Garden and Yard Care

Published on February 18th, 2012 | by Karen Lee


Smart Gardener: Online Gardening Tool Helps You Grow Food

According to the National Gardening Association, more than 43 million Americans grow food in their gardens. We spent more than 2.5 billions dollars in 2008 and spend upwards of 5 hours a week tending to our foods we grow. And return on our investment for all the hard work and money? 21 billion dollars in food. That’s 900% return on investment!! And we know exactly where our food came from.

So if you are one of the 43 million Americans who love to garden or are thinking about gardening due to concerns with Monsanto’s GMO crop threat, or increase in food prices, or pure enjoyment of growing your food, I have an awesome tool for you to try.

It’s called Smart Gardener. It’s an online tool that can help you grow food from beginning ’til the end. The only thing it doesn’t do is to till the soil for you…although that’s also in the works in some areas in the near future.

So what does Smart Gardener really do? I caught up with Kristee Rosendahl, the founder and designer, during her recent visit to NYC and asked her a few questions about this awesome web tool.

Interview with Kristee Rosendahl

1. Why is growing our food so important? I mean, we can just go to the supermarket and buy our vegetables. No? Growing food is so time consuming.

The reason to find other sources for our food is becoming increasingly important. Here’s an amazing quote:

“To keep up with the population growth, more food will have to be produced world wide over the next 50 years than has been in the past 10,000 years combined. Norman Borlaug, 2008″.

That puts it in perspective. So sooner or later the burden of growing enough food is going to fall on all of us.

Secondly, the increasing distrust of our current food sources, from Monsanto’s GMOs, to ecoli, to simply not knowing where or how our food is grown is making it more critical to resume the responsibility for what is going on our family’s or community’s table. Yes, growing your food is more time consuming than putting it in your shopping cart. The benefits can so outweigh the effort.

The other reasons to grow is the pure joy of being outside, connecting with the earth on a level of watching and tending to something that grows, is so powerful. For some, it’s a meditation, and for others, it’s an opportunity to spend time with their families doing something extremely nurturing together. Then, to harvest, cook and eat healthy food that you have grown … it’s so basic and it changes you. The sense of connection and, at the same time, independence that comes from this experience essentially changes our relationship to our world.

Smart Gardener Planner

2. You outlined some important reasons to grow our own food but most of us are not experts in gardening, never mind growing anything for consumption. Did you have novices like us in mind when you started Smart Gardener?

The reason I started Smart Gardener was out of my own frustration and intimidation about how to get started, maintain and successfully grow my own food. Most of us don’t have a lot of time, so being able to make this easier and more convenient seemed like a big step in getting more people out there growing their own food.

Every weekend, I would start to head out to the garden and then realize I really wasn’t sure what I should be doing. I’d turn around and spend the next half of my Saturday back inside, reading a dozen books and googling until I was even more confused. There is alot of information out there, but no place for me to collect or go to that was about my garden, my conditions and what we wanted to grow and when. I wanted a “To Do” list of exactly what I should doing that week to help my garden grow great food. I started talking to people who had many of the same issues. At the same time, the food movement, health concerns, and the economy started to really force the issue of how to get good food. It seemed like a perfect time to get this product out there – for the rest of us who want to be growing our own food but have a million other things we also have to be doing. I wanted this product to help mainstream sustainability.

Smart Gardener

3. You are right. We are so busy with our daily lives, we want easy access to information, like what types of plants to plant in my area. Does the site help me plan on what to plant and when to plant them?

This is one of the places I think that Smart Gardener really shines and stands out from the pack. We went beyond just having you type in your zip code and giving you your frost dates. While we do use that data, we also look at the past ten years of weather data for your area in order to create a visual graph of when and how long are your cold, cool, warm and hot seasons. This gives you a way to really understand your personal growing conditions. Even within a zip code there can be dozens of microclimates, so we give you the ability to drill down and tweek the graph, and the frost dates, to get as close to your very specific conditions as possible. From there, we use this chart to help you select plants that are right for you garden. Clicking on your two month cool season in the graph,for instance, will bring up all the plants that can be grown in a cool short period. Every plant also has a seasonal schedule associated with it. When you look at the seasonal schedule for any plant, that schedule is your schedule – when you should plant, care or harvest that plant. Everything on this site is driven and calculated by the user’s growing conditions, and we will continue to add more ways to take help our users personally use that information to their advantage.

My To Do List

4. Wow. You really thought of everything! Since you tell me what can grow, do you actually help me plan, plant, and monitor my crop?

