How Geco-Gardens enables you to grow your own food on your balcony

Hello, farmees out there! On the farmee blog, we also want to present other companies from the field of smart or urban farming. We start this series with a really cool startup from Germany called Geco-Gardens. Founder Bastian Winkler took some time for us to talk about his amazing product.


Q: Hi Bastian, tell us a little bit about Geco-Gardens. What are you doing?

Bastian: We are planning and constructing vertical, automated microgardening systems. With Geco-Gardens, people can grow their own organic vegetables, fruits, herbs and ornamental plants right in the middle of the city. This creates new gardening areas in front of your door, e.g. on balconies, patios, courtyards and rooftops.

The system consists of several planting containers, a vermicompost and a water tank. With energy from a solar panel, the water is pumped to the top and flows through all planting containers and the compost back into the water tank at the bottom. You put your organic kitchen waste into the compost box, where the compost worms transform it to a 100% natural fertilizer. These nutrients are washed out into the water tank, from where the water and nutrient cycle starts.


Q: Sounds awesome. How did you come up with the idea to develop your system?

Bastian: Currently I am doing research for my Ph.D. thesis at the University of Hohenheim (Southern Germany). It is about the introduction of renewable energy into smallholder agricultural systems in the emerging countries South Africa, India and Brazil. Aim is the creation of locally appropriate, integrated food and energy systems for the production of healthy food and renewable energy in an ecological and resource efficient way. To achieve that, the prodcution systems are based on locally available natural resources and on closed production and matter cycles.

During a research stay in South Africa, I got to know Luke Boshier, one of the pioneers in the field of integrated agricultural systems. Together we built a terrace cultivation system for an integrated ecological production of fish, rice and vegetables. Facinated by this resource-efficient way of production, which is independent of agricultural land, I adapted it for urban farming.

The fish were replaced by compost worms and the fish food by organic kitchen waste. The innovative, natural method called „terrabioponics“ was born. In Geco-Gardens the plants grow in soil (terra) and an organic nutrient solution (ponic). The nutrients are recovered in a natural process through worm composting of your own kitchen waste (bio).


Q: What is special about your system compared to others?

Bastian: As a result of producing your own food right in the city, Geco-Garden systems create a direct connection between humans and nature. We combine the following topics in a unique way: direct waste recycling, natural matter cycles, renewable energy, modern technologies and ecological cultivation methods:

  • You use our own organic kitchen waste for growing agricultural and ornamental plants
  • Gardening made simple: No need for manual watering, thanks to the automated watering and nutrition circuit, which also fertilizes the plants
  • You decide, what and how you grow: The decentralized food production reduces the transport of food in cities, thus saves energy and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Collaborative gardening promotes social interaction and allows you to share your harvest with others, which creates rich crop diversity.

Consumers become producers


Q: Who are your typical customers and what are their most common crops grown with the system?

Bastian: Most customers of Geco-Gardens are private people e.g. young families living in urban areas. They want to have their own little garden for a healthier lifestyle and a closer connection to nature or show their kids how organic food is produced. We even have pensioners as customers. They appreciate the automated and thus convenient way of gardening without having to bend down.

Besides private people, our garden systems are very interesting for companies and other organizations that want to show their green engagement. A third customer segment are kindergartens and schools, to teach kids natural food production cycles from an early age.

You can grow any kind of vegetables, herbs and fruits in your garden system- The selection depends on your choice and the location of the garden system – the more sunlight, the larger the selection of crops. Typically our customers grow different herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary and mint, a variety of lettuces and other leafy greens as well as vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and chilies. At warm locations even melons will fruit!


Q: How much effort do your customers have to put in for growing their crops?

Bastian: The effort is very low: Sowing or planting with little watering in the beginning; feeding the compost worms and fill up the water tank once a week; harvest and consume. Furthermore, the pressure from pests and deseases is much lower in the city. Usually, there are no snails on a balcony 😉


Q: What is your long-term vision?

Bastian: The vision of Geco-Gardens is to create new gardening areas in cities for organic self-production of food. The reasonable use of modern technology in combination with ecological cultivation methods and the use of your own hands can transform urban resources directly into tasty food – diverse, local and organic. With Geco-Gardens, consumers become producers. Food production becomes decentralized, seasonal, regional, divers and therefore more sustainable.


Q: And what are your next steps?

Bastian: We want to bring our systems and our company to the next level. Therefore we cooperate with the software startup farmee (yay!) and entrepreneurship expert Dr. Christoph Mandl of ‘Zugspitze Ventures’ – together we form a team for the KATANA accelerator programme, which is funded by the European Union.

We will add a sensor based app to our existing system, so you can monitor your plants with your smartphone. This will automize the system even more, because you can control the water and nutrient cycle from anywhere, e.g. from the office or when you are on holidays. In addition, the app will provide an interactive guidance from sowing to harvesting. Growing healthy food on your own balcony will become as simple as playing Farmville on Facebook – but with real crops!

Watch out for our crowdfunding campaign coming in fall 2017!
It would be awesome to get some support from the community so we can improve our product and enable more people around the world to grow their own organic food.


All pictures (c) by Geco-Gardens