World's smallest garden is a self-watering pot made from a repurposed glass bottle

Urban Leaf
© Urban Leaf

BYOB, add water, insert Urban Leaf device, and enjoy growing some of your own food in a small space.

Forgive me if I'm speaking to the choir a bit here, but considering how basic and universal food is, and how global and carbon-intensive our food system currently is, and the long distances traveled by most of our daily diet choices, getting back to producing some of our own food in a low-impact way seems to be a pretty obvious direction for us to be heading. And while that can be rather simple if you have a yard or garden space and a little bit of time, it's not so easy in a small apartment, or during the winter, or if you've never grown a single thing in your life. Luckily, science and technology have given us some solutions for small indoor growing spaces, including grow lights and hydroponics and automation, which can make countertop growing simpler for newbies.

However, in our hyper-connected and increasingly app-fied world, we're almost overwhelmed with new high-tech options for growing some of our own food, and while there's certainly a case to be made for small automated indoor gardens, the best answer isn't always to buy a complex and expensive do-it-all device. In fact, as with most new ventures, simple is almost always the best way to begin, so when you can start both simply and cheaply, and yet with science still on your side, such as Urban Leaf's world's smallest garden does, it can take some, if not all, of the human error component out of the equation.

What Urban Leaf has done is distilled growing down into its simplest elements, and removed one of the most basic issues with learning how to grow a plant, which is watering -- both under- and overwatering -- while also enabling the reuse of a common household object, a glass bottle. Urban Leaf's device, which is made from a biodegradable cornstarch-based plastic, encloses a nutrient-enriched "smart soil" with herb seeds, which then cradles and nurtures the plants as they grow their roots into the nutrient solution in the glass bottle. The company is starting with common herb varieties such as basil and mint, but is also experimenting with vegetables and edible flowers for future releases.

According to Urban Leaf, the seeds will germinate in as few as 3 days (or up to two weeks), and can grow to harvestable size in just a few weeks. The only care necessary, other than giving them access to adequate light, is to keep the bottle topped off with water occasionally, and although the company says its plants will tend to outgrow the original bottle after three to five months, some of the beta tester units have been growing for well over 6 months with no issues.

This micro-hydroponics garden could be a drop-dead simple gateway to learning how to grow some of our own food, especially for those who have previously earned their brown thumbs with a string of dead veggie and herb starts and wilty houseplants, because it's nearly maintenance-free. With the Urban Leaf, there will be far fewer forgotten waterings, soggy overwatering situations, or frustrated seed-starting experiences, and at just $15 for a pack of three, it won't break the bank either. There's no Bluetooth or WiFi to configure, no app to track anything, and no plug whatsoever. And it's modular. Simply place another bottle with an Urban Leaf in it right next to the first one, and voila, double the garden space.

"From the outset, our goal at Urban Leaf was to make a product that was easy to use. Unlike other hydroponic grow kits on the market today that cost hundreds of dollars and involve sophisticated pumps, lights and automation, the World's Smallest Garden is simple. It doesn't need any of those bells and whistles!" - Urban Leaf

The one other thing that new home growers will need to do is to ensure that the plants are getting enough light, such as in a sunny window or under an LED or fluorescent light, because if you've never done this before, you may not remember that plants are solar-powered and need sufficient light to grow well. Plants that aren't getting enough light will turn "leggy" and grow long and tall searching for more light, or may have their leaves turn yellow and drop off, so finding the right location in the home is one of the keys to success.

Urban Leaf is using a Kickstarter campaign to scale up its production of the world's smallest garden (which has up until now been assembled in one of the founders' apartments in NYC), and backers at the $15 level will receive a pack of three units, with seeds and labels for the bottles, as well as the quickstart guide, when they ship in September 2017. Larger quantities are available for backers, including the $1200 retailer pack (120 3-packs), which would make an excellent gift for a school or other institution. Find out more at the company website.

World's smallest garden is a self-watering pot made from a repurposed glass bottle
BYOB, add water, insert Urban Leaf device, and enjoy growing some of your own food in a small space.

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