We've seen more than a few products that offer customers the chance to grow fresh fruit, herbs, and vegetables in their own home with minimal effort, but a device named Grobo from a Canadian startup looks like it might be the most straightforward yet. Its creators describe it as a "Keurig for plants." You simply fill its reservoirs with water and nutrients, drop some seeds into its base, and then hit a button on a connected app to start the growing process. A couple weeks later, you're ready to harvest.
The Grobo uses sensors to monitor the condition of the plant, automatically adjusting its watering schedule, and then lets you know when it's ready to harvest. It's suitable for a range of crops — including tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, herbs, kale, and more — but Grobo's founder and CEO, Bjorn Dawson, says the device's creation was inspired by the challenges Canadians face growing medicinal cannabis at home.
"[making] it as easy as possible for people to access fresh produce and medication."
"One of these people came to us early on to help with testing," Dawson tells The Verge, "He spent eight to 10 hours a week to grow the medication he needs — time he could have been spending with his family and children." Dawson says they'd originally started with a smaller product, but make it bigger to accommodate users such as those growing medicinal cannabis. "We’re really just trying to make it as easy as possible for people to access fresh produce and medication," he says.
If the user wants, the Grobo can grow plants pretty much by itself. Seeds are placed in a growing medium made from recycled coconut husks, with the user telling the device what's been planted so it can regulate the delivery of water and nutrients. Sensors inside the Grobo monitor how much of this material is absorbed by the plant and measure its height, allowing the app to make adjustments to the growing schedule or alert the user if they need to intervene. LEDs inside mimic a full 18 hours of sunshine every day, while carbon filters can be turned to eliminate any odors created by the plants.
The app can prompt you to get more involved
"There’s very little you have to do but there’s a lot you can do," says Dawson. "So if you want to learn how to grow better, in the app there are prompts at different phases of plant growth, saying things like: 'You should trim this part of the plant and if you do you'll get better results.'" Users can also program their own growing instructions into the app, with Dawson noting the only real limitation on the Grobo is size. "You wouldn't be able to grow something like a watermelon, for example, because the plant itself gets too large."
There are costs to all this convenience, the biggest one being the device itself. Starting today, the Grobo is available for preorder for $899, but this is only for the first 30 days, and will gradually increase until it hits its regular price tag of $1,399. Users can also expect to spend between $15 to $20 a month on nutrients and the growing medium, but the electricity costs of the Grobo are small — about the same as a ceiling fan.
Dawson says that buyers should be confident in their ability to grow plants with the Grobo, and that the team has been testing its technology for more than two years now, growing hundreds of crops over that time. The ultimate aim for the company, he says, is to make technology like this commonplace, allowing more and more people to grow food at home.
"People are looking at these solutions to bring growing into cities," says Dawson. "We think this could really extend into a great solution when everyone is growing the majority of the food they consume right at home." For now, though, the Grobo can only grow one plant at a time, taking around two to three months to grow a cannabis crop, or just a couple of weeks to raise up some wheatgrass.
Of course, dropping $1,000 or so to grow a punnet of strawberries in your living room is pretty extravagant. (Why not Google community gardens in your area instead?) But there is something persistently engaging about the idea of growing plants and vegetables at home. It just seems so modern: a utopian blend of technology and nature that's both efficient and folksy. Right now, though, it's too expensive to be much more than an affectation, but perhaps the seeds for something bigger are being planted.