Sunday, February 03, 2008

AeroGarden Review And How To Get One For Free

I was lamenting about only having frech lettuce, herbs, chives, and tomatoes from may garden during the long fall-winter-spring parts of the year. The refrigerated stuff from the grocery store goes bad right away and does not taste as good as the fresh stuff from the garden, either.

Then I saw a Time Magazine page on the new AeroGrow AeroGarden, and I just had to try it out. After reading the AeroGrow website before making the purchase, I realized that buying one garden would not work for me, as the tomatoes cannot be grown in the same garden as lettuce & herbs. This is partially due to the large amount of room taken up by the tomatoes, and also because the lamp/watering cycle is different and finally because the nutrients are different.

So, I bought two gardens, along with the Salad Greens seed kit and Cherry Tomato seed kit. Each garden comes with a mixed herb kit, so I figured to mix in a few herbs with the other seeds, and if they did not work, no big loss.

The products came quickly and the instructions for assembly were very clear and well written with excellent diagrams. I came to realize that this somewhat pricey product at least comes from a company that produces a classy product (a rare thing these days). I found a space on a shelf beside the basement stairs, and placed both assembled gardens there. I also bought and placed a digital thermometer with maximum/minimum temperature memory readouts ($10 at Radio Shack), because I was unsure of what temperature extremes the plants might experience in that location (68-72 as it turns out).

The seed kits contain pre-seeded planting pods. Each pod is basically a plastic cup shaped frame with two pieces of foam rubber inside the cup part, like two slices of bread with the seeds sandwiched between them. They simply insert into the seven holes in the top of the garden's water tank. The Salad Greens and Herbs come with seven pods per kit, while the Tomatos come with three pods plus four hole plugs-the plants are bigger so three of them take up thw whole space available. The hole plugs prevent evaporation of the water through the unoccupied holes.

The water tank holds exactly one gallon of regular drinking water. Well water is not recommended, presumably because of impurities, and since I am on a well I bought two one-gallon plastic jugs of 'drinking water' at the store for 50 cents each and filled the tanks with their contents. A pump in the tank takes water and pipes it to the rim of each of the seven holes in the tank's top, and here the trickle of water flows into the foam sandwich of each seed pod. The foam stays moist and the rest of the water drips back down into the tank. The garden's 'computer' cycles the water flow on and off according to the amount recommended for the type of plant being grown. A water level sensor turns on a flashing red light when it is time to add more water to the tank.

The top of the garden is a reflector with two compact-fluorescent lamps, of the variety that has the special ultraviolet (UV) coating that causes the emmitted light to resemble sunlight. The reflector rides on a vertical pole that extends up from the garden's base, so you can raise and lower the lamps as required to keep them the correct distance above the plants. The garden's 'computer' also turns the lamps on and off according to a schedule tailored to the type of plant. If using the gardens in a place where the light might be a problem at night, you can syncronize the computer so that the lights are on only during the daytime and off when you are trying to sleep.

The seed kits come with little clear plastic cups that cover each pod until the seeds have germinated, then you can dispose of them. The kits also come with a bag of nutrient tablets, which you add to the water tank when the computer prompts you to by flashing a red light. The nutrients are tailored to the type of plant being grown, and there are enough of them to feed the plants during their anticipated life span.

I planted one garden with five salad green (leaf lettuce) pods, plus one pod each from the Herb kit, chives and parsley. The other garden got the threee pods from the Cherry Tomato kit; two reds and one yellow variety.

Each seed pod has a label that tells you how many days to wait for plants to appear after germination. All of my plants appeared like clockwork.

I have had the gardens for about six weeks now, and have been enjoying salads containing lettuce, parsley and chives plus other odds and ends from the fridge, for the last two or three weeks. The lettuce and herbs are all beautiful, with no problems from bugs or too much/too little water, excessive temperatures, etc. No need to wash the plants or check for bugs or pick off bad spots, everything goes straight to the salad bowl. What a joy! Even with only five lettuce plants, I have to eat two meals including salad each day to keep up with the growth. This would easily feed two people, and if all seven salad green pods had been used, three people.

The tomatoes are all doing well ahnd have been pruned according to instructions. It will be some time yet before they produce flowers, and then fruit. But based on the health of the plants, I expect a good yield.

Each seed kit comes with a full color manual/booklet that covers all aspects of 'planting', germinating, feeding, pruning (if required) and then harvesting the plants. There are also photos of plants where things have gone wrong (leaves burned because the lamps were not raised up as the plants grew taller, etc) with clear instructions on how to recognize problems and correct them. Harvesting instructions clearly tell how much can be taken at a time without killing the plant, and so on.

The AeroGrow gardens are a well designed, well built product with excellent documentation. All my visitors are amazed at how well the product works, and many have gone out and bought their own. I anticipate years of improved eating because of this product.

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