Best indoor hydroponic systems - Floorstanding
I have reviewed 10 brands of indoor hydroponic set-ups (complete products) of medium size (the size of an average person) and here I present you with my Top 5 best indoor hydroponic systems that are actually available (as some were out of stock). My top pick is Farmstand from Lettuce Grow for reasons I explain below.
In reality they all do the same thing: they help you grow your own vegetables indoors without the need for a garden or the hassles of pests and weather conditions. But they have differences you should know.
This review’s focus is on the medium-sized products, i.e. those which can hold around 15-35 medium-sized plants, rather than small entry-level products for tabletop or kitchen worktop. If you are interested in those, check out the XXX where I review and pick the best of them.
I am a qualified Agricultural Engineer and Mechanical Engineer with years of industry experience. I approach problems from a practical perspective backed up with hard data. I understand that there is no one-size-fits-all in most things, hence I allow for variations in my analysis to get tailored solutions to you.
I have scored the shortlisted hydroponic systems I reviewed based on set criteria as below and I explain why some other metrics are not suitable in scoring:
|Score (out of 10)
|Space (plant capacity / sqft)
|Controlled grow conditions
Metrics that would NOT be suitable in scoring are:
- Aesthetics: it is a subjective metric and does not indicate practicality
- Price in absolute terms: the pricet is relative to the features and capacity a system offers
- Subscription: it is a rather controversial metric, as some see value in subscription discounts and others want to be more spontaneous
- Light wattage: as I explain in my Post 12 Hydroponic Problems and Solutions to Avoid Disaster, lighting is a bit more complex matter than just Watts
Do I recommend it?
YES, it is the most practical design, with the fewest points of failure:
- Simple design, less prone to faults
- Easier to clear and reset
- Plants do not get too cramped, there is space for everyone!
- Lights positioning is good to lit all plants
- It is expandable (you can start small and add more sections)
|1. Less that can go wrong because of no sensors.
2. No extra space is needed for the lights – lights are in the form or rings.
3. Simple to use proprietary nutrients – just two nutrient mixes to add to water. But you can choose different nutrients if you wish (see my review of the best hydroponic nutrients).
4. Plants grow on the circumference of it rather than on one side.
5. Needs very low maintenance – there is very little to maintain, except cleaning and checking the pump works.
|1. For some, it is the lack of sensors for remote monitoring and automation (eg humidity, water level, cameras, dimmable lights).
2. The App does not offer remote control functionality as there are no sensors to communicate with.
3. Large plants (eg tomatoes) will need structural support.
4. It is heavy with 20 gallons of water in it, so having a dolly underneath makes it easier to move around.
5. To add lights you need to take it apart, add the lights and reassemble it.
6. Lights are not dimmable.
What is the Farmstand?
The Farmstand from Lettuce Grow is a vertical farm product, very simple in its design; a great feature especially if you are just starting with indoor hydroponics. It is expandable vertically; the smallest size holds 12 plants but it can be expanded to hold up to 36 plants reaching a height of 6’1” (185.4cm). So if you are in a budget, go for the smallest size holding 12 plants.
The nutrient reservoir is at the bottom holding the vertical stack with the plants. The water pump is placed in the reservoir and the water is pumped up to the top and is let to flow down and wet the roots of the plants (like a fountain). You will notice that is does not have an aerator (air pump) so no noise from bubbles in the water reservoir. For providing oxygen to the roots (that is essential for healthy plants) it relies first on the fact that the roots are exposed to air (the Farmstand is a form of Aeroponics) and second, the water gets a bit oxygenated as it trickles down.
Another good feature is that it is made from ocean-retrieved plastic, so keep in mind that you are directly making a positive environmental impact as well.
The pack comes with the Farmstand (whichever size you have selected), the water pump, the timer (to control when the pump operates), the necessary tubing, grow cups, nutrients, pH test kit and pH Down and finally scoops and stir stick.
You have the option to include grow lights (called Grow Rings as they are in the form of rings with LEDs on each of the Farmstand sections); I would recommended that you buy them so that you increase growth rate and yield. That is especially true if you do not have a particularly sunny spot at home and bear in mind that the Farmstand holds plants in its entire circumference which means direct sunshine coming in from a window will reach half of your plants.
