Aerogarden – Hydroponics For Dummies
Something I haven’t shared here is the fact that I purchased an Aerogarden back in February and have been quietly growing a jungle of herbs in my basement ever since. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Aerogarden is a (now) hugely popular indoor hydroponic herb garden – one that completely takes the guess work out of growing stuff in general, I might add.
Unlike Anthony (from TheCompostBin.com) who was unsuccessful in his attempt to make an Aergarden jump into his shopping cart (haha), my typing fingers had no trouble magically bringing me an Aerogarden in the mail, along with a not-so-magical addition to my credit card bill the next month!
All joking aside, I just couldn’t resist seeing what all the fuss was about. It sounded way too good to be true, but I also couldn’t ignore all the positive reviews I was able to find online. I think part of the appeal resulted from my past dabbling in hydroponics. I’ve set up several hydro systems and have really enjoyed the ease with which I was able to grow lettuce, basil and various other herbs. One of the things I learned during my active hydroponic experimentation days however, was that fluorescent lights just didn’t cut it as a sole light source for doing any serious growing inside (assuming no other light source). This served to fuel my skepticism when I first heard about the Aerogarden. Sure, I could see how you might be able to grow some herbs with it, but tomatoes and peppers?! No way!
I still have not tested flowering plants out myself, but I’ve gotta tell you I’ve been very impressed with its ability to grow herbs – that’s for sure! My Aerogarden is located down in my dark, cold basement (a.k.a my ‘office’) and all the plants in the system have been growing like weeds. It is hands-down the easiest way to grow herbs I’ve ever used. I’ve almost been disappointed that there hasn’t been more for me to do!
Unlike traditional hydroponics, where you generally need to monitor pH, conductivity etc, the Aerogarden handles everything for you. You literally just insert the ‘grow pods’, fill the reservoir with water, add a couple tablets, plug it in, then press a button! You then simply add two nutrient tablets every couple weeks and fill up the reservoir with water whenever it gets low.
As I mentioned a while ago, we were actually away from home for two and a half weeks in March. My dad came and looked after the house while we were away. All he had to do with the aerogarden was add a little water and one set of nutrient tablets. He was also responsible for watering my houseplants. What’s hilarious is that when we got home the houseplants looked terrible (clearly they had been neglected), while the plants in the Aerogarden had grown by leaps and bounds!
This is actually the perfect indoor garden for a person like me! Like my father (haha), I can get pretty absent minded at times, forgetting to water my plants etc. With a system like this I probably couldn’t mess it up if I tried.
One of the things I saw people complain about a fair bit on websites and message boards was the fact that certain plants (in the herb kit that comes with the garden) performed very poorly – they either didn’t germinate at all, or if they did germinate they ended up having dismal growth afterwards. It seemed that the chives and cilantro were especially bad. What’s funny is that both of those ended up being among the first to germinate, and have ended up doing very well, especially the cilantro. Perhaps it is the cooler conditions that is more to their liking – not really sure though.
Aside from just wanting to test out the Aerogarden in general, I also really wanted to be able to easily grow some herbs for cooking. We love fresh herbs, especially basil, so the fact that we wouldn’t have to buy it ‘fresh’ at the grocery store anymore certainly appealed to me as well. Unfortunately there really isn’t an spot in the house where we can grow a nice window herb garden. Whether it be potential attacks from feline marauders (aka our cats), the lack of light, or the lack of space – our current home is not great for ‘growing stuff’ indoors.
As much as I love the Aerogarden, there are some potential negatives. The grow pods, while convenient and very easy to use, are designed to be used only once – thus if you want to play by the rules you’ll need to continue ordering more seed kits. Same goes for the nutrients (which is a little more understandable). I can appreciate the fact that the company needs to tend to its bottomline yada yada, but I just think this is wasteful.
I may buy another seed kit or two just to try them out for fun, but I’m certainly not going to be throwing out the pods. While the foam inside certainly won’t be usable again I can easily pull that out and replace it with some rockwool (a plant growth medium, used extensively in hydroponic systems) and simply use my own seeds. That will certainly save me some cashola, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to achieve similar results.
Obviously the Aerogarden isn’t the ‘greenest’ way to garden either (not that they claim to be). Yes, it uses a lot less power than most good hydroponic lighting systems (I think the entire unit, including pump, uses up the equivalent of 1 incandescent bulb). Yes, the nutrients are supposedly ‘certified organic’. Yes, I think an easy-to-use system like this might do a lot of good as far as getting more people interested in gardening in general.
But when it comes down to it, any system like this that is mass-produced, packaged and shipped all over the world is obviously going to have more of a negative environmental impact than simply doing things ‘the old fashioned way’, with a planter and some soil. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for technology, and am just as guilty as most people when it comes to supporting products and practices that aren’t necessarily the most earth-friendly, but it is still important to keep these things in mind.
Anyway, I’m definitely not trying to rain on the Aerogarden parade here! To their credit, it is a well-made system (unlike other ‘as seen on TV’ hyped up garbage), it seems to work very well, and like I said, I think a system like this could help to get a lot more non-gardening types interested in growing plants. You’ve got to start somewhere, right?
Aside from re-using the plastic pods, I’m hoping to ‘hack’ the system even more by using my own nutrients – perhaps even some more natural growth promoters, such as worm tea. Yes, I am indeed that much of a rebel!
Rest assured, I will continue writing about my Aerogarden experiences here on the blog as well (I have added a new ‘indoor gardening’ category).
[tags]aerogarden, aero garden, aerogrow, hydroponics, aeroponics, indoor gardening, herb garden, window garden, basil, cilantro, chives, parsley, dill[/tags]