The Spring – An Interview with Dr. Nate Storey

What is the Spring?

Fred: Hi, I am Fred Schmechel of the Wyoming Technology Business Center. We are a business incubator here on the campus University of Wyoming in Laramie. And for the past years one of our fastest growing clients has been Bright Agrotech.

Last year, Bright Agrotech launched a Kickstarter campaign to develop their technology for in-home use with the Spring System.

So far, it’s been the most successful Kickstarter campaign in Wyoming to date and the guys of Bright Agrotech have done a quality job with it. They are making sure that the Spring System is a top notch product.

So, Nate, you are the CEO of the Bright Agrotech. Youve developed the Spring System… why would I want one?

Nate: Well, you know, one of the first things that most people ask when they see our ZipGrow tower systems, is “how can I have one in my house?” And most of the time, these are folks that are intrigued by the vertical growing aspects but they have one limited space to grow in.

So, for us, one of our kinds of inspiration for developing for this product was developing something that people could use on a very limited space to grow actually quite a bit of food.

So, that was kind of one of the reasons one of the big sellers of this particular product is that on a patio, on a balcony, on something very small, someone can actually have a pretty decent sized hydroponic garden.

Fred: Alright, so Nate, you developed it, but what is it?

Nate: So, the Spring System is basically a basin, with a tower that fits into it and in the basin we’ve got a pump, we’ve got irrigation tubing. And essentially the way it works, is that you filled that basin up with your nutrient solution and you fit your tower into the basin, you plug it in, turn it on and the seedlings or the seeds that you have in your tower will start to grow, start to take up those nutrients so, so as they trickle through the tower.

So, it’s essentially a complete hydroponic system but it’s contained within in essentially one tower and one sump tank.

Fred: Could you do aquaponics in this system?

Nate: You bet. You know, most of our folks that use our towers are still doing aquaponics at this point. So for folks that are doing of aquaponic production, you know you can transfer towers to Spring Systems, no problem.

You can also plumb these Spring Systems together, so there’s a special drain fitting in the back that you can connect to PVC pipe essentially or poly pipe and you can basically daisy chain systems together from a large sump tank. So if you are already running an aquaponic system and you’re interested in spring systems you can actually turn these Spring Systems into a sump system for an existing aquaponic system if you’d like.

Fred: But if, I don’t want to get involve with the technical details like you did, I can still have this as a hydroponic system at home, correct?

Nate: You bet, you know, running it at home is a super simple thing, you basically just put in your water, you put in youre the amount of fertilizer that we tell you and you turn the thing on and you plant.

You know, you have to harvest and you have to re-plant from time to time. But you know thats typical gardening stuff.

Fred: You do give the advice when you sell the kit on what to grow and how to grow and what to feed it?

Nate: Yeah, you bet, you know you can just grow about anything in these.

Now, we do recommend you know that if you going to grow a vining crops you trellis them. You just kind of being smart about of what you do. You don’t want grow a tree on these things, but you can grow lettuce or kale, herbs, that’s we usually we grow; you can grow tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, all of that stuff. The big issue is with the stuffs like zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, vining stuff or stuff that’s kind of gets really big. It is just kind of you want to lean the tower forward.

So, you know, you just kind of keep an eye on things and if they get too overgrown and you want to cut them back or you just want to be wise about how you are growing.

Fred: So, this product here looks pretty awesome, how is it different from your competitors?

Nate: Well, you know, there’s a lot of growing systems out there especially horizontal once, and there is an increasing number of vertical systems.

But none of them have the versatility that we have with ours.

So we’d like to think that ours is a little more attractive. But, you know, you can also remove the towers, you can take them out, you can move stuff around because it’s not super heavy and because the towers are pretty portable. It’s a good system for homeowners that they don’t like moving really heavy stuff.

Another nice thing is, we’re only growing on one phase. So, one of our systems is four sided. And those back sides, you cannot put them up against the wall; you can’t really grow very well on that northern side and the northern hemisphere. So, there’s a lot of wasted in space and nutrients.

So we only growing on one side, and it makes it easier to plant and to deal with and its a lot more easier to use say for urban gardening or if you have it on a patio or a room, you don’t have to light four sides of it, you only have light one side. So, by doing that, we still actually give a surprising amount of productivity out of these towers. Its just as productive, as competing systems, it’s about half the price of our closest competitor and I think you know, people will find it a lot, easier to work with.

Fred: Now, one of the things Im seeing in trending, on Pinterest in other places, are these vertical walls in peoples kitchen is this system compatible with one of those?

Nate: Yeah, you bet. You know, so this will fit nicely into the folks’ kitchens and you know one of the things will talk about a little bit later is something like of a live CSA, so for folks who don’t want to even grow their own they can work with local producers they can deliver live towers to your house. So, you don’t actually have to grow anything if you really don’t want to. You can talk with the local grower and you can have a live tower of greens in your kitchen to use whenever you want.

These fit really nicely indoors. Now we do recommend you to be really careful because its water doesn’t mix with wooden floors that kind of thing. These dont leak unless something goes wrong. So, its kind of one of those things you keep an eye on and we do recommend that you use it outside. But if you want to use it inside, that’s possible.

