Summer salads are soooooo delicious. Fresh flavors complement each other. I look forward to the combination of romaine, carrots, and diced bell peppers. Winter salads are another story.
The freshest answer to winter produce is to grow your own. My sister in law gave me an AeroGarden to grow my own lettuce and I love it! I grow my romaine indoors, winter salads taste good again.
I have found the perfect gift for your grandma.
If you’ve ever had a hard time buying grandma a gift, I have great news for you. An indoor gardening kit is an amazing gift for any grandmother who enjoys salad. The kits you can buy today are so easy to use.
Depending on the model, you can grow up to 24 heads of lettuce at once!
Leafy greens are incredibly good for bone health. Fresh vegetables are so much healthier than older heads shipped in from out of state. Buy your grandma an indoor veggie garden kit. It’s fun, healthy, and delicious.
Leafy green nutrition is amazingly good for us older women. They vitamins in watercress, chard, spinach, romaine, kale and arugula support bone and blood. A cup of romaine and 4,094 IU of Vitamin A and 64 mcg of foliate. A cup of kale has 19 mg of Vitamin C. A cup of swiss chard has 299 mcg of Vitamin K. There are 41 mg of calcium and 29 mg of potassium in swiss chard. (source)
Indoor gardens can grow a powerhouse of bone, brain, and blood supporting vegetables that are delicious because they’re so fresh.
Indoor Farming is the Holy Grail of Healthy Vegetables
The healthiest food is local, organic, and non-GMO.
Local food is healthier than food shipped in from elsewhere. Local food doesn’t lose its vitamins to the inevitable aging of shipped in vegetables. Fresher vegetables have more vitamins than older vegetables.
Organic food is healthier than non-organic because farmers don’t spray organic food with cancer-causing pesticides. Lettuce is my favorite salad vegetable. I buy only organic because lettuce is a pesticide soaker. It pulls pesticides into itself, and you can’t wash it off. It gets inside the fiber of the plant.
Non-GMO food is healthier than natural food. This is almost a religious point of view. So much bad science has cast doubt on the idea of non-GMO being bad. That science has a stake in getting the public to accept GMO food. But to give you just one example without writing a book on why I believe GMO’s are bad, take the case of the Monsanto vegetable strains.
Monsanto built their Round Up pest spray into the genetic structure of their vegetable seeds. Farmers do not have to spray plants because the structural core of the vegetables is Round Up. It is impossible to get rid of, impossible to wash off, and we eat Round Up DNA when we eat these GMO plants.
An indoor garden allows us to grow local plants, free of pesticides, and with non-GMO seeds. We can grow organic if we want to. I am happy just not having the pesticides in my food, so I haven’t bothered to take the extra step to grow organically indoors.
Indoor lettuce is also as local as “local food” is ever going to get. I can harvest lettuce and eat it 5 minutes later. It’s fresher than the farm-grown lettuce I can buy down the street. As much as I would like to support my local farmer, they sell non-organic lettuce, meaning it has pesticides in it. My indoor fresher and healthier than even that lettuce I could buy from a farm a mile away from me.
When I grow lettuce in the kitchen, I have local, fresh lettuce, with no pesticides, and no genetic alterations.
Indoor Lettuce Doesn’t Carry E.coli Contamination
Every year the CDC reports multiple E. coli contamination in spinach and lettuce. Farmed organic lettuce is as likely to meet up with bacteria as farmed non-organic lettuce. The E. coli makes people very sick, and occasionally the diarrhea actually kills people. (source, source, source)
- coli is an intestinal bacterium that makes us sick. It causes urinary tract infections and diarrhea.
- coli contamination comes from bird and cow waste. Organic vegetables are not immune to E. coli outbreaks. Birds and cows can contaminate organic farms as easily as non-organic farms.
Therefore, you have to wash organic lettuce grown on farms.
Unless you have cows and birds pooping in your home, your indoor garden is not exposed to bird and cow waste. There’s next to no chance your indoor vegetables will come in contact with E. coli.
Usually the only potential source of E. coli is the lettuce growing medium. Your store-bought soil is not 100% guaranteed to be free of bacteria.
If you grow using soil, there’s some chance the soil can be contaminated. But indoor gardening kits such as AeroGarden don’t use soil as the growing medium. They use coconut or Rockwool derivatives that are almost guaranteed not to be exposed to E. coli in production or shipping.
