How to have fresh herbs all year round: even when the ground is frozen
When you care about what you eat, what is sprayed onto your
vegetables and salad leaves then you have certain choices.
You can buy organic after researching the companies who supply where you buy from or you grow your own, if you are lucky enough to have the space.
When growing your own you are after the freshest, tastiest, most nutritious plants you can get your hands on.
So when the cold season comes around, you look out of the window waiting for the slightly warmer weather to come around.
What if you could extend or even ignore the seasons, what if you could grow your crops all year round.
What can you do
Well you could bring your outdoor garden indoors.
But bringing that soil inside, with all of the mess, bugs and your pets now refusing to go outside 🙂
Normally in the summer all of that stops at the front door , why would you bring it inside?
The indoor garden will still be as unpredictable as the outdoor one, but have less light to do it with.
So what’s the alternative?
Heard of hydroponics?
Noâ€¦well that is growing plants without soil.
Using just water, plant food (nutrient) and light.
This method is more predictable, cleaner and you have faster growing plants.
Why – the plants don’t have to search for their food, the nutrient rich water is surrounding their roots.
With that you can grow more in a smaller space.
These portable units have been designed for an indoor existence.
So let’s have a look and see what is available.
What is available
The hydroponics units range from very small ( Aerogarden herbie) to absolutely huge (Aerogarden farm), but in this review I will concentrate on one which I believe that is a good starter model.
I saw it advertised on Amazon at a knockdown price and owning several of the older units I thought this would be a good time to see how they have changed.
I own the older Aerogarden classic with 7 holes and the compact fluorescent light hood.
This is the more compact Miracle-gro Aerogarden Harvest 6 pod
The Miracle-gro aerogarden harvest
The (#ad) Aerogarden Harvest is a small countertop unit which would not look out of place in any room of the house.
With the newer led light top you can be certain that this will last a lot longer than the older compact fluorescent bulbs ( these had to be changed after 6 months), typically 10,000 hours, or over three years.
With the led grow lights in the lowest position the size is 11″ wide x 7.5″ deep x 11″ high (28 cm x 19cm X 28 cm).
With the lights at their highest, the height is 17.5″ (44 cm).
So if you do locate it under a cupboard and the lights need to go up make sure there is space above them, as you don’t want to overheat the lights and shorten their life.
The growing bowl is a small container housing a water pump.
The lid has 9 holes in, 6 for the seed pods, 2 for small pipes and one filling hole.
Planting the Aerogarden is as easy as placing the pre-seeded pods
into the holes.
You do need to think about what plants you are placing where.
But the labels have some information to help here
Ideally tall plants to the rear and short to the front.
Mainly so you can see what the plants are doing rather than for the plants themselves.
Setting it up
Place the harvest where you will be growing the plants.
You will need a power outlet within 60″ (1.5m) for the cable to reach.
What you get in the kit are a set of gourmet herbs seed pods.
Including Genovese Basil, Thai Basil, Thyme, Dill, Mint and Curly Parsley.
I can think of a few recipes that will benefit from these really fresh herbs.
So looking at this set, Dill is a tall leggy plant, as are most of the rest, possibly with the exception of the Thyme.
So the Thyme goes to the front left, Genovese Basil back left, Curly Parsley back right, Dill and Mint in the middle, leaving the Thai basil front right.
These should make a nice greenery display.
So pop the seed pods in place and place the clear greenhouse domes over the top to help germination.
Fill the reservoir with water by opening the front cover up to the Â ‘fill here’ marker on the tube. It will take about 9 cups (2 litres) of water to fill it up.
Add two 4ml capfuls of nutrient ( after you have shaken the bottle), this is the messiest part of the process – I would have thought they
would supply a syringe for you to add the nutrient.
The cap holds 4ml so a 2.5ml syringe topped up to 2ml four times will keep the cap clean. The instructions for the nutrient are located on an under label, peel the right hand side – not the left as I did !!
