Product Review – UrbiPod, Indoor Kitchen Food Growing Made Easy

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The idea of growing food in the kitchen all year round may seem incredible, but it’s super easy with an innovative new Australian product, the UrbiPod. I was fortunate enough to be able to test this product over a four month period, with spectacular results!

 

What is the UrbiPod?

From the product description in my previous product preview:

The UrbiPod, by Australian company Urbotanica, is an innovative appliance that makes clever use of the principles of physics to help even brown thumbs easily grow plants indoors – all year round right there in your kitchen. Designed and manufactured in Australia the UrbiPod:

  • Takes the guesswork out of growing so you can be successful
  • Comes with all you need to start growing – no need to purchase anything else
  • Is equipped with a self-watering irrigation system that uses capillary or wicking action instead of pumps to draw up water from the reservoir, keeping your plants watered without supervision for two to four weeks at a time
  • Provides automatic delivery of the all-natural liquid mineral nutrient
  • Each growing Pod has its own water reservoir, allowing plants to survive outside the UrbiPod for up to three days – thus enabling extra Pods and more growing options
  • Beautifully designed to sit amongst modern kitchen appliances
  • Is highly energy efficient via its state of the art LED lighting
  • Super easy to set up and operate
  • Manufactured in Australia and gives back to the community by partnering with disability services provider Activ Foundation for product assembly

The newest model enables the customer to grow a wide variety of herbs, salads, edible flowers, microgreens, mini chillies and superfoods like wheatgrass. Kitchen and Bathrooms Quarterly featured the UrbiPod as one of the must have kitchen gadgets for 2019.

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Which UrbiPod to Buy?

The UrbiPod comes in two configurations, the UrbiPod Garden, which includes its own LED growing light, and the UrbiPod Lite model without the growing light or power adapter, for around half the price.

Why purchase the UrbiPod Lite without the growing light? If you have indoor areas with lots of bright natural sunlight all year round, or already own hydroponic indoor growing lights, then the UrbiPod Lite may be a good choice.

In this review, I tested the UrbiPod Garden system, which comes complete with its own growing light.

 

UrbiPod Unboxing

The UrbiPod combined with its starter kit is a complete growing system straight of of the box, a comprehensive package which contains everything needed to grow fresh herbs and salads in the kitchen all year round, there’s nothing else to buy.

What’s in the box?

  • The UrbiPod unit
  • The light halo with LED lighting
  • An AC power adapter to power the lights
  • 4 growing pods with their wicking system components

The included starter kit contains:

  • 5 coir grow discs
  • A 250ml bottle of liquid mineral nutrient
  • 5 packs of seasonal seeds

Pictured below is what’s in the box, minus the packaging. There’s an almost completely assembled UrbiPod unit with LED lighting attached, and a starter kit in its own zip-up storage bag.

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Straight out of the box, the UrbiPod unit, nearly completely assembled, with starter kit in zip-up bag

 

For gardeners who love their facts and figures, I’ve detailed the UrbiPod technical specifications below. The whole unit is fairly efficient in terms of space, the footprint is slightly less then 30cmx 30cm so it doesn’t take up much kitchen space, and being under 40cm high can easily fit on any kitchen bench space below overhead cupboards.

 

Technical specifications

  • Dimensions of UrbiPod: 39.5 cm (height) x 28.8 cm (width) x 28.8 cm (depth)
  • Dimensions of Growing Pod: 15.6 cm x 10.2 cm
  • Capacity of Water Reservoir: 1 litre
  • Capacity of Water Tower: 1 litre
  • Water capacity of each Growing Pod: 100ml
  • Total Water Capacity (with 4 Pods): 2.4 litres
  • Lighting: commercial grade LED grow lights

 

Removing all the accessories, we see that the UrbiPod base comes with the LED growing light halo already attached.

The LED growing light halo slides up and down the main column, allowing the lights to be near the plants to supply the maximum light intensity. As the plants grow, the light can be raised upwards maintaining maximum illumination and plant growth. What a great idea!

