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$4,989 pledged of $70,000 goal
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By Christopher Wark
$4,989 pledged of $70,000 goal
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About this project

P-Pods by Ponix

Ponix is proud to introduce the best environment for growing all kinds of herbs and vegetables in small outdoor spaces, especially where plants can be damaged by wind, storms, and pests. The concept design we developed is a rugged, compact plant pod that has been dubbed the "P-Pod" and will be easy to buy, easy to use, and easy to look at.

As seen at:

P-Pods Features

The basic P-Pods are extremely effective enclosures for protecting plants and an optional heated irrigation system that sits in the bottom of the tray can be added to any of the P-Pods for additional environmental control.

Feature details:

  • Low-Profile design withstands high winds & storms on balconies & roof tops
  • Double-wall polycarbonate panels provide excellent insulation and diffuse sunlight to help provide a more uniform growing environment
  • Protection from insects, birds, rodents and deer
  • Easy access to plants - flexible 2-way access panels - no swinging doors or lids
  • Open the top as seasonal plants get tall to allow more sun or high temperature relief, or open the bottom to access lower plants, planters & irrigation
  • Use for conventional soil gardening, semi-hydroponic, & fully hydroponic gardening
  • Easy to assemble – only 6 parts - no tools required
  • Easy to disassemble for cleaning or storage
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Optional thermostatically controlled heated irrigation system for year-round growth in colder climates or for hydroponic gardening
Happy seeds start in a P-Pod!
Happy seeds start in a P-Pod!

P-Pods will be available in the following sizes and configurations:

All P-Pods are available with heated irrigation systems.
All P-Pods are available with heated irrigation systems.
Disassembled P-Pod prototype with and without heated irrigation
Disassembled P-Pod prototype with and without heated irrigation

WHY P-Pods?

  • Maximize the productivity and quality of your micro-garden!
  • Use less water for conventional gardening! A plant protected from wind in a P-Pod will use less than half the water of exposed plants.
  • Versatile! Attach multiple P-Pods to create a larger enclosure. Grow plants in soil, semi-hydroponic, or fully hydroponic using the optional circulated irrigation system.
  • Distributed farming – fresh produce with no packing or transportation costs.
  • No-nonsense advanced engineering design.
Happy P-Pod Plants!
Happy P-Pod Plants!

WHERE to use P-Pods?

  • Anywhere!
  • Small Urban Spaces - Balconies / Decks / Terraces
  • Rooftops - Expandable roof system / Commercial / Residential
  • Restaurants - Proprietary herbs & greens
  • Schools - Ecology, Biology
  • Hospitals / Senior Facilities - Healthy Food Programs
  • Guerrilla Gardening (Ask us!)

What plants work well in P-Pods?
Here are just a few:

* The top of the P-Pod may need to be partly open during the last few weeks of the growing season due to the height of the plant.
* The top of the P-Pod may need to be partly open during the last few weeks of the growing season due to the height of the plant.

Can P-Pods be used to keep plants COOL on a roof in July? Yes!

Using Multi-Pods on the roof of a building, you can take advantage of normally wasted conditioned air leaving the inside of a building. Here's how it works:

Most buildings have rooftop exhaust fans that constantly pull indoor air from offices, restrooms, kitchens, work areas, etc. That air has been cooled (or heated) in the building and now it is just blown out into the neighborhood. But on its way out, that conditioned air could be doing some good, like keeping plants cool in the summer...or warm in the winter.
How you get the air moving through the Multi-Pod depends on the size and location of the exhaust fan and Mult-Pod. The most efficient method is to simply remove the tray from a section in the middle of a Multi-Pod and locate that section over an exhaust fan that is less than 20 inches diameter. Simply open the tops of the sections at the ends to let the air flow out.
This conditioned air isn't just "free", it actually makes money by providing a faster growing environment during July and eliminating the cost of heating during the winter. Please feel free to contact for more information.

Interested in how P-Pods came about? Read on...

