Like most inventions, our mushroom grow unit went through many, many iterations. We explored sizes, modifiers, sensors, materials, names and more. Some experiments were more successful than others (and others were just plain weird). It’s been a wild, fun ride to get to where we are now.
See what we've built along the way.
The very beginning of this venture began simply. Roman Titus, one of the founders, became obsessed with understanding how to work with mycelium and understanding the environments it likes in order to fruit mushrooms. This first analog step was a small home grow and took over a three bedroom apartment in Humboldt Park.
The Alpha was the first attempt at automation of the growing environment. The impetus was a failed grow in the apartment farm when Roman was out of town. It started small. It was built with water pumps, LEDs, a couple computer fans, a tub-in-tub warming chamber and an Arduino Uno. There were no sensors, just timed duration events for lights, FAE and humidity.
The Alpha Riff was a mutation of the Alpha, in our first attempt to make a smaller tabletop sized unit. This unit worked "ok" for light, FAE and humidity, but the warming capabilities left a lot of to be desired. While we learned a lot from this build, it was a failure and was cannibalized for the next unit pretty quickly.
The Noko Soko brought a new naming convention to our units, as well as sensors for a far more controlled internal environment. The Soko also had a tub-in-tub warming and colling system that was powered by a thermoelectric generator attached to a metal radiator inside the water. It heated well, but didn't cool that well. We also tested a swamp cooler by pumping the tub-in-tub water through a beehive copper coil while blowing air across it to warm or cool the internal air s well. A two pronged attack. It didn't work. The fan just dried out the substrate.
During the build of this unit, we were asked to prototype it in Google Chicago’s cafeteria. It ran for almost a year, grew 7 lbs. of mushrooms per week, and was checked once a week for harvesting, cleaning, and restocking substrate.
The Noko Momo was our first unit that blew us away - it was able to hold the environment precisely where we wanted it and put out a large enough capacity for a small cultivator to make 50 lbs. of mushroom per week. This is the first unit that included a chiller, allowing us to both heat and cool the environment. This size of unit also opened the door to the concept of moving the project from a novelty to a system capable of supporting actual farmers. We followed that feeling.
The Noko Popo was our response to the feedback that most cultivators don’t need a grow chamber; they already have their own grow rooms. What they need is the technology to control their grow chamber's internal environment. Perhaps there was a way to pare this all down and make it really plug-and-play with existing cultivators? Enter the Popo. We modeled and 3D printed the chassis and cover with USB plugs for our sensors, and outlets for the cultivator to plug in their own lights, humidifier, fans and temperature modifier.
The Noko Loko was a walk-in grow room, controlled by the Noko Popo, that we tested on a farm on the south side of Chicago. A PVC frame with greenhouse plastic, wired up racks with lights, humidification system, squirrel cage FAE, and our custom sensors were installed to create the largest grow space we have made to date.
The Glowpod was a quick mod made when Roman was heading to Thailand and needed a unit for his roommate to grow the substrate blocks he had pre-ordered while he was away. This unit was built in a day and used a baker’s speed rack as the frame, greenhouse plastic for the enclosure, and utilized fans, lights and humidity for environment control. This unit presented interesting challenges in obtaining good internal air circulation in such a tall, crowded space.
Sure enough, 9 days later a text from Chicago to Koh Chang was sent with images of full oyster bouquets!
The Model A is our latest prototype that returns to the tabletop size, props to the Alpha Riff, and solidified our plan to launch with a tabletop unit. This unit was created in three weeks for an incubator we went through. It’s a looks-like, kinda-works-like, model. This was the stepping stone to our current build, the B.