Spring has finally arrived and for many of us, that means it’s time to start seeding our summer garden. But what if you could easily grow greens year-round in the comfort of your own kitchen? With more and more consumers concerned about their food comes from and how it’s being grown, there's an increasing number of products that claim to be hassle-free solutions for growing fresh, organic herbs and produce.
In a time where technology, food, and design are coming together in new and exciting way, I believe it’s time that produce gets personal. Here are five kitchen gardens (and their pros and cons) to help you get growing.
soil technology that's out of this world
At $60, this little counter-top herb garden is an easy entry-level product for potential green thumbs of any ability. Fill the water reservoir, plug in the lights, and snap the bespoke grow pods into the container. Click and Grow’s “Smart Soil” technology is inspired by NASA technology and includes all the nutrients the seeds need to flourish while also encouraging beneficial microbes and border cells (similar to how plants grow in regular soil).
- Pros: Simple construction; rectangular container is counter-top friendly; plug-and-play (just add water); diversity of seed options, from herbs to flowers and strawberries; short grow time with herbs ready for harvest in 2 to 3 weeks. Low energy use with just 6-watt LEDs.
- Cons: Not a “smart” garden; the entry-level Herb Garden has fixed height LED lights; pod-based technology means you’ll be paying $19.95 for three soil pods as opposed to $2 to $3 for a pack of seeds.
hydroponic made easy
A Red Dot Design Award-winning product, the entry-level hydroponic Plantui has a suspended light unit that can scale with the growth of your plants. It looks a bit like a flying saucer that has magically landed on your kitchen counter. Add nutrients and water into the container reservoir, snap in the plant capsules, add the battery-powered pump, and plug in the light to get it started.
Besides the ease that comes along with soil-free growing, the Plantui’s irrigation method is also intelligent, flooding the roots multiple times a day depending on its growth stage (a technology based on that of professional greenhouses). The lighting unit has a nice adjustable sleep timer and even a “holiday pause” feature that slows growth while you’re gone. The Plantui 6 will even indicate when it’s time to replace the nutrient solution by flashing a blue light.
- Pros: Simple construction; elegant Scandinavian design; broad diversity of vegetables like tatsoi, kale, and sage (and 42 edible herb, flower, and leafy green capsule options in total) at a price of 5.90€ for three capsules (more affordable than the Smart Herb Garden); red and blue spectrum LED lighting, which provides a complex spectrum of light.
- Cons: Plants require longer grow times (from 3 to 12 weeks), and you must manually adjust the growth stage. Lighting for introductory unit needs a lighting stand (19.90€) or an under-cabinet hook.
For the microgreen-lover
For those who love their microgreens, fresh herbs, and wheatgrass shots—and have room to spare—the Urban Cultivator is an under-counter appliance that could easily stand in for a wine fridge. Seamlessly integrating into any contemporary, well-sized kitchen, the Cultivator allows you to set watering cycles, lighting, and temperature. But it’s not for the casual gardener.
To grow at this capacity, home cooks need to regularly thin the sprouts to encourage growth and monitor humidity inside the unit to prevent mold from forming and choking out the sprouts. From online reviews, it seems like the capacity could be more robust and the programming controls can be a bit tricky for the average user.
- Pros: Seamless under-counter integration and plumbing hookup; option to use soil or hydroponic growing; control over lighting, temperature, and watering cycle.
- Cons: Difficult to program; humidity can be hard to monitor; and at $2,800 (and such a large scale), it's really only for the serious microgreen lover.
A Hydroponic Garden for Your Wall
This recent Kickstarter project from Austria comes from two co-founders that had been installing hydroponic systems in restaurants and offices before launching Herbert. As of writing, the team has blown past its initial funding goal by 500% and it still has a week to go! A hydroponic vertical garden that is meant to be installed directly on an interior wall, the Herbert can grow up to 15 different plants at once using a nutrient fertilizer, water, and a biodegradable sponge (also used by NASA) as a medium for the seeds.
Mount the garden on the wall, fill the large water tank, and then plug in to power the water pump and LED light and you’re ready to go.
- Pros: Use your own seeds; wall-mounting saves floor space; rapid growing time (a head of lettuce will be fully-grown in 4 to 5 days); and you can control the light with an app on your phone.
- Cons: Kickstarter projects are not user-tested; even a small leak could ruin a wall; and the system seems like it would be difficult to clean. (Anyone who has ever used a humidifier knows that these types of systems need a good cleaning to prevent mineral buildup.)
a truly smart garden
The founder of SproutsIO spent her time at MIT’s Media Lab prototyping this idea and now, four years later, she and her team have launched one of the first truly “smart” growing systems for your kitchen.
Using a camera system mounted in the lighting arm, the SproutsIO can automatically detect what you’re growing and adjust the lighting, water, the mister, and nutrient delivery accordingly while monitoring ambient conditions. A hybrid system that uses both hydroponics and aeroponics as a growing medium means it's soilless, but because of the misting system the greens are hardier than solely hydroponic greens tend to be.
The advanced technology completely changes the growing experience, allowing you to adjust the growing conditions using their mobile app to intensify flavor, fine-tune growing times, and tell you optimal harvest times. The built-in camera allows the system to monitor your plants in real time, and it will automatically adjust to maintain the health and vitality of the plants. And best of all, you can actually track the growth of your plant:
- Pros: Truly hands-free; a plug-and-play smart solution—just add water once a month. Imagine personalizing your produce for a sweeter pesto sauce, a spicier pepper, a more intense flavored eggplant. The robust app and connected system means that it’s actually learning with you and getting better at growing over time.
- Cons: The price of $799 means it’s not an entry-level system. Seeds come in a plate called the sIO for the entire system, which means you can only grow one green at a time (18 servings per $15-30 plate).
LinYee Yuan is the founder and editor of MOLD Magazine, which covers design as it intersects with the future of food. There’s two weeks left in their campaign to launch the world’s first print magazine about the future of food—support it here!
Of all the technologies above, which do you see working best for you? Tell us in the comments.