Eating Indoor Garden Veggies to Avoid the Market During the Pandemic Quarantine
Most stores I use open an hour early for seniors and immune-compromised shoppers. I like to wake up early, but I’m not exactly a fan of making sure I get to the market by 7 am. By the time I get to the market, there’s a line waiting to get in.
I have barely been out of the house for 6 weeks. I’m uncomfortable standing on line waiting to get into Trader Joe’s. I don’t particularly like wearing my mask while shopping for my produce.
As I grow the size of my indoor vegetable farm, I become more and more independent of the supermarket and its restrictions. I don’t have to leave the house to get fresh lettuce. I don’t have to go out super early to avoid potentially-infected shoppers.
Maybe the pandemic taught us the value of prepping for emergencies. Growing my own food certainly feels like the essence of independence.
What is the Indoor Lettuce Farming Return on Investment?
A homegrown head of lettuce costs money paid for:
- the gardening container
- the energy for the light
- the energy for the fan I use to strengthen the plant fibers
- the cost of the water
- the growing medium
- the nutrients
- the seeds
A store-bought head of lettuce costs money paid for:
- the gas to the store
- the cost of the lettuce
A Rough Calculation of My Supermarket Lettuce Cost
I pay $5 for three heads of organic romaine lettuce. That’s $1.67 per head.
Every time I grow a head of romaine, that’s $1.67 I am not paying the market for their lettuce. It’s another $1 or so of gas I’m not paying to go to the store and back.
Does there come a point when the homegrown lettuce costs less to produce than the store-brought lettuce costs me to buy?
The answer depends on whom you ask, and how you do your calculations.
A Rough Calculation of My AeroGarden Lettuce Cost
An indoor garden kit has a one-time fee of $150 to $700. For the sake of this example, let’s use the price of one that grows nine heads of lettuce at a time. You can get a Bounty Basic with slots for nine seed pods for $240.
The energy to light the garden costs about $10 per month. The water cost is so small it’s not worth counting. The AeroGarden Southern Greens 9-pod seed kit costs $16.
The kit yields nine heads of lettuce, and they all continue to re-grow for six months to a year. It takes 8 weeks on the outside for your first harvest, and then you have nine heads of lettuce per month for about 12 months. This might be a bit optimistic, but let’s face it, this is a rough calculation.
First Year Indoor Lettuce Growing Costs
The first year of indoor lettuce farming includes these costs:
- Bounty Growing Kit: $240
- Southern Green 9 Pod Seed Kit: $0
- Energy for Lighting and Fan at $10/month: $120
- Nutrients: $0
The first year cost is $360 as the seeds and nutrients come in the Bounty Kit box.
The Bounty Growing Kit is a first-year expense only. You will need to replace the pod seed kits, nutrients, and run the lights and possibly a fan.
- Southern Green 9 Pod Seed Kit: $16
- Energy for Lighting and Fan at $10/month: $120
- Nutrients: $10
The second and subsequent years’ cost is $146/year.
First Year Indoor Lettuce Yield
The optimistic first year yield is nine heads of lettuce per month for 12 months. I get 72 heads of lettuce if this pans out. I do think it might be too optimistic. I’ll have to report back here after I have more real-world experience growing my lettuce.
First Year Indoor Lettuce Cost vs. Store Bought Lettuce Analysis
I’ve calculated that the first year will give me 72 heads of lettuce for $360. That comes out to $362/72, or $5.00 per head of lettuce. Not counting the gas to get the store, that’s about three times what I pay for store-bought organic lettuce.
Second Year Indoor Lettuce Garden Cost-Benefit Analysis
My second year costs are $146 for that 72 heads of lettuce.
- Southern Green 9 Pod Seed Kit: $16
- Energy for Lighting and Fan at $10/month: $120
- Nutrients: $10
The 2nd year onward cost is $146/72 or $2.03 per head of lettuce. My store bought cost is $1.67 per head. My indoor lettuce is $0.36 more expensive per head than my store-bought organic romaine ($2.03 for an indoor head, and $1.67 for a store-bought head).
Based on these very loose calculations, I am paying $0.36 more for my homegrown lettuce.
