WeGrow WaterElf: Grow Clean Food, Fast!
Sustainable food with an aquaponics WaterElf and citizen science. Local food, global community!
We'll be back!
This one didn't quite work out as planned :-(
But all the reasons for doing it are still there! And we know a lot more about how our backers want to see it happen... So watch this space!
Aquaponics: Save the World with Fish Poo!
We need to grow more food, in more places, at all times of year. Aquaponics grows fish + veg in a virtuous circle, without relying on fertilisers and pesticides. WeGrow is about easy aquaponics with our open electronics and citizen science. We bring automation and community to aquaponics for your back garden, community greenhouse or kitchen table.
The Knowledge, the 'tronics, the 'ponics
Back WeGrow and get:
- The Knowledge. For £10 you'll get a complete recipe to DIY your own clean food; for £220 a two-day course at Kate Humble's teaching farm. (And if we go big we'll run an Aquaponics Festival!)
- The Electronics. Join our citizen science community with the WaterElf, and control your aquaponics over the net. (From £128 to £195.)
- The Aquaponics. Complete aquaponics systems in sizes to fit a kitchen table, a standard greenhouse or a large greenhouse. (From £250 to £5k.)
(And add £6 to any reward and we'll send it on a plantable Christmas card in December!)
The WeGrow team brings together the University of Sheffield, Humble by Nature, BitFixIt, Aquaponics UK, Farm Urban, Show Koi and the Aquaponics Lab to boost sustainable food and community resilience. Join us?
Why the Fish?
Aquaponics replaces the fertilisers used in hydroponic growing with fish food, and uses only as much water as the plants need. It works all year round, and can fit into the nooks and crannies of urban spaces. Vegetarians use ornamental fish; others use edible species.
The catch? Balancing the ecosystem is tricky, and we don’t know enough about the optimum setups for cooler climates (or about the systems sizes that suit typical greenhouses or sheds).
WeGrow solves these problems with an Internet of Things gizmo called The WaterElf, which monitors and controls aquaponics systems. It also allows you to collect data about what grows best where, and how much it all costs. We’ll share this data in a virtual community and drive the next generation of systems with citizen science.
And if you pick up the GrowHub you can monitor your fish tank from your desktop!
WeGrow is developing three things:
- Open source software and hardware to run aquaponics rigs, to share data about key parameters like pH, temperature and the like, and to derive optimum setups from this data.
- Complete grow rigs, in three sizes to fit your kitchen table, a standard 6-foot wide greenhouse, or a larger greenhouse. These are based on the UN’s FAO design, and use recycled tanks (or Koi tanks) and standard fittings.
- Training courses, DIY specs and bespoke project services. We’ll help you build your own from scratch for £10, or build you a complete system and help you configure, run and maintain it.
Our mission is to make back-garden aquaponics as easy as planting potatoes (or easier — no weeding, no digging, no ground-level work). And to tie together growers into communities that can demonstrate the benefits: better nutrition, more resilience, less pollution.
WeGrow is about easy aquaponics for your back garden, back yard, greenhouse or shed. Back us from £10/€15/$20 and get yourself the knowledge, the electronics and the aquaponics for your own resilience food.
A Symbiotic Ecosystem
Aquaponics creates a symbiotic ecosystem of fish and plants that is necessarily clean — if we tried to add fertilisers or pesticides to the growbeds we would soon damage the fish, as would growth factors or prophylactic antibiotics fed to the fish. The widespread use of agrochemicals in our current food production industries drives down resilience — most are dependent on oil, and many inject toxicity into our environment and compromise the long-term sustainability of agriculture. The integrated ecosystem present in aquaponics (combining fish, vegetables, and bacteria) results in less disease and faster growth, removing the need for agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals.
Open Tech for Local Food, Global Community
Balancing the ecosystem in aquaponics can be tricky — so we're bringing the new world of Internet of Things sensor/actuator technology and cloud-based data sharing (that we've developed for community-scale gardens) to small scale systems. And we're doing it open source, so that everyone from Nairobi to Newcastle can join in.
In aquaponics, the fish produce nutrients that are used by the vegetables in a virtuous circle. The result is high-density food production that can be done at scales from the kitchen table to industrial warehouses. It works well in urban spaces that are otherwise difficult to farm.
