I have the blackest thumbs.
Everything I plant has a limited lifespan. In short, however long it takes to use up the fertilizer that is in the soil in which it has germinated. And don’t get me started on fruits and vegetables. I can, in a fit of manic interest, dig a half-hearted plot and scatter some seeds, but if they can’t make it on their own, those emergent plants have no chance of survival.
I’m telling you this because I’m not the person who should be judging a hydroponic garden setup. It should be someone crying as he tucks in his garden beds for the cold winter. Who spend the dark months choosing seeds and planning plots. Who love gardening so much that they can hardly tolerate the times of the year when they don’t grow anything.
But hey…I’ve spent most of the past few weeks tending to two blooming indoor gardens. I haven’t had to buy (and ignore) a pack of mixed greens at the supermarket in weeks. I’m thinking about what I’ll use my fresh tomatoes and jalapenos for in December.
Against my weed-killing nature, I became a gardener. All it took was a lot of technology.
Gardyn and Auk enter
As summer came to a close, Gardyn and Auk, creators of two very different hydroponic gardens, reached out and wanted me to try out their latest hardware.
Gardyn Home Kit 3.0 is a sizable three-tower hydroponic garden that uses an integrated pump to provide water and plant food for up to 30 plants at a time. With two integrated grow lights and cameras, you use a connected app and a helpful AI assistant to keep your little ecosystem running and your plants happy.
Auk is a much smaller affair, with six containers that you fill with soil and seeds. The trick here is that Auk does the feeding and watering for you, based on what you’ve identified as growing in your garden, using a full spectrum light to give your sprouts the best chance.
Two very different approaches, each with their own limitations, but both will reward you in the same way.
…with more basil than you know what to do with.
To set up
Setting up the Gardyn is a process. That’s not it difficult but it is bulky, with vertical columns and lights and the water tank and stabilizer straps. You quickly get the impression (probably upon unboxing) that this is a serious piece of hardware. It is also a whole Nice piece of hardware, with wood accents and clean lines. You won’t mind keeping it somewhere to show it off…but keep in mind that the full spectrum light bars are bright.
The most crucial part (and the part I glossed over) is researching your plants in the Gardyn app so you can place the pre-planted Ycubes in spots on the towers where they will be most successful (and the plants won’t to block). their neighbors). The app has a virtual assistant, Kelby, that monitors your water levels and plant growth (more on that later). But the Garden Book is perhaps even more important.
The Garden Book section of the app contains a ton of information, not just limited to care and harvesting tips, but also the uses and history of the plant itself. My only wish is that you could bookmark the plants you are currently growing in your Gardyn. Especially if you have a wide variety, the number of plants the company has available makes it difficult to just hop around and read them all.
Auk has a much simpler process. Once you’ve assembled the hardware, plant your seeds (they don’t come pre-planted like Gardyn’s Ycubes), fill the reservoir with water, and place your plant chip on the reader. This small RFID chip tells Auk what is being grown and the device makes the necessary adjustments: watering and adding plant food if necessary.
There’s no app to help you, so you need to know a little about what you’re planting so you don’t have a situation where your parsley takes over your garden and blocks the light from the full spectrum light bar. The nice thing is that you can plant whatever you want.
Waiting is the hardest part
Once your hydroponic gardens are established and working well, it’s time to get established. Most plants have a germination period of 5-10 days before you see the first sprout. This can be frustrating, but it also gives you time to review the extensive plant notes in the Gardyn app.
But once things take off? You will be rewarded with more produce, herbs and vegetables than you know what to do with. Gardyn’s Kelby Assistant will guide you in pruning back new growth so that your Ycubes do not become overcrowded. Kelby also does other things behind the scenes and adjusts your watering and light schedule for optimal growth. If you go on vacation, it can even slow growth for up to two weeks (a neat trick that will ensure you don’t end up with a dead garden again).
Auk does not have the app or assistant that Gardyn does, but still delivers impressive results. All you have to do is close the water reservoir tightly and keep the plant food containers full. You will also have to harvest a lot. Because Auk recommends germinating dozens of seeds at the same time, you are looking at a record harvest.
As for ongoing care…ultimately Alk requires you to retire your plants and grow new ones, but that’s as simple as refilling the trays with new planting medium, dropping seeds and placing the correct chip on the reader (Alk has a tomato and chili chip in addition to the herb and salad chip). Depending on what you are growing, you may also need larger plugs for the light bar.
My problem with the Gardyn system is that it is expensive to go all in. “But wait,” you say, “I already spent $900 on an AI-powered hydroponic gardening system and plants, isn’t that enough?” Yes and no. Gardyn’s basic hardware does everything you expect, but the plants themselves can be unpredictable. Sometimes your Ycubes don’t all germinate at the same time. When that happens, you have a choice between adding plant foods that kill your still-germinating plants, or starving the fast-growing plants of the food they need to continue developing.
The solution? An $80 Ycube ‘nursery’, which gives your slow swimmers the time they need to catch up while you add plant food to the system. It’s a great solution, but it shouldn’t be an addition, especially given the fickle nature of gardening.
Then there is pump and tank maintenance. You will need to clean the tank regularly to prevent unwanted bacterial growth, which means breaking down your system and washing it carefully. Or you can just pour in some Hydroboost, a $49 add-on that takes care of everything for you. Again, it’s something that’s necessary for your Gardyn to function properly and produce healthy plants, so why does Gardyn make you pay for it?
The nickel-and-diming would make more sense to me if Gardyn didn’t have a subscription model… but it does. They charge members $40 per month, but the credits provided are only good for additional plants, not accessories and maintenance items. It’s a confusing restriction.
And accessories are plentiful. There are trellises for vine plants, different colors of Ycubes, a rolling platform for your entire Gardyn, the list goes on. No matter how much you initially spend on purchasing Gardyn, you can easily spend as much (or more) on accessories and additional hardware.
Which one to get?
Gardyn is obviously the high-budget solution if you want to grow a versatile harvest of plants, vegetables and even flowers. They have an extensive catalog of plants to choose from and plenty of accessories to turn your Gardyn into pretty much anything you want. The Kelby AI assistant is also quite helpful and keeps you informed of what needs to be done regularly (much appreciated for forgetful gardeners like me).
The Gardyn Home Kit 3.0 is currently $719 for Black Friday (usually $999) and comes with 30 plants and plant food to get you started. You’ll also want to throw some Hydroboost and a plant nursery in your cart.
Auk is for those who don’t have an extra 60 cm of floor space, or just want something quieter for their countertop. Although it is less complex and not as versatile as Gardyn, it is still quite capable and you can use lettuce, herbs, tomatoes and chili peppers all winter long. It costs $259 for Black Friday (usually $369).