The Spark

On May 23, 2001 my wife, Wendy, was listening to “All Things Considered” on NPR when Noah Adams interviewed Orin Gelderloos, a professor of natural history at the University of Michigan “about new trees popping up in an unexpected place — the tops of Detroit high-rises. Roofs of empty downtown buildings are sporting a lush new look.” She pulled the car over and listened.The “Detroit Trees” piece amazed her.Growing up in a public housing project in New York City where the roofs were to be avoided as they were the bad guy’s turf, Wendy envisioned taking back those spaces and making them part of vibrant, healthy community centers.

Early rooftop community garden sketch
Early rooftop community garden sketch

I had been ready for a while to move on from my research position at Caterpillar and was intrigued by the engineering challenges of keeping trees upright and alive on the top of buildings. We began researching rooftop garden designs and green roofing and on Earth Day, 2002, Wendy and I established SHADE Consulting. Our goal was to form partnerships between public, private and non-profit organizations that would transform unused roof spaces into green roofs and micro-gardens. Along with our community rooftop garden projects, a significant portion of our business was based on my heat transfer analysis of green roof systems (which I still write about periodically) using Q-Calc, a roof system heat transfer and cost analysis program that I wrote in 2002.

Results of a green roof system temperature study
Results of a green roof system temperature study

A couple of years later we changed our name to Green Roof Innovations and began marketing modular green roof system designs that I had developed. The goal of the GRI design efforts was similar to those for the P-Pods: engineer a healthy, stable base for plants on rooftops that is versatile and economical while protecting the building. Some of the concepts explored during that time found their way into the design of the P-Pods.

GRI module renderings and an array installed on a balcony in Pebble Beach, CA
GRI module renderings and an array installed on a balcony in Pebble Beach, CA

Unfortunately, we were a little ahead of our time and in 2005 I went to work for engineering firms conducting energy and airflow analysis on entire buildings. Part of this work involved modeling air flow around buildings, which provided me with a better understanding of how to predict the behavior of wind on rooftops and balconies, especially on high-rise buildings. Using this knowledge along with my earlier calculations and exposure to the regulatory challenges of intensive gardening on rooftops, I now understood how to deal with some critical challenges for effective rooftop farming.

Airflow vector map from a computational fluid dynamics model of an atrium office building
Airflow vector map from a computational fluid dynamics model of an atrium office building

China

In 2009, I designed a more advanced modular planting system utilizing new insulating injection molding techniques in partnership with Guiyang Chuangjia High-Tech Accelerator Co. LTD with plans to install them in a courtyard array at a local government complex. In Guiyang, I saw how most of the apartment balconies and rooftops were filled with vegetable gardens. Growing your own vegetables on a few square feet of concrete was commonplace in this large and rapidly growing city. The idea of providing an improved environment for maximizing food production and quality on balconies was a key aspect of this project and greatly influenced the development of the P-Pods.

Renderings from shop drawing and of planned dwarf oranges plantings
Renderings from shop drawing and of planned dwarf oranges plantings
View from my hotel room - more than 30 rooftop and balcony vegetable gardens in this photo
View from my hotel room - more than 30 rooftop and balcony vegetable gardens in this photo

The Cold Frame

It was when Wendy and I moved to New York City in 2009 that the need to design and build a serious plant enclosure for balconies literally hit home. We had moved into an apartment on the 35th floor with a balcony overlooking the Hudson River. The view was stunning, but so was the wind which would dehydrate plants during temperature extremes and damaged too many of them during storms. That balcony became a test bed for predecessors and early prototypes of the P-Pods. The first was a cold frame made entirely of plexiglas.

There were 3 key features of this plexiglas cold frame:

  • No metal parts. Aluminum conducts heat 1,000 times more than plastic, which is not good when trying to keep plants warm during winter. The P-Pods will have no metal parts other than a few fasteners and I plan to eliminate those if possible.
  •  There was no back to the cold frame so that the plants were kept warm by the building.
  • It was sized for a typical high-rise balcony depth and window height - 48 inches wide x 20 inches deep x 30 inches high at the back. In order to support the width, 2 sections were needed with a common frame piece that each front panel and back support slid into, just as in the Duo P-Pods.

This cold frame kept all the plants from freezing that winter, but it was not as strong or as easy to reassemble as I had hoped. I also learned to appreciate how annoying it was to deal with a lid when trying to quickly snip some herbs.

