Looking for a way to grow a vegetable garden without a backyard? A balcony, rootop, or patio — or even just a windowsill — can host a full crop of fresh produce. One company making solutions for urban gardeners is Vertical Home Gardens L.L.C., whose designs include a container called the Phytopod that can provide 20 square feet of planting space within a tiny 2′ x 2′ area.  We had the chance to interview company founder Dr. Eluem Blyden, a scientist, educator and social entrepreneur based in Oakland, Calif.

What does Vertical Home Gardens do?

Vertical Home Gardens L.L.C. designs, manufactures and sells products for vertical gardening in small spaces. We sell them to urbanites, schools and institutions, businesses with rooftop or vacant-lot space, and commercial farmers.

We are committed to simple, but well thought-out products that are earth-friendly, functional and made with first-use, reused, recycled or re-imagined components. Our containers make real gardens that can fit on your balcony and produce enough vegetables to pay back your investment in as little as one growing season.

We sell accessories and supplies and connect our customers with global social networking sites with the theme of Personal Green Production and green lifestyle.

My passion is applying new ideas in innovative ways that are in tune with local culture and lifestyle. I was a winner of the 2007 Sustaining Entrepreneurs for Environment and Development (SEED) Initiative Award. I’m a co-founder of Vertical Home Gardens L.L.C., along with Julie Jackson and Eddie Blyden.

What inspired you to begin your business? When did it begin?

Myself and the co-founders of the business were laid off in 2008 as the economic downturn hit Northern California, and I decided to develop a prototype of the Phytopod as a project with my two children who do not have access to a garden. I was surprised that the design worked, and decided it might be an important product to enable people to grow their own produce as food prices were going up. I continued to experiment to make it work better, and looked for a simple, easy-to-ship design that was earth-friendly yet robust.

What sort of work did you do before launching your business?

It took 18 months to get the Phytopod to work properly as an out-of-box  product. Myself and Julie spent many hours trying different configurations and parts, wandering around hardware stores and Home Depot. We had no capital, and so had to wait until there were enough excess funds from other things before trying the next design. The thing about a Phytopod is that you have to patiently grow it before knowing how well any design has worked. Many of the pictures of Phytopods on our website were grown and tended by us — we also ate all those good looking greens you see growing on them!

Where are your products sold?

Currently, we sell our products through our ecommerce webstore at www.verticalhomegardens.com. You can also buy through Facebook, eBay and Google stores we have set up. Our product is also sold by a number of affiliates who have their own webstores online.

For retail, we now have a great new partnership with the Urban Garden Center in New York which is a great center for incubating green companies in addition to being the coolest garden center in New York City — great place to visit if you are in New York!

Do you have a favorite story of how one of your customers has used your products?

We have been really humbled by the way people have responded to our product ever since the first day we plucked up the courage to take it to a Nursery Garden trade show! Especially when we first started, it was sometimes difficult to get things to customers on time, but people were very patient with us. I think the prize goes to David who lives in Ontario, Canada, and who not only embraced the Phytopod by buying four of them, but then proceeded to build a complete affiliate website by hand in order to share Phytopods with his fellow Canadians. The fact that he can grow lettuce and other greens in the cold north on his Phytopod really makes the point that our product can make a difference to those who would otherwise not be able to garden.

What’s next for your company?

Even though our product offers 20 sq. ft. of planting area on a 2′ x 2′ footprint, we still get many people for whom even this is too big! We have therefore developed what we believe is the first true “plug-and-play” hydroponic system, called the Phytopod Hydro, that can be used indoors. We are close to launching this product as a modular system that can be easily used by anyone and that comes with everything needed except the water and the plants!

In addition, we are looking for votes to support our entry on quirky.com for an exciting new window greenhouse Phytopod accessory that can fit in an apartment window! We are also now selling complete Mini-Farms in a shipping drum that are designed for emergency agriculture or microenterprise farming.


Want to try it out?

We’re giving away one Phytopod Hydro to the lucky winner of a random drawing! To enter the drawing, simply answer the question “What would you grow in your hydroponic garden?” Please email your answer to [email protected]. We will be accepting answers through midnight EST on Friday.

Disclosure: The Phytopod gardening system designated for giveaway has been provided by Vertical Home Gardens L.L.C. Revmodo is not affiliated with Vertical Home Gardens L.L.C.

Images by Vertical Home Gardens L.L.C.