understanding of space farming, here at Click & Grow we want to revolutionize the way people think about food. We believe farming has to become more local. This way, vitamin-rich food can become more accessible. We believe one of the most sustainable ways to tackle food production and consumption issues is to grow your own. Smart gardens have a big role to play in that. Using specially developed smart soil and automated water and lighting, smart gardens help you grow plants quickly and easily while taking up hardly any space at all. We’re humbled to know that thousands of people around the world have found success in growing their own food with Click & Grow. We’re constantly looking to innovate with new products and to expand our plant collection, making even more food readily available to grow.
Thanks to NASA for inspiring us right at the start of our journey and thanks to you for growing with us. Through the decisions we make, we can get closer to living a more sustainable life every day. And who knows? Maybe in the future astronauts will be growing plants in space using Click & Grow smart gardens. We’ve already seen it happen in George Clooney’s sci-fi drama ‘The Midnight Sky’! Product testers have also described our gardens as having a ‘space-tech feel’, so things are looking bright.
One small step for indoor gardeners. One giant leaf for mankind!
Images: NASA & Click & Grow