The Final ROI Comparing Indoor Farmed Lettuce to Store Bought Lettuce
An indoor lettuce farm of nine pods yielding 72 heads of lettuce per year does not have a monetary advantage over buying my organic lettuce in bags of three heads. Still, I wouldn’t go back, because my lettuce is always fresh, always has more vitamins, and I get the emotional benefit of a lovely garden that provides me independence and a feeling of accomplishment.
The True Return on Investment of Growing My Own Lettuce
The return on investment is eating lettuce that:
- My lettuce is as local and fresh as is humanly possible to be
- It has no pesticides
- It is not genetically modified
- coli doesn’t get near my indoor lettuce farm
- My lettuce is incredibly fresh and delicious
- My lettuce is always available without a trip to the store
- I harvested the lettuce with my own hands, which gives me feels of emotional satisfaction and independence.
The return on investment is the delight of growing your own food.
It’s having a productive hobby that brings joy.
The ROI is a delicious topic of conversation when people visit.
Tower Garden’s Home Farm ROI
Tower Garden did an ROI study on growing vegetables at home using their $575 (including shipping) gardening tower.
They calculated that a $575 Tower Garden pays for itself in the first year of ownership. In fact, replacing non-organic store food with Tower Garden food paid for itself in 12 months. In addition, organic store food replaced with Tower Garden homegrown food paid for itself in three months.
The initial Tower Garden costs totaled $692:
- Tower Garden (plus shipping) = $575
- Seedlings = $45 (based on 30 seedlings at $1.50 each)
- Tower Tonic mineral blend (plus shipping) = $60
- Utilities (i.e., electricity and water) = $12
For that investment, they grew greens, cucumbers and herbs as follows:
- 2 kale
- 5 lettuce
- 2 tomatoes
- 2 herbs
Cucumbers cost $0.79 each to grow. Celery cost $1.19 per head to grow at home.
The best one for me was that a bell pepper cost $0.85 each. I buy only organic bell peppers. I pay $2.50 each, so that would be a huge savings for me.
What Salad Vegetables are Easy to Grow Indoors?
I got into this hobby because I eat so much lettuce. It turns out that lettuce is one of the easier vegetables to grow. When you look at what’s required even for the most difficult plants, they’re all easy to grow indoors.
The most common salad vegetables that are easy to grow indoors include:
- cherry tomatoes
- ruby heirloom tomatoes
- mega cherry potatoes
Are There Any Plants You Can’t Grow in an Indoor Garden System?
If you build a raised bed garden in your living room, you probably can arrange to grow just about anything, because there’s enough room. Gardening kits are relatively small. A large one can produce 24 heads of lettuce at a time. Lettuce is relatively compact and does not get tall.
Due to size limits, garden kit makers such as AeroGarden say that there are fruits and vegetables that are too large to grow in a countertop garden. These include:
- brussels sprouts
Berries need taller trees than you’d grow inside. Fruits need trees or shrubs to grow. AeroGarden boxes are too small for root crops such as potatoes, onions, and carrots. Brussels sprouts, broccoli and kale grow too large for even the largest tabletop garden AeroGarden offers.
Where Can I Place a Countertop Garden?
The ideal indoor garden home is near an electrical outlet. It is away from hot appliances such as the oven, and cold drafts. It’s out of reach of children who might knock it over. It’s also out of reach of pets who might eat the plants.
The garden surface should repel water, because an absorbent material such as wood will soak it up and crackle. You can put a full piece of plastic over a wood surface, but don’t put the garden directly on soft or absorbent surfaces.
The lamp requires clearance on the sides and from above. A typical AeroGarden is almost 2 ft. tall.
The room temperature should stay around 60 to 70 deg. F. AeroGrow advises to keep plants away from under-cabinet lights, which are of a different frequency than optimal growing light.
How Do I Water my Garden?
For growing plants in an AeroGarden, use municipal tap water or purified water.
Don’t use well water or softened water to hydrate your plants. Well water can be very hard, and softened water can contain salt.
You do not need to remember to water the plants every day. The AeroGarden systems automatically water the plants from a reservoir.
All AeroGarden have a “fill line” representing the maximum amount of water to use. The container flashes a light when the water level is too low.
Depending on the unit, you’ll put something one to five quarts of water in the reservoir.
How to I Give Light to My Countertop Plants?
AeroGarden systems come with a lamp hood and grow bulbs. The lamp hook accepts a specific kind of bulb that emits the best frequencies for growing plants. These bulbs usually push straight into the lamp hood sockets. Unlike household light bulbs, the grow light bulbs push into place without twisting them in.
