Please note: this information was current as of September 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.
Billed as the world’s first self-contained indoor garden appliance, Aerogarden promises dirt-free and virtually set-and-forget produce. The makers claim its ‘NASA-tested aeroponic’ technology’ produces faster, healthier and more nutritious plants, year-round. But as CHOICE found, high-tech isn’t low-cost.
The Aerogarden counter-top unit holds seven special seed pods at a time and uses two ‘daylight’ compact fluorescent “grow bulbs”. The idea is that you just add the pre-seeded pods, organic nutrient tablets and water, then turn it on and watch your plants sprout and grow.
The ‘smart’ part of the system is how it adjusts nutrient levels and water flow for optimum growth and indicates when to add more. The timed lamps run about 16 hours a day, depending on plant type, but it’s claimed the whole system consumes less than a 60 W light bulb. The lamp hood can be raised progressively to accommodate the growing garden.
There’s a limited selection of herbs, salad greens, cherry tomatoes, chilli peppers and flowers available in readymade pod packs, or a do-it-yourself kit for other seed types.
At what cost?
So, what is the cost of ‘smart’ gardening? Rounded up, the standard Aerogarden (including herb pods, nutrients and grow bulbs) set us back $250 (plus $30 P&H). Extra pod sets are $30, again plus $5 P&H — but the postage cost is the same per set even if you order multiples. Replacing the grow bulb twin-pack at the recommended six months, costs $20 plus $10 P&H because they’re only available by phone order locally.
So, in the first year, that’s $280 for the unit and $30 for extra bulbs, plus whatever additional seeds you want at $35 a kit. Somehow, unless money’s no object, ‘smart’ gardening doesn’t seem quite so smart anymore.
The Aerogarden makes a trendy talking point and it’s convenient, but a run-of-the-mill readymade indoor herb garden kit is about a tenth the cost. But if you want a small, clean, funky, high-tech indoor garden all year round, it’s the only game in town.