The base contains the wick watering system which supplies water and nutrients to the pots. The central column houses the removable water reservoir bottle. Both the base and the water reservoir hold a litre of water each.

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UrbiPod base with height-adjustable LED growing light halo pre-assembled, straight out of the box

 

Included with the kit are 4 growing pods which require basic assembly, and 5 coir grow discs which serve as the growing medium.

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UrbiPod Accessories and starter kit

 

The starter kit comes in a well-made zip-up storage bag and contains a 250ml bottle of the nutrient liquid, and five packets of seeds – mine came with one packet of Parsley, Basil,and  Rocket seeds as well as two packets of Salad Cress seeds.

The storage bag is big enough to store all the bits and pieces that you may use with the UrbiPod, it’s very handy for keeping everything in one place in a clearly labelled bag that can be securely closed. I find it’s convenient to keep the starter kit storage bag in the kitchen cabinet below the UrbiPod so everything I need is close at hand when I need it.

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Starter kit bag with nutrient and seeds

 

The UrbiPod Garden kit comes with four growing pods, these are the pots in which the plants grow in, and they’re very innovative in their design.

When seated in the UrbiPod base, the growing pods draw water through a wicking system, so the system does the watering automatically, and each pod draws as much water as the plant needs.

When not attached to the UrbiPod base, each growing pods can act like a small-self watering pot with its own water reservoir, and when full of water can supply the plant for 2-3 days.

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Assembled growing pods with round wicking discs and coir growing medium

 

With the UrbiPod you’re not restricted to only using four growing pods, you can use more if you like, and swap them into and out of the base.

It’s easy to run eight pods at once, with four in the UrbiPod base and four outside of the base, sitting around the edges to receive light. The pods can be changed over each day, one day in, one day out, so that all pods receive optimum levels of water, light and nutrients. Extra pods are available and can be ordered online from Urbotanica.

 

Assembling and Setting Up the UrbiPod System

The UrbiPod is described as being super easy to set up and operate, and that’s totally accurate as it comes almost completely assembled straight out of the box, there’s not much to set up.

Getting started is a simple five step process, it’s very quick and easy:

  1. Assemble the wicking system in each of the four growing pods (takes about four minutes in total).
  2. Add growing medium – place the coir grow discs into the growing pods, then water to expand the coir.
  3. Fill the water reservoir bottle with water and add some nutrient liquid.
  4. Plant seeds
  5. Plug in UrbiPod base power connector to the lights, then plug the power adapter into a wall point and set height of lights.

That’s all there is to it! The whole process from unboxing to having a fully planted up UrbiPod system on the kitchen bench takes approximately 30 minutes.

All assembly steps are detailed very clearly in the two page instructions sheet which is included with the UrbiPod. The instructions are very well written and easy to follow.

Below are pictures of the instructions, showing the clear layout and excellent illustrations. The full instruction manual can be downloaded from the Urbotanica web site under the Support section or their current download link (at the time of writing).

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The next section covers the five assembly steps in detail, after which we’ll go into the testing of the UrbiPod.

 

Step 1 – Assembling the Growing Pods

Assembling the pods takes a few seconds, and is extremely easy. The short wick already comes inserted into the false floor, it just needs to be pushed in so as to leave 1-2 mm above the top of the false floor.

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False floor, bottom-side up, with wick inserted

 

The false floor is then placed in pod, with wick protruding 1-2 mm above the top of the false floor.

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Pod with false floor inserted and wick barely protruding above surface

 

A round wicking disc is placed on top of the protruding short disk. It sits in the identically sized circular raised lip on the false floor, with the writing (label) side of the wicking disc placed face up. The round wicking disc will not sit flat, but this is normal, it just has to touch the protruding wick for the wicking system to work correctly.

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Round wicking discs connect the wicking system of the UrbiPod base to the growing pods

 

Step 2 – Adding the Growing Medium

A packet of five coir grow discs is supplied in the kit, these are made from compressed coconut coir and are used as the growing medium in the UrbiPod system. Using coir is much cleaner, tidier and more hygienic than using potting mix because there’s no decomposing organic matter on the kitchen bench.