In terms of sensors, the Farmstand is behind other competitors. The pump is controlled via the timer which goes on the wall socket and is simply on/off function. There are no other sensors, e.g. for water level, or pH level etc. There is an App but not to control the operation of the Farmstand. It is for getting reminders on adding nutrients, ordering seedlings or other products, log your harvest etc. I personally find that you could do without the many sensors and a smart App if you are more into gardening with some experience.
The lights, if you choose to have them, are also controlled from the same timer. In my view, having less sensors means there are fewer points of failure; for instance, relying on water level sensor and an App to tell you when water needs refilling may lead to plant stress if the sensor is faulty. The Farmstand needs you to be engaged and active in checking its overall operation and plant health.
|1. Can work as furniture at home.
2. Comes with integrated LED grow lights.
3. Offers seedless or seeded pods and seedlings delivered to your door.
4. Comes with nursery tray for sprouting seeds so that you have uninterrupted yield.
5. For all seeded pods they have details of germination (days to germinate, days until harvest).
6. Can be controlled by an app which provides a wealth of information.
7. There is indicator on the cabinet door for the water level, turning red when level is too high and there is danger of overflow.
8. Subscription of plants, seeds and nutrients can be stopped and started whenever you want.
9. Balancing the pH of the nutrient solution is easy with the app – you register the pH strip result on the app and it tells you how much of pH Down or pH Up to add – though my advice is to add pH Up or Down in measured water container bit by bit and then add than to the reservoir and stir. Repeat until you reach the required level. Do not add the pH Up or Down straight in the reservoir).
10. The roots sit in the growing trays rather than the reservoir so the pumps do not get clogged up by roots.
|1. Not very tall plants can go in, but it could hold some dwarf hybrids of plants like tomatoes and peppers which become taller than herbs, but not as tall as normal hybrids – these taller plants can be better suited for the bottom shelf which has a taller clearance from the shelf above.
2. For some plants you will need supporting structures, especially those which reach the height of the shelf and make fruit that usually is heavy (such as cherry tomatoes). For this there is the Stand Kit and the trellis as optional purchases.
3. Plants can get cramped – it needs continuous harvesting when that is possible and bear in mind that some plants like tomatoes or kale will become wide to the point that the plants next to them will struggle for light. So place the big-to-be plants on the edges and maybe do not plant anything right next to them or consider transferring those further away when the bigger plants dominate the space.
4. Not easy to move it (and not really recommended) when the nutrient reservoir is filled up with water.
5. The holes for the net cups are rather small – you may find it difficult to remove plants.
What is the Triple Family Garden?
Rise Gardens offer a stylish way of growing vegetables and herbs at your own indoor space conveniently and easily. The Triple Family Garden is a nice, well-made furniture that can hold up to 36 plants on 3 shelves.
It is equipped with lights, pumps and sensors and all the necessary components such as water and air pumps. Rise Gardens have an App that is quiet convenient; it helps you track the growth progress, check water level and pH balance and when it is time to add nutrients.
The amount of work to put from your side can be as little as 10 minutes a week if you want. It is worth spending some time to keep the set-up clean, to arrange the stems of the bigger plants so that light reaches all plants, to check water level and correct pH and nutrient balance.
Triple Family Garden comes with 1-month worth of nutrients and pH regulator but you would need to order accessories such as the supporting structures for larger plants (Stand Kit and the trellis).
A convenient feature is the nutrient subscription which you can stop and restart as you like. The subscription offers you up to 35% cheaper nutrients and you can choose how many of the nutrients you need.
You can also select which plants to grow from a variety of pre-seeded pods, or simply seeds.
Cleaning is relatively easy. Remove the tray lids and the cups, give them a thorough wash to remove the algae and nutrient sediments. I would recommend to clean the trays and cups before every new batch of new plants, but if not, definitely every 3-4 months. A positive is that the roots do not go into the nutrient reservoir so there is no dirt directly accumulating in the reservoir and there is no danger for the pumps to be clogged up from the roots.
|1. Ability to germinate/clone and have plants for harvesting at the same time in the same cabinet.
2. The environmental conditions are controlled much better than other systems (air circulation, temperature, humidity, nutrient TDS).
3. You can keep your plants away from people’s eyes if you want to.
4. A more complete set of components for monitoring and providing the needs for aeration, nutrition and lights are included compared with other systems.
