Let me be brutally honest. I didn’t believe in smart gardens. I’d seen another brand (Aerogarden) evolve in ads and in local stores over the years and didn’t think much of their product. It is cute as a button, true enough, but it’s just so expensive for such a small growing space, I thought. It’s sort of like eye candy: all glitter, but no substance.
And so I’ve been telling people over the years. In this blog, but also in newspaper and magazine articles, on the radio and TV and in lectures. I’ve been saying they’re a waste of money. You could do just as well with a small light garden: an ordinary fluorescent or LED lamp hung over a few pots. Throw in a few seeds, water a bit, and you’ll get results just as great if not better at a 10th of the cost.
Therefore, when a company I didn’t know, Click and Grow, contacted me and offered to send me a sample smart garden in return for an article, I was taken aback. Of course, I was dying to experiment (I mean, what is gardening if not a long series of experiments? I love experimenting!), but I was definitely hesitant.
Plus, they offered me a commission on any Click and Grow gardens sold through my website. Commission? That’s like … money, right? And since I struggle daily to keep this blog afloat, and put in 40-hour plus workweeks for zero pay … well, of course I could use money! But if I told everyone what I really thought about these gardens, they wouldn’t buy the gardens and I wouldn’t get a commission! Bummer!
So, I wrote back to them. And we corresponded a bit. Still, I wasn’t sure.
And then I had an idea. What if it was to be Marie’s garden?
Marie is my wife. She doesn’t garden. She never has. She’s never had to. I was always there to garden for her. But I’m dying. (I have no intention of getting into that here, but that happens to be the case.) Where will she get fresh vegetables and herbs for her kitchen in the future? This might be something she’d be interested in.
Easy… In the Eye of a Gardener
In the past, I’d often told her how easy it is to grow leafy greens and baby herbs under lights. And it would be so simple for her to do as well. Just fill a few pots with soil, I’d begin to explain …
Then her eyes would glaze over. It would appear that, to her, filling a few pots with soil and pushing seeds into it is complicated, not easy. If you just say the word soil, her answer is always going to be no. No way would she do that. Not a chance!
So, I got her to look at the Click and Grow smart garden on my computer screen.
Now, Marie’s more stylistically inclined than me. That modern, sleek, European-looking plant container with the overhanging lamp was pleasing to her from the start. And I explained there was no soil she had to manipulate. (She mentally associates soil with dirt, as if it meant that “plant in the pot is going to my make my living space dirty.”)
Instead, there is sealed cup you just drop in. There is no soil that can escape and go wandering around.
But she wanted reassurance.
Marie: ‘Will this work on its own?’
Me: ‘Almost. Just plug it in and add water.’
Marie: ‘How often do I add water?’
Me: ‘It will tell you when it needs more.’
Marie: ‘Will this fit onto my kitchen counter?’
Me: ‘Yes.’ (Actually, it ended up somewhere else.)
Marie: ‘And it won’t cost us anything?’
Me: ‘No. And they’ll even send the first selection of pods. For free!’
And then, to my great surprise, she said: ‘Yes. But only on one condition. I want these to be my vegetables! I want to learn to do it all by myself.’
It’s really very simple, as this illustration explains.
Everything is automated. You just have to drop a pod containing soil and seeds into the top of the tank, add water and plug it in. The light will automatically run 16 hours a day. When water level is low, the floater drops, telling you it’s time to add more. Water directly from the tap is fine. Then, just harvest as needed!
It took no time to work this out. Within two weeks, Marie’s smart garden had arrived. She opened the box and set it up herself. Marie didn’t ask for my help and she didn’t need it. She chose her pods (little pre-seeded containers of soil and seeds). Dropped them in. Added the water. (You never have to fertilize: there enough minerals in a pod for the life span of the plant. And most plants are fast-growing annuals, ready to harvest in just a few months.)
Over the next few months, she asked me a few questions. And I (mostly) said “get out the guide (a little brochure entitled Welcome to your Smart Garden 9)” or “look online. You wanted to do this on your own.”
When Plants Start to Grow
And little plants soon started to pop up. I’m used to that sort of thing, but Marie was so excited. But also unsure of herself. What was taking the parsley so long? Is it dead? (I did tell her that if it’s green, it’s not dead, then suggested she read the guide about parsley. It read ‘Parsley grows a bit slowly at the beginning but once it gets going it will quickly produce a lot of leaves.’ Bingo!
It turns out she’s not good at looking things up. When the tomato plant finally bloomed, and that took a while, I prodded her.
Me: ‘Did it say anything special about tomato plants?’
Me: ‘Are you sure?’
