Bill Clinton checking out a new Tower Garden. Photo from http://futuregrowing.wordpress.com/

Bill Clinton checking out a new Tower Garden. Photo from http://futuregrowing.wordpress.com/

Everyone wants to grow their own food now, evidenced by the harvest-selfie, a gardener’s equivalent to spiking the football, found all over social media. But growing your own can be a train-wreck for the casual gardener and too time-consuming for even the advanced gardener. The roadmap to success for any level food grower is the same: grow vertically, sub-irrigate, and provide consistent plant nutrition. Why not invest in a turn-key growing system that incorporates these principles and doesn’t require constant attention? These systems offer packages with everything you need — just add plants, sun, and water.

EarthBox   

Difficulty: Easy  

Why you should buy: Organic growing and tomatoes.

A pool-side EarthBox farm. Photo from amazingtomatoes.com.

A pool-side EarthBox farm. Photo from amazingtomatoes.com.

EarthBox works — people swear by it. When I was in the garden center business, customers would come in and ask for “EarthBox soil” or “the stuff to put in my EarthBox.” I would point them to the potting soil, granular fertilizer, and dolomitic lime (the contents of an EarthBox planting kit). Because it wasn’t the EarthBox-brand they trusted, I usually ended up with a disappointed customer. Many EarthBox loyalists will tell stories of the old days, when they couldn’t get one tomato out of the garden, and then… they found EarthBox and success. EarthBox does not need timers or pumps to keep things watered — it has a reservoir in the bottom of the container and uses capillary action to move the water up as the plants need it. Packages start at around $30 and can be found in your local garden retailer, which is nice if you want a demo before you buy. If you get the trellising system accessory (and you should), you are going to add another $30 – $40 to the price. Out of the three systems, this one is the easiest to use. EarthBox is best for taller crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, but can also be used for leafy greens and smaller root crops (like beets).  

Tower Garden  

Difficulty: Intermediate  

Why you should buy: It’s the best looking system around. A super salad farm.

Tower Garden uses a growing technique called aeroponics — delivering the water and nutrition by constantly misting or raining on the roots of the plant. There is no growing medium (soil) used at all. Aeroponic systems use less water and reach harvest quicker than growing in the soil. Standing 5-feet tall, Tower Garden takes all of the needed technology for aeroponics and puts it into a clean, contemporary-looking tower. You just add the nutrients and water and plug it in. The degree of difficulty is a bit higher than EarthBox, due to the pH management that is required. Power outages are another concern when using an aeroponic system. Because the Tower Garden relies on a pump, and there is no growing medium to hold water, it can be curtains for your crop if the power is out for long. Tower Garden looks really cool, and can be moved around easily if you get the dolly accessory. A new Tower Garden, with a 20 plant capacity, is going to run you $500 before accessories. The best crops for Tower Garden: Leafy greens, strawberries, and herbs. If you are only interested in greens and herbs, the vertical Tower Garden can grow a lot more, in less space than EarthBox. Vine crops like cucumbers and tomatoes can be grown in the system, but root crops are out. Check out the video below on the Tower Garden aeroponic technology.

Photo from sassakala.com

Verti-Gro VG-1. Photo from sassakala.com

Verti-Gro

Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced  

Why you should buy: Customizable, very affordable vertical system.

Verti-Gro is a hydroponic vertical stack system. The easiest model to use is the VG-1, consisting of four high-density styrofoam pots stacked on top of a reservoir tank. Each pot is filled with coco-coir and holds 4 plants. The water and nutrition is pumped to the top pot of the stack and leaches down to the bottom pot. It’s not as sexy as Tower Garden, but it can grow almost the same number of plants (16 instead of 20) for about half of the price. The higher degree of difficulty in using Verti-Gro, stems mainly from the poor website. It can be difficult to find what you’re looking for, and finalizing your purchase sometimes requires a phone call. The VG-1 sells for around $250. The best crops for the VG-1: leafy greens, strawberries, and herbs. If you’re handy, you might want to try one of the other Verti-Gro models that will allow for growing more crops like peppers, broccoli, and carrots.