The P-Pods

I knew that the double-wall polycarbonate panels that are popular for green houses insulated much better than plexiglas, but it couldn't be glued together and was too lightweight to stand by itself on a windy balcony. I was also determined to get rid of lids and doors.

The curved front serves 3 important purposes:

  • It adds strength to the overall structure by eliminating 2 corners.
  • It provides the ability to slide panels open and closed.
  • It is aerodynamically more stable. My analysis has a Midi-Pod holding steady in 70 mph winds when located against a wall.

Nice idea, but it would take some imagination to create the curved front panel track at home. This time I worked with PVC to make a frame that was quite serviceable, but it fell short of what I knew could be created with sections formed through a plastics forming process called extrusion. Frame pieces with a complex cross-section configuration are easily created, allowing me to incorporate a number of feature details into a single part. Mechanical support, thermal integrity, and functionality can all be taken care of with just a few easily assembled parts.

How everything fits into the extruded frame
How everything fits into the extruded frame

Even better, using the same extrusion as a middle frame section, a single P-Pod enclosure can be expanded into a much larger enclosure by simply adding middle sections between trays. This expanded configuration is a Multi P-Pod.

Illustration of frame x-section for a 3x Multi P-Pod enclosure
Illustration of frame x-section for a 3x Multi P-Pod enclosure
Frame concept and sketch of Multi P-Pods
Frame concept and sketch of Multi P-Pods

Another important note is that the radius of the curved portion is the same for the Mini-Pod as it is for the Midi-Pod; only the straight sections at the top and lower front are different lengths. This is why we are able to offer both a Mini and Midi size for this campaign.

P-Pod prototypes #2 (right) and #3 (left)
P-Pod prototypes #2 (right) and #3 (left)

Manufacturing

Extruding plastic parts of this size is not a DIY kind of thing. There are dozens of plastics manufacturers across the country that do this type of custom extruding... and charge for it. Extrusion is less expensive than other types of fabrication but custom extrusion dies still need to be machined and usually modified once or twice before doing a full run of parts. Once a run is set up, a large quantity of parts need to be made in order for the process to pay for itself. In order to get extruded frame pieces for myself and my friends, I have to order enough for hundreds. This was one of the initial reasons for doing this as a Kickstarter campaign.

The panels are standard for green houses and available from a number of manufacturers. However, the curved side panel is obviously a custom cut that requires a minimum order. The flexible front panels are not as readily available. 2 suppliers have been identified and this will be considered the most critical lead-time item. My design also calls for a custom injection molded retainer for the front panel edges. This small piece should have a very quick turn around, but if an "off-the-shelf" one that serves the same function is found, I may incorporate that instead. The trays are off-the-shelf and already available by more than one manufacturer.

Heated Irrigation

The wall next to our current balcony has the apartments' steam heating pipes running through it, keeping it warm enough to maintain temperatures above 50 degrees inside our first backless P-Pod prototype during the coldest winter nights. But not everyone wanting to grow herbs year-round has a hot wall to work with, so it was time to invent a useful, effective, and portable heater for the P-Pod.

Schematic of heated irrigation
Schematic of heated irrigation

Distributing heat through a self-contained water circulation system satisfied all three of these with the added benefit of being able to divert water for drip irrigation. For those interested in hydroponics, this system is ideal for providing controlled circulation with access at the reservoir for adding nutrients and testing water quality.

With a 50 watt heater, I was able to keep the plants in our second P-Pod prototype above 40 degrees when nighttime temperatures dropped below 15 degrees one week. This small, thermostatically-controlled heater is quite adequate for milder climates, but a slightly larger 100 watt heater is necessary to ensure that plants don't freeze during those few really cold nights in colder climates.
P-Pod prototype #2 during a heater modification
P-Pod prototype #2 during a heater modification

The current heated irrigation design is a sturdy construction of PVC fittings and works quite well. If we get a big enough response during the campaign (for standard P-Pods and/or P-Pods with heated irrigation), we will be able pay for the tooling of a blow-molded polyethylene water manifold that can also incorporate the reservoir for a much simpler and less expensive system. If this happens, the new heated irrigation system would become available shortly after the standard P-Pods are delivered. We will keep everyone posted on this development.

