The term "hydroponics" typically conjures up images of illegal marijuana farms in massive warehouses, but Ikea has a more domesticated offer: a handsome little planter that lets you grow lettuce right on your kitchen countertop.
Hydroponics is a plant-growing method that involves no soil. While it sounds like a construct of modern science and technology, it's actually been around for centuries. Today, however, it's the basis of successful, large-scale agricultural operations. Growing plants involves just the right mix of light, climate, nutrients, and water. Since hydroponics allow farmers to control all of those things much more acutely than conventional growing, some believe that it produces superior plants and requires less water. But anyone who's eaten a sad, limp salad in January might agree that hydroponics' most compelling offer is fresh-picked greens—even in the dead of winter. There are certainly purists who argue greenhouse hydroponics will never mimic sun-ripened produce, but for some people (hey, Alaska!) that will never be a year-round option.
Now, hydroponics are catching on as a way for city dwellers to reap the bounty of home-grown food, even if they don't have access to their own gardens. Startups have taken to Kickstarter to promote countertop systems, but for the most part they remained niche. With its gardening kit, Ikea is making hydroponics just as accessible as Billy bookcases.
The foolproof kit—which actually has quite a few components—includes everything you need to start a countertop garden. You start by sprouting seeds in special sponge-like cakes that are set into a tray over water, which gives just the right level of hydration to the seedlings. After they sprout, you transfer the baby plants to a tray filled with absorbent pumice and place them under a house-shaped grow light, wait, and watch them mature. Once the greens have become large enough, they're ready to eat.
With the Indoor Gardening Kit, Ikea also taps into the burgeoning lifestyle trend of families growing their own food and makes a statement against the large carbon footprint of supermarket produce. Even if the product of your labor is barely enough to make a side salad, seeing the process and understanding how we get our food offers more insight into what we put into our bodies. Who knows: Ikea-fied insect cultivation might be next.
Find the Indoor Gardening Kit at Ikea stores in March.