5. No need to rely on seedlings posted to your door. You can use your own choice of growing media and seeds.
|1. Small capacity (number of plants) compared with other systems of similar size.
2. Needs close attention to prevent issues from happening, such as infections. The fact that it is a closed-door cabinet not allowing you to have visual of the plants unless you deliberately open the doors, could potentially lead to less frequent health checks.
3. Small space for the number of plants – there are though larger cabinets from Supercloset at a higher price.
4. Points of failure are more due to larger number of components.
5. Price - rather more expensive than other systems.
What is the SuperStar Hydroponic Grow Box?
The Superstar Hydroponic Grow Box from Supercloset is a metal closet with a locking door within which you have all the essential components that in theory would allow the grower to control the environment and achieve high yields. It is the most complete and professional-grade hydroponic system for indoors out of the shortlisted products.
The locking door keeps your cultivation private to you. It further makes it difficult for pests to reach your plants avoiding or significantly reducing infections and subsequently the use of pesticides.
Certain sections of its interior are covered with a reflective material which helps light to reach all sides of the plant, not only the top parts, increasing the rate of growth and yield. The reflective material is not of top quality but it does reflect light. If you want, you can DIY and cover more of the internal surfaces with your own choice of reflective material; e.g go cheap and use aluminum foil.
But here comes the tricky bit. All those components and the app-controlled timers cannot prevent disaster where your plants die if you remain hands-off. You really need to be engaged in monitoring the health of the plants, the temperature and humidity, the nutrient solution TDS and pH etc. Because you don’t have visual of the plants unless you open the door, you can easily miss early signs of plant health issues. Read more on plant problems in my post on the 12 Hydroponic Problems and Solutions to Avoid Disaster.
So unless you are prepared to be actively involved, the Grow Box is NOT for you. Hence my recommendation that Supercloset is for those who are prepared to act as professionals in that matter. Doing everything right to ensure healthy plants, you can have consistent high yields and thus justify the premium of the brand.
Do I recommend it?
YES, but be prepared to grow far less than 12 plants if you choose larger plants like tomatoes.
- It is too small; the space allowed for plants is small, unless you plant herbs
- It does not have an air pump by default in the package and you need to buy separately
- Reliability is an issue, reported by a number of customers who bought it
|1. Its pump is super quiet as it only raised water by a couple of inches – the Aerogarden Farm 12XL is the most quiet of all the hydroponic systems in this review.
2. Touchscreen display on it to control all functions – so convenient you may not use the App.
3. Super easy cleaning – it has only one tray which is easy to remove and clean, no other parts need to be removed.
4. It has trellis to support larger plants.
5. Lights are dimmable.
6. Can be placed against a wall – suitable for smaller places.
|1. Although it can hold 12 plants, in reality if you choose large plants like tomatoes or peppers you cannot have more than say 4 of those at any one time as they become bog/tall and there is limited space. If you have 2 tomato plants and herbs, then the herbs will struggle for light and will completely be dominated. So yes, in theory it can hold 12 plants but it is smaller plants.
2. The standard package does not include an air pump (aerator) – you need to buy it separately if you want to (I would recommend it).
3. There is no phone line for Customer service. Relies on emails and live chat only. Though I dug out a number via customer reviews and here it is 937-915-2583, but I have not tried it yet.
4. Reliability is an issue. Some customers have reported components failing out of the box.
What is the Farm 12XL?
Aerogarden Farm 12XL is a horizontal farming hydroponic setup. It has only 1 level, unlike Rise Gardens which has 3, but it can be stacked to get 2 levels where the height of the second level grow tray would be at above 46” (117cm). I would say stacking 3 of them is impractical and perhaps not so safe as the third level grow tray would be above 7’8” (234cm).
It comes equipped with all the necessary features for an automated grow cycle:
- growing tray where water sits
- lid with the grow cups
- a very quiet water pump
- dimmable LED lights that can be mechanically adjusted to higher or lower position
- trellis to support larger plants
BUT one thing that is definitely missing unless you buy it separately is the air pump (aerator) to oxygenate the nutrient solution.
