Water Garden

A closed-loop ecosystem - fish feed the plants, and plants clean the water!

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At Back to the Roots, we are on a mission to enable more people to grow their own food. Our founders Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora met at UC Berkeley, where they were inspired by the discovery that coffee waste creates the perfect environment to grow gourmet mushrooms. They immediately got to work on developing our first product, the Mushroom Farm: a little brown box that allows anyone to grow mushrooms.

Falling in love with the idea of creating more ways to help people grow food, we set out to develop a second product: the Water Garden (formerly AquaFarm).

This personal aquaponics system is a closed loop, mimicking the symbiotic relationship between plants and fish in the wild. The fish waste fertilizes the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish, all without the use of soil or chemical fertilizers.

The result is a fun, approachable, and educational product that appeals to children and adults alike, and looks great displayed on any countertop.

Making the Water Garden

We worked with local design firm Daylight Design to develop our concept into a product suited for mass production. Brett Newman, partner at Daylight, gives a bit of insight into the process of designing the award-winning Water Garden:

“How much fish waste is needed to nourish five plants? What’s the right ratio of fish to water? How quickly should the water circulate? Do fish need a place to hide? How the heck do you strike the right balance between direct sunlight that’s necessary for the plants to grow and keeping the fish tank out of direct sunlight so the water doesn’t get overgrown with algae bloom? These are all questions that needed answering to design a successful product. Development was a relentless cycle of iterative brainstorming, design, engineering, and testing until we arrived at a solution that resonated with the team, and with users. From initial sketches to the first articles off the tools, the process took just under one year.”

Behind the Scenes

The starting point.

Design exploration: early prototypes and sketches.

One of many rough prototypes.

Founder Alejandro Velez (far right) with the Daylight Design team.

Back to the Roots?

A strong design language takes form.

Tooling: this mold forms the lid, with 5 holes for the plant baskets and one for the pump.

Based on conversations with aquaponics experts, the first version included opaque side panels to shield the tank from sunlight.

After long-term testing and owner feedback, the panels were determined unnecessary in preventing algae bloom and removed from the final product.

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