I’ve always loved the idea of growing my own fruit and veg. And when I moved into my house there was an old Koi pond the previous owners had turned into a vegetable patch.
Great, I thought, I’ll fill it to the Gunnells with a seasonal bounty, slash my supermarket bills, and live off the land. It didn’t quite go to plan.
Apart from a few wonky courgettes and some surprise potatoes I’d completely forgotten about, my ambitious plan to embrace the good life ended up sustaining little more than a few slugs and caterpillars.
The urge to cultivate, harvest, and devour the fruits of my labour has never left me though, so imagine my delight when I stumbled upon the latest range of home hydroponics equipment. It varies from maddeningly expensive to barely functional, but an innovative company called Click and Grow seems to have hit the sweet spot.
By taking the basic ethos of hydroponics, essentially a way to cleanly and reliably grow plants indoors, and distilling it into a counter-top device I’d happily refer to as a “gadget”, Click and Grow has created a tech-lover’s wet dream. An indoor garden that produces a bounty of food with barely any effort.
So here’s how it works… The device itself sits on a large well of water, and the included “pods” contain the seeds and nutrients required to nurse a new plant into life.
Whether it’s lettuce or chillis, each pod draws just the right amount of water from the well below and then draws just the right amount of UV light from the LEDs above it to replicate a natural growing condition.
Only, it’s even better than that. Because the device is designed to replicate the absolutely ideal growing conditions – something us in Blighty could never hope for – your produce grows quite rapidly.
I’ve been testing one of the larger indoor gardens in the Click and Grow range, the Smart Garden 9, and it comes with nine pods – three with lettuce in, three with mini tomatoes, and three with basil.
I started it off in November; it’s now January and I’ve been gorging on greens for weeks. My tomatoes haven’t fruited yet, but looking at the flowers it’s produced, I think I’m in for a bumper crop.
So it works, and it works really, really well. And the best bit is it needs minimal input. The lights work on a timer, the water container holds enough liquid to keep it refreshed for several weeks, and the biggest job you’ll have to do is keep harvesting regularly.
Downsides? Perhaps one or two. The indoor gardens aren’t cheap. The smallest one, which holds three pods, starts at £120. My Smart Garden 9 costs £195 – and you can actually spend lots more if you want bigger harvests.
The pods vary a bit in price, with three-packs starting at £8.95. But the variety of plants you can grow is immense. And do look out for the occasional special offer. I had a field day buying new pods around Black Friday, and if you sign up to the Click and Grow email list you’ll get further discounts from time to time.
Another slight downside is that the lights on the garden are incredibly bright. I did think, before it arrived, I might have put it on my desk. But the LEDs would have been too obtrusive. It’s happy in my utility room though. And it actually saves us putting the main light on when we pop in for drinks, or to tend to our crops.
I also had one duff pod. One of my lettuce plants failed to get off the blocks. I wasn’t too worried though, as I had some kale seeds left from a botched attempt at outdoor growing, so I just popped a few in and I’ve now got another supermarket staple on tap.
Using the indoor garden really is as easy as it sounds, and there’s plenty of video guides to help, along with a busy social media community of fellow owners, but Click and Grow also offers a free app, which updates you regularly on what stage your plants should be at, and what you should be doing to keep them at their best.
So I’ve become a bit of an indoor garden geek. I can’t wait to get my Rainbow Chard pods clicked in, and I think they’ll succeed the lettuce because that’s the only crop that’s looking a bit tired, even after nearly three months and plenty of delicious sandwiches.
And there’s a sustainability argument to growing indoors too. The LED lights take up very little energy and you can imagine a whole nation using these in their houses and apartments, even schools and colleges. Scale it all up and huge indoor “farms” could produce much of what we buy in the supermarkets. How exciting.
Glossing over the fact the packaging for the Click and Grow pods are made of plastic, hydroponics are a wonderful thing, so to have a miniature interpretation of this technology in our kitchens is marvellous.
I might well have another stab at outdoor growing this spring. I might even have a bit more success with some of my green crops. But nothing I grow outdoors will be quite as quick and easy – not to mention clean – as the indoor crops I delight in watching blossom in the Click and Grow. It’s a wonderful addition to any household.