The fact that the air pump does not come as standard with the Farm 12XL can lead to failures because of root rot, or slower growth and yield and may disappoint and even make some to not try again. I think that if you want higher rates of success, include the Oxygen Booster Kit from Aerogarden; it does worth it. On the flip side, if you only plan to grow fast-growing plants like herbs then you can get away without the air pump; but then why buy the Farm 12XL which is suitable for larger plants? It would be better to go with smaller systems.
The primary noticeable feature of the Aerogarden Farm series is the LCD touchscreen display on it with all the functions and controls you would need. You may even find that you almost never use the App because of that.
The other point which makes this Aerogarden different from the other 4 systems in this review, is the very quiet water pump. Because the water pump only needs to raise water a couple of inches at most, it is super quiet – you barely hear it. Therefore, the Aerogarden Farm 12XL is the most quiet of all the hydroponic systems in this review. Great feature if you value quietness!
The biggest point I would to emphasize here, it the growing capacity. The Aerogarden Farm 12XL can hold 12 plants, but if the plants become big like tomatoes or peppers or eggplants, then these will dominate the space. In practice you can actually and effectively grow maximum 4 of those (e.g. tomatoes) or around 6 of plants like lettuces at any one time. If you plant herbs as well, you will find they will struggle for light as the bigger plants will cast their shade on them. So yes, 12 plants can go in but smaller plants like herbs I would say.
|1. It is controlled by a phone App.
2. Easily accessible produce – the plants are not each behind the other as it would have been in a horizontal arrangement.
3. The roots of the different plants do not get tangled up, as each plant’s roots get in their own cup. An additional benefit of that is that the roots don’t clog up the pump as they are not in the water reservoir.
4. The monthly subscription gives you 10 free yCubes – but if you don’t want the subscription you can purchase plants and pots separately as well as DIY with cups, growing medium and seeds of your own.
5. Not having plants on one side, you can place it against a wall making it a perfect choice for smaller places.
|1. It is difficult to clean – you need to take it apart to do that and there is lots of parts to clean.
2. For larger plants with larger roots, the roots need frequent trimming so that they do not get out of the cups but after a point they get too big for water to be able to penetrate the root system.
3. It is rather one-sided: the plants do not grow on the circumference of the vertical stacks, but rather on one side of them, where the lights are, so the system does not take advantage of it full potential capacity.
4. The lights do not move; they are fixed. So if you want to light up other sides you need to buy additional lights.
5. It primarily uses the Gardyn proprietary cups – but can work with other cups as well; just need to find the right size.
6. Although controlled by an App, there are customers who say it does not work properly sometimes.
What is the Gardyn Home Kit 2.0?
The first thing to notice on the Gardyn Home Kit 2.0 is that it is a it has no shelves; the plants are arranged in three vertical stacks like a vertical garden.
It is a beautiful design; nothing sticks out. A nice bamboo lid covers the water reservoir and the 60W (total 120W) vertical LED lights are mounted on the reservoir and are attached to the two of the three vertical stacks with aluminium bars which give it an expensive look. Though, you cannot move the lights at all, they are fixed.
It holds up to 30 plants (10 for each vertical stack which sit on top of the solution reservoir). The space it occupies is of the smallest in that category, just 2sqft (0.18m2), though the plants as they grow will extend to the sides and the actual space will be larger, almost double. The plants grow on one side of the Gardyn Home Kit 2.0 rather than all around it. This way you can place it against a wall.
In the reservoir you place the water pump and the air pump (aerator) to oxygenate the nutrient solution. The nutrient solution is pumped up to the top of the vertical stacks and allowed to flow down back into the reservoir. As it does, it provides nutrients and water to the roots which are held in the net cups.
It is controlled by a phone App and is equipped with a number of sensors (water level, temperature and relative humidity of the surrounding space) and you can schedule the lights and pump operation. Additionally it is equipped with cameras to check the progress of the growth if you are away.
The Gardyn Home Kit 2.0 is made up of many smaller parts; every section of the vertical stack holding a plant is a separate piece. Dirt from algae and nutrient sediment gets stuck in all those tiny places like joints between the parts. So you may find cleaning a bit cumbersome as you need to take the system apart (as in other systems as well to be fair), and clean each one of the components. I would recommend to clean an reset it every 3-4 months or as required if you see visible accumulated dirt to avoid the risk of infections.