We know we can grow good food sustainably in this way — but we don’t yet have enough data to quantify the costs in energy usage in all climates, conditions and gardening spaces (especially in cooler climates). That’s where citizen science comes in. By gathering community data, we can give exact comparisons in costs and emissions to the production of comparable foods using other growing methods. We also aim to run studies to quantify the nutritional benefits of home-grown food. Paul’s daughter wouldn’t eat lettuce — until she’d grown her own!
The Tech: Water Elves and Bike Tyres
We've taken a low cost micro-controller with built-in wifi, added a bunch of sensors, given it the ability to control low cost water valves and switch up to 16 mains electrical sockets as well as log data to the cloud. This is the WaterElf. We've been refining the design of our system since 2013 when our first prototype was installed at the Incredible AquaGarden in Todmorden. We've been on an incredible journey and learned a lot about what does and doesn't work in a busy, challenging environment with lots going on.
One of the expensive and inflexible elements of aquaponics systems is the flow control technology. We've developed computer-controlled valves using upcycled bike tyre inner tubes that do the job of a £200 solenoid valve for £20 of materials:
WeGrow aquaponics technology ticks a lot of boxes for sustainable food and resilient communities:
- open source, open hardware
- low impact, high density
- no fertilisers, no pesticides
- year-round growing
- no soil, no effluent, water efficient
- polyculture friendly
- less pests, diseases, weeds
- makes fish a sustainable crop
- data sharing in the cloud: grow locally, connect globally
The more food we grow locally the more resilient we are. The less pesticides and fertilisers we use, the safer we are. Aquaponics brings fish and vegetables together in a symbiotic bio-organic growing process.
Aquaponics is special because it is an intensive food production method while also being low impact — not wasteful, not polluting.
The most common intensive food growing method now is hydroponics — growing fruit and veg in water. Hydroponics was a fantastic invention: it allows us to grow food fast without soil and in all weathers. But there are downsides: it is dependent on scarce resources (fertilisers) and it often uses lots of water.
Aquaponics (which adds fish to the mix) is just as productive, or more so, without the downsides. The method is popular in the US and Australia, and increasing in the UK. We can use it to bring high yield food production to vertical farms, green roof spaces, biophilic smart cities and marginal rural land.
The only downside is that it requires special care to keep the ecosystem balanced and in-check. Setup costs are also marginally higher compared to soil-based growing, but just like using solar panels to power your home or devices, the cost is negated by the returns you’ll get over time as your aquaponics system continues to produce top-quality food year-round with little maintenance once the system is running efficiently.
We're working on open instrumentation and control systems for aquaponics that aggregate their data via the cloud to create virtual communities of growers whose shared experience reduces complexity. (Not sure what to plant that will grow in a northern winter? Ask a friend!)
Our project is about aquaponics for your back garden, attic, balcony, back yard, greenhouse, garage or shed. Back our KickStarter and get yourself the knowledge, the 'tronics, and the 'ponics for your own resilience food!
WeGrow comes from the University of Sheffield, FarmUrban, Humble by Nature, BitFixIt, Charlie Price and Becky Bainbridge of Aquaponics UK, the Aquaponics Lab and ShowKoi. Our team includes specialists in electronics, firmware, software, aquaponics, fish tanks, fish welfare, sustainable cities and agricultural education. We delivered the MoPi mobile power add-on for the Raspberry Pi via a successful Kickstarter in 2014. Our contribution to open source and the commons goes back 20 years, and we’ve managed projects from weekend hackathons to hundreds of person-years.
Great minds think alike! (Idiots seldom differ?!)
Hamish Cunningham on saving the world:
Madam Mango's Amazing Vertifarm Circus!
