Weep not for summer, plant lovers -- smart gardening is here. I've compiled a list of some of my favorite smart gardening products to help you move that outdoor garden to your kitchen counter. Some of these items are so intriguing, you might drop the trowel for good.
The Bitponics Base Station
Originally funded on Kickstarter, this is the first cloud-based hydroponic automation device. You can add it to any hydroponic growing system to receive the benefits of its programming capabilities. The Bitponics Station has sensors that can track pH, water temperature, air temperature, light, and humidity, enabling the program to recommend actions and send notifications based on your plant's growth cycle. The hardware is open-source, and Bitponics states that "tinkerers and the Maker movement are encouraged to redesign and improve the Bitponics system for others to enjoy." The Bitponics Base Station is not available for sale just yet, but the Web site assures us that you can preorder the Bitponics device later this fall for $499. This sticker price makes the Bitponics system anything but a casual purchase, but committed gardeners might find it worth the green.
Click & Grow Smart Flowerpot and Smart Herb Garden
Also a former Kickstarter project, Click & Grow offers two options for the would-be indoor gardener: the Smart Flowerpot and the Smart Herb Garden. Both kits come with a growth medium, the Click & Grow Smartpot with all of its software and sensors, and step-by-step instructions. All you need to bring to the table are four AA batteries, which you can expect to last eight or more months, and water. The Flowerpot comes in such varieties as basil, chili peppers, mini tomatoes, and cockscomb (pictured) and can be purchased now on the site. The Herb Garden comes with seed cartridges for basil, thyme, and lemon balm. Refill kits will come in other varieties, and Click & Grow says it has big plans for future seed options. The Smart Flowerpot retails for $79, and that you can preorder the Smart Herb Garden for the same price.
EasyBloom Plant Sensor Plus
A sensor and monitoring device in one, the EasyBloom Plant Sensor tracks gardening variables like sunlight exposure, soil moisture, and ambient temperature. For a subscription fee, the EasyBloom can also give you readings about soil fertility. Designed for gardeners of all experience levels, the EasyBloom looks particularly useful for beginners, providing such basic information as whether you are watering too much or too little. EasyBloom claims that this device will give you a "plant's-eye view" of wherever you're gardening, and will make recommendations based on the data it collects for which plants would do well in a particular environment. Simply plug the EasyBloom into a USB port on your computer, and access the device's collected data. I wish it had a wireless app like some of the others, but the expansive database and $59 price tag make this an intriguing sensor.
Koubachi Wi-Fi Indoor Plant Sensor
The app-controlled Koubachi Indoor Plant Sensor sheds light on soil moisture, temperature, and light intensity, keeping you in the know about your plant's needs. Unlike other sensors that require you to plug them into a physical computer, the Koubachi sensor runs on your home Wi-Fi network and syncs to a free smartphone app so that you can access your plant's data anytime, anywhere. You can tell the sensor what plant it is monitoring by selecting it from the app's encyclopedia of plant choices. This enables the Koubachi to customize individualized recommendations, which range from light needs to watering instructions. Koubachi's site sells the indoor sensor for 89,00 EUR or, about $120 US.
Modern Sprout Planter with Solar Panel
Hydroponic growing is a bit of a nuanced operation -- not difficult in concept, but potentially disastrous in application. Modern Sprout wants to make it easy for you with its intelligently designed planters. Originally crowdsourced on Kickstarter, each planter houses a hidden top-feed hydroponic system, which delivers a nutrient solution to the roots of three plants. The company says its planter is so energy-efficient that even on a cloudy day, the panel will provide enough energy to keep the battery charged and run the pump (though Modern Sprout also offers a plug-in model). The Modern Sprout comes loaded with everything you need to get started, except for the plants. Planters range in price from $129 to $249, depending on which finish you choose and whether you go for the solar panel or traditional plug-in model. My eye is on the $219 chalkboard planter with solar panels.
Plantlink Plant Sensor
Another sensor that launched on Kickstarter, the Plantlink is an integrated system that allows you to connect many Links, one Link per flowerpot, to a base station via Zigbee. Coupled with the app, this base allows you to check on each of your plants remotely. The app also provides recommendations regarding watering, and it can even automatically water your plants if you add the valve accessory to your hose. For now, it's limited to checking soil moisture, but I like that you can add as many Links as you want and that they function both indoors and outdoors. For those transitional plants that you keep outside in warmer months and inside in colder ones, this is a fantastic option. You can preorder a kit that includes a Link and bases tation for $69 and add additional Links for $25 a piece. While it might be limited in what its sensors detect, the expandable nature of this set is appealing and gives a lot of bang for your buck.
Windowfarm Smart Vertical Gardening
As its name suggests, the Windowfarm is a vertical, hydroponic growing system that uses a bath of nutrient-enriched water and the natural sunlight from your window to grow your plants. This looks like a perfect way to add some green to small apartments. The kit comes with everything you need to get started, except the window, of course, and a single-column starter kit includes live Italian flat leaf parsley, chives, wildfire lettuce mix, and Upland watercress. I love that it comes with greens and herbs, as they add the same color and spruce as a flowering plant, but they also bring some utility if you install them in the kitchen. A one-column starter kits go for $199, but for $499, you can get a four-column starter kit. It's not cheap, but for a complete hydroponic system that nearly maintains itself, the price feels appropriate.