The benefits of Hydroponics
The benefits of indoor hydroponics to you as a grower and to the wider ecosystem, are somewhat interlinked. Hydroponics can be advantageous not only in large scale such as vertical farming, but more importantly in smaller scale, indoors or in environments where the conditions need to be controlled. Here is a list of key benefits of indoor hydroponics:
- It does not need soil – it is less messy and better controlled
- Higher yields – on average hydroponic yields are up to 30% higher compared with soil-based cultivation. Primary reasons are the:
- higher density
- controlled light and nutrient supply and
- very little or no pests
- It needs 95% less water than soil based cultivation. Very important if you think that water is priceless and should not be wasted
- Less ongoing effort – once you set up your hydroponic system, just 5-10 minutes per week is all you need to keep it going. You don’t do weeding, you don’t have to fight as many pests (or non at all if your environment is well controlled)
- Seasonality – you can grow whatever can be grown hydroponically, any time of the year
- Really fresh produce, straight to your plate!
- The fulfilment that you eat what YOU grow
- Less carbon intensive – Zero food miles, less water, less fertilizer
If you are interested in reading more about the benefits of hydroponics check out my post on the 10 Benefits of Hydroponics to the Grower and the Ecosystem.
What to consider when choosing an indoor hydroponic system
To choose right for your specific needs and likes there are a few things to consider:
- The size and height of your plants when mature or at fruiting stage
- The space available in your house
- The number of plants you want it to hold
- The automation (eg controlled by App) you want it to have
- How closely the system is able to control the growing conditions (e.g. lights and air circulation)
- Whether the system can only take proprietary components
- Aesthetics: do you want it to look nice in your house?
- Price of course!
- How many types of hydroponics are there?
- Pros and cons of hydroponics?
- See my Post on the 10 Benefits of Hydroponics to the Grower and Ecosystem, also summarised in section above “The benefits of hydroponics”.
- Is this eco-friendly?
- Definitely YES. Saves on air-mile carbon emissions to transport vegetables from miles away, saves is wasted nutrients and uses 95% less water than typical soil-based farming.
- Does it worth the price?
- If you do not rely solely on the proprietary components of your chosen system or the delivered-to-your-door seedlings and you are willing to find alternatives from other sources or germinate seeds yourself, then yes, a BIG YES. Although you will make a chunky investment in the beginning, the produce you will get will save you from groceries bill and it will pay back. But aside that, you also do it for other reasons: it is eco-friendly and fills you with sense of achievement!
- How often do I need to maintain it?
- Not much, 5-10 minutes per week (add nutrient as required, add water, trim plants, do visual checks and measure pH level). Less often, ensure that you clean the whole system from algae and nutrient sediments every 3 to 4 months (or as required – common sense applies here). More on the parameters that do mater in maintaining your hydroponic system in my Post on the 12 Hydroponic Problems and Solutions to Avoid Disaster.
- Which type of hydroponic is best for beginners?
- Well, one that is easier to maintain and probably small-ish. Going big and complex will lead to potential failure (e.g. low yield). For instance, in this review the easier to maintain is the Farmstand from Lettuce Grow.
- What can I grow indoors with hydroponics?
- You can grow most of the typical grocery vegetables. Usuals are all types of Herbs, Leafy Greens (like Lettuce, Kale, Swiss Chard, Bok Choy, Turnip Greens), Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant (aubergine), Green Beans and others. Roots vegetables like carrots and potatoes are also possible but not with the systems that are reviewed here. You would need larger systems, a bit impractical in a typical home corner.
- What is the right pH and TDS/PPM/EC of the nutrient solution?
- As a general guideline, if you keep pH level between 5.8 and 6.2 (slightly acidic) then you are fine. In my Post 12 Hydroponic Problems and Solutions to Avoid Disaster you can find more information about pH and TDS/PPM/EC.
- Do I need to test the pH and how do I adjust pH of the nutrient solution?
- The digital pH meters are quite handy. You place the probe in the nutrient solution and an indication comes up on the display. Use the “pH Down” or the “pH Up” if you need to decrease or increase the pH level. All hydroponics systems and nutrients come with relevant instructions about correction pH levels.
- Do I need to clean my hydroponic garden system?
- Oh yes! Keep the area under the plants clean (once a week) and reset the whole system every 3-4 months or as required. Reset is done by taking the system apart and cleaning all its components from algae and nutrient sediments before putting it back together for a new batch of plants.