Are you looking to buy an indoor hydroponic gardening system to grow fresh herbs and vegetables? You are not alone.
And it is easy to understand why indoor hydroponic systems are popular. The systems deliver turnkey setups and are:
- Easy to use
- Low maintenance
- Clean compared to soil-based gardening
But no one system does it all. And the best system for your home setup is not necessarily the best alternative for me.
I have read many “reviews” from large media websites. This article is written from an actual user perspective.
Why this guide is a [MUST READ]
I know from experience where first-time buyers go wrong.
I know this as I have tested and reviewed several countertop gardening systems from a first-time buyer’s perspective.
Most first-time buyers look for a countertop system that is
- Easy to set up
- Minimum ongoing maintenance
- Nice design
But if you read the product descriptions, all countertop systems claim to deliver on these requirements.
And I would agree, they do. But to a varying degree.
Because they are not the same. And if you are new to hydroponic countertop gardens, you will only find
out just how different they are when you are about 5-6 weeks into your first grow cycle.
What this guide will cover
I will cover five key factors in this article.
- Type of hydroponic system vs growth
- Plant selection or What you can grow
- Ongoing maintenance
- Countertop appeal
All systems mentioned in this article are delivered as complete systems with full spectrum grow lights. But please note, you need to use your own seeds for the Deep Water Culture systems.
1. Type of hydroponic system vs growth
Most countertop hydroponic systems are built on the principle of a Deep Water Culture system.
Here, all plants share one reservoir holding the nutrient solution.
The system comes with full spectrum grow lights, hydroponic fertilizer, net pots, and seed-starter plugs, but you use regular seeds.
Popular gardens include iDOO, Aearogarden, and MUFGA to mention a few.
Wick-based hydroponic gardens come in different shapes and forms, but the Click and Grow Smart Garden series is among the most popular.
The Smart Garden is delivered with a fixed-height, full-spectrum grow light, pre-fertilized plant pods, and plant cups with a wick. Here, the growth of the plant’s root system is limited – or controlled, if you prefer – by the size of the plant cup.
Conclusion and Key Takeaways: In all my tests and reviews, I have seen faster and more aggressive growth in DWC systems. It is hard to beat the DWC systems if you are looking for the highest possible yield at the lowest possible cost.
And you would be forgiven to assume that faster growth is always better.
But, DWC systems also call for a more hands-on approach where you have to either rebalance pH and EC levels or start over with fresh nutrients when you harvest plants.
On the other hand, the controlled growth of the Smart Garden series delivers a more balanced and compact garden. As we only add water to the reservoir, it is easy to start a new plant without having to worry about fertilizers and nutrient levels.
The best solution for you depends on how involved you want to be.
- The Smart Garden series suits the indoor gardener looking for a proper hands-off solution with an excellent yield
- DWC indoor gardens fit the gardener looking to be more involved for a higher yield.
I recommend you watch my YouTube video comparing a DWC vs. a wick-based hydroponic garden after 5 weeks.
2. Plant selection or What you can grow
A balanced garden is a healthy garden and will deliver a higher yield.
However, achieving a balanced garden in a DWC system takes more work and planning.
We have already established that DWC systems have a shared reservoir to support root growth for all the plants in your garden.
And it is vital to plan before you plant. Let me explain.
Fast growers like lettuce, basil, and chard grow extensive root systems and quickly absorb water and nutrients from the reservoir.
On the other hand, slower-growing plants like arugula, cilantro/coriander, and thyme take longer to germinate and grow roots.
If these fast and slow-growing plants are planted together in one system:
- Slow-growers will be hard-pressed to find enough nutrients in the reservoir to sustain healthy growth.
- The fast-growing plants will develop large leaves and shade slow-growers for light.
Even though your fast-growers deliver a healthy yield your slower-growing plants will experience stunted growth. Overall, your total yield from the garden will suffer.
This is easily fixed by only growing plants with a similar growth cycle in a DWC system. And this is why it is vital to plan before you plant in a DWC. But it is important to be aware of this extra step.
On the other hand, the wick-based Click and Grow Smart Garden does not really care which plants you grow in the system.
All plants live in plant cups, and each plant pod is fertilized to meet the unique needs of the individual plant. Here, you can grow lettuce, cilantro/coriander, or thyme at the same time without experiencing a lower yield.
Overall, there is less effort and planning to harvest a rich yield.
