I am an avid gardener, but one thing I can’t do is make winter into summer. Winter where I live is cold and the growing season is short. Luckily with an AeroGarden or indoor gardening system you can grow herbs indoors even during the middle of winter.
I love to use countertop hydroponics, especially AeroGarden Grow Systems. These systems can be expensive depending on size. I am generally ok spending money if I feel like I am getting good value. After having an AeroGarden System for a few years, here are a few of my tips on how to get the most out of your purchase
1. Buy Separate Grow Sponges
There a few different ways to handle growing plants in your AeroGarden. Some people they just want it simple. They prefer to buy just the exact herb kit they need, plug it in and you’re ready to go. I prefer to buy extra AeroGarden Sponges and re-use the Grow Dome and Grow Baskets that come with the system. If you re-use the rest of your kit and buy sponges it can save you a lot of money. There are some generic versions of the sponges available, but I prefer to stick with the official AeroGarden Sponges for my system. If you do not want to re-use the Grow Dome and Grow Baskets but still want to pick the seeds you are growing, then buy the Grow Anything Seed Pod Kit.
2. Buy Nutrients in Bulk
If you are going to plant multiple batches in a year, it becomes financially wise to buy your nutrients in bulk. You can buy 3 ounces of nutrients for $20 or $10 if you are lucky. However, you can also buy 1 Liter of nutrients (just over 33 ounces) for about $30. Do the math–the larger plant food costs less than $1 an ounce. The smaller plant food costs $3-$7 depending on the cost you buy it for. As long as you are planning on doing a lot of planting, this larger nutrient is a no brainer.
A word of caution. The nutrients can settle over time. It is very critical if you use the larger container that you shake it up every time before you use it. Worse than paying too much for nutrients is putting in nutrients that do not work for your plants.
3. Buy your own seeds
One of the best parts about using the non standard pods is you get to pick what seeds you want to plant. For anywhere from $.25-$4 you can easily get some great seeds to grow what you want in your AeroGarden system. My favorites to grow are herbs, especially basil. Not only does this give you flexibility, but you can save about $3 a pod by buying seeds and the grow everything pack. I like several seed companies, but my favorite is Burpee.
4. Clean your AeroGarden water bowl
You clean your dishes don’t you? If you clean your dishes, then why wouldn’t you clean your water bowl? Each and every time when your plants have run their course, pull the remaining roots out of the water basin and then make sure to clean the water bowl. I wouldn’t recommend putting your AeroGarden water bowl in the dishwasher. Make sure to not only clean this with a good soap, but make sure to scrub any algae off with a toothbrush.
5. Replace your grow light
One of the least known things about AeroGarden systems and grow systems generally is that the grow lights should be replaced regularly. If you are using your grow system non stop, the bulb should be replaced about every six months. I don’t replace them that often because I’m not typically running mine for 6 months straight, but keep a log and replace your light after six months. Why spend extra money on a light? Because your plants will thank you for it. Bulbs dim over time even if they look ok. So get a new grow light if it has been 6 months or if your plants aren’t growing like you think they should.
6. Replace a bad water pump
Replace a pump–isn’t that hard? Don’t worry, this is not your car’s water pump. The pump on an AeroGarden system is inexpensive and very easy to replace. If you notice your water is turning green or is not moving right after you re-set it, you might have a bad pump. To confirm your pump is working, hold the select button for three seconds and see if you notice the water moving. If the water moves you have a good pump; if nothing happens you need a new pump. This is a easy fix that takes less than five minutes and only involves taking out two screws and unplugging your system. Once your new pump is put in, confirm it is working but pressing the select button for three seconds. If you are like me after fixing this, you will be happy it was so easy.
7. Keep enough water in the water basin
This is really easy to do if you just simply follow the indicator lights, but you can ruin your plants in a hurry if you do not follow the instructions. You must keep water in the water basin at the level shown.
8. Follow lights to replace nutrients as prompted
Luckily the AeroGarden system uses lights to keep us informed. If your nutrient light goes out follow the instruction book included with your system.
9. Only use as many pods as you need
I’ve found that if I only want to plant bigger plants or maximize the size of my plants, sometimes it is better to only plant 3-4 of a 7 pod AeroGarden. If you do this you will end up with slightly bigger plants with the 3 or 4 pods you do use. This is also an efficient way on keeping your costs down per plant.
10. If you choose to use all pods, it is easier to use different plant types
I’ve found that it is difficult on a 7-pod AeroGarden to plant all larger plant types. In this example above, AeroGarden has arranged the seeds planted so that some larger plants are next to some smaller stringy type plants. It can be very difficult to plant all 7 pods as basil or tomato.
You are much better to plant some cilantro and oregano next to some large leaf basil. Generally you can use some of the pre-made AeroGarden kits as a blueprint of what to plant if you are planting your own seeds.
11. Use light reflectors
To extend the usefulness of the LED lights for your AeroGarden you can create a sort of light shield around your AeroGarden. This can be done with a wrap around pre-built reflective surface, or it can be done with items you can find in your house like aluminum foil or upgrade it with a mylar film roll or strips. The purpose of these light reflectors is to get the most out of the light you have. Light reflectors are simple but effective.
12. Prune plants
Just like it is important to prune your normal vegetables, especially herbs, it is important that you prune your AeroGarden plants. This is critically true of basil plants. You must prune back the tops of the basil plants where the plant is trying to flower. If you prune and cut back the tops of the basil plant it is possible to harvest the basil three different times.
13. Raise or lower the lights
All AeroGarden systems have the ability to raise or lower the lights. To keep your plants growing at their highest potential, make sure to raise or lower your lights so that the lights are about an inch away from the tallest plant. When you harvest or trim the plants you may actually want to move the lights down so they are closer to the plants. The plants are significantly better if this optimal distance is maintained.
14. Set light timers so that the lights stay off at night
This is just a personal preference, but I prefer to have the lights on during the day.
15. How to store your basil or herbs in the fridge
You can store basil in the fridge with a wet paper towel, or even freeze the basil or other herbs. Be careful that the plants stay cool, but not cool enough to freeze the plants.
16. Freeze dry your leftovers
Fresh basil is the best, but if you have leftover basil you can’t use feel free to freeze dry it for later. It tastes nearly as good as fresh.
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