The coir discs are placed into the growing pods, with the two indentations facing up, then 400ml of water is poured slowly and evenly into the indent holes to expand the coir to fill the pod.

What happens if you pour the water onto the middle of the coir grow disc or pour it too quickly? The water simply comes out of the wicking hole at the bottom of the growing pod and onto your kitchen bench, as I found out from experience. Best to follow the instructions!

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Coir grow discs, which are made of coconut coir, serve as a good, moisture-retentive growing medium

 

Step 3 – Filling Water Reservoir with Water and Nutrients

The main column houses the water reservoir refill bottle. The design is brilliant, when the water runs out,the bottle lifts up and a inverted triangular window becomes visible, indicating that it’s time to refill the bottle.

When the water tower and reservoir is full, the water in the UrbiPod can last 2-4 weeks depending on the size of the plants and the temperature. I’ve found that with large plants and ducted heating running continuously in winter, which tends to dry the air out, the water lasts about 2-3 weeks.

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Refill indicator, when the triangle is visible, it’s time to refill with water! Soft purple background? No, it’s white, that’s the colour of the LED grow lights!

 

The water bottle is removable, and the cap unscrew for filling. In the UrbiPod system, nutrient liquid  is added to the water so the wicking system both waters and feeds the plants at the same time.

To refill the water bottle, first add 5ml (one capful) of the nutrient liquid into the bottle, then fill with water to the ‘full’ mark shown on the level indicator.

The amount of effort that’s gone into the design is evident by the thoughtful inclusion of features such as the clear strip window along the side of the bottle to make it easy to tell where the water level is at a glance!

 

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Water refill bottle with clear window along the side showing water level.

 

Step 4 – Plant Seeds

With all four growing pods setup up, topped up with coir growing medium, and the water reservoir bottle filled, the next step is to plant the seeds.

To plant the seeds:

  • Gently rough up the moist coir with a finger or fork.
  • Add the seeds to each growing pod, following the instructions on the seed pack.
  • Lightly cover the seeds with coir

I just use a plastic fork and keep it in the starter kit bag for when I need to replant seeds.

After the planting is done, all that’s left to do is plug the power connector on the base into the light halo.

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The power connector on the UrbiPod base supplies power tho the LED growing lights.

 

Step 5 – Plugging in the Power

Two power connections need to be made, one to the LED lights and the other to power in the wall.

To connect power into the LED lights, push the round power connector from the base into the matching power socket on the underside of the light halo.

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Connecting power to the lights.

 

Make sure the power connector is plugged in all the way into the socket on the light halo as shown below.

When the power adapter is plugged into the power point on the wall, the lights will turn on and run automatically for 16 hours, the switch off for 8 hours.

If you power on the UrbiPod for the first time at 6am, the lights will turn off at 10pm, them turn back on automatically at 6am and repeat that cycle. No need to set a timer, the UrbiPod does it all for you. A 6am start and 10pm finish is the suggested time interval as the lights turn off around bedtime, and switch on around sunrise.

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Power plugged in to the lights

 

Here the UrbiPod is fully set up and ready to be plugged into the power in the wall, the white power adapter can be seen in the background on the right. Plug the power adapter into a wall power point and switch it on, and the lights will switch on automatically.

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All set up and ready to grow!

 

Once the system is set up, there’s not much to do apart from refilling the water bottle every few weeks and harvesting the plants for use in the kitchen. What could be easier than that!

 

Testing the UrbiPod

When my UrbiPod arrived in the mail, I set it up that same evening, but I didn’t want to rush the testing, as I wanted to put it through its paces and see first-hand how well the UrbiPod would perform when tested with a range of edible plants over an extended period of time.

Please note that the unit tested in this product review was a demonstration unit which was used previously, so some of its parts may not look brand spanking new in my photographs!

 

The UrbiPod is intended to be used with seeds, which are planted into the growing pods. The light halo is designed to slide up and down so it can be lowered close to the seeds when they first emerge, providing the maximum intensity of light for the fastest growth, then raised upwards as the seedlings grow progressively taller to accommodate their height.

