I was starting to get into hydroponics and had tried a few systems outdoors and wanted a system for indoor gardening.
I managed to find a cheap one on ebay and bought it.
After unboxing, I can still remember the curiosity at this clam shell device which is supposed to grow plants.
Looks wise, it doesn’t look too bad, with its curved surfaces on the base and lid.
The one I bought had been stored in the attic after first use and well…
After a thorough clean I was happy with it, the old dried on roots gone, along with the white residue from the nutrient water.
I now wonder how many of these units are stored away in attics after the first cycle of plants.
Filling the reservoir with water to test it and placing it on the base. Plugging it in and seeing the led light up, the grow lights come on and the pump start, wow it works.
As I had some experience with hydroponics I decided not to buy a seed kit and go with canna vega nutrient with small rockwool grow cubes.
I decided to plant some basil and lettuces.
That was one of my first mistakes, either grow herbs or vegetables – not both together!
The light hood was adjusted to its lowest level, the clear domes were placed over the seed pods and I waited.
The lettuce were the first of the seeds to germinate. Seeing the small first leaves poking up out of the grow cube with this system was brilliant.
Checking daily on the amount of water that was being used, no surprises that I didn’t have to add too much.
The basil did start to germinate a week after the lettuce’s had started.
After a week I had to remove the domes as the plants were struggling to grow.
The Basil had started to overtake the lettuce for height.
I don’t remember how long it took for the lettuce to mature, but they did and we did enjoy them, taking leaves off them and as they gradually shrank, removing them.
This proved that you need to plant crops of similar lifetime as the root mass will tangle itself.
Pulling out the lettuce you are pulling out some of the basil roots.
The roots themselves were white and healthy.
The basil had shot up, even with pruning. The light had to be moved away from the low growing lettuce, another reason to grow crops of a similar type. So I am sure the lettuce could have grown better and thicker leaves if the light was lower.
With the basil growing as quick as it was, it was being pruned weeklyand still growing large.
My problem was what to do with the pruned leaves.
First try was to place the cut stem and leaves in a little glass of water.
They would stay alive for a week like this.
Ok, so we used about half of them for cooking, the other half wilted and got composted.
Then I tried the top of the boiler to dry them out, almost successful but the dust you got instead of bits of basil leaf was not that appealing. It had some of the taste of the fresh but…
So I thought of freezing them. Placed in a bag and put in the freezer.
Yeah ok there is water in there and there was every chance on thawing them out they would turn out to be very limp with little flavour.
But i was wrong, the leaves did wilt a little but the flavour was still there.
As we like cooking indian food we like chilli. So , you probably guessed it, for my second experiment I had to try a chilli plant.
The seed grew and started to increase in size, until one day there was a flower.
This little white, five petaled, open flower.
Do in need to pollinate it?, do I need to do anything else?
So I used a paint brush to tickle the middle, and shook the stem for good measure – I know it isn’t a tomato but…
A few days later the flower dropped off, oh well I thought that’s it.
But I was amazed as over the next week this little plump protrudence started to grow.
It was green in colour, long and slender.
My first chilliâ€¦wow.
I wonder what it was like, how hot is is…
Yes we did eat it – in a chilli con carne, as a garnish.
The smell of that fresh chilli as you first cut the top off, it smells like a fresh sweet pepper. Packed full of seeds the rest of it was cut into rings and sprinkled onto the top of the meal.
Oh the flavour… as you bite down onto the firm flesh of the chilli, it tasted like it smelled, the taste of sweet pepper. The heat doesn’t hit you immediately, but builds quickly. But not too much.
Oh yes, this was worth it.
Looking at the plant and its other flowers I knew we were going to enjoy it.
Little did i know that 10 years later I would still be enjoying the taste of these sweet chilli pods.
The excess, well some are in the freezer and others I took into work and had a hand out. Little plastic bags were filled with the little seed packed pods.
The question came back, time after time, ‘are there any more’ or ‘ how is that plant of yours doing’, ‘absolutely excellent’, ‘brilliant taste’.
The ones in the freezer, well 5 years later we still have some. and they are still alright, packed with flavour and heat.
If you leave them on the plant, as with peppers they will turn fromgreen to red, leaving them longer they do start to dry before falling off the plant. But it is best if you remove them either green or red, this allows the plant to produce more flowers and more chillis.
The plant is on its last legs now, shame.
But I cut off one of the branches about a year ago and have created a clone of the original. Just place it in a grow cube and allow the system to do the rest.
