5 Smart Gardening Devices to Turn Your Thumb Green

iStock
iStock

Just because you are a little absentminded about your houseplants doesn’t mean you can’t be a gardener. In the 21st century, there are plenty of smart tech solutions to care for your plants. Here are five technological tools to keep your plants alive, no matter how terrible a plant parent you are:

1. HELLOPLANT; $26

A blue sensor is placed in a pot of purple flowers next to a phone with the HelloPlant app open.
HelloPlant

Helloplant, a new Kickstarter project, is a sensor that you insert into the soil of your pot to keep tabs on your houseplant. The associated smartphone app will ping you if the Wi-Fi-connected sensor detects that your plant is drying out, and it can tell you where the plant is getting light. The recommendations are customized based on what kind of plant you label it as in the app. Best of all, it’s cheaper than other smart gardening solutions, coming in at just under $26 per sensor.

Find it: Kickstarter

2. PARROT POT; $90

Parrot’s smart pots use embedded sensors to monitor and tend to your plants whether you’re home or not. They are self-watering, preventing you from under-watering or over-watering your delicate houseplants. You can go on vacation for up to a month and the Parrot Pot will take care of your precious basil plant for you. The four sensors measure light, temperature, moisture, and fertilizer levels and send the information to your phone so that you can analyze how your plant is doing. It’s the perfect assistant for someone who wants to develop a green thumb but isn’t quite sure how to start.

Find it: Amazon

3. GROWTH

Three plants in white GROWTH planters are placed on the floor.
Studio Ayaskan

With GROWTH, you never have to worry about your plants outgrowing their pots. The origami-like containers can expand so your growing plant has more room as it gets bigger. Created by the London-based design shop Studio Ayaskan, the white pots will give your apartment a minimal, modern vibe. The pots are not widely available yet, sadly. The studio recommends you subscribe to its newsletter to get an alert when they go on sale.

4. PLANTLINK SENSOR; $70

A white sensor is hidden within the leaves of a potted plant.
PlantLink

PlantLink is another smart sensor that you can insert into your potting soil to detect the moisture level of your plant’s environment. Based on the type of plant, the device will text, email, or send a push alert to your smartphone to tell you when it needs to be watered. PlantLink also makes a smart valve that you hook up to your sprinklers to automatically water your plants. It has its own solar panel and can be programmed to water your plants based on changes in the weather.

Find it: Amazon

5. THE NANOFARM; $350

Three Nanofarm boxes filled with herbs sit next to each other on a wooden table.
Replantable

If you’re serious about your indoor gardening operation, consider Replantable's Nanofarm, a Kickstarter-backed tabletop produce system that requires zero oversight. You set it up once and wait for your food to grow. It works using Replantable’s Plant Pads, all-in-one seed and nutrient sheets that come in a number of different herb and salad-green varieties. For the Nanofarm, you just fill the tray inside with water, put in a Plant Pad, and close the door until your basil or butter lettuce is ready to harvest.

Find it: Replantable

You Can Now Order—and Donate—Girl Scout Cookies Online

It's OK if you decide to ignore the recommended serving size on a box of these beauties.
It's OK if you decide to ignore the recommended serving size on a box of these beauties.
Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts may have temporarily suspended both cookie booths and door-to-door sales to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be deprived of your annual supply of everyone’s favorite boxed baked goods. Instead, you can now order Thin Mints, Tagalongs, and all the other classic cookies online—or donate them to local charities.

When you enter your ZIP code on the “Girl Scouts Cookie Care” page, it’ll take you to a digital order form for the nearest Girl Scouts organization in your area. Then, simply choose your cookies—which cost $5 or $6 per box—and check out with your payment and shipping information. There’s a minimum of four boxes for each order, and shipping fees vary based on quantity.

Below the list of cookies is a “Donate Cookies” option, which doesn’t count toward your own order total and doesn’t cost any extra to ship. You get to choose how many boxes to donate, but the Girl Scouts decide which kinds of cookies to send and where exactly to send them (the charity, organization, or group of people benefiting from your donation is listed on the order form). There’s a pretty wide range of recipients, and some are specific to healthcare workers—especially in regions with particularly large coronavirus outbreaks. The Girl Scouts of Greater New York, for example, are sending donations to NYC Health + Hospitals, while the Girl Scouts of Western Washington have simply listed “COVID-19 Responders” as their recipients.

Taking their cookie business online isn’t the only way the Girl Scouts are adapting to the ‘stay home’ mandates happening across the country. They’ve also launched “Girl Scouts at Home,” a digital platform filled with self-guided activities so Girl Scouts can continue to learn skills and earn badges without venturing farther than their own backyard. Resources are categorized by grade level and include everything from mastering the basics of coding to building a life vest for a Corgi (though the video instructions for that haven’t been posted yet).

“For 108 years, Girl Scouts has been there in times of crisis and turmoil,” Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Sylvia Acevedo said in a press release. “And today we are stepping forward with new initiatives to help girls, their families, and consumers connect, explore, find comfort, and take action.”

You can order cookies here, and explore “Girl Scouts at Home” here.

Can't Find Yeast? Grow Your Own at Home With a Sourdough Starter

Dutodom, iStock via Getty Images
Dutodom, iStock via Getty Images

Baking bread can relieve stress and it requires long stretches of time at home that many of us now have. But shoppers have been panic-buying some surprising items since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to pantry staples like rice and beans, yeast packets are suddenly hard to find in grocery stores. If you got the idea to make homemade bread at the same time as everyone on your Instagram feed, don't let the yeast shortage stop you. As long as you have flour, water, and time, you can grow your own yeast at home.

While many bread recipes call for either instant yeast or dry active yeast, sourdough bread can be made with ingredients you hopefully already have on hand. The key to sourdough's unique, tangy taste lies in its "wild" yeast. Yeast is a single-celled type of fungus that's abundant in nature—it's so abundant, it's floating around your home right now.

To cultivate wild yeast, you need to make a sourdough starter. This can be done by combining one cup of flour (like whole grain, all-purpose, or a mixture of the two) with a half cup of cool water in a bowl made of nonreactive material (such as glass, stainless steel, or food-grade plastic). Cover it with plastic wrap or a clean towel and let it sit in a fairly warm place (70°F to 75°F) for 24 hours.

Your starter must be fed with one cup of flour and a half cup of water every day for five days before it can be used in baking. Sourdough starter is a living thing, so you should notice is start to bubble and grow in size over time (it also makes a great low-maintenance pet if you're looking for company in quarantine). On the fifth day, you can use your starter to make dough for sourdough bread. Here's a recipe from King Arthur Flour that only calls for starter, flour, salt, and water.

If you just want to get the urge to bake out of your system, you can toss your starter once you're done with it. If you plan on making sourdough again, you can use the same starter indefinitely. Starters have been known to live in people's kitchens for decades. But to avoid using up all your flour, you can store yours in the fridge after the first five days and reduce feedings to once a week.

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