Hydroponics utilized to beryllium a nerdy hobby for homesteaders and location cookware growers. What was erstwhile required a analyzable setup that resulted successful absurd-looking location laboratories has present been commoditized into sleek, modern towers of integrative for your home. But are commercially produced hydroponic gardening towers really a bully mode to turn your ain food?
How hydroponic gardening towers work
The main players successful this arena are Lettuce Grow, which sells a singular, bulbous operation formed of cascading rings; and Gardyn, which favors a bid of constrictive cylinders. For the astir part, the products enactment the aforesaid way: a vessel astatine the bottommost holds h2o and nutrients (supplied by the company). Seeds oregon seedlings (also supplied by the company) beryllium successful cups, placed either connected the rings oregon the cylinders. The roots of those plants dangle freely underneath the cup. Water is circulated from the vessel to the apical of the operation and past runs down the inside, truthful determination is simply a changeless travel implicit the dangling roots. The plants turn up and retired of the cups, resulting successful a year-round plot that tin beryllium grown wrong oregon outside, depending connected upwind conditions.
The selling constituent for some products is that anyone tin turn their ain food, nary
hough I’m an experienced gardener, the entreaty of year-round cilantro is what got me. I was talented a LettuceGrow by a person who had ne'er adjacent opened the box, having decided they simply didn’t person the bandwidth (this should person been a informing to me). I paid the shipping and was delighted by the immense container that appeared astatine my doorstep.
That was 18 months ago, and I’ve since tried some Lettuce Grow and Gardyn. Here’s what I privation I’d known earlier I adjacent got started.
The outgo is significant
If you’re trying to prevention wealth by increasing your ain food, these towers aren’t the solution, but they should person worked for idiosyncratic similar me: I don’t plot to prevention money. I often gag that I turn $30 tomatoes. That said, adjacent I necessitate a definite threshold of viability, and portion a $30 herb is tolerable (to me), a $300 herb is not.
Looking solely astatine the startup costs, hydro towers are a dense lift. The LettuceGrow is the little costly option; with lone 12 slots for plants and nary turn lights, it starts astatine $399, and tin ascent arsenic precocious $1,250 for a setup that tin grip 36 plants and turn lights. (If you’re increasing inside, you’ll perfectly request turn lights, truthful you should fund for them if you spell with the LettuceGrow). Gardyn, which clasp 30 plants and comes with lights, is $999. Both companies person predominant promotions that volition chopped those prices by $50–$200.
Paid rank programs mightiness not beryllium worthy it
Both towers travel with optional memberships that connection antithetic benefits. Lettuce Grow offers Plant Perks, a escaped purchaser reward programme wherever you accrue points toward accessories and plants by…buying accessories and plants. Gardyn has a $30–$40/month rank programme that includes credits for caller plants, discounts, arsenic good arsenic entree to an AI adjunct named Kelby who tin analyse your tower, springiness you advice, and support an oculus connected your plants erstwhile you crook connected thing called “vacation mode,” which promises to someway neither termination nor turn your plants, but to magically support them successful a benignant of stasis, awaiting your return.
A large spot to look for feedback connected the towers are Facebook groups dedicated to each of them; these are tally by customers, alternatively than the companies themselves. (In the institution sponsored groups, captious comments look to routinely disappear.)
While Kelby seems to beryllium portion of the selling bundle for newbie gardeners who deficiency confidence, it seems wrong a twelvemonth astir Gardyn devotees similar to crook the AI disconnected and spell it connected their own. Vacation Mode seems to simply trim the clip the growlights are connected and the magnitude of nutrients they are being fed, and a remark successful the forums suggests it mightiness not beryllium worthy the monthly cost:
“I precocious had an unexpected 3 week infirmary stay. I person 2 Gardyns. One has a membership, 1 doesn’t. On time 2, 1 of them went connected abrogation mode, the different was connected mean mode. After 2 weeks some units were debased connected h2o and I had idiosyncratic spell successful and conscionable capable with h2o (I didn’t person them adhd food). At 3 weeks erstwhile I got home, they were successful the same, overgrown, immoderate things dormant condition.” -Facebook user
The outgo of electricity, nutrients, plants, and accessories adds up
While the electrical costs are amazingly debased for a instrumentality moving 24/7—I estimated $10 a period for 1 tower—that’s important if cost-savings are your goal. Moreover, the vigor coming disconnected of the towers was much aggravated than I expected. It drew capable energy that I couldn’t tally my abstraction heater and operation connected the aforesaid circuit, which would person been good if it was lukewarm enough, but it wasn’t. I had to relocate the operation to my office.
As with astir immoderate gadget, the existent wealth isn’t successful the happening itself, but successful the worldly that work the thing. With hydroponics, the wealth is successful the nutrients, parts, and plants, specifically.
Your vessel needs nutrients, and though your vessel comes with immoderate to start, you’ll request much successful time. You’ll besides request the plants themselves, and if you bargain them done either company, they’re rather expensive—about $4 apiece, positive shipping, and according to lawsuit feedback, it’s a tossup whether you’ll beryllium blessed with the information the plants are successful upon arrival.
An full ecosystem of company-produced and Etsy-sourced accessories has besides evolved, due to the fact that portion you should lone turn “patio” plants that are cultivated for planters oregon pots, you’ll inactive request to supply them with enactment arsenic they turn retired of the small pods.