Gareth Coleman, Paulo Marini, Hamish Cunningham, Nick Taylor Buck, Charlyne Bezicot, Boglarka (Zila) Gulyas, Dave Hartley, Zac Rubin, Paul Myers, Jens Thomas, Henry Payne, Kahmin Goh, Lizzie Jewitt, Charlie Price, Becky Bainbridge, Rachael Geddes, Beca Beebe, Ludo Graham, Kate Humble
1000 thanks to:
Alastair Buckley, Amanda Crawley Jackson, Anmol Ahmed, Anne Wyatt, Artsiom Ramazanau, Benz Kotzen, Chris Baker, Christian Unger, Claire Crook, Colin Osborne, Courtney Kyle, Daniela Barrios, Dave Abbott, Dave Gill, Debi King, Deborah Beck, Duncan Cameron, Ed Cartledge, Egor Zindy, Fern Merrills, Fran Marshall, Fran Sutherland, Gareth Roberts, Gaynor Hamilton, Gemma Greenup, Gillian Callaghan, Greg Oldfield, Guy Brown, Hannah Postles, Ian Roberts, Iain S. Young, Jamie Russell, Jen Phaff, John Derrick, John Grant, Josiele Julio Matos, Julian Briggs, Kalina Bontcheva, Kat Roden, Lubo Bontchev, Lucia Bizos, Lucy Moffatt, Margo Barker, Maria Gil Molto, Mariam Perez, Matt Hill @ Union Street, Megan Blake, Megan Cunningham, Megan Lewis, Mike Ratcliffe, Monika Kus, Naomi Rosenberg, Nicola Strafford, Penelope Watt, Polly Wilson, Ricardo Beltran, Richard Nicholl, Rob Barker, Roger Doonan, Sarah Geere, Sarah Milliken, Sara Unwin, Spencer Joseph, Suha Sivananthan, Tony Ryan, Tricia Hart, Vanessa Toulmin, Wyn Morgan, and all those we've forgotten (to whom our apologies!)
- Twitter https://twitter.com/WeGrowSocial
- Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeGrowSocial
- Blog https://blog.wegrow.social
- Instagram https://www.instagram.com/wegrowsocial
On BBC Radio Sheffield:
- Rony Robinson's show with John Grant:
http://bbc.in/2ceFE57 (8 mins in)
- Interview with Andy Kershaw:
- Ditto, on video: https://www.facebook.com/bbcsheffield/videos/1214299238582354/
- The Yorkshire Post:
- Our Raspberry Pi stuff: https://pi.gate.ac.uk
- Sheffield Uni news:
Risks and challenges
Risks: 1. Paulo spills red wine on it. 2. Claire decides it needs to swing from something. 3. Mike decides to add some natural fertiliser to it and gets caught on the timelapse camera. 4. Gareth smokes it.
Challenges: 1. Male pattern baldness. 2. The international capitalist conspiracy. 3. Aliens.
Seriously, we've managed projects worth millions and always delivered on time. We see 3 main risks and 3 main challenges:
Risk 1: faults in the design. Mitigation: test, test, test! With properly engineered test harnesses and realistic data sets.
— faults in the circuitry: high cost; we're putting our biggest effort into getting this right, drawing on decades of electronics engineering experience
— in the firmware: medium cost; we'll be able to flash new firmware right up to despatch day
— in the software: relatively easy to fix (our monitoring and control software is already into its third generation and has been tested on running aquaponics rigs)
— faults in the aquaponics rigs: we're based on established designs from the UN's FAO that have been used worldwide: https://tinyurl.com/faoaprpt
Risk 2: demand is high and we can't scale up production. Mitigation: we're partnered with teams with strong delivery track records, and our principal circuit design engineer has already scaled up many times (going back as far as the first consumer GB hard-drive!).
Risk 3: component availability. Mitigation: we've verified multiple suppliers for the components; most of them are held in stock in volumes sufficient to meet the demand that we anticipate. We're also using recycled tanks that are available worldwide at low cost (IBCs), or flatpack Koi tanks from an established supplier, and standard plumbing kit.
Challenge 1: capturing the imagination. To meet our goal of enthusing all ages about local food production, we need to embed the inspiring and fun stuff within the educational messages. That's one of the reasons we love open systems: there's so much creativity and excitement out there in the community that we can draw on. We're not giants, but we know where there are some shoulders we can stand on :-)
Challenge 2: delivering great hardware and software. We don't just want it to be good — we want it to be a worthy contribution to the global movement for clean food. A hard standard to live up to, but we'll do our best!
Challenge 3: delivering great learning materials. There's a reason why teaching is a profession, and we take the skills and resources involved in this challenge very seriously. Our training courses partner with established providers, and be some of the last outputs from the project, to give us the time we'll need to reach top quality.
Overall, we think risk is low. We know we can supply brilliant aquaponics systems and software and technology to our community of growers. And with 100+ years of combined professional software, hardware and consultancy experience behind us, we're confident that we can deliver. Join us?Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (31 days)