How Does the Aerogarden Work?: The Science Behind the Magic

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Aerogarden Bounty Basic - How Does the Aerogarden Work

If you’d like to try your green thumb at growing vegetables in the space age, you can do so now with the latest AeroGarden Grow System. No kidding, this thing looks like a prop from a 1990’s sci-fi movie set.

The AeroGarden Grow System is a complete indoor garden. It is self contained with everything a plant needs to live, you can set it up in your kitchen in the dead of winter and it promises to “grow anything”. 

This is the AeroGarden Farm Plus unit, grows 30 plants, with adjustable lamps for growth height

The largest AeroGarden is as large as double door refrigerator. The smallest version is the size of a microwave. Surprisingly popular, the AeroGrow International, Inc, the makers and distributors of this gardening wonder, claims to have sold half a million of their units, worldwide. 

The AeroGarden Grow System is nothing new, the technology is based on modern hydroponics growing methods. The only difference is the minimal setup time. You can build your own hydroponics system anywhere in the house, within minutes. The whole system is automated. Just plug in those LED lights and grow! 

The Aerogarden Bounty Elite takes it a bit further still, your kitchen or garage garden can connect to your phone. Download the AeroGarden app, create an account and use it to turn the garden lights on and off, receive audio alerts, and report of your Garden’s Status. Sure, Aerogarden has a preset timer for the lights and the pump, but an app that grows real vegetables and herbs is pretty cool. Different plants need different amounts of light and darkness, so the timer has to be adjusted according to what you’re growing.

All of that said, have you ever wondered, “How does the Aerogarden Work?” Well, let us answer that for you.

What is Hydroponics?

Source: Aerogarden

The Aerogarden Grow System at its core is a home hydroponics system. Hydroponics is a soilless culture, first developed in California, where plants are grown with just soluble fertilizer and water. The idea is that, so long as the plant has enough water, nutrition and light, it will grow and thrive. The growth medium is soilless, plants are grown suspended above water. If kept indoors, lights are used. 

A closed hydroponics system can completely eliminate the need for insecticides. Hydroponics is more economic than a greenhouse in many ways, once it is up and running. The system produces a higher crop yield, with less fertilizer. It is less labor-intensive, no need to regularly change and turn the soil as you do with a greenhouse. 

Instead, a hydroponic system uses a pump to regularly move the water and maintain the water level as it depletes. Evaporation is a minor nuisance in hydroponics. Clay pebbles, lava rock pebbles or other porous loose medium is used to lessen evaporation and weigh down plant roots.

There’s also a need to control algae growth, as that it can clog the pumps and hog the nutrients. When using loose medium pebbles, the pebbles are washed after the growth season to remove algae. Hydroponics as a growth system is highly successful, able to grow vegetable crops and even trees.

If you want to DIY your own home hydroponics system, and many have, you’ll find everything you need at a hardware or hydroponics store. If you have any building skills and sufficient free time, it should not be a problem. There’ll be a little trial and error to find the most optimal nutrition, lights and temperature for the specific crop you want to grow.

But not everybody has the time nor the technical skills to enjoy the agri-engineering feat, that is hydroponics. Which is most likely why the AeroGarden Grow System has found its own niche market.

The manufacturer, Aerogrow boasts that even the largest Grow System can be assembled in half an hour. The smaller personal gardens take less than five minutes to fully assemble. With that convenience, it is truly bringing hydroponics to the least technically minded beginner.

How AeroGarden’s Advanced Hydroponics Work

AeroGrow sells several AeroGarden models, but all AeroGarden Grow Systems have three basic parts: the LED grow lights and light post, the grow deck where you put your plants, and the bowl and base that holds the water. The accessories that come with a basic kit are the seed pods and grow domes, plant food, and detachable trellis for climbing plants. 

The seed pods with dome is a small cup with seed and a bit of growth medium to get the seed started. The grow dome is a removable, transparent dome cover for protecting the seedling when it sprouts.

The plant will soon outgrow the dome, and the dome is taken off. Plant food is dropped into the water every two weeks or so, there are recommended quantities depending on what you’re growing. 

The LED lamp is attached to the base with a light post. These are 30watt LED lights that maintain the temperature at 65-76°F/16-24°C, the ideal temperature for plants. The LED lights provide white, blue and red light for optimal plant health.

I’ve seen some growers wrap their Aerogarden with aluminum foil to keep in the heat. Reflective roof insulation will also work, if you have your garden somewhere with no heating. 

The grow base, right beneath the LED lamp is a tray that fits over the bowl. The tray has holes to securely hold the seed pods in place. There’s no need for clay pebbles, the tray keeps the plant in place and minimizes evaporation. You “sow” your seed by sticking a seed pod onto the grow base.  

The bowl and base hold the water and nutrient solution. Aerogarden has a fully automated system that controls light and water. It can also monitor nutrient levels, and send alerts. If you download the app, the alerts are sent to your device. There are Aerogarden models with a digital panel, where you can program the schedule for lights and water. 

The water pump itself is built into the base. All you need to do is connect it to a drain hose when emptying the water bowl.

The final step is to plug it in, and that’s it! Don’t worry about figuring out plant nutrition, lights and lights-off schedule, and water level needs. AeroGrow has already figured it out for you and provides recommendations. 

