There's nothing quite as satisfying as the moment you harvest the first vegetable you've grown in your home garden. But getting to that point is an ordeal, especially if you lack a backyard, a green thumb and a love for the outdoors.
Indoor gardening systems have become a good alternative for folks who want the benefit of homegrown produce without all the work and space that a garden requires. Many of these will fit on a countertop or windowsill, which is great if you're an apartment dweller. There are a variety of products for every level of indoor gardener.
Minimal work for maximum output
The countertop gardening systems that do the most work for you are made up of four parts:
- Pods that come prefilled with dirt and seeds
- A self-watering container
- An LED lamp that works on a timer
- Built-in Wi-Fi connection
For most of these systems, you pop the pods into the container, fill it with water and turn on the LED lights. The LEDs will automatically cycle on and off depending on the needs of what you grow (you can select plant types in the settings) and what lights you use. As your plants grow, the only maintenance they'll need from you is additional water. Eventually, you'll have to adjust the height of your LED lamp as well as prune and harvest your goods.
Built-in Wi-Fi is definitely not a necessary part of indoor gardening. But systems like the forthcoming SproutsIO and the MiracleGro Aerogarden Bounty Elite (which starts at $249 on Amazon, but is cheaper if you order straight through the manufacturer) connect to the internet through your home's Wi-Fi network. This means you can use an app to check on the status of your plants. For example, the Aerogarden app shows you if the LED light is on or off, tells you if you need more water and reminds you when to give your plants more liquid nutrients.
But if internet connectivity is important to you, remember that this extra feature will cost more money.
Cheaper without the internet
The next category of countertop gardens has everything as the above systems minus the internet connection. They're less expensive because of that. For example, the Click & Grow Smart Garden 3 Indoor Gardening Kit is $100. You'll still get your seeds in some type of pods, which you put in a self-watering container with an LED lamp to power them up. You're also responsible for pruning and harvesting.
But with these systems you'll miss out on some of the customizable features. For example, the Aerogarden Bounty Elite lets you pick the type of plant and the stage at which you're growing it so it can adjust the amount of light the seeds receive. The LED lamp on the Click & Grow only has an automatic cycle of 16 hours on and eight hours off. (If you're a bit of a lazy gardener, this probably won't matter much, especially if you're going to save $100 or more.)
Aspiring to go outside one day
Some countertop gardening systems will water and light your plants, but that's about it. For example, the $65 Spigo Intelligent Indoor LED Light Garden includes an LED lamp on an automatic timer and a self-watering container, but that's about it. No pods, no dirt. You have to buy your own dirt and seedlings (or seeds if you're feeling adventurous) and plant them. This minimal system would be good for the ambitious gardener who just needs a little boost to get started.
Whatever system you choose, you have lots of options if you want to garden but don't want to get in the literal weeds. Decide what level of interaction you want with your plants, how much money you're willing to spend and get your hands a little bit dirty.
Originally published July 13, 2018.
Update, March 18, 2019: Republished for spring 2019.