But I kept staring at her with what she calls my ‘professorial look.’ So, rolling her eyes, she went and checked it out. Marie: “Oh,” she said as she came back, “you’re supposed to shake the flowers to pollinate them.”
Me: “I thought it might say that!” (So, I did help her with her tomatoes at least!)
Really Easy to Grow
Marie didn’t have a lot of questions for me, though, since the plants were all really easy to grow. She was soon caring for her little plants as if she’d been gardening all her life. Watering and harvesting: and then replacing when their time was up. That was pretty much all she had to do. And she was nailing it!
A Subject of Conversation
What I wasn’t expecting is that the smart garden would be such a subject of conservation.
Marie put photos on Facebook. Anyone who came over was immediately dragged off to see “her garden.” She has long conservations over the phone with her sister and cousins about it. Marie has become a bit of a star in her family for her Click and Grow knowledge, sharing her advice. (She’s on her second crop at the moment, so knows a thing or two!)
She’d be much better at promoting Click and Grow Smart Pots than I would!
I rarely interview Marie. I mean, how often do you interview your own wife? So this was rather awkward.
What were her favorite plants?
While, there are 75 pod varieties, apparently, and Marie’s only into about one and a half harvests. But so far, here’s what she finds:
- Lettuce, for sure. It’s one of the fastest and produces lots of leaves. Both times, they’ve looked good and healthy. Of course, when it gets bitter, as lettuce does after a few weeks, you have to start some more. She loved being able to harvest a leaf or two whenever she wanted, for a salad, a soup, or a sandwich. She’s looking forward to growing it this winter too, as there will be no more lettuce in the garden and store-bought lettuce becomes so expensive at that season.
- Parsley. Slow off the mark, yes, but it makes a dense plant, very attractive, and lasts a long time. And it’s just so handy having fresh sprigs of parsley always at the ready.
- Basil. Marie finds basil fast growing and prolific. And she likes having fresh basil on hand at all times. (At least, that’s what she said during the interview. What she had apparently forgotten was that she had complained to me about the first generation of basil, which she found far too slow. But it had been very cool at the time and I know from years of outdoor experience that basil doesn’t like cool temperatures. Her interview comment was clearly about her second and current planting of basil, started at the height of summer, when it had received the heat it so loves. I’m beginning to realize that Marie is very much an “in-the-moment” gardener and certainly not a methodic note taker.)
- Peppermint. A bit slow starting, but it carries on and on. It’s the longest lasting so far: she’s still harvesting from her first sowing 12 weeks ago, while she’s had to start all the others fresh. Just cutting mint back keeps it short enough to fit under the lamp. She feels it has a milder taste than garden-grown peppermint, so it’s easier to use in cooking.
Which plants didn’t Marie like?
- Pak choy. She can’t explain why. Too small, maybe, or not enough for a decent harvest. I however recall her telling me at the time she didn’t think it tasted the way it should. She won’t be growing it again.
Which plants were “so-so”?
- Swiss Chard. She would have liked to see the leaves grow to their full length and color, but she couldn’t resist harvesting them when they were still young. So, this wasn’t the plants’ fault. Still, they’re easy to grow and do taste good! She’s hoping to learn to control her impulses in the future!
- Tomato. She thought the tiny plants were incredibly cute. And she thinks growing them is fun! But, honestly, it didn’t produce many fruits! She wasn’t sure how many. Maybe 4. (My comment: don’t ask me! I didn’t even get to taste one!)
Right now, Marie is experimenting with flowers. She ordered more pods of them … and they got here practically overnight. (Service with Click and Grow, she says, is wonderful.) They’re coming along fast, but aren’t yet in bloom.
As for me, I’m enjoying her experiments as much as she is.
You go, girl!
I’m fascinated by the itsy-bitsy tomato plant too. No cultivar name is given, but it’s so small! A determinate variety, it forms a near ball of tiny, very dark green leaves, with a few red cherry tomatoes at the top. Someone should market this to high-end restaurants to put on tables as an individual pick-it-yourself tomato plant. That just strikes me as being such a cool idea!
So, what does Marie think of her experience?
She’s enjoying it and intends to keep on growing vegetables and especially herbs this way.
And so ended the interview. I moved off to do something else.
After the Interview
But then she came back to me and added. ‘But I think you should tell people that it’s too expensive. I mean, we were really privileged to have received this kit and all those pods at no cost. If it’s worth about $300 (about what our kit would have cost had we paid for it.), how would that work for a family? As it is, it barely produces enough for a snack here and there for two, so for a family with kids, perhaps in an area where electricity is more expensive… (It’s very cheap where we live.) Well, it wouldn’t make sense financially, would it?’
No, it wouldn’t.
Oh dear, there go my commissions!