Fred: Okay. Nate, you mentioned that this thing is about half the cost of your competitors, I know that your crowd funded this project initially, and those of us who are on kick starter that supported you got it at a special rate? If I was to buy another one, through a store, what would that cost be?

Nate: The suggested retail on these is going to be around $250 bucks. Our closest competitor is following the range of $500-$800 for similar growing system.

So, you know, just kind of based on our design and based on the quality of our product we wanted to deliver at a reasonable price, you know, we are doing a pretty good job at bidding our competitors on a price basis as well as a quality and a production basis.

Fred: If I can save money on the tower, I also want to save money on my food bill, so what kind of crops can I grow in this hat are going to be nice and tasty and fresh?

Nate: Right. So, for a lot of folks that are looking to get into this, I always recommend growing a) crops that you’ll love, but b) also the crops that you spent a lot of money on it at the supermarket.

These are the crops like basil, crops like herbs, you know, you are paying $3 an ounce for. You know, tower can grow 3 to 4 lbs. on this stuff, and if you’re just kind of harvesting that really regularly, so, if you use a lot of basil in your cooking, you can make it on your cost in a month or two on the entire system. And of course, that depends entirely on whether or not you are using a lot of basil.

So you know, you can plant multiple crops, you can use basil, you can do oregano, you can do parsley the stuff that you use really often and those high dollar crops you going to make back your money at no time flat.

Crops like lettuce, kale, they are fun crops to grow and do really well in conditions with a little bit less light sometimes. So, they are definitely worth looking in to and if you care more about local production, and you care very deeply about making sure that youre limiting your pesticide exposure, you’re limiting just kind of the risk that come with buying-conventional produce, then a tower system like this is definitely worth it.

Fred: I know there have been a lot of stories that lead about products like spinach and strawberries in E-Coli contamination, is that much of a problem with this?

Nate: No. Especially if these are grown in your home and you’re the one handling it? Those risks are virtually nil.

Fred: I love strawberries. Can I grow strawberries on this?

Nate: Yeah, you bet. Strawberries actually grow really well on these systems. If you are interested in growing strawberries, definitely send us an e-mail and we can tell you what nutrient solution to buy, because you have to have a little bit different nutrient solution for strawberries since they are fruiting crop, but our productivity is about double the productivity of traditional hydro on a square foot basis. So, you can grow pretty good strawberry crops in these towers.

Fred: So, Nate if I have already bought one of this on Kickstarter and I want a couple or more where could I get those?

Nate: Well, they are available few different places. We’ve got some online retailers. Hopefully, will have a lawn and garden center in your area that will be caring them. So it’s always worth checking in and asking if you can get this locally. But if you can’t we sell them on our websites. So, you can go to our website and you can purchase Spring Systems, we’ve got nutrient solution, we have pruners and all sorts and other we have little items that can help you get started growing with our Spring Systems.

Editors Note: A lot has changed since August 2013, when this blog was posted! Visit our website to see what we are up to now.

Fred: Nate, I know that we are going to go into more detail about the nutrient solution here in another video, but basically you mentioned earlier, that if I got my strawberries growing and I have got something else growing that I have to change my nutrient solution that match my strawberries, do I need to worry about mixing crops and the nutrient solution?

Nate: For the most part no, if you are using the nutrient solution we send with you that would be great for anything that is vegetative – that means that’s not producing fruit. So, if you want to produce fruit, then you have to use a different type of nutrient solution but that doesn’t exclude you from still growing vegetative crops in the tower. So, we make sure that we have everything you need on the website if you have questions we would be happy to answer it. We can definitely get you started with growing strawberries and chives if you want.

Fred: Very good. Now, are there exotic things that I could grow?

Nate: Yes. You know, these towers can grow just anything. We have put a lot of strange things in this tower and they’re always grown.

Spring system growing flowers

Strawberries growing vertically.

One thing that I really get a kick out of this is growing flowers in these towers. It’s kind of a fun application if you just kind of want to spruce up your doorway or gateway or something like that to have a Spring System full of flowers on the side of your gate or your door or whatever. I just think they look pretty like pillars of color.

There are all sorts of option when it comes to towers. The sky is the limit. We encourage folks user imagination and do fun things of them because they’re kind of one of those things that they going to do well based on how creative people are and kind of what people imagine.

Fred: So, what’s the strangest thing you have ever grown on one of these?

Nate: We’ve tried some root crops, just kind of interesting. Things like carrots, or onions, or beets and they grow just fine. They just come out ugly as sin.

Fred: But they taste okay?

Nate: Yes. They taste like carrots, and beets and onions they just look ugly. So, we don’t necessarily recommend that you go out and grow root crops in these things. By and large stick with crops that have their produce above ground and you’ll be happy.

Fred: Nate thanks for talking and answering some of our questions. I know we’ll be getting in to more details and some other videos and I look forward to hearing more about it. But this is looking like a fantastic system. Im glad you’ve done this.

Nate: Thanks! We’re pretty excited about ourselves.

Fred: Good! We will talk to you here in the future another video look for them.

Get your own Spring here!