In my testing, I used the supplied Cress seeds in the UrbiPod, but being naturally curious, also I took the liberty to try the UrbiPod system with seedling plants too! This clearly is deviating from the manufacturer’s specification to be fair, but would it work? Why not try? To this end, also tested the UrbiPod with Chive, Zimbabwe Birdseye Chilli and Thai Basil seedlings.

 

How to Use the UrbiPod with Seedlings

Disclaimer: The supplied instructions only explain how to use the UrbiPod with seeds, the use of seedlings is not part of the manufacturer’s specification, so any problems with growing seedlings that users may encounter are not a reflection on how well the product works, or a problem with the product. I am a professional horticulturist and my success with seedlings in the UrbiPod system is not a guarantee that everyone else will achieve the same results, this is purely experimentation on my behalf to see how well the system works when used out of defined specifications.

Experimentation has its risks and rewards. The instructions only explain how to use the UrbiPod system seeds, that’s what it’s designed to do, so I had to figure out how to use the UrbiPod with seedlings. I worked out how to transplant seedlings into the UrbiPod, and here’s how to do it.

  1. Purchase or grow the seedlings required.
  2. Remove seedlings from their pots or punnets, and very gently shake of as much potting mix as possible off from their roots into a bucket to avoid making a mess. If the roots of multiple seedling plants are entangled, gently pull them apart, trying to keep root damage to an absolute minimum.
  3. Remove two-thirds of the coir from the growing pod and place in it a clean container.
  4. Carefully lay the seedling roots across the layer of coir at the bottom of the growing pod.
  5. Refill the growing pod with the coir, while holding the seedlings upright, and gently level the coir, lightly tapping it with a finger.

 

Here is the test UrbiPod, planted up with chives, chilli and Thai basil seedlings, cress seeds in the fourth growing pod, an instant kitchen garden!

The LED growing lights provide pleasant background lighting during the day which is barely noticeable.

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Fully planted up UrbiPod, with seedlings in three growing pods and seeds planted in the fourth.

 

At night, the LED growing lights appear much brighter, showing a gentle, soft purple hue, which looks rather nice and calming, the light is not obtrusive or harsh in any way.

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UrbiPod at night, with the characteristic soft violet coloured light of high-end commercial LED growing lights.

 

UrbiPod Test Results – How Well Did Plants Grow?

I’ll get straight to the point, I was blown away by the performance of the UrbiPod system. As a horticulturist, I was completely surprised with how well plants grew! I honestly didn’t believe the results I achieved.

Let me preface this by stating that I created the hardest test imaginable for the UrbiPod – by running the four month test from late autumn through to mid-winter, growing plants out of season, using three plants that just don’t grow at all during this time of the year.

Chives grown out in the garden won’t grow at all during the coldest part of the year in temperate Melbourne, and both Thai basil and chillies normally perish in the winter cold, they simply don’t survive.

When I planted up the UrbiPod I didn’t know what to expect. The cress seeds sprouted within three days and grew strongly, much like the instructions state in the Urbotanica website Support section- Herbs & Salads Info page suggested.

My experimental seedlings didn’t do much in the first week. The disturbance to their roots from repotting and sudden change in growing environment meant they needed to to re-establish themselves and settle in. Soon after that, I started seeing lots of new growth, and what the UrbiPod system was really capable of.

The Zimbabwe Birdseye chilli grew upwards towards the LED grow lights into a beautiful elegant form, resembling a well-manicured small bonsai tree. The chillies that were growing on the plant matured and were harvested and dried. These chillies are only about 1-1.5cm long, but are as hot as Habanero chillies, so a little goes a long way in a dish!

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Bonsai tree? No, its a Zimbabwe Birdseye chilli growing in an UrbiPod, in the kitchen!

 

The Thai basil seedlings I used came out of a unheated greenhouse at work in late autumn and weren’t looking the best, but soon recovered, and even flowered up being replanted into the UrbiPod. After the flowers were cut, the plant put on lots of new growth. The trick with growing basil indoors is to continuously harvest to promote new growth. I kept one flower on the plant to produce seed, and planted the seeds into the growing pod to produce more plants.

