Supermarket greens are rarely as tasty as the ones you grow in your garden, which is why a new crop of products looks to offer city dwellers a zero-mile diet by letting them raise their own greens indoors, year-round.
This hydroponic system, championed by Martha Stewart and New York restaurateur David Bouley, helps you grow micro-green versions of kale and broccoli, along with basil, arugula, wheat grass and lettuce. The appliance, available at stores such as Bay Cities Kitchens and Appliances, South Bay Appliances and selected Snyder Diamond stores, hooks up to your power and plumbing. The design is similar to that of most dishwashers. Pre-programmed settings control water, indoor lighting and temperature. Your job is to add organic fertilizer once a week. Beverly Hills juicer Liquid Nutrition uses a commercial version about the size of a refrigerator for its beverages. The residential version starts at $2,499. "This can take as much as $100 out of your [monthly] food budget," says founder and inventor Tarren Wolfe. "Can a wine cooler do that?"
If plumbing is an issue, Miracle-Gro AeroGarden, a soil-free product like Urban Cultivator, can be an alternative. First launched in 2006, AeroGarden now offers nine models ranging from the AeroGarden 3SL (starting at $49.97) to the AeroGarden Ultra LED ($299.95). Models are as small as your toaster or as large as a microwave. AeroGardens, assembled in minutes without using tools, have a control panel that turns lights on and off and reminds owners to add its liquid nutrient packs, which contain no pesticides or herbicides. Each garden comes with a gourmet herb seed kit that contains Genovese basil, Thai basil, chives, cilantro, curly parsley, dill and mint to help hesitant "black thumbs" get started. Other seed pod kits sold by the company allow owners to nurture cherry tomatoes, heirloom lettuce and cascading petunias. AeroGardens are available at AeroGarden.com, Amazon.com, Costco.com, select Wal-Mart stores and Walmart.com.
Part fish tank, part garden, Aqualibrium ($499.99) consists of two stackable chambers that snap together. This creates a closed-loop system where waste-laden water moves from the fish tank below, up to the soil on the upper growing chamber, taking with it nutrients expelled by the resident fish and bottom feeders (available at your local pet store). Plant roots, in turn, become natural bio-filters, absorbing nutrients and cleaning the water for eventual return to the fish tank chamber below. The system was designed to make the fish tank self-cleaning and the garden self-watering and fertilizing. For the fish averse, co-founder Sam Rittenberg points out that the Aqualibrium can also be used like a regular hydroponic system if owners add supplements as they would with a regular garden.