I Tried a Bunch of Herb Kits to Grow a Victory Garden During Quarantine — Here’s How It Went

published Jul 11, 2020
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Putting some basil seeds into an herb growing kit
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Earlier this spring, I got my hands on a few different herb kits to try out (right before we all found out that we’d have to stay inside for an unforeseen amount of time). I loved the idea of watching my tiny little seeds grow into beautiful, fragrant herbs just as we were waking up from our Chicago winter. I was hopeful and expectant, and prepared to be patient. And then things got real: Spring got canceled, preschool was over, and we realized we were dealing with a global pandemic.

I was hunkered down and the kits were off to a great start — they were all really simple to assemble and produced sprouts in hardly any time at all. Around the time they started sprouting, we got a real look at what COVID-19 actually was (or what it was gearing up to be) and my husband, a barber, found himself out of work. I quickly scrambled into action and soon realized I was a full-time freelance writer/photographer, social media manager, housekeeper, neighborhood mask-maker, cook, mom, dog-watcher, and so much more. During this time, I was still watering the plants (maybe not enough? Maybe too much?), but they’d soon become another obligation rather than a source of excitement.

As the weeks went on, my garden ended up looking more like tiny pots of failures (there was one thriver, although it had nothing to do with me; keep reading). I was really bummed out that my plants, like myself, were looking worse for wear. This was my first pandemic, my first time being the “breadwinner.” Unfortunately, my herbs got whatever I had left to give … which wasn’t much.

A few weeks into the process, my husband and I made a last-minute decision to leave Chicago, while coronavirus was creeping towards its peak, and I think the move is what ultimately did a number on my herbs. We quickly packed the necessities: kid, dog, food, toilet paper, photo equipment, lights, desktop computer, and the herbs. The herbs left their happy home in our sunroom and journeyed in a stuffed car to a ranch home that was nice and cool, and now that I think about it, much darker than their previous sunny space.

Between working my new schedule and acclimating to life with my parents (not a complaint! I am so grateful for them), the little plants just kind of got set on the back burner. Their strong starts, however, give me complete confidence to write this article and recommend the kits for those of you who are ready and willing to give a little time and tenderness to your garden. Here’s what I got.

1. Spade To Fork​ Organic Home Garden Seed Kit

My Spade To Fork​ herbs started off on a really strong note. I was impressed at how simple the kit was to set up, there wasn’t a lot of excess “stuff” in the package, everything was compact and well-designed, right down to the instructions — and the price was perfect. I especially loved the little pods the seeds came in; they were really sturdy and I kept them to store small craft supplies like beads and needles.

Also, Spade To Fork is a small, family-run business out of rural Oregon, started by a couple (Ana and Jeff) who love teaching their kids about the value of growing their own food. I thought it was only fitting that my 4-year-old helped me plant the seeds — and she absolutely loved it. It was easy and fun; a really great learning experience. The kit includes detailed instructions and you can also find a helpful grow video on the website.

Buy: Spade To Fork​ Organic Home Garden Seed Kit, $27

2. Potting Shed Creations​ Garden In A Bag

What I appreciated most about these kits was that they were so small and compact. They’re perfect for a tiny kitchen with very little counter space. Unlike round pots, the bags are more of an elongated canoe shape, which means less wasted space between bags. I also like that they are deeper; if you have a curious cat or a kid that knocks it over, dirt won’t fly out everywhere. These were super easy to assemble, and everything you need is in the bag. The shop promotes the kits as favor items or corporate gifts, and they are right on the money. They’re wonderfully designed, lightweight, and unique in that you’re growing your garden in a bag!

Buy: Potting Shed Creations​ Garden In A Bag, $17

3. Modern Sprout Garden Jars

The ​Garden Jars​ from Modern Sprout are probably the chicest kits I’ve seen, with their vintage Ball Jar vibes and pretty frosted glass. I actually added these to my “gifting” list because they’re beautiful, thoughtful, and easy to order/ship. According to the ​website​, the self-watering herb kit “is outfitted with a passive hydroponic system known as wicking, which brings water and nutrients up to the plant’s roots.” Sure enough, there’s a thick braided wick inside that transfers water up to the plants. I did have to water these a little bit, though: A few times when I checked on them the surface of the soil seemed dry, which I’d read can be normal, so I’d add a bit of water to the top.

Buy: Modern Sprout Garden Jars, $30

4. Click and Grow ​Smart Garden 27

Last up (and the reason I had fresh chives in my scrambled eggs this morning): the ​Click and Grow ​Smart Garden. Three shelves of self-sustaining gardens that not only didn’t need me — they thrived​ without me. The garden is similar, in a way, to a Keurig coffee machine, in that each seed packet is actually a pod that you drop into individual cups that sit over a watering tank. I’m positive the reason the herbs thrived was because I took myself out of the equation. We were away from our apartment for quite a while, returning every 10 or so days to check the mail and water the plants, but the water tank is so large it never came close to emptying.

The 27 is quite the investment (although it means you can also grow lettuce and other veggies for an entire family), but the The ​Smart Garden 9​ is good if you just want herbs or only want to spend a fraction of the price. These kits are specially good for people who travel often, or have the unfortunate gift of killing plants. I had sprouts in a few days and full-size plants in a little less than three weeks. I was able to harvest every time we returned home to check on the house.

I was a bit concerned when I saw mold growing on the top of the soil, but checked in with a Click and Grow expert and was reassured that it was common and not harmful to humans or the plants. The only downside to the kit was that the lights stay on for 18 hours a day, so if that bothers you, just put them in a low-traffic area, far away from where you sleep at night.

Buy: Click and Grow Smart Garden 27, $600

My Final Thoughts on Herb Kits

How’s everyone doing? The plants in the Click and Grow — which, as mentioned above, have their own source of light, nutrients, and water — are still thriving. The good news is that my daughter seems to be handling everything as well as a 4-year-old can; the dog gets fed and walked every day; and we’re all healthy. Even though this ended up not being the ideal time for me to try something new, I can see past my failures and highly recommend each and every one of these kits for use at home.

That said, if you don’t have anything left to give right now — if all you really want is a little bit of fresh basil to toss on top of a meal — just grab a grown plant from the grocery store (known as a start), repot it, and stick it in your kitchen window. It’s much easier to keep a baby plant alive than it is to grow one from seeds.

Have you tried any herb kits during the quarantine? How’d it go for you? Tell us about it in the comments below.