With all aromatic herbs, if they don’t receive enough light, they won’t produce high levels of aromatic oils, and will therefore be low in scent and flavour.

I found that the Thai basil in the UrbiPod released a noticeably powerful aroma when brushed against. Even a visiting tradesman who was admiring the UrbiPod system in the kitchen commented on the powerful and amazing scent after he unintentionally touched the Thai basil plant.

From this observation, it would be reasonable to conclude that the UrbiPod LED growing light provides plenty of light for aromatic herbs to develop their full flavour.

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Thai basil seedling growing nicely in the in the UrbiPod system.

 

The Urbotanica SupportFAQ section states that “The lights are commercial grade LED – what the experts use. They foster plant growth 3-5 times faster than natural sunlight.” Reading that amazing claim, I needed to witness it to believe it! Growing chives in the UrbiPod was all the proof I needed!

While experimenting with trying to film time-lapse photography of cress seeds sprouting in the UrbiPod over a week, I noticed in the footage that the chives were growing super quickly. This observation was made mid-winter where outdoor temperatures were so low that the chives in the garden weren’t growing at all.

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Chives grow extremely well in the UrbiPod system, and literally grow back after being cut in less than a week in the middle of winter!

 

Growth rates became more evident after harvesting. It’s handy having fresh chives in the kitchen, you can harvest a supermarket-sized bunch from one growing pod, plenty for an omelette and more. The chives in this picture were cut quite low to harvest them…

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Fresh hives for omelettes, nothing compares to cooking with fresh ingredients.

 

Quite unexpectedly, within five days the chives grew back to their original size. This process was repeated four times at the time of writing and the chives were once again ready for harvest! The chives even started flowering, that’s a lot of growth during their usual dormant season.

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Chives regrown after five days, ready to be harvested again, these are really productive.

 

By harvesting and monitoring the regrowth, I discovered that the chives were able to grow out of season indoors in the UrbiPod faster than they would grow outside during their growing season! It appears that commercial-grade LED growing lights, which reproduce the various parts of the light spectrum needed by plants, really do speed up plant growth significantly.

Not to be outdone, after harvest the chilli plant put on its own impressive growth display, going into bloom with 40 new flowers counted, as well as lots of chillies in various stages of maturity, from green to red.

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Chilli plant flowering and fruiting prolifically in the middle of winter in the kitchen
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Some chillies still in the green stages…

 

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Other chillies almost ready to harvest.

 

This photograph was taken at the end of the testing period in late July, showing the prolific growth of the plants. To get an idea of how big the plants are , remember that the UrbiPod unit is close to 40cm tall.

The Thai basil has really taken off and ready for aggressive harvesting, the chives on the left are barely visible as they were harvested the day before the photograph was taken, they were needed in the kitchen!

The gentle purple light from the LED growing lights can be seen in the background against the white backdrop I placed behind the UrbiPod.

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Growing Seeds, It’s Easier Than You Think

How well do seeds grow? I had a bit of learning to do here as I mistakenly thought that the seeds might need extra moisture and misted them frequently using a spray bottle. True, I didn’t follow the instructions… Big mistake! The seeds sprouted, grew, but then collapsed, rotting off at the base. The cause is a fungal disease known as ‘damping off’ caused by excessive moisture when seedlings are kept to damp. No extra water is needed, just follow the instructions, the UrbiPod system does provide all the moisture needed to raise seeds.

Seeds definitely grow well, even out of season as I accidentally discovered when a Thai basil seed fell into the chilli growing pod and a new basil plant sprouted in a short time.The plant was removed and transplanted, I like keeping my plants organised and tidy! It’s interesting to note that basil seeds are normally sown in spring, while this seedling grew in winter. The UrbiPod really does extend the growing and harvesting season by creating a stable, controlled environment favourable to plant growth all year round.