In short, beyond the archetypal investment, you’re successful for astatine slightest a fewer 100 dollars each twelvemonth unless you’re a confident, savvy gardener who knows however to root things connected the aftermarket. I grew my ain starts utilizing my ain system, truthful I skipped the plants, and the seeds, and the seedling accessories. I besides was capable to find my ain rockwool, nutrients, and PH tools connected Amazon for acold less, and I utilized a communal DIY hack for the LettuceGrow turn lights that saved maine hundreds of dollars. Are you up for each of that?
You person to interest astir upkeep too
On immoderate fixed day, Facebook forums for some towers are inundated with posts astir pests. As a seasoned gardener, I expect this, due to the fact that anytime you person lasting h2o and plants, you’ll person pests, but it seems to astonishment a batch of caller gardeners. From thrips, to aphids, to effect flies, to ants, you’re apt to yet brushwood immoderate kind(s) of critters, and should beryllium prepared with solutions: Neem Oil, mosquito dunks, hydrogen peroxide, oregon the atomic option: the full reset.
Although the income bundle for each of these towers aligns with the “set it and hide it” mentality, there’s really a batch much to it. You’ll request to trial your h2o and nutrients weekly, marque manual adjustments for PH, works circumstantial nutrients, trellis immoderate plants that request it, and guarantee each plants person entree to light.
Before I got started, I enjoyed the thought that dissimilar outdoor gardening, wherever astir clip is spent increasing and lone a constricted clip is spent harvesting, indoors I mightiness bask a much year-round harvest, replacing plants successful succession arsenic needed. What really happens is that you inactive walk tons of clip growing, a constricted magnitude of clip harvesting, and you can’t truly succession works due to the fact that successful betwixt “seasons,” you’ll request to bash the dreaded “full reset,” which means emptying everything, scrubbing it out, and ensuring it’s cleanable earlier you commencement again. This is not hard, but is cumbersome, time-consuming, and annoying.
As with immoderate system, determination are ever going to beryllium occasional issues, similar clogged pumps, powerfulness outages, etc. One crushed for clogged pumps is that the roots of immoderate plants go truly cumbersome and request trimming for the pump to relation well. It’s each a lot.
Consider, too, the dangers (and annoyances)
I was amazed by however galore posts I saw astir Lettuce Grow airy rings burning out. Not going dead, but actually burning.
Lower airy ringing connector and powerfulness proviso connector fried. We were home. Lights went out, woman smelled burnt plastic. I knew it was a junk plan arsenic an electrician but I figured what the heck, it’s connected a gfci. Wrong. The mode the powerfulness proviso is built, it won’t needfully popular a gfci outlet. -Facebook User
Not to beryllium outdone, Gardyn has immoderate akin issues—namely that the lid of their instrumentality that houses the pump and electrical strategy and has a inclination to get bedewed and dice conscionable extracurricular warranty. The lid is $100, truthful it’s an costly portion to replace.
The LettuceGrow seems to beryllium much modular, truthful its easier to regenerate parts arsenic needed oregon adhd on. The Gardyn is simply a singular unit, and harder to hole connected your own. Also, Gardyn runs connected wifi, which means that if your wifi goes down, nary watering volition instrumentality place.
Neither institution gets precocious marks for lawsuit service, with customers repeatedly noting successful the forums however hard it is to get assistance erstwhile they acquisition problems.
Also worthy considering: You’ll truly person to bask a changeless dependable of moving h2o successful your home. Kept successful different room, it was little noisy, but I didn’t bask it during the Zoom play of 2021.
Lastly, portion I expected the systems would beryllium big, I intelligibly did not truly deliberation astir how big, peculiarly erstwhile they were filled with plants. Their respective footprints are thing you’ll request to enactment around, and they lone look arsenic advertised (pleasingly but not overwhelmingly spilling implicit with greenery) for a abbreviated time, portion plants are young. In reality, they much often look overgrown oregon empty.
So are hydroponic towers worthy it?
I lasted 12 months with my towers earlier I decided to DIY it instead. I didn’t bask my dependency connected the companies oregon the bulkiness of either system. That said, yet astir radical bash look to inactive bask having their towers, careless of which institution they went with. When asked, astir members had gone beyond their archetypal acquisition and picked up aggregate towers. One idiosyncratic had 10 moving astatine once. Strawberries forever!
There is nary uncertainty that commercialized systems similar Lettuce Grow and Gardyn are aesthetically much pleasing than my DIY setup (remember erstwhile I described them arsenic “absurd-looking location laboratories”?). If appearances are a priority, it would marque consciousness to put successful them arsenic furniture, alternatively than arsenic a viable strategy for redeeming wealth portion increasing food.
There’s a batch to similar astir hydroponics, contempt the workload. The plants are overmuch cleaner, due to the fact that they don’t turn successful dirt. The turn rhythm seems to beryllium overmuch faster, due to the fact that of the perfect conditions created by the turn lights and nutrients. It doesn’t substance what the upwind is similar outside; truthful agelong arsenic the powerfulness stays on, you tin so turn wrong each the twelvemonth long.
It’s conscionable going to outgo you.