This is the core of the service. As I mentioned, I wanted a weekly To Do list generated so I would know what to do in my garden. So that is what we have. It looks simple because we want it to be. We want you to use it, and every time you “check off” a To Do, it automagically time stamps it and puts it in your Journal. Checking it off also lets us present some other To Dos to you. Checking off when you planted something, for instance, let’s us know that the plant is now in the ground and you can start getting To Dos for caring for it. To get all this to work seamlessly for the user is probably some of the hardest work we had to do to develop this product. We couldn’t just license a plant database to do this. We had to design, from the ground up so to speak, a very particular plant database with these “To Dos” baked into it from the beginning. That turns out to be a very major undertaking – if you want it to be accurate and specific down to the variety level.

My Planting Journal

In terms of harvesting, we show you a time span for you to expect to start harvesting. There are lots of ways to harvest some of these vegetables, so we are trying to get all of those in the system. Each plant has what we call a “Plant Guide“. Whenever you see the name of a Variety in Smart Gardener you can click on it and you will see the whole Plant Guide for that Variety. There’s a tab for “Harvest” which includes Harvesting, Storage, Seed Saving, Culinary and Recipes. There are so many plans for this area. We see ourselves as offering a “Plot to Plate” solution. After all, growing food is all about eating it. This is another opportunity to bring in some very applicable partners so we can offer, for instance, great recipes for exactly what you are harvesting in your garden, right when you are harvesting it.

5. How is the support with your site? Is there a “customer service” or someone to ask questions if I am stuck?

That’s me and the team. I read every single piece of feedback and answer it. As the founder and the designer of this, it’s essential I understand what people think of the product, how they use it and where they are getting stuck. When I see a pattern of people having a problem with something, I’m all over it. We make changes to our site almost daily, attempting to remove any issues, bugs or problems our users have. We are truly “user driven” as they say. 90% of the changes and new features are there because that’s what our customers asked for.

Most importantly, we are constantly blown away by the comments and support for this product. Our users are rooting for us, so they give us lots of feedback because they are engaged and want to help us improve it. We get lots of love letters from our customers and frankly, that is the best part. Knowing that you are helping people feel empowered about their food, maybe for the first time. That’s just awesome.

6. I have a weird shaped garden – not exactly a rectangular or square shape. Do you plan on adding custom designed gardens? How about vertical garden or greenhouses?

We’ve started by offering the most general case gardens because we know that alot of people are gardening with raised beds right now. At some point, we will add more elaborate abilities to lay out your garden. In fact, anything is possible if you throw enough technology at it. The issue is, that with every complexity you add, the more performance and speed you risk. Most people don’t want to wait around for the web to load something that takes a while -even a three second wait can discourage people from using our product. So until we can provide those features with performance, we will hold off. This is where the iPad really will be incredible for Smart Gardener. Having learned so much from our current users, it becomes clearer every day what kind of product we want to build for the iPad. It will allow us to deliver many more sophisticated, easy, and elegant solutions that the web just can’t deliver right now.

Currently, we have “Smart Add Ons” which are like little mini apps or upgrades to the core product. The first three are Shade, Succession planting and Shapes which let you layout other objects in your garden. Those three came about because they were the most asked for extensions to our product.

Thank you Kristee! Wow, I think I am more confident about growing my own food now, with the help from Smart Gardener. You should register and try Smart Gardener and start planning your garden now for this Spring! Watch this short video that explains exactly what Smart Gardener does. Quick Tour Simply grow great food. from Smart Gardener on Vimeo.



Jessi, I will contact you for your shipping info. Congratulations!!

Don’t you want to star gardening now? You should! And if you register, you can enter to win this beautiful jute market tote and one Smart Add On – retail value of $25 for both.

If you Green Living Idea’s e-mail subscriber, live in the U.S and is over 18 years old, you can enter this giveaway by doing ONE of the following and leave a comment here what you like about Smart Gardener by Saturday February 25, 2012 11:59 EST.

Good Luck!

Get the Green Living Ideas book in softcover or PDF for as low as $2.99!

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About the Author

Karen lives a simple, frugal, green life and shares her eco tips and news on ecokaren and is a co-founder of Green Sisterhood, a network of community of green women bloggers, making change. When she's not managing Green Sisterhood or blogging on ecokaren, she is a chauffeur to two greenagers, wife to an accidental recycler, master chef to hungry locavores, seamstress, knitter, and dumpster diver, not necessarily in that order.

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