Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Hydroponics Garden

I got sidetracked on YouTube and found myself curious about hydroponics. Well, I must admit that it wasn't just one sidetracking event.... Eventually, I found that Aerogarden had a great deal on one of their Hydroponics Garden. So I ordered one (Classic 7) with a leaf lettuce kit.

Twenty-four days after planting we had our first harvest with 4 salads with just the outer leaves. Fresh, crisp, sweet, and delicious! The plants remained in the Aerogarden, pruned and ready to keep producing! Another batch of salad should be ready in 5-7 days.

Benefits of hydroponics: Plants grow up to 5 times faster than in soil. Grow indoors. Grow year-round. No sun. No yard. No soil. No weeding. No snails, worms, bugs, gophers, rabbits, or animal contamination (no recall for E. coli). It's the opposite of labor intensive. Perfect for an apartment. Set it up and forget it.

Disadvantages: When this post publishes I'll be in the middle of a 10 day vacation. What will it look like when I return home? Will it have taken over the kitchen? Could be addicting. What happens when I have the whole house full of these? Banks of red grow lights might make the neighbors think I am growing something other than salad.

Aerogarden salad harvest 24 days!
A heaping plate of leaf lettuce trimmings. Yum!
The smaller Aerogarden model we chose had space for 7 plants and about 3 gallons of water. It comes with an airstone to keep the water aeriated, like a small aquarium. It comes with an array of LEDs--red for leaves, blue for flowers, white for human eyes to see. The arm adjusts up and down and should be kept about 1 inch above the leaves for maximum light intensity and leaf growth.

Aerogarden showing the LED array
Aerogarden on our kitchen counter showing the LED array
The Salad Mix Seed Pod Kit contains 7 seed pods with peat moss. They fit in the holes in the top of the Aerogarden with just the bottom of the peat moss reaching into the water. Eventually, the plants grow hundreds of long white root threads down into the water, and many into the moist air between the cover and the water surface. Yes, some roots gather oxygen, rather than water.

Aerogarden salad planted Day 1
DAY 1: All planted. Seeds should sprout in 3-11 days.
A bottle of liquid fertilizer provides the primary three plant nutrients--nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It also contains lesser amounts of the secondary nutrients--calcium and magnesium. Since the lettuce is designed only to last a few weeks/months and be thrown out when it goes to seed, a dozen lesser trace nutrients aren't necessary for long-term plant health. Do-it-yourselfers make their own fertilizers, as it is very inexpensive to make gallons of fertilizer at home, but relatively expensive to ship pre-made liquid fertilizers, which are 99% water. The salad kit comes with a 3 ounce bottle of fertilizer. On set-up, and every two weeks thereafter, you add two small capfuls of fertilizer. Otherwise, just top off the water when needed (there is also a low-water indicator).

Aerogarden salad 14 days
DAY 14: One set of seeds was a bit slower than the rest.
I thought the plants grew a bit slowly at first. All seed pods have 5 or more seeds and are guaranteed to sprout. Oh, they did sprout quickly, but looked a bit spindly at first. "Don't be afraid to thin," wasn't very helpful advice. I ended up thinning out all but the healthiest one plant in each pod. I don't know if that was correct or not. The "late bloomer" front and center? I didn't thin that one at all. After adding fertilizer on Day 14, the plants really grew!

Aerogarden salad mix Day 24
DAY 24: Ready for the first harvest!
At Day 24 the very first leaves were 5-7 inches long and either hanging over the edge and not receiving much light, or were blocking light from leaves below. So it was time to prune. That provided our first salad meals as in the top photo.

This plant should continue to grow and produce for  a couple of months. As long as it doesn't bolt--growing a flower stalk--the leaves should remain sweet and keep growing. I'm a bit worried, as I keep house temperatures between 74-77F; lettuce really prefers temperatures under 72F. Higher temperatures may cause the plant to bolt sooner.

Other kits include spices, flowers, and miniature cherry tomatoes. I don't like tomatoes raw--and they take a long time to fruit and ripen. Marlene is sensitive to flower pollen. What is lemongrass or basil, and what would you do with several pounds of it? So, lettuce was an easy choice for our first attempt.

I've noted a few hydroponics stores in the area where I could choose other seeds and buy fertilizer. I could see growing a salsa garden mix--peppers, onions, cilantro, and maybe ONE cherry tomato. Or plant a lettuce pod every 2 weeks to keep fresh lettuce ready for harvest continuously.

Anyway, I don't intend to take this any further than this one small unit. But it's a fun little experiment and certainly an interesting conversational topic!

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