80% of people’s exposure to pesticides happens indoors, but with vertical gardens it’s possible to grow organic greens at home
Hedera vertical home garden at Orticola, Milan
Hedera is a vertical home garden for growing herbs, microgreens, sprouts, flowers, and plants for kitchen preparation. It is also for enhancing interiors, tackling humidity regulation, and acting as a natural air-purifying filter. The artists behind the project presented it at the latest edition of Orticola in May 2022.
«The idea of Hedera came from the desire to use natural and innovative materials in domestic agriculture,» explains Gian Franco Gasparini, the project’s Art Director. «We began with a home garden, but the project’s aim is also to develop a line for the outdoors». Domestic gardening has become a prevalent trend in the post-pandemic biennium. This is especially true as people become more health-conscious when it comes to food.
A survey by Axiom found that one in every three American household grows their food. Twenty-five million families homegrow vegetable and fruit gardens. Indoor gardening increased by thirty percent in the last year only.
Bio-based materials made from wood, cotton, linen, and hemp
As Gasparini explains, Hedera products are ecological and recyclable. Stainless steel makes up the wall support whilst they mould vases from a composite material of natural fibers.
«We replaced traditional materials like glass fibers and fillers made of minerals, with bio-resins, linen fibers and a bio-filler made with grapes seeds, from the wastes of the food industry; also, we don’t use dyes. Colors of materials are derived from the raw materials we use. These choices make it possible to half the carbon footprint compared with other composite materials. It is also easy to maintain since the vases that can be detached from the wall support through an interlocking mechanism».
Bio-based materials made from products such as wood, cotton, linen, and hemp have been on the rise. Researchers have shown that they have less impact on the environment. They also have the potential to replace synthetic and glass fibers for the coming years. Natural-fiber composites (also known as NFC) are, in fact, up to thirty percent stronger than glass fibers of the same weight. They can help reduce the weight of components and total energy consumption.
Moreover, their molding process consumes less energy than fiberglass molding, reducing manufacturing costs by ten percent. On the other hand, their sensitivity to moisture and weak binding to polymer matrices could hamper their growth prospects. They is because they absorb water and humidity, which results in fibers swelling.
The Hedera system
Hedera entered the scene in a time frame where the market size of garden equipment in Europe grew steadily. They expect this to increase even more between 2022 and 2026, reaching over 14 million units by 2026. «As of today,» continues Gasparini, «there are two products available. Hedera 1 – the smallest, with one vase – and Hedera 4, an autonomous vertical garden made of 4 vases to hang on the wall».
Thanks to a plug and play approach, Hedera is easy to set up and use. As he explains: «There’s no need to attach the product to the water supply. Hedera only needs the power to light up the LEDs. The lower pot is used as a water reserve with a pump to power the system with an autonomy of three to five weeks. The vegetative process is optimized by a specific LED lighting system integrated into the pots».
Water circularity and Hedera low maintenance
This irrigation system can avoid water stagnation, which typically results in biofilm formation that might grow waterborne pathogens. It can also help with water waste, as vases can collect excess water at the bottom. They can resume this water to water vases thanks to the pumps that promote water circularity like in the natural ecosystem. Plus, it helps beginners to grow plants and to have an indoor garden. It is almost autonomous and doesn’t need any maintenance, except from filling the water tank at the bottom. The water usage might also be tailored depending on the plants needs.
When asked about the energy consumption, Gasparini explains: «In the worst-case scenario, when Hedera doesn’t receive enough natural light and needs to use LEDs lighting systems at maximum capacity, the annual expense is about twenty-five to thirty euros». Of course, for specific uses, Hedera can also get directly connected to a water supply. This makes it completely autonomous, stresses Gasparini. «For example, in a restaurant or in offices, where the goal is to cover entire walls with Hedera vases, this might be a viable option to have living plants with almost no maintenance processes».
In-door gardening needs no pesticides
There are different plants and flowers which the Hedera system can cultivate. The advantage of having an indoor garden includes the lack of parasites on the plants and therefore not needing pesticides.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), seventy-five percent of U.S. households used at least one pesticide product indoors during the past year. The products used most often are insecticides. Another study suggests that eighty percent of people’s exposure to pesticides happens indoors. Here, measurable levels of up to a dozen pesticides have been found in the air inside homes.
Although promoting organic cultures indoors can help tackle the issue, «of course, it is possible to use fertilizers and nutrients for plants with Hedera», explains Gasparini. «The substrate is made of volcanic lapilli that doesn’t degrade and promotes nutrient distribution in the soil. We encourage and promote using Hedera for organic cultures. The system makes it very easy to cultivate plants even without fertilizers, both natural and chemical».
Microgreens Market trends
Another use for Hedera concerns microgreens. These vegetable greens (not to be confused with sprouts or shoots) have steadily been growing since 2019. Its market value was $1.3 billion in 2019 and experts estimate it to reach $2.2 billion by 2028. This means growing at a CAGR of 11.1% from 2021 to 2028.
«Microgreens are the perfect plant to grow in Hedera,» explains Gasparini. People harvest them just after the cotyledon leaves have developed with one set of true leaves. They can act as a nutrition supplement, or as a flavor and texture enhancement. In general, stye contain higher levels of vitamins and carotenoids — about five times greater — than their mature plant counterparts. This is according to a report by USDA, United States Department of Agriculture.
Hedera might only grow vegetables indoors, such as salad varieties. However, Gasparini explains that it gives the most value to aromatic herbs since their life value is higher. Once they’re too big for Hedera, people can dry and store them.
Hedera’s primary goal is to make it easy for everyone to harvest plants, greens, and herbs at home. Thanks to the ready-made substratum, it only takes to add the plant and some additional soil to fill voids between plants to make Hedera work.
Air purifying system
The in-door grading and plants market has grown regarding greens that have a purifying effect on air. According to research conducted by NASA, the roots and soil of houseplants contribute to reducing airborne toxins significantly.
The study found that typical plant foliage reduces interior pollutants like formaldehyde and carbon monoxide by up to eighty-seven percent in just twenty-four hours. The research also confirmed that plants remove many indoor air pollutants like ozone toluene and benzene.
While they conducted the research in air-tight controlled chambers, other studies have shown that the air cleaning effect does scale up to a building level. Other researchers found that airborne toxins levels redacted by fifty to seventy-five percent in all offices. Of course, some plants are more efficient at purifying air from toxins. Gasparini confirms, «Hedera is a good fit for offices and places where it is challenging to take care of plants regularly, or when there’s poor natural light. Depending on the plant varieties, the system is autonomous for around three to five weeks and only needs to be plugged in».
A vertical home garden for growing herbs, microgreens, sprouts, and edible flowers to enrich kitchen preparations and contribute to humidity regulation and indoor air purification, thanks to a completely sustainable, innovative, and technologically advanced piece of furniture.