by Amber

CounterCrop Hydro Garden

A new indoor garden Kickstarter campaign recently closed a resounding success. This small hydroponic system, CounterCrop, was designed by horticultural lighting company, Intelligent Light Source, who makes advanced LED grow lights for commercial growers. Compared to other hydroponic garden systems Kickstarter has hosted this one has done better at gathering start-up funds than most. In fact, the landed 25% of their initial $75,000 goal in the first week of the campaign.

So, what’s so special about CounterCrop? The most important part of any indoor garden – the grow light. But lets start with the outside and work into the more technical aspects here.

At first glance, it’s very stylish and modern – definitely nothing you would be tempted to camouflage, or stash in a closet. It’s an ebb-and-flow hydroponic system with a footprint no bigger than a flat of petunias. If you’ve done any research on different types hydroponic systems, you’ll know that this one floods and drains on a pre-set schedule, and with CounterCrop controlling all parts and functions of the garden is done with it’s remote control unit. No smartphone app? Apps are great, they’re handy, but perhaps not the best way to approach your job as Mother Nature without fail. Apps need constant updating. Out of date code doesn’t function without fail. Convenience and top quality results don’t always come in one neat little package you can count on without question.

So, you’ve got a growing space with CounterCrop that is 22 inches long and 12 inches wide housing a plant tray that is likely exactly the size of those you buy annual flowers in – it’s an industry standard type of unit, which measures approximately 21″x 11″. It’s also divided into cells like you’d expect to buy those petunias in for your pots and flower garden. These are outfitted with growing blocks that are pre-drilled for seed starting, so right out of the box it’s an easy to use setup for even the most novice gardener. Just add water, a few drops of nutrient solution, set the system to it’s pre-programmed germination stage, and you’re off and running. The computerized functions will take care of the garden while you’re about daily life. It’s ready to move from one growth stage to another according to your crop from the information we’ve found on CounterCrop.

Great Looking CounterCrop Salad GrowA lovely crop complete with radishes. Source: CounterCrop Instagram

Size-wise, growing salad greens and leafy herbs this new kitchen garden offers your crop a comfortable home. The makers say that it will also accomodate small radishes, another fast growing crop that adds some zest to a salad and makes a great fresh snack. But we can’t see this unit accommodating any fruiting plants… no tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers here. For one the growing spots are too small and too shallow for root systems of such magnitude. And then there are strict height limitations in place. Even baby cherry or grape tomato plants are far too large for under 18: of space between the growth cell surface and the light itself. This is designed as a lettuce and basil type production gadget – not a garden of earthly delights.

Now about that light. Yes, it’s LED, so that means it will be super at saving energy, but the problem here is that to modern humans their biggest concerns are:

  1. A utility bill that doesn’t make their hair stand on end.
  2. Reducing their energy footprint to near-zero.

Unfortunately, what you, the sustainability – environmentally friendly proponent sees as an efficient use of energy doesn’t mesh with how a plant sees this scenario. You eat plants, but plants eat energy… literally. Specifically energy delivered from the light of the sun, and in the indoor garden, this translates to the light energy produced by your grow light. Less energy used by the light = less food delivered to your crop. Light starvation means you’ll have a pitiful harvest, or perhaps, no harvest at all.

CounterCrop Root ProductionNow, LEDs are changing the way that we can grow certain crops indoors. They are best at growing green leafy crops… lettuces, spinach, bok choy, basil, and the like. Now it just so happens that Intelligent Light Source makes an advanced type of LED lighting fixture, and they are onto something that will become better as time goes by. But LEDs are super expensive, its a science still in development, and is budget-prohibitive for most indoor gardeners. Every penny you’re saving on that electrical bill is growing power your garden is lacking, because 65 watts of growing power isn’t much energy at all for your plants. It takes tons more umols than these little LED light strips on the CounterCrop system provides to enjoy homegrown peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and whatnot. And a reflective surrounding with greater distancing from the media surface.

Now, I love the dawn to dusk effects they have worked into the ILS light fixture. I firmly believe that these powering up and winding down phases of the sun are important to robust plant development, as is the far red they’ve included in their light recipes. In terms of umols delivered at the growing surface we have gleaned from information provided by ILS, the lights on your CounterCrop unit should be more than enough energy to produce green leafy plants at optimal efficiency. This is awesome. It looks like a great little salad farm that will fit into just about anyone’s kitchen.

Looking for a highly productive way to grow fresh lettuce continually? Head on over to their Kickstarter Page where you’ll find more information than is currently on the CounterCrop website. You can learn more about the exciting new ILS lighting technology on the Intelligent Light Source website. But you won’t be able to order a CounterCrop unit for a while. Judging from their campaign unit delivery schedule, you’re looking at late spring to early summer 2015.

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The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.