Sunday, April 26, 2009

AeroGarden, First Planting

[ 03.08.09 ] Planting

I recently picked up an AeroGarden Elite when it was on sale at Costco. I love growing things and have about 20 plants in my home started from seeds or cuttings and many more that I've given away. When I first heard about the AeroGarden, I thought it would be cool to play with, but it was way too expensive for what it does. So, when it was on sale last week, my curiosity took over my wallet.

The Elite has 6 pods and the Costco version came with 2 bulb kits (4 bulbs) and 2 herb seed kits (12 pods) for $89. The kits themselves run about $20 each, so I justified it by thinking I got the unit for $10. ^^;; Obviously, the bulbs and seed kits are still way too expensive, considering you can get a gram of herb seeds for under $1, and the bulbs are just 26W daylight spectrum CFLs with a proprietary connector.

It does look like it may be possible to modify the hood to take standard bulbs, though you'd want the pin kind and not the edison kind. I'll look into that after I've used up the kits it came with as well as how to make my own pods.

The unit is essentially a water bowl with a small air pump (sounds like an aquarium pump) aerating the water with nutrients, which soak up into the pods like a self watering planter. The roots then grow down into the water, while the hood is height adjustable to get the optimum light as the plant grows. The little clear dome caps act like mini greenhouses while the seedlings establish roots. Since I have this bright light on anyway, I brought over some plants that aren't getting enough light in the winter and see how good the light is.

There is a low-pitch hum from the pump that could get annoying if you are always in the same room, but I suspect it's not any worse than an aquarium that uses an air pump. It is much louder than my aquarium that uses a Whisper bio-filter though.

As for the herb kit, 4 of the seeds I've grown before using standard planters, so it will be interesting to compare the results. I'll update with weekly photos so we can watch them grow. ^^

[ 03.15.09 ] Week 1

Amazingly, just one day after planting the basil had a tiny sprout, which was followed by thyme and oregano on day 2. Mint sprouted on day 5 and chives on day 6. The dill hasn't sprouted yet, but it's labeled at 7-14 days for germination, which is still short when compared to my packet of dill seeds listed at 21-24 days. One week and we have 5 of the 6 pods with tiny sprouts. They're so cute.

I had a problem with the mint pod, the spongy material inside didn't seem to expand like the others and didn't rise to the surface. Kaki-mei said she was having the same problem with her pods and suggested lifting it manually. I took a toothpick and gently prodded it up and it worked. It actually had expanded, but since the pod is tapered, it jammed itself into the bottom of the pod and couldn't rise.

The basil which has the fastest germination time of the pods is listed at 3-7 days, but only took 1 day for the first seed to show growth. After the minimum 3 days, it had these nice sprouts.

I also did some research on the hum noise and it looks like the 6 pod units have an "advanced grow" system which uses a noisier air pump/stone to aerate the water instead of an impeller to move the water. An impeller is what a biofilter uses and aerates by moving water in a waterfall fashion. They are nearly silent, but since it moves water, it requires more maintenance over time. It's also why the 7-pod seed kits are not compatible with the 6-pod units, since the pods get water from the impeller, they are shorter and don't reach the water bowl like the 6-pod kits do.

[ 03.22.09 ] Week 2

Two LEDs on the base unit lit up today, one to add nutrient tablets to the bowl and the other to add more water. There aren't any sensors, so these are just on a timer, which I obeyed and hit the reset button to restart the timers. The seed kit came with 8 packets of nutrient tablets, which is about 4 months at a 2 week cycle. Anyway, all of the pods have sprouted and I removed the domes on 4 of the pods.

The chives, which were the last to sprout, grew very fast and bumped into the dome, so I had to remove it. However, only two of the seeds had sprouted, and I don't know if more will sprout later with the dome off. The other pods all have many seeds growing and you can actually see the roots coming out of the sponges through the water refill flap.

