Time to Compare and Contrast
Many posts back, I said that rating the various hydroponic gardening systems would be one of my projects. Not a plan, mind you, a project. I suppose it's time I addressed that.
First of all, there are many, many styles and models from many manufacturers, not to mention all the DIY methods where you buy grow lights and containers of some sort. I only have experience with four makes and five models. As a rating system, this leaves much to be desired. Moreover, there are after-market items that improve the experiences.
I'll start with the QYO 12-pod system. My hydro-farming began in January with one QYO and one Click & Grow Smart Garden-3. Note the link - it goes to a review with pictures. There are also reviews on Amazon. I note the current price there is $79.99 USD.
There is a level gage/float to let you know when to add water
It uses a quiet pump
It comes with those white "straws" you see in the photo, to support tall plants
The staggered arrangement of the pods allows for a (slightly) smaller footprint
It has the highest extension of the lighting deck of any units I've owned.
The level gage doesn't always work without tapping or jiggling
The pods are square instead of round. Nobody sells caps for the square holes - you have to put tinfoil over an unused basket to keep out air and inhibit algae growth.
The tiny fill port is inconveniently placed. I just lifted a basket blocking an unused pod and filled through there. All those cactuses are iDOO pod covers in square QYO pods
The plant labels are too flimsy - the sign is an iDOO sign.
Ultimately, the cons annoyed me beyond my desire to endure. I traded two QYO units for 1 iDOO unit and called it even.
At the same time I was using the QYO, I was using - and expanding - the footprint of the Click & Grow Smart Garden-3. The SG-3 has three proprietary pods There are no pumps - this seems to be the Kratky method of hydroponic gardening. The point of the Click & Grow systems is that once you set it up, you just add water I have successfully grown chili peppers, purple chili peppers, red bok choi, yellow mini-tomatoes, and more basil than I would ever use. The unit comes with three (Genovese) basil sponges, and basil is just a flavorful weed. It grows like Kudzu. At this point, I would make the counter-claim that Kudzu grows like basil. Amazingly satisfying to have edible plants growing like that
As shown in the photo, I have five SG-3s. A later photo would show all the growing plants. An SG-3 can go for as high as $159 USD, but after the first, they were all under $100 USD. Sales and coupons. I've also gone on record to say that for less total cost, I would have bought two SG-9s and had 18 pods instead of 15, with about the same footprint (and three fewer electric cords competing for limited outlets).
They really are Click and Grow systems. Set up, add water, prune occasionally, harvest.
The height of the lights is extendable using inserts in the light post. So far, even the tomatoes fit under that height.
The nutrients are pre-packed in the "space-age sponges," the kind used in orbit according to Click & Grow. You can buy sponges and add your own seeds.
The float that tells you when to add water... leaks. It has a seem in the middle. If it fills too much, it sinks and tells you to add water. You can over-water and kill your plants. I've done it.
Not enough room to grow some plants, and some plants want to hog the lights.
NOT the cheapest system available, especially on a per-pod basis. Get the SG-9, not the SG-3.
There doesn't seem to be an Etsy aftermarket for accessories, and Click & Grow hasn't filled that niche.
iDOO 12Pods Indoor Herb Garden Kit
Two units, 24 pods. The level indication on this system is a transparent section in the middle that lets you see the water level. The unit on the right (Ethel) is full of lettuce of various types, and it is an excellent unit for lettuce and herbs. It comes with pod baskets, sponges, and covers. Replacement baskets and sponges and covers are readily available on-line. In the photo you can see two black covers and a white cover. The cactus covers are also an iDOO accessory and I have a bunch. The height of the lighting deck is extendable to over 20" high (it starts at 11".) It has a built-in fan to help with pollination. It has a pump for aeration and circulation of the water. $89.99 USD.
Twelve pods lets you grow a variety of plants. If you grow plants like peppers and tomatoes that spread out (a lot), there are enough pods to still grow something else while leaving the crowded pods covered.
Water level can be readily visible, although you may need a flashlight.
Replacements are readily available.
That viewing "glass" for level can get choked with roots, making it nearly impossible to see the level. I've been forced to use a dipstick instead. (bamboo skewer)
iDOO doesn't sell pre-seeded pods or sponges. You provide your own seeds, or you use AeroGarden pods.
iDOO comes with a two-part nutrient kit. Add pure water, shake to dissolve, use the measuring cup cap to dose the system. I use MiracleGro instead. It works just as well. Just shake before using.
That LED grow lamp is extremely bright. I had to think up a light-abatement protocol (shown,)
iDOO Upgraded 2 in 1 Hydroponics Growing System, 6 Pods Hydro Indoor Herb Garden with LED Grow Lights, Adjustable Height, Automatic Timer, Plants Germination Kit for Kitchen, Countertop, White
Ain't that a mouthfull! I just call it The Bucket. Of all my systems, this one is the biggest PITA when it comes to light abatement. My solution? That lampshade that can be raised and lowered as necessary. It has all the flaws of any iDOO unit, plus it lacks a window. But it does make a gorgeous lamp.
Señor El Bucket is currently drained and cleaned and unplugged, prepared to be replaced by an AeroGarden Harvest and a reservoir, which may also inherit the lampshade.
All the good things about iDOO except the window apply.
The system can be easily turned into a dirt farm with an irrigation tank.
All the cons about iDOO apply, plus no level indicator.
It's too bright, without that lampshade. I don't recommend it - unless you need a lamp on a timer, with plants.
The MiracleGro AeroGarden Harvest Hydroponic Gardening Unit
As shown in the photo, I have named the individual units Harvey, Harvey Too, and Seble. Teresa is still in FedEx's clutches. She will make four Harvests. Flanking the Harvests are AeroGarden AeroVoir reservoirs, which keep the Harvest water level at its optimum. The two barely visible are named Nancy and Shirley after water goddesses, and Anny is with Teresa in the great void of shipping. Each Harvest can accommodate six pods. AeroGarden has multiple styles to choose from, but I am not interested in the larger and much, much larger styles.
The Harvest has easily accessible controls on the front
The Harvest will give a visual alarm when the water level is too low.
The Harvest will show a visual reminder every two weeks to add nutrients.
The Harvest has a convenient port on the deck to permit checking water level and adding water when needed, and a Fill To Here post. No guesswork.
The Harvest lighting deck can be raised to 12", double its starting height.
The Harvest can host AeroGarden Seed Pods. Along with the Smart Gardens, these are the only units with pre-seeded pod kits available. Otherwise, it's "Seeds Not Included" and bring your own.
The Harvest has accessories, such as the AeroVoir water tank and siphoning system, plus pod covers and other items (sold separately, of course.) They also have wide coverage on Etsy. Such as the light abating Burka I bought for Seble.
The Harvest came with a six seed pod kit (heirloom herbs, I think) and the kits come with baskets, seeded sponges, covers, and domes, as well as MiracleGro AeroGarden Liquid Plant Food. Every kit comes with that. I have an entire drawer full of liquid plant food.
A Harvest model only has room for six plants. Every Harvest has a power supply that wants an electrical outlet.
The Harvest Light deck can only be raised to 12". Some plants grow lots taller.
AeroGarden will happily sell you seed pod kits that Harvests will not accommodate.
The level alarm doesn't always work. Check level visually, daily. Even if you use a reservoir.