Conclusion and Key Takeaways: The Click and Grow Smart Garden series delivers an easy-to-use garden system where pre-fertilized plant pods in plant cups allow you to grow any plant.
The DWC systems will also allow you to grow most herbs and vegetables, but you need to match the plants’ growth cycles for best results.
3. Ongoing maintenance
The wick-based Click and Grow Smart Garden series is the most straightforward and hands-off system I have ever come across.
All you need to do is fill the reservoir with water when the floating indicator is low. And I have never had to fill up my Smart Garden more than once a week – even with mature chili pepper and tomato plants.
On the other hand, even though the DWC is more hands-on, I have never found it hard or diffícult to manage the systems.
But it is more work. The shared reservoir needs to be topped up and when you do, you need to balance the nutrients you add or start over.
Conclusion and Key Takeaways: Both systems require minimal maintenance, but the Click and Grow Smart Garden series is the clear winner in this category.
4. Countertop appeal
Hydroponic countertop garden systems add interest to any home.
Still, the only system I can place in our kitchen is the Smart Garden.
“We” have decided that the Smart Garden is most suited as it is
- Quiet – no air pump
- Stylish – well-designed and interesting
- Tidy – Compact, controlled growth
If I lived alone, I would place DWC gardens like the iDOO or Aearogarden in my kitchen. Still, the background noise from the built-in air pumps and more aggressive growth are factors to be aware of.
Conclusion and Key Takeaways: It is hard to beat the Smart Garden series if you are looking for a silent and stylish countertop garden.
But if you can live with the faint background noise of an air pump, the DWC systems offer a good alternative at a lower cost.
There is only one way to say it. The Click and Grow Smart Garden series will cost a bit more than comparable Deep Water Culture systems.
And you do have more options when it comes to DWC systems. There are
- Higher-ticket DWC alternatives like the Aerogarden
- Mid-range DWC gardens like the iDOO
- Budget DWC systems like the MUFGA
Then, we have the actual running of the system.
All systems I have mentioned use energy-efficient lighting on timers, and the running cost has never been a significant factor for me. If anything, the Click and Grow uses less energy as there is no built-in air pump.
The actual cost I compare is running the system when you run out of the supplies that come with the systems.
The Click and Grow Smart Garden: The pre-fertilized plant pods start at about 2 dollars (or euros) but cost less if you buy in packs of 9, 30, or 54. You do not need to purchase anything else as you fill the reservoir with water and the plant pods are pre-seeded.
A 54-pack of herb and salad mix can bring the cost down to almost a dollar per plant pod - pre-seeded and pre-fertilized.
Deep Water Culture systems use seed-starter plugs, hydroponic fertilizers, and seeds. Seed starter plugs cost about 0.5 dollars (or euros) and a liter of plant food that will last you a long time costs about 30 dollars (or euros).
Making your own seed-starter plugs and choosing lesser-known brands of plant food can lower the costs of running the system.
Conclusion and Key Takeaways: DWC systems cost less to buy, and supplies are generally a bit less expensive. Most DWC systems are built around the same principle, and plenty of lower-cost alternatives exist.
The Click and Grow Smart Garden series costs a bit more than budget and mid-range DWC alternatives, but the running cost is more or less comparable if you shop smart. There are usually offers and campaigns, and it is not unusual to find great offers on plant pod re-fills.
I own both types of systems and actively make the best possible use of campaigns and offers. And for me, the actual running costs of the systems are about the same.
My Preferred Countertop Indoor Gardening Systems
It is hard to beat the value offered by MUFGA.
But, I have not found a website for the company that manufactures the garden, which leads me to think that they are relatively new to the market.
But apart from this, I have had no problems with the garden.
iDOO hydroponic garden – great value and a proven and established DWC garden.
Easy to get in contact with if there is a problem.
The Click and Grow Smart Garden series costs a bit more but has several advantages over more traditional Deep Water Culture systems.
- Visual appeal – beautiful design and controlled growth
- By far, the most straightforward system to operate and run
- Silent as it does not require an air pump
Plant pods come with a sprouting guarantee and the company is quick to answer any questions.
FOR MAXIMUM GROWTH AND VALUE
Again, the iDOO. A fair price and an overall sturdy and appealing design. Choose the size to fit your needs and budget.
If you have questions, email me or check out the Guide To Getting Started With Hydroponics.