It’s a little over a year since I picked up an Aerogarden and began growing with a simple hydroponics system. Since then, I’ve had some seeds that failed to grow, some that ended up being strangled out, and some that were so incredibly successful that I had to choose to kill them in order to keep growing. I expanded my growing system with an iDoo system and bought some better indoor grow lights that helped my plants grow taller and healthier. This past year I experimented with a lot of different plants, and unlike my outdoor gardening, I felt both victory and failure.
What was planted?
I started with a 6-pod Aerogarden and added a 12-pod iDoo system. Over the course of the past year, I planted:
- Deer Tongue
- Red Sails
- Black Seeded Simpson
- Rouge d’Hiver
- Parris Island
- Marvel of 4 Seasons
- Thai Chillies
- Iceberg Lettuce
- Bell Peppers
- Bok Choy
- Thai Basil
Where did I achieved a reasonable victory?
I experienced victory with a number of different plants. Iceberg Lettuce, Deer Tongue, Red Sails, Bok Choy, Black Seeded Simpson, Rouge d’Hiver, Parris Island, and Spinach all produced and supplemented at least one meal. That said, some did much better than others.
Spinach was probably the least successful. I was able to provide a handful of leaves, but they were quite bitter as the plant went to see incredibly quickly. We eat a lot of spinach in my home, so I was very disappointed. I tried growing it several times, but it always went to seed before any leaves were worth harvesting. That said, most of my attempts were at the house, and the basement was quite a bit warmer than where I currently live. This means I may want to retry growing this with different conditions.
Deer Tongue, Red Sails, Black Seeded Simpson, Parris Island, and Rouge d’Hiver all came in the Aerogarden kit (plus Marvel of 4 seasons which failed). These were great at providing a really nice salad mix and generally provided between 8-12 harvests (and salads). Once the Black Seeded Simpson, Parris Island, and Rouge d’Hiver went to seed they became exceptionally bitter. I replaced them with Iceberg Lettuce and was able to continue having quite a few salads before the remaining salad greens reached their end.
The Bok Choy grew huge. Although I tried just harvesting a bunch of leaves and letting it regrow, the speed with which it grew required me to harvest the whole stock. I still have one last head remaining, and as you can see it’s grown enormous.
Where did victory cause other plants to fail?
Thai Chillies and Thai Basil were another pair of plants that experienced extreme victory. Both were planted in my Aerogarden. From a single seed, I was able to harvest nearly 400 g of Thai Basil every 2 weeks. Similarly, the Chillies plant was a 2-foot tree and I was harvesting 6 chillies one week and 12-24 the next.
I finally chose to kill both plants mid-October so I could fully clean out the Aerogarden and almost 2/3 of the water reservoir was just their roots.
Marvel of 4 Seasons was one of the salad greens that came in the Aerogarden starter pack. It never grew. Since it was one of the first-six planted, it wasn’t strangled out by other roots. The seeds were just duds. Supposedly I could contact aerogarden and let them know they failed and get a fresh starter. I don’t really need to at this point, as I’ve grown a lot of other plants since.
The Bell Peppers also completely failed. I actually haven’t had any luck with bell peppers, with many of the seeds turning into fuzzy messes right out of the pack. I’ve since disposed of the seed pack, as I suspect the whole pack isn’t any good.
Finally, I tried planting some Mint and Dill, both also from Aerogarden starter packs. Sadly, both were strangled out by my ferociously victorious Thai Basil and Thai Chillies. As noted previously, the root systems filled about 2/3 of the aerogarden tank, leaving precious little space for anything else to grow.
What did I learn?
I learned a couple of important lessons. Some about how plants grow, some about the flaws of the Aerogarden and iDoo hydroponic systems, and some about my own consumption tendencies.
First, I learned that if let to grow & regrow too long, root balls get HUGE and prevent other plants from growing. I never intended for the Thai Basil & Thai Chillies to grow as much as they did, but that’s how it went. With the later growing over 2-feet tall, and the former continually regrowing, the aerogarden became inhospitable to all other plants.