All AeroGarden units are stackable, which is very space saving. You can have a garden wall in your own house, with the help of a multi-plug extension cord to power up all those mini garden systems. 

Why The AeroGarden Suits Beginners

Source: Aerogarden

Hydroponic technology is both simple and complicated. There are several different hydroponic systems, the one AeroGarden uses are called the Deep Water System.

While the Deep Water System needs some upkeep, with the AeroGarden you don’t have to worry about upkeep because the water pump is automated.

You don’t have to worry about cleaning clay pebbles or forgetting to move the water around to prevent sediments. The AeroGarden does it for you.

So if you think you can’t possibly grow anything. Your hands are instruments of death, all plants will die! AeroGarden says, Nope! You’re wrong, just buy our kits and you’ll be a farmer in no time.

All you need to do is assemble, add water, pop in the seed pods and plug the machine. Just like that, you’re growing a garden in your living room. AeroGarden is soilless, there’s no dirt to deal with. The plants live under an LED lamp, you don’t even need to worry about the weather. 

The lamp posts are adjustable, at least with the larger AeroGarden models. This is a significant feature that will make your life easier. If you want to let your plant growth reach its maximum size, the lamp height has to be adjusted, otherwise, the plant will burn.

Alternatively, when the plant is short, you want the lamp to be closer to conserve heat. 

The most important benefit from owning an AeroGarden is that you get to grow a garden even if you live in a highrise, in a big city, and your windows don’t even open. The mini garden will grow in your apartment, providing you with food and much needed fresh oxygen. 

Most people don’t get into urban gardening because it grows cheaper food. If anything, after buying a hydroponic kit and growing lettuce under a 20-60 watt lamp for several weeks, the resulting harvest will probably be the most expensive lettuce salad you’ve ever eaten in your entire life.

And I hope it’s the most divine lettuce salad you’ve ever eaten, to compensate for the total cost of growing it.

The real reason people get into urban gardening is because it’s therapeutic. You have to admit, gardening just soothes the soul. There’s something very calming about watching greens grow.  

General Complaints and Peeves

The AeroGarden Grow System claims to grow five times faster than regular soil. That, I don’t believe! AeroGrow provides the seeds already planted in the seed pods, and the nutrient solution to feed the plants. They claim that with their seeds and their nutrients, your garden will grow five times faster than normal soil.

The packaging says “Non-GMO Seeds”, so that means their seeds don’t have any super growing powers. Does that mean the magic is in the nutrient solution formula?

Considering that hydroponic technology only claims to yield 20% to 30% more than traditional soil-grown crops, where did AeroGrow pull out the numbers to claim “5x Faster,” among other mysteries.

Another personal peeve is that additional seed pods need to be bought from AeroGrow. The seed pods are not made to be reusable with your own seeds. But if you’re resourceful, a little tinkering can solve this problem. For those who can’t tinker, you’ll need to buy new seed pods from the manufacturer.

To be fair, many hydroponic kit makers sell pods unique to their machine. They make profits from returning customers who need to buy seeds and fertilizer to grow the subsequent seasons.

The first season is on them, the kit you buy comes with free seed pods and nutrient solution. They get you hooked with that “5x Faster” growth rate. They know this is most likely your first time growing anything.

Excited with the success of your first harvest, you think what if next season won’t be as good if you don’t use the same seeds and the same nutrients? Something will go wrong if you don’t follow the rules. “AeroGarden machines will grow only AeroGarden seeds, eating AeroGarden nutrient solution.” (That’s not the case, but it might feel like it!)

The insecurity sets in, you feel like a poor farmer with no choice but to bow down to big business. Your whole livelihood becomes dependent on manufacturer’s seeds and fertilizer!

You can only buy from them or risk a failed harvest season. Congratulations! Now you know how a real farmer feels in the economic monopoly of the agriculture industry.

You CAN actually use any seeds you want, but of course, AeroGrow does not recommend it!

What Can You Grow With the AeroGarden?

Literally farm to dining table! Now there’s no excuse not to eat salad.
Source: Aerogarden

I’m very excited about this product! It makes hydroponics accessible to plebian gardeners like myself. Not everybody has the powers of the goddess of spring, but like many, that is the ideal to which I aspire. With the help of technology, I just might achieve it! 

You can grow greens and herbs for the kitchen, all year. The smallest model can grow enough herbs for a regular-sized household, or enough greens for one person to eat salad 3-5 times a week. You’ll have to keep grazing those greens fast or they’ll overcrowd the Grow Deck. AeroGarden claims their system can grow five times faster than soil. 

For more seasoned gardeners, growing basil indoors is just not that exciting. Fortunately, the AeroGarden is versatile and customizable. No need to stick to the seed pods that come with the kit. Don’t restrict yourself, grow whatever you want with your own seeds.

Get a head start and grow seedlings in the AeroGarden, weeks before the end of winter, ready for planting in spring. That way you’ll have fresh tomatoes before everybody else. Do you have that rare seed or cutting, smuggled into the country or mailed from a gardener friend half-way across the world?

Don’t take any chances, grow them in the Aerogarden to increase your precious chances for germination and survival!