Kitchen countertop hydroponic herb gardens have been around for several years, and I have to say, I was a bit skeptical as to their practicality. Then I got one as a gift for Christmas, and the journey began.
My family is always looking for gardening things that I just have to have. Sometimes, I find I really do have to have it, and sometimes, I am better off without it. My son gave me an AeroGarden Harvest Elite kit, so of course, I had to try it.
It came with six pre-planted pods — Genovese basil, Thai basil, dill, thyme, mint and parsley. You fill the reservoir with water, pop in the pods, plug it in and turn it on.
For herbs, the full spectrum LED light stays on for 18 hours a day. You have a button to push to tell it whether you’re growing herbs (18 hours) or vegetables (16 hours); or you can leave it on 24 hours. I am using the 18-hour herb setting.
The light stand is height adjustable. When I first planted my herbs, the light source was closer to the base, and after the plants starting growing, I raised the height until it is now at the maximum height of about 12 inches. Counting the light, my kit is 17.4 inches tall by 10.5 inches wide by 6 inches deep.
As gardeners know, all plants are not equal and all seeds don’t germinate at the same speed. My Genovese basil was sprouting in three days, while it took a full 2 ½ weeks before anything appeared in the parsley pod. Even now, 2 months into it, the parsley is barely growing.
But the good news is, I don’t need that parsley — I already have a lot growing outdoors.
The directions said not to remove the pod labels telling you what was growing. So, I did not. I would recommend you remove the labels. Leaving them on makes the space more limited. I started pulling the labels back after the plants started growing, and I accidentally uprooted a dill seedling.
If you are afraid you can’t remember what is what, make a list for yourself.
Included in the kit are small plastic domes to put over the pods to help keep moisture in during germination. Once the plants grow and start to hit the pods, remove the domes. I kept mine for future use, but a small clear plastic cup would also work.
The kit also comes with liquid fertilizer and instructions on how much to use. A small light comes on in the bottom reminding you when to fertilize, and to add water if you aren’t paying attention.
I think you will be amazed at how much water you do have to add once the plants really kick into growing. I check it frequently and top up the water regularly.
I have been impressed. I have been using the basil now for weeks. The more you prune it, the bushier it grows.
I don’t use as much dill, so I just let it grow, and grow it did. It was easily topping the light kit. I finally cut the dill back by two-thirds, dried the tops and have it jarred for later use. It is growing back, but I am not sure if I am going to keep it or not.
I knew to plant the dill toward the back of the planter since it does grow taller. That is something to think about. Try to learn something about the plants you will be growing and arrange them based on height. I know thyme is low growing, so I planted it at the front. I put the two basils side by side, and the dill and the mint at the back. Even though mint doesn’t get tall, it will spread.
Now that I have been using my hydroponic garden for two months, I am sold on it. I do have a few things I will change. I am going to pull the parsley and clean the pod and replant.
Speaking of cleaning, somehow I missed the tip about cleaning out the reservoir once a month. I haven’t had any problems, but it was pretty dirty when I cleaned it after two months. You unplug the machine from the wall, unplug the pump, then remove the part holding the pods in (get a look at those roots!), then dump out the old water, clean it with clear water (no soap) and then wipe it down. Refill with water and add fertilizer, then put the plants back in, plug it back in, and you are all set to grow.
GOODBYE, PITIFUL PARSLEY
I am getting rid of the parsley because it isn’t growing, and I am not wasting the space on it. I am going to experiment with adding a couple of small cilantro transplants to one of the pods. I think the key is to grow what you use.
You can plant your own seeds, but some seeds are slow as molasses to get growing (like parsley), and I can be an impatient gardener, so I am going to experiment with transplants.
I like having fresh basil all winter, but I will probably try something else in the summer, since I grow basil in my outdoor garden in the summer. I like having the thyme right there in the kitchen, since I do use it, but I also have a ton of thyme growing outdoors. If the cilantro works, I could grow that indoors all summer as it doesn’t do well outside — and I love and use cilantro. I may also try oregano.
The key is to experiment. As with any type of garden, some things are easier to grow than others. If something doesn’t work, try something else.
I keep my house on the cool side — some might say the deep freeze! I was worried that the low temperatures might affect the heat-loving basil, but it has thrived. Temperature can make a difference with some plants, but so far, nothing has been bothered at my house.
The unit I have is one of the smaller gardens from this company, but for me, it is just the right size. It doesn’t take up much counter space and it is convenient. If you have a large family or want to grow more plants, there are plenty of larger options available, at prices that range from $79.95 to more than $1,000.
Besides herbs, you can also buy pre-planted vegetable pods. I think lettuce would be easy, and depending on the size of your family, this setup might produce plenty to keep you growing and eating. I may try that in the summer when I want fresh lettuce and can’t grow it outside.
I am a bit skeptical about planting tomatoes indoors, just based on the size of the vines, but cherry tomatoes might do fine. I think another application could be seed starting. You could use this to get your seeds germinated and then transplant them to their own pots once they are up and growing.
Based on size alone, a countertop garden is not going to provide a family with unlimited vegetables, but it is fantastic for supplying me with fresh herbs. I have even had my favorite salad caprese with heirloom cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and my basil!
Garden catalogs abound with innovative ideas for home gardeners. It is always great to try something new!
Read Janet Carson’s blog at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet.