Developments & Dialogue: Phytoponics
Phytoponics is a start-up company tackling food security and sustainability through a patent-pending, low-cost, easy-to-use and adaptable hydroponic grow bag called the Hydrosac. Phytoponics CEO Adam Dixon tells us more.
How did your business get its start?
I have been doing hydroponics for 10 years, growing with a variety of systems—bubbleponic, fogponic, aeroponic and soil. I started the business because I had an idea for a new type of hydroponic system after hearing from other growers who wanted systems that were low cost, productive, easy to use and adaptable. I teamed up with two close friends and a close colleague to develop this idea. We all share the same values and desire to make a real difference in the world through hydroponics.
How has this idea evolved?
In six months, as a team of four, we took a rough idea and optimized it for manufacture and growth, achieving multiple awards. We are now looking to mass manufacture to meet demand, and are currently tooling up.
What is your company’s philosophy?
We are a community interest company (CIC) in the UK so we are a mixture of for-profit and non-profit. We want to make low-cost and easy-to-use products to accelerate the adoption of hydroponics to tackle food security, global warming, deforestation, water scarcity and land shortages.
Tell us about your flagship product, the Hydrosac.
The Hydrosac is a hydroponic grow bag made from recycled flexible plastic. It holds water and has inflatable sides that support a porous growing platform above water. It has integrated aeration, with one valve on the end leading to a bubbler welded onto the bottom that aerates in an optimal pattern—no more air stones! We make a one-metre Hydrosac that rolls up to the size of a newspaper roll, and a 10-metre long version for greenhouses that rolls up to the size of a beer keg.
These are best laid flat and filled with water for deep water culture or Kratky hydroponics due to low power and resilience, but can also work on a slope for NFT, and vertically through aeroponics. For big, heavy crops you can hook your growing twines through the netting to hold up the growing platform while supporting the plants.
What makes your products unique?
The Hydrosac is the lowest cost aggregate-free hydroponic system on the market. It is flexible and multipurpose, unlike anything seen before, because it is just a plastic sack with hydroponic parts welded onto it, making it cheap, repairable, and easily configurable. With our valve ports you can fit your own pipes into them through adapters. We make it from a thick plastic that is puncture resistant, but if you do drop a razor blade on it, you can duct tape it for a reinforced fix.
It is so small rolled up, users can bring a quarter-acre capacity in one big truck, so you wouldn’t need to remortgage just for the delivery. We want to use hydroponics to save lives in disaster relief through aid—a roll-up, rapid deployable farm could help people grow crucial food supplies in a short amount of time or in ruined, unfertile land.
Tell us a bit about some additional ways Hydrosacs are used.
I think one on my favourite configurations is hanging fogponics. With Nutramist’s new cyclone generator, the user can blast up a fog through ducting to feed into the top of our Hydrosac and recirculate the trickle at the bottom for excellent growing in large curtains of Hydrosacs. One of the profitable configurations is the Kratky, where our porous membrane wicks up water to germinate seeds resting on the porous layer nesting under the plastic top.
They then grow roots down and hit the body of water for no-power hydroponics. Hydrosacs are also suitable for aquaponics. If you need a biofilter, the Hydrosac can be a good one, and if you are growing non-spiny fish or shrimp, the Hydrosac can be used in a pinch to stand in as an aquaculture chamber.
Where do you see the company in 10 years?
We are looking for experienced growers to test with us and commercial farmers to buy our Hydrosacs now so we can make a global impact. In 10 years we will be a global farming franchise offering complete hydroponic farms with highly automated growing systems. We hope to convert millions of farmers to hydroponics and bring a new era of low environmental impact farming. We are also developing HVAC and grow light technology and have the innovation required to make it low cost and sustainable.
Do you have anything new and exciting at the research and development stage you can share?
We have one crazy idea in our patent filing that we can share: If we take our Hydrosac and weld on a polytunnel, we have a low-cost and quickly deployable farm. Because we have inflatables, it floats, and if we use the right specification of polythene, it can be salt and biofouling resistant. Our idea is so radical we can only share it with the most informed hydroponics audience here. It is to put hydroponic farms using fresh water on the sea. Marine Hydrosacs could be a major solution to the land and freshwater issue once and for all.