There is a warning not to get the nutrient into your eyes so make sure you wash your hands and the cap after using.
This nutrient is added every two weeks, and the Aerogarden will remind you of this with a flashing ‘add nutrient’ light.
So with a feed rate of 8ml every two weeks you have about 22 weeks supply ( approx 6 months) of nutrient in the supplied bottle.
The next thing to do is to plug it in, it will automatically come on – there is no power switch on the unit.
After you get used to the bright led lights, press the middle select button on the control panel so the herb led is lit.
This selects one of three programmed light and watering sequences.
And that’s it, leave them to grow.
If you are like me, you will be checking on them several times a day.
I would get a small pouring container to top up the water daily to the fill here level, preventing the nutrient solution getting too concentrated. There is an ‘add water’ warning light which flashes when the level drops to halfway down the bowl in case you forget.
As your plants grow bigger they will take up more water so more will be needed to replenish this. What I have taken to doing is to have a 1l jug standing on a shelf under the unit ( preferably out of sunlight to prevent algae growth) and use a portion of this to refill the bowl. This way it allows the water to come up to room temperature and any chemical to evaporate off. You also get to check on your plants daily.
If you live in an area with harsh water, which you don’t like drinking then if you can either use filtered or bottled water for your plants.
The lights are on for 16 hours with the veggie cycle, 18 hours with the herbs cycle or there is a 24 hour option.
If the lights are going to disturb you then you can switch them off and they will come on t the start of the next cycle.
To start the cycle then press and hold the lights button until the leds flash and release the button.
This is the opposite to the old units where you pressed and reset the lights to the off portion of the cycle. I find that better as you can press and hold just as you are going to bed and the lights would go off.
The power consumption is 25 watts when the lights are on and an extra 4 watts when the pump is on.
You will hear the pump switch on for about 5 minutes every hour, this is programmed in, to keep the nutrient rich water circulating over the roots of your plant and growing at the best rate.
And that’s about it, not really complicated, just something you get used to, fit it into a small part of your life and reap the benefits of really fresh herbs, picked when you want them.
Will the plants last?
Well in the old system I grew basil and had that going, pinching out the flowers when they started to grow, for about 5 years. The leaves on that plant were about 4 ” (10 cm) long. and the fresh taste torn up on a freshly baked pizza MMMMMM.
That got thrips and I didn’t nip those in the bud. So even hydroponics are not immune to pests and diseases.
Benefits of the Miracle-gro Aerogarden harvest
- Easy to care for compact countertop unit.
- Fresh herbs at your fingertips.
- Different seed pod kits.
- Indoor gardening system.
- Able to grow most compact plants.
- Led lights power efficient.
- Low maintenance.
- Messy addition of the nutrient ( see above for solution)
- Emptying the bowl can be a pain.
- Lights can be intrusive ( can be switched off)
- Dripping noise of water can irritate.
So what will it cost to run?
A lot of people think that these will cost a ortune to run.
The lights on for 18 hours a day.
Well let’s have a look.
The light power is 25watts.
And if they are on for 18 hours, the unit will take 18*25 = 450watts a day.
so for simplicity lets call that 500watts.
So every two days it will use 1 unit of electricity.
In the UK about 13p and in the States 10cents.
if you run it for the whole year it is 182.5 times this or:
In the UK £23.72 and in the States $18.25.
To grow fresh herbs, salad leaves or tomatoes – is it too much?
Additions I think are needed
I have briefly touched on these above.
It would be nice to see a better bowl emptying system as when the plants grow larger it is interesting trying to balance the lid without damaging the roots.
I feel that you need an accessory kit comprising of:
- Water storage jug – and somewhere to place it out of direct light.
- 2.5ml syringe – to measure the nutrient.
- Paint brush – to assist in pollinating your plants.
- Scissors – to cut the tips off the plants and harvest cleanly.
- X10 magnifier to check for bugs.
- Record book – to assist in the future growing the same plants.