Second, spinach and some of the other salad greens need to be kept a little cooler to prevent them from going to seed too quickly. It’s also very important to trim them the moment they start seeding as this can extend how long they grow.
Third, the distance and type of lighting make a difference. The full-spectrum lights are good for some plants, while the blue-red lights are better for others to achieve victory. The full-spectrum lights are definitely more for “fruiting” plants, like the Thai Chillies. Having a small fan blowing downward lightly is also good for these plants as they help the pollen distribute. The iDoo unit is really good for lighting & having a fan, whereas the Aerogarden only uses a full-spectrum light.
Finally, I learned that it’s important to keep space between plants, as they have a habit of growing quite a bit wider than I’ve ever managed with traditional or greenhouse gardening. The various salad greens, iceberg lettuce, and bok choy all crowded into the plants next to them fighting for space & light. So although I count them as a victory, they prevented other plants from growing.
I utilized 2 different off-the-shelf systems: Aerogarden & iDoo. Both are good for someone that has never done any hydroponic work before, and both were pretty easy to use. That said, there were some limitations.
The aerogarden uses a full-spectrum light, which is good for most non-plants. However, the light does not lift up particularly high. This results in relatively low-growing plants reaching the top of the growing container and going to seed. The cord for the light/pump is very short, so it is not possible to remove it from the base and mount it higher. That said, the tank can be separated from the base of the system and placed “back-to-back” with the power/light unit, which allows you to use a separate grow light if you wish.
The 6-pod aerogarden system also contains too many pods too close together. As a result, plants quickly begin to fight each other for light & water, resulting some dying prematurely.
If you’re planting something that fruits, there’s no fan built-in, so you’ll have to manually handle pollination. This is pretty simple, but it’s an extra step that took me a while to figure out initially.
There’s also no way of really seeing into the Aerogarden base, so refilling the water requires a bit of guesswork or putting your finger in (sometimes past pants) and getting it wet.
The 12-pod iDoo is a little better. Unlike the Aerogarden, there are two separate light modes making it good for both fruiting plants and leafy greens. Additionally, there is a built-in fan, which helps circulate pollen, a viewing window to see the water level, and the light/fan cord is a little bit longer than what is needed to keep it on the stand. The location for adding water is right in a corner, which can be tricky if you used the closest plot and the plant had spread, but I haven’t had that issue yet.
While the light/fan does go higher than the Aerogarden, it remains the #1 drawback of this system. For most plants, it really just doesn’t go high enough. The base is removable, but again, you need to keep it nearby in order for the water pump to keep working.
Additionally, although there are 12 pod spots, you can’t really use them all as plants need some space to spread. I find you can get away with using 8 pods (the ones along the perimeter) without experiencing too much overcrowding. On the bright side, iDoo knows about this limitation and includes some lids that you can use to block off empty pods spots.
My personal consumption
I learned several things about my personal consumption over the past year.
First, I’ll eat a lot more salad greens, iceberg lettuce, and thai chillies when I can harvest them fresh. If I could grow more lettuce & greens to enable daily harvests, I would probably have salads every day. These plants grow very well and are quite tasty.
I also learned that I don’t use herbs nearly enough for it to be worth growing my own. Basil is probably my most-used herb, and I barely used any at all. It grew so much that I was just throwing it out, hand over fist, in order to prevent it from flowering and going to seed.
Bok Choy is good, but it isn’t something for constant consumption. Once every week or so is more than enough to count it a victory.
I replanted most of my plants in mid-October after cleaning out the basins. The mint pod that is growing very well, and I have put down three pods of bell pepper seeds, three iceberg, and Thai chillies. I still have one head of Bok Choy to eat, and once I harvest that, I’ll be able to plant another 4 or 5 pods with different vegetables. Probably another pair of lettuce and a pair of Bok Choy.
I’ve actually spaced out my Iceberg so they’ll be ready for harvest at different times. This will allow me to have salads a little more often. I expect this goal will be met with victory.
Sadly I don’t have room to expand my setup with something a little more professional. That will have to be a goal for after I move back into a house and regain space. Until then, this is going to have to do.