How to pick the best indoor growing system for your needs

I constantly nag readers to set up some sort of light system so they can take care of houseplants during the long winter and perhaps plant some garden items. There are lots of choices, but none have had more impact in getting Alaskans to light up than those kitchen indoor herb gardens.

These lighting systems are all-inclusive and designed to grow herbs and even sometimes even flowers and tomatoes on a kitchen counter or a windowsill. Most readers are familiar with the Aerogarden Harvest model.

The Aerogarden is a shoe box-size, hydroponic system with a built-in light and a timer that enables you to grow herbs and even strawberries if you purchase the right pod and nutrient. Fill it up with water, toss in the nutrient mix and herb away.

Steve Jobs got upset when the iPhone design was copied. I imagine the inventor of the Aerogarden feels the same way. The Aerogarden is still on the market today, improved and with a number of different versions, but there are now also at least a dozen imitations, each with its own gimmicks worthy of consideration.

First, the improvements to the Aerogarden include the ability to raise the lamp as the plants grow, so you can now do tomatoes and flowers. The lights are better so plants grow faster. You can also now buy empty pods and add your own seeds. It is still the system against which the others are measured.

Spend some time on the internet studying these indoor gardens. There are several. In no particular order, start with the idoo Indoor Garden Kit. It has a bigger base than the Aerogarden and holds twice as many pods which may or may not be an advantage. It comes in different colors, too.

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Listen to the “Teaming with Microbes” podcast with Jeff Lowenfels and Jonathan White

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The Inbloom Hydroponics system also comes in different colors — must be a demand — and has adjustable lights as far as height. It looks sort of like the Aerogarden, but the lights adjust for the type of plant, as well, i.e., flowers or fruits and vegetables.

If you live alone, you might want a smaller system. These indoor set-ups can really grow plants faster than you expect and maybe faster than you can keep up with. What distinguishes this Click and Grow model is that it has a three pods system. It is a cutie, too with extensions that can be added to raise the built-in light.

The Gardyn Home Kit can grow a whopping 30 plants. It is also pretty expensive, but what wouldn’t be with a built-in camera that allows you to monitor progress of your plants while you bask in the sun on some beach somewhere? Want something smaller, 20 plants? Try the Lettuce Grow.

The ingarden system does not have a light, but it is pretty neat. You buy pre-planted pads and lay them down in the ceramic tray. There are pads for arugula, radish, mustard, kale and more. The yields look very impressive.

Of course, none of these are really necessary if you have your own lights and timer. That is all you really need. Even if you don’t you can grow sprouts using a simple Ball jar. You buy sprouting seeds, soak them and grow inside the jar or you can poke a hole in the cover and have roots grow into water in the jar.

Growing your own indoor herbs, vegetables and even flowers makes a lot of sense when you have nine months to do it.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar:

Alaska Botanical Garden: Join. Check out the dates for the ABG light display and sign up for a workshop,

Amaryllis: They are for sale locally. Buy as many as you can. Nothing flowers easier and with showier flowers. Get an amaryllis bulb or three. You can take out bulbs you already have if they have been in cool, dark storage for eight weeks.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.