- Little gripseal bags – to store the excess harvest in the freezer.
- Storage drawer – to store all of the above tools neatly under the unit.
I have made a storage plinth and will detail it in another post.
Verdict on the Miracle-gro Aerogarden Harvest
I really think that if you enjoy outdoor gardening then you should invest in one of these.
Put it in the kitchen and watch the herbs you cook with grow.
Once up to a certain height start using them in your cooking or put the excess in the freezer for another day.
Pick the leaves and smell the strong fresh scent, you know these are going to be good to eat.
Getting children involved in growing things helps them learn where things come from and how they grow.
With the speed of growth in hydroponics they will be seeing changes everyday. Watch them rush up to the unit to see what has changed and help with the low maintenance tasks.
But I would seriously think about one of these units if you like growing fresh herbs. You will be amazed at the results.
As I say I now have four of these units ( three older ones and the harvest), they are all full and continuously growing – you will be amazed how long plant will live for given the right conditions. Basil 5 plus years and chilli’s 10 plus years and still going.
I would be interested to know if you are going to try strawberries, tomatoes, salad greens, chilli’s, flowers or something else. So what will you be growing in your Miracle-gro Aerogarden Harvest ?
Having planted three of the pods in my aerogarden harvest on 13th Dec 2018, i waited for something to happen.
Watching the pods daily for any green growth is what we do.
I saw some, what i thought was mold forming on one of the pods, but after two weeks i saw green down the centre hole.
No images of that, but at week three – first week of the new year, these are the plants.
Even the purple Basil, which i thought i was losing has recovered and rubbing the leaves, you get the classic, very strong basil aroma.
I will continue to update these images to show the progress of the plants.
04 jan 2019 quick update
Just had the lights flashing to add nutrients.
Checked the book which says that both lights flashing means add more water – as mine is topped up daily then…
Both flashing means add nutrient.
it also says, as a throwaway statement, to replace the water and nutrient every 4 weeks.
So i have a syringe (2.5mL) and will be putting 4 off 2mL measures in.
The plants have grown since i took the images above.
09 jan 2019
Just a quick update
I managed to break the stem of one of the basil plants and it had wilted badly.
I decided to try to clone it.
Trimming the stem and pushing it into the nutrient outlet of the spare hole i left it.
I noticed that the top leaves were no better, but the lower leaves were recovering.
So I trimmed the top off ( put that on the top of the boiler to dry and use later).
A week later and the plant is starting to grow roots!
So cloning your plants is as easy as that with basil.
The others are growing as well
The Aerogarden Harvest not only grows herbs from seeds, but you can clone them too.
Have you tried this, and how successful were you? Leave acomment in the box.
19- feb -2019 update
Well the plants have gone mad – after the last water and nutrient change I thought that there was some nutrient lockout, and maybe there was with the slow growth.
The plants have certaily made up for it now.
The basil has really gone mad – i have had to pinch out a few flowers to prevent the leaves going bitter.
And raise the lights – it is now 225mm growing space ( 9 inches)
The plants are using about half a litre of water a day so topping up is very important – it maybe worth investing in an Aerovoir ( a reservoir designed for the aerogardens).
The poor old mint is getting smothered, but is hanging in there – sending out long shoots to get to the light .
So trimming day is coming soon.
I have experimented with the cut basil and about a month after cutting some off and putting it in a glass of water, changed every few
days,Â it has started rooting! hydroponics going on without the aerogarden.
If you like basil then definitely get one of these systems, you will be drying it over the year.
’till next time
I have been growing plants hydroponically since 2009. For years before that i was reading books and looking at systems and saying ...no way...
But once i had taken the plunge with the tomatoes outside, then there was no stopping me.
I tried out most of the systems and started to refine them, getting the plants to grow more efficiently.
Now I am more interested in indoor hydroponics and the challenges it presents. Being able to control the environment, feeding the correct nutrients and giving the correct length and type of lighting....