I'm a little concerned about the growing surface that the pods sit on, it's kind of thin and I can tell it is already warping, either from the heat of the lamps or the weight of the pods. The corners already won't sit flush to the bowl like it did 2 weeks ago. Kaki told me a few days ago that all three of her Aerogarden pumps broke at almost the same time after a year. So much for quality. :(

[ 03.29.09 ] Week 3

All of these little guys are doing well after 3 weeks. The chives still only have two seeds that sprouted, though they each sent up another branch. At this rate, it doesn't seem like there will be enough chives to harvest. The tending guide shows about 8 seeds sprouting in the sample picture, but I got just 2.

The tending guide also suggests the plants start being pruned at weeks 3-5. So far, none of them seem large enough to be pruned yet. The largest, basil, is still just shy of 3" tall - probably another inch and it can be pruned. I haven't had to raise the lamp yet, so it is still on the lowest position.

[ 04.05.09 ] Week 4

Another 2 week cycle and the base was blinking for more tablets and water today. I also raised the lamp one notch as the basil is growing very fast, even after pruning the growth above the 3rd branches.

Nothing was happening with the chives pod, so I popped it out to check inside and to my horror the un-germinated seeds had a film of grey/white mold on them. I took my tweezers and pulled them all out and then rinsed the pod under running water. The other pods all looked ok, but the chives pod will need daily attention (although the two plants look healthy). I will toss the pod if any mold comes back, though I am considering just tossing it now and taping over the empty hole. Totally was not expecting that.

[ 04.13.09 ] Week 5

Late posting due to income taxes being due this week. Here's the growth for the last week:

I've started trimming all the pods and used the first trimmings in an omelette. Even though the trimmings were few, it added a lot of fresh flavor. I think the basil is growing a bit too fast - if I raise the hood, I'm concerned the lamps may be too high for the other pods. I'm going to just start removing the larger leaves of the basil, since it is shading the lower leaves and pods, in an attempt to even out the plant heights before raising the lamp another notch.

Also, no hint of any new mold in the chives pod, and the two chives each grew another shoot. If it continues to grow a shoot a week, it might not be too bad.

[ 04.26.09 ] Week 6 & 7

Here's the week 6 photo which I forgot to post - the plants were trimmed and the lamp raised another notch:

Mid-week, some of the plants looked like they were starting to wilt and looking in the tank, the water level was very low. The plants were only getting water from the longer roots, so I refilled the tank. 3 days later, it needed another 4 cups of water, so the plants are absorbing enough water that the 2 week timer simply isn't sufficient any more. At this stage, I need to add water at least weekly. Here's the week 7 photo:

The plants were big enough that the lamp was raised another notch. Except for the chives, there's enough growth to harvest each weekend, I think even more often, but I only get to cook on the weekends. I will call the chives a failure, since only two of them sprouted, there wasn't enough growth to cover the hole on the pod. This let light leak through allowing algae to grow. I've covered the hole with a small bit of painters tape to block out the excess light.

What's nice about this set of herbs is that most of it goes well together, so if you're not using a recipe and just want to add some flavor, pinch a twig off two or three plants and you're all set. Here's what I made with some trimmings this weekend - a seared shrimp with garlic sauce over pasta, topped with toasted parmesan and bread crumbs:

I'm not a good cook, so it's not the prettiest thing, but it's delicious and the fresh herbs are very flavorful. I think the appeal with something like this is you don't have to plan ahead on what to buy. Whatever I'm making, I find myself thinking if anything will go well with it and just pinch it off. ^^;;

Anyway, apart from the chives, this is what you could expect from the herb seed kit. In under 2 months, the plants are mature and producing plenty of fresh herbs to use. This will be the last update until I run out of nutrient tablets. I'll update with how long the plants survive without the tablets.


Dylan Gray said...

No the aerogarden actually has sensors for the water level.That little float in the black "Fill To Here" tube and it has a magnet in it which triggers a reed switch....but for the nutrients its on a timer

peto said...

You're absolutely right, there is a floater. It was stuck in the tube and would never fall down to trigger the switch.

Anonymous said...

How did your next planting go with the Aerogarden? I am also wondering if you figured out a way to circumvent using their lights and using your own. Wow! That would be great!

Thanks so much for sharing!

ron said...

Great site and great info. I wanted to give you a tip as well as any other people looking for new seed pods very cheap. Check out They have the kits for $9.95 instead of super high prices you see on the other pages.

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