I had heard a lot about the AeroGarden, so when I was offered an opportunity to review one, I gladly accepted. The AeroGarden, for those of you not already familiar with it, is an automated hydroponic growing system meant for people who have never gardened before. I thought it would be a great way to have fresh herbs in the winter time and dispel cabin fever a little bit.
Where do I put this thing?
Since it is designed to make gardening as easy as possible, I was a bit surprised at the challenges I had setting it up. But that’s mostly because I live in an old, retrofitted rural home. They expect you to put it in an evenly heated environment (65F/18C to 75F/24C), near an electrical outlet, on a sturdy, water-tolerant surface away from the reach of children or pets. Yes, the kitchen counter would have worked well–except I didn’t want to give up any of my precious counter space. Because we heat with a wood stove, some of the rooms are too warm and some probably drop below 65F, at least some of the time. Most electrical outlets seem to be spoken for, either for lighting or powering electronic devices of one sort or another. You don’t really want it in a bedroom, because it needs to stay lit for 17 hours a day. I finally settled on the living room, which is on the cool side, and I dug up a sturdy but ugly little table to put it on. I guess I will have to exercise eternal vigilance when the occasional toddler comes to visit, or shut the door to that room.
Set-up was a breeze
It was very easy to put together. No tools needed, and not even that much hand strength. If you’re good at interpreting diagrams, you don’t really even need to know how to read to assemble it.
What do you have against my water?
Once you’ve put it together, add water. The super-duper deluxe model I was sent, the AeroGarden Ultra LED, needs a little over a gallon of water. My rural and frugal sensibilities were offended by the injunction to avoid using well water, which may “interfere with our nutrients.” Use distilled water instead, the directions say. No, I don’t think so. I may condescend to using the water from the dehumidifier, but I’m not buying fancy water to grow plants, for pity’s sake. How my well water could be more harmful to plants than municipal tap water with its fluoride and chlorine added is hard to imagine. Some people do have sulfur water or high levels of iron and perhaps that’s what they are thinking of. They also advise against using softened water which has high levels of sodium, and that is pretty standard advice for houseplants.
Add nutrients, insert seed pods
The next step is to add a measured amount of their nutrient solution to the water. The nutrient solution is included in the seed pod kit, not the AeroGarden itself. Perhaps there are different formulations for different kinds of plants. The nutrients must be replenished every two weeks, but not to worry, the AeroGarden will remind you. Finally, you insert the seed pods. This is as close as you get to planting anything. The seed pods are cone-shaped plastic containers with grow sponges and preplanted seeds. They are helpfully labeled with height descriptions on the labels, so you know which to put in the front and which in the back. And then you put little grow domes over each of the pods, which are removed when the seeds germinate.All that remains left to do is press a couple of buttons. Press the Quick Plant button, tell it what kind of seed pod kit you inserted, and set the time. The AeroGarden computer takes care of all the rest, which I find rather disturbing.
You call this gardening?
There is nothing left for me to do but read the little screen, topping up the water and adding more nutrients when it tells me to. It’s not really gardening so much as babysitting. If the herbs taste garden-fresh, that will be some consolation.
I can see the AeroGarden being perfect for classrooms and senior living communities, where there is an interest in plants–but not a consistent interest. School children will rush in to see if “their” plants have grown over the weekend, and then go off to the next distraction. Assisted living residents will check the tomatoes or strawberries for ripeness (yes you can grow either with the AeroGarden) as they shuffle into the dining room, and feel thankful they don’t have to water.
There are a wide variety of seed pod kits and even accessories to let you completely design your own pods with your own seeds. But I’m thinking, if you’ve gotten to that point, you’re really ready for a bona fide garden in the ground, a full-size seed starting stand, and maybe a greenhouse or a full-scale hydroponic set-up. Unless, perhaps, if you live in a fifth-floor apartment with no balcony.
I received an AeroGarden Ultra LED to review. The opinions expressed are my own.