Do you have a garden of your own and wish there was a way to keep it going into the cold months? Or have you dreamed of having a veggie patch but have been held back for lack of space or good soil? Out of Ottawa has come an invention that can have you growing your own produce year-round even if you don’t have a lot of money, time or space to spare.
Inspired by the growing consciousness around eating local and organic and seeing that the high price of organic food keeps it out of reach for many people, a group of local inventors got to work on “an affordable and innovative solution.” Enter 3Dponics, a hydroponics system with an open-source design that is affordable and easy to set up, and promises a harvest of fresh, tasty vegetables and herbs. The system is built from a combination of several 3D-printed parts, discarded plastic bottles and a short list of other auxiliary materials. Apartment613 got in touch with Lucy Morrissey, social media director at 3Dprintler Labs, to learn more about the 3Dponics system and what’s next for the project.
3Dponics is the creation of 3Dprintler Labs, an Ottawa startup that offers comprehensive 3D-printing services from printing and design to consulting and marketing. The company also spreads the word about the promises of 3D printing technology via its web courses on Udemy, such as “How to Make Money with 3D Printing.” As Morrissey says “We love to ignite interest in this fast-growing industry.”
After more than 2 years developing, testing and tweaking the 3Dponics system, the team made their design files and schematics available for free on their website and Thingiverse.com. Making the design open source was the best way to get more people to build their own system, come up with improvements and share those improvements with others in the community. Ultimately, the goal is to make the system better and that’s inevitable if there are enough people using it. By linking up with 3D Hubs and Makexyz, (websites that connect people with 3D printers in their area) the 3Dponics team has been able to share their system with gardeners around the world.
3Dponics recently wrapped up their successful Kickstarter campaign surpassing their initial $2500 goal and raising $3162. The Kickstarter funding will go towards building a web-based community around the 3Dponics project featuring online spaces for uploading designs for upgrades and accessories, posting pictures, and informational resources, as well as a marketplace for trading vegetables, and a forum for sharing tips and tricks.
So far, the 3Dponics team has used the system to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and herbs. Morrissey notes that “tomatoes, in particular grow wonderfully with 3Dponics.” Experiments with different vegetables are ongoing according to Morrissey who says, “Andrew Cai, our Chief of Community, Horticulture, just set up a 3Dponics experimental farm here in Ottawa and will report back to us and his fellow growers on what works and what doesn’t work.”
The future certainly looks bright for 3Dponics. In the short range the 3Dponics team is taking the system on the road including a stop at the World Maker Faire in New York. Keep an eye out because there are longer range plans to develop an Internet-enabled 3Dponics system complete with sensors, timers, pH meters and cameras that will allow users to increase their system’s efficiency and operate it remotely using their smartphone.
Why 3Dponics is a win
• Affordable and energy efficient: Asked about the cost of setting up a 3Dponics system Morrissey says “It only costs a couple of dollars to print the parts.” Morrissey adds that the total cost of sourcing all the materials 3Dprinted and otherwise is “Less than $20! The most expensive part is the air pump, which is still only about $15.” According to the 3Dponics website once operating, the system uses only 4.5 watts of electricity per hour.
• Easy setup and low maintenance
• Small-space friendly design
• Modular design: Add more tiers if you have high ceilings, 3D-print the upgrade parts or even design your own upgrades and accessories.
• Fresh and tasty food year-round
• A great introduction to the potential of 3D printing technology: If 3D printing lives up to its promise as the driver of Industrial Revolution 2.0 we should all seize the chance to learn more about the technology.
Get growing with 3Dponics
While I have yet to build my own system, having looked through the 3Dponics website I can say it looks like a pretty fun build with minimal risk of snags. One thing that I think could be clearer though is that for a basic 4-bottle/ 4-tier 3Dponics system you only need to use 3 of the 13 3D-print design files: the drip nozzle (print 4 of these), the conduit, and the silencer. The other 10 are optional upgrades.
1. 3D-print parts: The 3Dponics design files and complete schematics can be downloaded from the 3Dponics website or Thingiverse (a website for sharing 3Dprinting design files). You have a few options for printing your system’s 3D-printed parts. You can find a list of 3D printers near you on 3DHubs.com or makexyz.com and place your order for the parts. If you’re not in a rush the Imagine Space at the Nepean branch of the Ottawa public library has a 3D printer but it is temporarily out of commission.
2. Collect the other materials: plants, plastic bottles, hydroponic growth medium, aquarium aeration kit, a support structure such as a ceiling hook, air pump, rubber tubing, 20 zip ties, a water jug (4,8, or 9L), scissors, utility knife and hole puncher. It might be tricky to acquire the plants for the system at this time of year as most garden centers sell their vegetables by mid-summer. But you might be able to start the plants from seed and then transplant them to the 3Dponics system. I’ve seen lots of seeds at hardware and dollar stores.
3. Assemble your own 3Dponics system: You can find full instructions for building your hydroponics system in the video above.
Sound good? Let’s get growing!