It’s two months (nine weeks, actually) since our space garden landed, and Ryan and I became pseudonauts. For the first seven weeks, it grew the selection of herbs it came with – Genovese basil, dill and curly parsley. The basil was the quickest to grow, and the most vigorous. The dill was second and grew tallest. The parsley… well, at the end of seven weeks it was just about getting going.

Curiosity or impatience?
The AeroGarden has landed

As the plants leafed out, they drank more water. The weather was hot, and by week seven they were slurping their way through the water reservoir in three days. The dill grew too tall, and the leaves which touched the lights crisped up and died. The solution to these issues is to harvest the herbs regularly, but I haven’t got into the habit of making pesto, and we struggled to find uses for the dill (although it’s tasty in mashed potatoes!). So I started to think about replacing the herbs with new plants.

The ideal crops for the AeroGarden need either have to be quite dwarf (or enjoy regular pruning) and to have a relatively small footprint, as there’s not much horizontal space. There are other herbs we do regularly use, so the next AeroGarden run might feature those.

AeroGarden curly parsley seed pod
Curly Parsley AeroGarden seed pod

There’s a fairly major issue with the AeroGarden, in that it is designed to use proprietary seed pods. These are plastic capsules, filled with a long and tapered peat pellet, which has a dip in the top for seeds. Most come pre-sown. It is possible to buy a kit which has pods and empty peat pellets so that you can sow your own seeds. But there doesn’t currently seem to be a UK supplier, so you have to order each kit directly from America, with the delivery costs making them prohibitively expensive. This is before you get to the environmental issues of single-use plastic and peat-based growing media.

Seven weeks old
Seven weeks of roots (L-R basil, dill, parsley)

We knew this when the AeroGarden arrived, and we have been discussing potential options. When I removed the herb plants from the AeroGarden, I wanted to see how easy it would be to retain the plastic seed pods for reuse. If you don’t want to keep the plants, it’s easy enough. You cut off all the roots, and then the peat plug just pops out of the top. I didn’t want to kill my plants, so I tried to keep the root trimming to a minimum, pruned the top growth to reduce pressure on the roots, and potted them on. They’re all doing just fine, and had no problems adjusting to life in compost. 

With a good wash, the pods are ready to go again. If you handle them carefully, they should last a good while, but they are a bit fragile. Finding a sustainable replacement for the peat pellets is a bit more tricky, as they are an unusual shape. Ryan is experimenting with 3D printing some replacement seed pods that hold different growing media. In the meantime, I decided to use the AeroGarden to raise some seedlings for the Hydroponicum.

When Ryan bought the AeroGarden, he also got me the Seed Starting System. It gives the AeroGarden a different tray, which has 15 pre-formed plastic troughs to put the same peat pellets in. Sowing seeds into the peat pellets is a little bit tricky, but then you just pop them into the troughs, fill the reservoir with water and set the AeroGarden running. The kit comes with a pre-formed clear plastic lid that fits over each seed pod to raise the humidity.

AeroGarden Seed Starting Tray

I sowed 3 each of 5 different species:

  1. Outredgeous lettuce
  2. Tom Thumb lettuce
  3. Half-pint pea
  4. Pak choi ‘Bonsai
  5. Chard Fire Fresh F1

That was 24th August, and that turned out to be the hottest late August Bank Holiday weekend on record. I was worried that the lettuce wouldn’t germinate; the Outredgeous did, with no problems. The Tom Thumb didn’t. I resowed it a week later, in cooler weather, and it still didn’t. So either there’s a problem with my seeds, or that variety doesn’t like the growing conditions.

The pak choi germinated overnight. By Monday it was hitting the top of its clear plastic lid, so I removed it and replaced it with a plastic take-away container that gave them more headspace.

AeroGarden seedlings
Half-pint peas, bonsai pak choi and red chard seedlings

In its original configuration, the AeroGarden sounded a bit like an aquarium. It was background noise; like a ticking clock, a lot of the time you weren’t aware of it. When you were, it wasn’t too annoying. I loved having the AeroGarden in my office, where I could keep a close eye on the seedlings, which literally do grow overnight. It also makes me feel like I’m sitting in a mad scientist‘s lair with a world-changing experiment bubbling away behind me (because I watch too many superhero movies).

But fitted with the seed starting kit, the AeroGarden is ENORMOUSLY noisy. I let it irritate me for a week, and then I moved it downstairs into the kitchen. Where is has been annoying us BOTH for a week!

This weekend I will move my 12 seedlings into the Hydroponicum, replacing some of the original crops that are tired now. The wild rocket and mizuna are starting to flower, and the kale is slowing down. It’s time for a refresh.

AeroGarden seedlings
AeroGarden seedlings on the kitchen windowsill

Once the AeroGarden is empty, Ryan is going to take a look to see whether there’s anything he can do to make it quieter. It would be an ideal seed starter for the Hydroponicum, germinating small batches of new plants every 2-3 weeks, but we can’t cope with the noise so we may have to go back to using it to grow herbs, or try salads. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I have a new grow light arrangement for one of the Ikea seed trays, which can hold 50 rock wool seed plugs. I am planning on sowing a row or two of seeds each week, so we’ve got a continuous supply of fresh plants for the Hydroponiucm, and hence for meals!