Three months ago I received a hydroponic herb garden for review. As an avid cook and apartment-dweller who missed having a proper veggie garden, I wanted to give it a go. Little did I know how important it would be for my mental health during COVID-19.
Urban Plant Growers XL Indoor Smart Garden
WHAT IS IT?
An indoor hydroponic herb and vegetable garden
$209, but there are different sizes and prices available
Easy to set up and maintain, plants grow super fast, brilliant for my mental health
Not cheap, limited compared to a regular herb garden
What’s good about a hydroponic herb garden?
With so much stress and despair permeating our lives over the last few months, it has been soothing to watch something grow. Every day I was able to watch a little bit of life bloom, and that was so important for my mental health – especially during the early weeks when I didn’t leave the house. If that sounds like something you might relish too, getting a garden is worth considering.
For me, it was vital to see something thriving on the days where it felt like nothing else was.
Easy and convenient
Urban Plant Growers touts its hydroponic herb gardens as an easy and mess-free way to grow food indoors. And it’s absolutely right about that.
The XL Indoor Garden I reviewed was one of its larger offerings, and it was incredibly simple to put together. Within 10 minutes I was ready to plant. After another 10 everything was ready to go, including the lights which were set to a timer. This is a great feature, because it allows your garden to have a consistent light source indoors.
Within a few days I saw my first sprouts. As someone who used to have a substantial vegetable garden, I’m used to waiting patiently for things to grow. Hydroponics significantly speeds up the process.
Within a month I was able to grab a sprig of thyme or some basil leaves as needed, and it was incredibly satisfying.
I also enjoyed the minimal mess. Urban Plant Growers’ smart gardens come with ‘smart soil’, which is ‘super absorbent’ and retains moisture really well. It’s far less messy than regular soil and it can be reused.
Once everything is planted all you really need to do is wait and refill the water every week or so, depending on how big the root system gets.
I can see this being a really great solution for busy households that may want the advantages of fresh herbs but don’t have the time to be on top of watering, especially during the hot summer months.
What’s Not So Good?
While I loved the XL Smart Garden, at $209 it’s not exactly cheap. Plus you need to buy seeds as well. If this is a barrier to entry for you, there are fortunately other options.
Urban Plant Growers has a variety of smart garden sizes, with the smallest coming in at $70. It also has hydro pots if you are looking to grow a single thing, like cherry tomatoes. The cheapest is $16, though you may want to grab a separate grow light to go with it.
If you really want to go hard, the $2,450 Family Farm model is now available. It holds 72 plants and I am deeply jealous of anyone who has one.
You need to replant at some point
For the most part, herbs in regular gardens don’t need replanting. Unfortunately that’s not quite the case with Urban Growers’ Smart Gardens.
There is only a finite amount of space, even when your plants go as nuts as mine did. If you’re a regular cook, you may find yourself going through your crop quickly.
And even if you do manage to keep your plants going for months and months on end, eventually the root systems will become a large and tangled mess.
Either way, you’ll need to replant more often than an outdoor or traditionally potted garden. But while you may not always have a consistent plant supply, it does give you the opportunity to try different herbs. And because the system is so hardcore, your hydroponic herb garden will grow much faster than a traditional garden would out in the yard.
Should you buy it?
There’s no getting around the fact that the larger Urban Growers Smart Gardens are pricey. But there are smaller sizes available to suit different budgets.
Spacing is also an important consideration. The U.S. team discovered the woes of hydroponic herb gardens within tiny New York City apartments.
Fortunately for me, I have plenty of bench space in my kitchen, and the garden is nowhere near my bedroom. This means the lights don’t bother me at night. If you don’t have a similar setup, you may want to reconsider.
While I still lament my lack of a home veggie patch, I adore my Urban Garden. If you’re someone who lacks the garden or balcony space for a more ‘traditional’ garden, it’s a brilliant solution.
It’s also a very easy way to get kids into gardening and cooking. They get to see the herbs grow so quickly and then use them in recipes.
And while these Smart Gardens are great from that practicality perspective, there was more to it for me: it’s been a colourful and vibrant part of some bleak days. As Australia and the world goes through constant collective crisis, it’s been a wholesome source of joy.
This garden has nourished me, body and soul.