I have accumulated another couple of Aerogardens, this was all before Miracle-gro bought them out.
So they are the same type as before, 6 pod classics.
In them I have grown more basil, thyme, chilli, parsley.
The basil I managed to keep alive for over 6 years, the thyme was going for a couple of years, the parsley stem was about 10mm diameter and 4 years old.
I was amazed at how long these herbs which died out yearly in the garden grew.
I have heard that tomato plants in the right conditions can last for up to four years – this is worth an experiment with a cherry tomato plant. But I will need to put this into it’s own Aerogarden as tomatoes don’t like to have too much competition.
Over the years the only maintenance i have done to the Aerogarden is to replace the lights, almost twice yearly at the start, they do get expensive with the unusual fitting.
I decided to convert one to leds, red, blue and white. This was all before the Aerogardens had this option.
Yes it works. I created a 25 watt unit which screwed up into where the lights fitted and ran it off a timer.
It was unusual to see the plants lit up with the red and blue – turned them almost black looking at them.
Replacing the pumps as they fail over time. Definitely worth keeping a spare in as if it does fail the plants wilt within days.
I now use a little hand pump to empty the reservoir every month or so and refill with tepid water and canna vega for 3 litres of water.
Daily checks on the water level and in the summer top ups to keep it full are the only other maintenance I have had to do.
So these units really are easy to keep.
Over the last year I have been hit with what I think is aphids.
I have tried spraying with soapy water, washing the plants, baking soda dissolved in soapy water and nothing really has removed them.
I lost the basil to them, along with the parsley. They like the chilli but not as much.
So at the moment I am limited as to what i can grow.
I have a theory that if I had a fan to create an airflow I wouldn’t have had this problem.
This is think is one of the down sides of the Aerogarden – still air with no way of upgrading.
It would be nice to see an auxilliary socket to allow the plugging in of a fan. I can feel another mod coming on.
Pros of the Aerogarden
They are a neat little compact self contained unit which can be placed almost anywhere in the home.
They are useful in the spring to start off your outdoor seeds – if you have one free at that time.
They will grow almost anything sensible, I have seen a video of someone who tried watermelon. He managed to grow two but they didn’t look good inside, so I would not recommend it.
Herbs, flowers, salad leaves, definitely all recommended, as are chilli plants. All of these are available as seed kits, with preseeded pods and enough nutrient to keep them going for a season.
I would go for the long life led version to lower the maintenance.
The control panel is very simple to use, and once set, the only button you will press are the reset button when you are told to replace the nutrient or if it gets out of synch with your lighting, the lights button to reset its light sequence.
But other than that, with the daily top up of water ( jug kept on a shelf below the unit) and monthly replacement of nutrient, there is not much to do other than enjoy, and eat, the plants.
I have heard that the customer service, now it has been taken over by Miracle-gro is very good, so if you do experience problems then just give them a call. But with the easy to follow instructions and easy to assemble units there should be little need.
Cons of the Aerogarden
The cost of the compact grow lights with their not popular fitting is the first downside and one I think most people struggle with to keep it going.
The upgrade to led lighting is brilliant and is highly recommended.
As stated above I think there should be an auxilliary power port to add a fan for a lot of the plants – to help reduce th bugs as well as strengthen the plant stems.
The constant trickling water sound if the water level is not kept topped up can annoy some. for me it is a reminder to just add a little more water.
On the early ones, the lack of control over the timing of the pump and the lights, other than the preset timings, was annoying. But they have addressed this on the larger later models and the timings are all adjustable.
Lids for the unused pods would be very useful – rather than using paper circles or leaving them open ( not a good idea).
I feel a 3d printed design coming on.
Maybe storage in the base for the clear covers and the nutrients which would keep everything together.
Would I get another Aerogarden
I am thinking of getting one of the newer sprout model with 3 pods
to grow fast crops, like coriander – something you will use all of it at once, possibly leave some to go to seed for either fresh seed to grind or more seed to grow.
I have just started a thai chilli plant along with some purple basil, so need somewhere for these to go.
So if you know of someone who has one of these put away in the attic, or in the shed. if you don’t want it maybe …
As far as I can see I will be keeping them going. Would i recommend them – yes as an easy to keep hydroponics unit which will give you a very good crop over time.
This has been my experience with the Aerogarden so far, i hope you have enjoyed my journey so far and decide to join me by getting a unit.
Thanks for reading