Sunday, February 15, 2009

AeroGarden revisited

While cleaning the basement yesterday I found a box containing an AeroGarden tank. A few years ago AeroGarden replaced our tank thinking that it was the cause of a leak, however I later determined the tank was not leaking.

Rather than throwing out the extra tank I decided to take the AeroGarden technology to the next level.

As I only had a tank, I needed some way to pump nutrients through the system to the growing chambers. That turned out to be more of a project than I expected. There is not a lot of room in the tank, so a small pump is essential. There was a small fountain pump in my supplies that I thought would do the job nicely. To adapt it to the AeroGarden plumbing system I had to cut away most of the central column and cob a revised feed tube to the chambers. Much to my amazement it worked like a charm when I added water and plugged it in...

It was then decided to take their technology to the next level and use the small LED grow lamp and try to grow some basil. Our AeroGarden unit has been sitting idle for months. We were no longer using it until this week when I decided to plant some basil. Why basil?

I just happened to come across hydroponic basil in the produce section of the local supermarket. There is a local grower charging $3.99 for one rockwool cube with one scrawny basil plant. My wife likes basil and cheese sandwiches occasionally, and I can't see her paying $3.99 for enough basil to decorate one sandwich. I had read at one time that basil was a good crop to grow hydroponically to market, but I had no idea it was that costly to purchase.

For the growing medium I am using closed cell foam that I purchased at a craft store for $2.54. The piece is large enough to make dozens of small circles to fit the cups. It was a simple matter to trace and cut them. The top is cut partway through and I apply water soluble school glue and drop the seeds on the glue and squeeze them closed. I am not sure the foam will be absorbent enough, but time will tell. To begin a wicking action I top watered the chambers and will monitor the seeds to check for germination. If the foam does not absorb sufficient nutrients I will replace it with rockwool. I prefer not to use rockwool for processes that are continuously moist, as that lessens the oxygen supply to the roots.

A simple lamp timer is being used to control the LED light and pump. Voila, a free automated herb garden.

I originally planned on just using this in the greenhouse and let mother nature supply the light, but I could not resist trying another hydroponic experiment.

Why don't we use the AeroGarden? It is too small mainly, and the bulbs have to be replaced every six months, at twenty dollars a pair. The plants do not grow anything like they show you on TV. Seed and supply costs are a joke. Anyone with a little ambition can build a system that works much better, for much less than the cost of an AeroGarden.

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