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GardenSpace: 21st Century gardening

Calum Stenning

I’ve been meaning to start gardening for a while.

It’s one of those things that seems to bring such satisfaction and gratification to those who do it habitually. The hurdle for me, among a couple of other things, is that the time and care I’m able to give my hypothetical garden is unpredictable. I spend relatively long periods away from home, and I don’t want to burden those around me with caring for my hypothetically beloved greenery.

But, since it’s the 21st Century, there’s a smart solution to my silly dilemma – and it’s Canberra made too. GardenSpace is a solar powered garden care unit which, with the help of home wifi, monitors, waters and protects your precious plants. And with $27,000 already raised via Kickstarter (meeting and exceeding their goal of $25,000 in just two days), it’s well on its way to changing the way we grow, forever.

“The original thought bubble came when I was at [the University of Canberra] doing a nutritional science class, learning about the food system, and the inefficiencies of it,” says 26-year-old GardenSpace CEO and co-founder James Deamer. “I thought it was outrageous and that there was probably a lot we could do to solve that.”

It struck James that if there was a better way of producing food at home, we could go beyond supermarket bought food supplemented with the odd homegrown tomato to a future where more people grow more and waste less.

James Deamer (pictured far right)

James Deamer (pictured far right)

“It’s taken a few different forms, but the idea and the vision has always been the same, to help people grow food at home, and making that task something that fits in with peoples everyday lives,” explains James. “People have day jobs, and families, and partners – they can’t always be watering their vegetables, or keeping them safe or looking after them, so it was about using technology to make that easier to make an impact on our food system and reduce the amount that goes into commercial agriculture.”

Like many gardeners, James started small. After graduating from UC with a degree in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, James started on his prototype a while working at Entry29, Canberra’s startup co-working space.

“I started out as a pure hobbyist, I had some herbs and things at home, and I was just wondering how I could make it easier because I would always forget to water, so I made a planter box that would send me an email,” he says.

“We kept working on the idea, and talking to people that were growing food at home about what they were doing – how they got into growing, what they were doing, what their problems were.”

Apparently what the issues boiled down to were that people struggled with a lack of knowledge, ongoing maintenance (especially watering) and then also people had a big problem with pests.

“Possums are a big one in Australia and its deer in the US,” says James.  “So the actual final functions of the prototype unit are born out of user research and user discussions with people who were growing, or wanted to grow, and hearing what their actual problems were, and theoretically solving a problem for these people.”

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So James and his team built GardenSpace to repels pests for you.

“It’s one thing to remember to water your garden, but entirely another to keep it safe from hungry mouths. We use a water spray to ward the pests off, and it’s got sensors on it that will look at a heat and motion signature, so it won’t spray at the wind, and the unit will rotate and spray at the area where it detected that signature.”

“What we’ve found is that just the unit rotating towards the pest is almost enough to deter it. The water spray is enough deal with most small things, from a bird up to a dog or a deer, or maybe a pesky neighbour – if you’ve got someone stealing your cucumbers late at night.”

If you weren’t impressed already, one of the most important parts of the GardenSpace journey happened in Shenzhen, China, (“the electronics capital of the world”) where James and his team participated in the HAX Hardware Accelerator, which, with an acceptance rate of under 3%, is harder to get into than Harvard. And after Shenzhen, James and his team pitched to the Apple retail buyers team whilst in San Francisco. No big deal.

Ultimately, GardenSpace is about giving you the best bits of gardening, while taking care of the less scintillating moments for you – though with real-time photos and weekly time-lapses available through the app, you’ll be able to indulge in as much of those moments as you please, regardless of whether or not you’re at home.

“It’s designed so that we automate 80% of the growing, and we try to enhance the 20% – the craft aspect of it, which is a lot of what we learnt people enjoyed – the planting, doing it with their kids and teaching them about how thing grow, and that initial stage in the garden, watching things start to sprout, seeing the vegetable on the plant ripening, harvesting, and eating – those are the parts people really enjoyed,” explains James.

GardenSpace_1

James extols the benefits of growing your own food, and has designed a product that will make it easier for everyone to eat fro their own gardens.

“It’s a tool that can either help people get into growing their own food at home, or if they already are, this is something that’s going to make it a better experience for them and get them growing more, and more efficiently as well,” he says. “It does make a difference, there are enormous benefits to doing it, not only environmentally, as well as their relationship to food, down to the taste of the different vegetables they’re able to grow, and the different things their able to cook.

“That’s probably the number-one reason why people actually grow – the taste of the produce is like nothing they’ve ever been able to buy at the supermarket.”

With 37 days to go, GardenSpace has already surpassed its Kickstarter goal of $25,000 but you can still pre-order your GardenSpace here.

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Calum Stenning

Calum Stenning is Her Canberra’s newest and most male (read: only) intern. Three years spent living overseas has given him a renewed appreciation for Canberra life. Every day starts with coffee and the Sydney Morning Herald crossword at a favourite coffee haunt, as he is wary of the perils of dementia, and thinks crosswords are a viable safeguard. If he lives to a dementia-appropriate age (evidence says he won’t), he’ll let us know.

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