by Amber

IKEA Enters Hydroponic Systems

The hydroponics appliance market competition just got stiffer. IKEA just announced what appears to be the first in a lineup of compact hydroponic systems for tabletop indoor gardening. Surprised? Don’t be. All the big companies are jumping into the fray, whether they’re after consumer’s food dollars or the grow your own/DIY/urban gardening segment of the gadgets market.

Cute Hydroponics Arrive

One of the reasons IKEA is so successful worldwide is their sense of style, so naturally that sense for design continues with their entry into a maker of small, entry level hydroponic systems. With a shape highly reminiscent of steep-roofed glasshouses from the Victorian era, the structure implies garden without being green. The black frame with galvanized steel tray will appeal to every consumer, and fit right in with the decor in both traditional and modern homes.

FastCoDesign refers to it as “bringing hydroponics to mainstream America”. Hmm… seems to me it’s already in front of them. Even the smallest towns in remote areas have hydroponic gardening shops these days, and Scotts (maker of the renown Miracle Gro and popular lawn fertilizers) has owned and promoted AeroGarden for over a year. You can buy an AeroGarden at Walmart’s, who have more stores across the U.S. than IKEA by a long shot. This hydroponic system is so mainstream it’s also stocked by Home Depot, Costco, and Amazon. Surely urban dwellers browse the aisles of at least one of these major retail stores, or their website quite regularly.

Technically, AeroGarden uses aeroponics as the hydroponic method of nutrient and moisture delivery, and the only details available on IKEA’s soon to be available KRYDDA/VÄXER product is that it’s hydroponic, seeds are sprouted in sponge plugs, and transplanted into net cups filled with pumice stone to finish growing to the harvest stage. But AeroGarden has all the design appeal of a toaster in terms of home decor. It looks like a small appliance, while IKEA’s new introduction is very cute – not something the buyer will shun having in any room of the home. It’s classic look will be as attractive to transitional style lovers, as it is to those who prefer contemporary, or turn of the century vintage. That will generate impulse sales, but at what percentage of their average customer? That remains to be seen. No retail price for the unit accompanies the images and sketchy info on their website. I’d wager it will sell for well under $100, because everything at IKEA is cheaper than buying it elsewhere, and well – read on…

IKEA's Hydroponic Gardening Kit

Solar Powered

At least the light is, according to information gleaned from Inhabitat:

“… a growing tray equipped with a solar lamp, providing year-round nourishment for the plants even in rooms without direct sunlight. (Or, if you choose to do things the old-fashioned way, you can simply place the tray in a convenient window.) The growing tray is even equipped with a built-in water sensor to help you ensure your plants are neither under- or over-watered.”

I suppose a float that pops it’s stem above the tray for water level monitoring at a glance could be called a sensor, if you’re using the broadest sense of the term. The float’s post gets shorter as the nutrient level drops in the solution tray. It’s a manual way of seeing things hidden from view.

Fool Proof Gardening?

IKEA says you just add water and you get food. Wouldn’t it be wise to also mix the appropriate amount of nutrients into that water? That is how the plants grow. The light can only do so much in providing them with the tools they need to do their thing. And what happens when the nutrient solution gets out of balance?

Trying to grow much beyond lettuces and spring herbs would be slow and not produce a very abundant harvest. It’s not an controlled environment, and LED grow lights give off very little heat – especially when they’re solar powered. Which brings me to the next question… How does one keep the light running at full power if it’s not sitting in a south or west facing window? Even worse, is there battery backup for times of the year when its overcast more than clear sky days? Solar lamps don’t collect enough sun to function outdoors from late fall until mid-spring where I live. There’s a lot less direct sun coming through the window than there is with no obstruction and sun exposure from dawn to dusk outside. I can’t see this as a fool proof garden globally year around.

It’s A Complete Kit

Germination chamber, seeds, starter cubes, nutrient solution, growth media, net cups, and lighted hydroponic growing tray. I suspect that it is passive hydroponics that wicks up moisture as there are no visible electrical cords in the video below, and the rest of the system uses manual or collected energy. The germination tray is overkill though. It has a capacity for sprouting dozens of seeds, but the indoor garden setup only holds 8 plants max. Suggestive marketing that you need more growth setups? If not, the uninitiated will waste a lot of the seed they purchased!

It’s A Series

Seems like this is just the first in a lineup of hydroponic systems for IKEA. How would I know that? It’s the wording they chose for the product page:

“Developed in collaboration with agricultural scientists in Sweden, KRYDDA/VÄXER series includes everything you need to get sprouting and keep your garden growing – even in the winter!”

Series always means there will be more than one… event, program, or model. So, it sounds like they’ve got plans in the works to offer multiple models or model sizes at some point. The indication is that this is just an initial splash. The first clue being that there is now a new Collection index for Indoor Gardening on the IKEA – UK site, and while it isn’t unusual to find only one product in a category, they’ve certainly leapt out of the box with architecture meant for expansion. The second clue being the name chosen for this new hydroponic garden system – it has 2 parts: Krydda (and or) Vaxer. The literal translation is SPICE/GROWING… this would be relative to both the size, light, and nutrient requirements of many common herbs and leafy greens. So, there could be a Fruit (and or) Growing version on the horizon equipped better suited to popular homegrown produce like tomatoes and pepper that need more space, and stronger lighting with the necessary spectrum for both vegetative and bloom to fruit growth stages. Otherwise there would be no need for it to be anything other than the IKEA VÄXER, and certainly no call for sticking the word ‘series’ in the text on this index page.

You can’t buy an IKEA hydroponic garden just yet. It’s coming in April – at least in the UK. When the rest of the world will be able to get one is a mystery. It seems that IKEA’s only website displaying anything about hydroponic systems is the one for the UK market, but since the word is spreading from North America, perhaps it won’t take long.

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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.