Future Products

So if there's a Mini-Pod and a Midi-Pod, there should be a bigger one, like a Mongo-Pod, right? Right. The Mongo-Pod concept has a 3 ft x 3 ft tray and is 5 ft tall at the back. Because it is wider than the Mini-Pod and Midi-Pod, we simply couldn't fit it into this campaign.

As mentioned, improvements to the heated irrigation system are also in the works. Besides the single-piece manifold, I am working on the design of a solar-based watering timer.

There are also some accessories for P-Pods that are planned, such as a trellis and mounts for grow lights. We also plan to eventually offer full growing kits, including custom soil mixes.

Ponix

On Earth Day, 2013, I established Ponix, a new enterprise to support the further development, marketing and manufacturing of P-Pods and future products that will enhance the P-Pods.

Both Wendy and I have the business experience necessary to get Ponix established while the company begins to grow and specialized team members are hired. Along with administrative responsibilities, marketing will be essential to this effort and Wendy will be applying her talent and experience to managing the promotion of P-Pods while I focus on technical issues.

My engineering background and experience with similar manufacturing efforts (including several years in R&D previous to SHADE) affords me the ability to do CAD design of custom parts independently and work efficiently with any number of manufacturers. I will also be tapping into my R&D experience to expedite the set-up of a pilot assembly facility immediately after this Kickstarter campaign ends.

Our long-term strategy is to work as regionally as possible to minimize transportation time and cost. Along with ordering from regional fabricators and suppliers, we plan to utilize logistics companies for regional assembly and shipping as volume justifies it.

Of the $70,000 we are targeting, approximately half will go toward the cost of initial orders from suppliers. Our budget for engineering and tooling is $25,000 and the remainder is needed to set up a space for pilot assembly and shipping. If we surpass our target, we will be able to extend our engineering budget for the heated irrigation improvements and begin designing accessories for the P-Pods, depending on how much is raised.

The Plan

Within one month of the end of the campaign we plan to be in our new space with components ordered and on their way. We expect that long-lead items may take a couple more weeks to arrive. We have budgeted 3 days per 100 P-Pods for pilot assembly and packaging and plan to begin delivering P-Pods by October 31. Our intention is to get them out to everyone before the hard freeze in colder regions and first frost in milder climates.

Strategic Partners:

We are very grateful for the support of our family and friends and owe a Very Special Thank-You to:

John Amengual
Christian Beneš
Tresa Eyres
Derrick Kikuchi
Cheryl Newhouse
Steven Newhouse

Emily Nieminski
Verónica Reboredo Rebó
n
Michael Robinson

Marcia Shapiro
Linda Velazquez
Aramis Velazquez
Craig Wiesner

Please visit our website to learn more about P-Pods and how they can be used to maximize the productivity and quality of your micro-garden.

www.pponix.com

Patents Pending. All rights reserved. Ponix, C. Wark, 2013

Risks and challenges

When The P-Pods get funded we will immediately proceed with production in order to meet our planned delivery date of October 31, 2013; however, there is a possibility that this schedule may slip due to unanticipated demand or unforeseen disruptions from suppliers. Since our plan is to work with multiple suppliers, we will make every effort to expedite orders from alternate suppliers in the event that preferred suppliers are not able to fulfill orders on schedule.

Since we are still in the process of going from prototype to production, we might consider a last-minute revision to a part because of feedback from backers. In this case, it is possible that we may delay delivery if we are confident that the change results in a significantly better product.

Ponix will be active in providing useful information and suggestions for maximizing the quantity and quality of plants grown in P-Pods; however we cannot guarantee the success of every gardening effort or the possibility of damage to plants due to disease, insects, exceptionally cold weather, improper watering, or misuse of the P-Pods. Customer satisfaction is important to us and if someone does have a negative experience with P-Pods, we will make every reasonable effort to find a solution.

Of course, we will keep supporters posted with regular updates on our progress and exact shipping dates.

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    Our sincere thanks and unending gratitude for your support. Updates on the progress of the P-Pods.

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    Our unending gratitude for your support and updates on the progress of the P-Pods. Your photo and favorite plant in the P-Pod Thought Bubble Hall of Fame on the Ponix web site (see Buddy's Thought Bubble at bottom of page).

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Funding period

- (30 days)