If you love to garden, eat meals filled with fresh produce, and grow your favorite vegetables and fruits all year long no matter the season, then a hydroponic garden may just be your new best friend. I tried it, from assembly out of the box to seeing lettuce greens and herbs on my plate in just four weeks. Here's everything you need to know to start your own personal salad farmstand in your own home.

Hydroponic Gardening Is on the Rise

Hydroponic gardens are self-watering and self-fertilizing growing systems that will grow almost any kind of produce indoors or outdoors, depending on where you live. To find which hydroponic garden brand works best for you, click here.

Hydroponic gardening has quickly grown into a multi-billion business and is projected to reach $16 billion in sales by 2025, in large part due to the growth of cannabis. But I used mine to provide fresh, bright produce for my meals. The fastest-growing crops are herbs that can sprout within a week or so, depending on the crop. I chose my indoor garden from the company Lettuce Grow, co-founded by actress Zooey Deschanel, which features a white, sculptural vertical tower of stacked growing pods which looks clean and chic enough to mimic a piece of artwork in your living room.

After just a few months of growing, I have made delicious salads, wraps, dressings, and sauces with a range of different herbs and greens that I've grown, including cilantro, dill, parsley, chives, and next I see signs of cherry tomatoes and tiny strawberries coming to life.

All of these fruits, veggies, and herbs have added "homegrown" elements to most of my meals since February, the coldest season in the Northeast when frigid temperatures made it a chore to go to the store. Luckily, the weather was no detriment to adding healthy ingredients to my menu, and I am looking forward to growing fresh food year-round and adding more fresh, healthy salad greens to my lunches and dinners over the coming months, thanks to the never-ending leaves that continue to crop up in my personal hydroponic garden.

In Just Three Weeks I Had My First Harvest

When I built the Lettuce Grow farmstand, I started with the small seedlings the company provides and had a moment of wonder, "How the heck will I ever grow a head of lettuce?" but I learned to never underestimate the power of tiny little stems. Within just three weeks of building my Lettuce Grow, my farmstand grew more green every day with large leaves sticking into the air and bunches of lettuces almost taller than the Glow Rings (I'm looking at you, kale). The experience is similar to waking up on Christmas morning as a kid, except now I wake up, plan my dinner menu, and invite my friends over for some amazing plant-based meals.

What is Lettuce Grow and How Does it Work?

Lettuce Grow was founded by actress Zooey Deschanel and her former husband Jacob Pechenik after they both felt uneasy about where their produce came from. Most shoppers are unaware of the number of pits stops fresh vegetables and fruits take before they enter local grocers, and oftentimes, lettuce and fruits are grown with pesticides to keep longer on shelves. The duo set out to create a simple solution to grow fresh produce fast.

The concept is simple: A hydroponic garden tower can growing everything from small herbs like cilantro, dill, parsley, to medium-sized lettuces like butter lettuce and arugula, to larger produce like cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, and shockingly enough, watermelon. Watching your favorite produce grow over time in your living room is rewarding and making fresh salads, sandwiches, sauces, and wraps is more convenient than I ever thought it could be.

How I built my garden: When you first order hydroponic system, you will receive the self-watering and self-fertilizing farm stand that comes with all the supplies you need like the power source, water pump, plant nutrients, and the stackable pods that look like disco balls. When I have guests over for dinner, the first thing they notice in my living room is what they call the “space ship, obelisk, and art sculpture,” which is actually Lettuce Grow providing our ingredients for the night’s meal.

Glow Rings are important for those who experience winter. The next item that shipped was my glow rings, one of the most important features for New Yorkers, but not so much Floridians or California residents. The glow rings are indoor LED lights, needed if your plants can’t get 6 hours of direct sunlight strictly outdoors, not through windows or glass.

I made the rookie mistake of building my Lettuce Grow without the glow rings hoping the 9 am to 3 pm sunlight coming through my window would work– but no. I had droopy plants for about two days until I assembled the lights and instantly they perked up, thanking me for supplying their sunshine. When I put the lights on at night, it almost feels as if I’m standing in a museum looking at an important painting with beautiful overhead lighting.

Seedlings are just the beginning of a full head of lettuce. The last package that arrived was small seedlings packed in a lightweight water-proof container, with maybe one or two small stems peaking through the translucent plastic. The reason Lettuce Grow provides planted seeds is because the Glow Rings don’t contain blue light because it’s harmful to the eyes, and if you want to get your plants from tiny seed to little stem, you need this light. You’ll notice (if you do have the Glow Rings) you could stare directly into the red and yellow LED lights and your eyes will not be bothered.

Assembling the Lettuce Grow is seamless and it only took about 2 hours. The hardest part of the assembly was carrying the watering can back in forth from the sink to the Lettuce Grow at least 25 times, a great workout. But, if I were to do it over, I’d build my farmstand closer to the sink in my kitchen.

As you can see in my video, most of the build required reading thoroughly through the instruction package, and thankfully, Lettuce Grow provides YouTube videos on how to build each part so that’s what I was looking at on my computer. Aside from building the farmstand closer to a water source, I recommend adding Glow Rings (if you need them) as you stack each 'disco ball,' or you will have to un-stack them, insert the rings, and re-stack them as I did, oops!

My Lettuce Grow Grew About 5 Pods of Garlic

When it was time to harvest, I had enough garlic and basil to open an Italian restaurant. I also had about four heads of butter lettuce which over time became my favorite way to enjoy a salad. I planted garlic seeds on my own at the begging of the week and by Friday, I took this photo: 

As you can see, I had success with my garlic in a short amount of time, and for a pasta lover, these were the gold nuggets. I decided to plant more garlic seeds on my own when I harvested a plant that wasn't going to fully grow again like butter lettuce, (unless I planted more seeds).

Here Are Some of the Meals I Made with the Help of my Indoor Garden

1. Avocado Arugula Toast with Pickled Onions and Fresh Pepper

This avocado toast was an upgrade from my usual avocado with red chili flakes. The taste of fresh arugula from my Lettuce Grow was full of crisp flavors and had hints of peppery spice. I topped the toast with pickled onions since I always keep a jar in the fridge and cracked fresh pepper, and let me tell you, I crave this every morning.

2. Paccheri with Fresh Pesto

I'm a lover of any carb but mostly a thick noodle pasta like Paccheri. For this recipe, I made fresh pesto with basil and garlic from my Lettuce Grow and used Zooey Deschanel's pesto recipe, which is simple to make and has incredible flavors. Hands down better than any store-bought pesto I've tried.

3. French Style Salad

I love salads that don't need too many toppings. If the mix of the herbs and lettuces is on point, then that's all I need. For this salad, I simply took sprouts and cilantro from my Lettuce Grow and mixed together slices of celery, dates, and a few tomatoes, and made myself a simple vinegarette with lemon juice, dill from LG, and a touch of olive oil.

To purchase your own hydroponic garden, visit Lettuce Grow's website here