As a general gardening tip, with seed raising, whether in an UrbiPod with coir or in indoor pots and punnets filled with potting mix, there are initially no plants to take up excess moisture from the growing medium until the seeds sprout and the seedlings emerge. Depending on the surrounding air temperature and humidity, the growing medium will lose moisture at different rates. In a cold room with not much air movement, the growing medium will stay damp longer.

What happens if you accidentally get your growing medium too wet like I did? I discovered how to fix that problem too!

If you’re finding that the growing medium is too moist for the seeds and they’re either not sprouting or do grow and then die off, simply reduce the water by lifting the growing pod out its slot in the base so it’s not taking up any more water from the wicking system, and sit it on the kitchen bench alongside the UrbiPod so it still gets light. Even better, you can sit the growing pod across the top the long slot that it sits higher up and closer to the LED lights.

Another solution is to let the coir dry out a little by placing the growing pods on a window sill for a day or two, and then plant the seeds, this worked for me. I replanted cress seeds after letting the coir I accidentally over-wet dry out a little, and kept the growing pods out of the wicking system slots until the seeds sprouted and the plants grew in size, and the salad cress grew without a problem.

Here’s a picture of the healthy looking vibrant green salad cress I grew. Cress grows incredibly quickly, it’s great if you want fast results!

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Salad cress growing with pod lifted up and rotated so it sits on top of the slot rather than inside it, disconnecting it from the water wicking system to reduce water supply if there’s too much water.

After the cress is harvested, I decided that I’ll like to replant the growing pod will with either parsley or coriander, as these plants are often used in the kitchen and would be handy to have growing.

The advantage of parsley is that it’s a biennial plant, so it will grow for two years, and can be constantly harvested over that period, before finally finishing up. By comparison, salad cress can only be harvested once, but it grows so fast that it can be harvested and replanted often. It’s really fun trying out various herbs and salad greens in the UrbiPod, and seeing how they grow.

 

The Final Verdict

After testing the UrbiPod Garden System for four months, I can confidently say that I am totally impressed with this innovative way to grow food in the kitchen. It’s quite revolutionary, I haven’t seen such complete turnkey growing solution like it ever before.The commercial LED grow lighting is super-effective, with plants growing much faster in the UrbiPod than they would under natural daylight.

Being able to grow edible plants indoors all year round in a system that’s fully automated is amazing, but being able to grow perennial subtropical plants such as chillies and Thai basil in winter, which don’t survive outside in cooler climates, is an even bigger bonus.

The UrbiPod is an Australian made product designed by an Australian owned company, and the build quality is excellent. The unit is built solidly like a high-grade kitchen appliance, and the modern styling and  design aesthetics are spot on, making the UrbiPod look right in place on any kitchen bench.

Beyond the performance and technical excellence, there’s something else quite special that I only realised after using the UrbiPod for a while. There’s something really beautiful about having a collection of lush, vibrant, healthy plants growing on the kitchen bench. These are in effect indoor plants, but are more interactive as they’re harvested for food preparation and eaten! Gardening indoors is such a different experience, it’s so wonderful to ‘see how the garden is going’ while getting breakfast ready each morning.

 

The UrbiPod can be purchased for the Urbotanica online store, or from a variety of retail store stockists around Australia. The online store also sells a wide range of accessories, extras and plant seeds too.

At the time of writing of this product review, the retail price of the UrbiPod Lite is $146.00 and the UrbiPod Garden is $229.00.

In my experience, the UrbiPod is the most easy-to-use and best-designed indoor food growing system I’ve ever seen, nothing else comes close. This is a wonderful system that belongs in every kitchen, bridging the gap between gardening and cooking, making gardening more accessible to a wider audience, and providing fresh ingredients for quality cooking. A truly amazing system, which I can definitely and wholeheartedly recommend!

Deep Green rating for the “UrbiPod Kitchen Garden System” is 5 stars!

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If you are interested in submitting a product for review, please contact us via email at deep_green@optusnet.com.au , thanks!

 

 

 

 

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About Angelo (admin)

Angelo Eliades is a presenter, trainer, writer, permaculture consultant, urban permaculture pioneer and food forest specialist.
This entry was posted in Product Reviews, What's New! and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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