The garden base has the electric wire and plug that goes into the wall socket.
The grow bowl sits in the wired base. The bowl is not part of the wiring. Instead, you attach a lamp arm into the base alongside the bowl. The lamp arm sticks up above the bowl where you attach the lamp hood.
The lamp arm carries the electricity from the base to the lamp hood, where the current lights the bulbs. The bulbs shine downward onto the plants in the bowl.
How Does the Garden Kit Support the Plants?
The AeroGarden plant systems use seed tray kits that sit in a growing bowl. The bowl sits in a base that provides electricity to the light hood and bulbs. (source)
There’s no soil as this is hydroponic gardening. The roots grow in a nutrient bath. Other manufacturers’ kits use Rockwool or a coconut base to root the vegetables.
Seed pods are cups with growing media, seeds and nutrients. Fill the garden bowl with water, and put the seed tray atop the bowl. Each seed kit tray has a set of holes to carry the seed pods.
The seed pod bottom slips through the seed tray holes into the grow bowl interior. The tops of the seed pods sit flush with the seed tray atop the bowl.
After placing the seed pods into the water through the seed tray holes, cover them with Bio-DomesTM. These are like miniature green house covers for the pods. Push down until the Bio-Domes are just above flush with the top of the seed tray holes.
Next, you record the planting date and add nutrients to the water. Plug in the base and allow the lights to illuminate the seed pods. Turning on the light activates the pump that waters the pods.
What you do next depends on the AeroGarden model. With a fully automated unit, you do the following:
- set the dial to the type of plant you’re growing (tomato/pepper, salad greens, herbs, flowers, strawberries)
- change the timer if you want something other than the default 16 hours on/8 hour off lighting schedule
- as water gets low, a reminder light comes on telling you to replenish the water
- if nutrients get low, a light will remind you to replenish them as well.
- If the grow bulbs run too many hours, an indicator will remind you to replace them.
Fully automated AeroGarden devices will adjust the water and light schedule according to the presumed plant stage. The unit adjusts the light and water supply according to whether the garden is in germination, growth, or maturity stages.
You leave the pods exactly like this until, at a minimum, the seeds have sprouted.
Grandma’s Going to Love the Garden Kit
I don’t know your grandma, but I do know that certain things bring joy to almost everyone. The joy of being independent, growing one’s own food, and eating superior nutrition are not lost on most people.
Gardening imparts an emotional peacefulness that, speaking for myself, I’ve never found with any other hobby. The closest thing I can think of is digging my feet into beach sand on a perfect summer day. Plants take energy from the sun, and we get to enjoy that photon energy when we eat deliciously fresh, pesticide-free, non-GMO salads from our own kitchens.
A heavy vegetable user could see a positive return on investment with a gardening kit. When the money saved exceeds the money spent, the garden kit pays for itself. In my rough calculations, the ROI would be negative by a few cents per head of lettuce. But it’s kind of apples to oranges. Maybe it’s better to say that it’s store-bought, winter, older lettuce compared to incredibly fresh and local lettuce. You’re getting a superior product even if the cost per head is slightly higher, you come out ahead.
The middle and higher end gardening kits tend to be incredibly easy to use. Just click a few parts together to set up the bowl, seed tray and light. The instructions on the bowl face tell you exactly what to do: add water, add nutrients, raise the light higher. The kit holds your hand through the whole process.
You have enormous choices in what to grow. I focused on AeroGarden and romaine lettuce in this article because this is the direction I’m going for myself. Many manufacturers make superior indoor gardening kits and all have the ability to grow herbs, flowers, and fruits, as well as vegetables.
The garden kit is a chance to bond. You’re literally giving grandma the gift of life. You can grow the veggies together, eat them together, and bond over what you learn and your success.
People Also Ask
Will I have to worry about weeds in m AeroGarden? No, you don’t worry about weeds. The problem outdoors is animals and birds drop seeds anywhere they poop. Yet another advantage of not having birds in the kitchen is there’s no reason for weeds to get into your garden.
Do I need soil for my AeroGarden? No, you don’t need soil. The AeroGarden garden kits grow plants hydroponically. This means there’s no need for soil! Plant seed pods sit in a growing medium inside a cone that you dip through the growing top into the water with nutrients. Because there is no soil or bus, you don’t even have to wash the lettuce you grow.