The latest entry into the indoor "smart" garden market features advanced LED lighting which mimics natural light patterns for faster growth cycles.
The interest in local food (especially grow-it-yourself hyperlocal food that can be produced in a small space), coupled with recent advancements in low-power LED lighting technology and automated hydroponic growing systems, has spurred a revival in the development of a variety of 'plug-and-play' indoor growing units, which can supply fresh greens and other produce without a whole lot of work.
We've covered a number of different indoor gardening units at TreeHugger, some of which are incredibly basic (microgreens in your windows), and some of which are more like a major appliance, and this next unit, the CounterCrop, falls somewhere in between.
The CounterCrop, which is a side project from the founder of Intelligent Light Source ILS (which supplied the LED lighting to an indoor aeroponics system at MIT CityFARM), is designed to help you grow greens, vegetables, and herbs efficiently using commercial-grade LEDs and an automated hydroponics system, while only drawing about 65 watts of power.
With this self-contained smart garden, it's possible to grow continuous crops of microgreens, herbs, and some vegetables, without any soil or sunlight, in as little as a few weeks, and the pre-programmed lighting and hydroponic system options allow users to easily adjust the unit to the optimal spectrum of light and watering schedule for each growth stage of the plants' lives.
According to ILS, brighter and more powerful lighting isn't the key to more efficient and vigorous indoor plant growth, but rather 'smart' lighting, which is where their focus is:
"Scientific advances have shown that the quality of the light and a balanced, optimized spectrum, are far more critical factors for indoor growing success. Ongoing research shows mimicking the changing spectrum that occurs in natural daylight - from dawn to dusk, at different periods in the growing cycle, at different places in the world -- has a greater impact on successful growth. Horticultural science has also proven that the optimal spectrum varies -- not only from species to species, but within a species at different stages in development." - ILS
To bring the CounterCrop to the market, Jack Abbott, the founder of ILS, is betting on crowdfunding, and the Kickstarter campaign for this indoor garden is offering the first of the units to backers at the $199 and up level (said to be a $379 retail value), which are slated for delivery in May 2015 (assuming the campaign is successful and production goes according to schedule).
Just a friendly crowdfunding reminder: I don't personally endorse crowdfunding campaigns that I cover, as I think readers can make up their own minds about whether or not they're worth it. I've been very happy with the campaigns I've chosen to back, and have always received my perks from successful campaigns (although sometimes later than scheduled). But backing a crowdfunding campaign can be risky, in the sense that you may never receive your perk, or it may not turn out to be what you expected, or it may be late, etc., so use your own judgement and always read the fine print.