Friday, December 25, 2009

Well, lookie what Santa brought!

So, take a look at what I found today!

This was the first VeggiePro tomato that we've been following for weeks. A few days ago it was a very faint red color, but now it's gotten bright and big! A few more days and I'll be harvesting it. So, the burning question is the same one I had with the cherry tomatoes: what is the best recipe I can think of to cook my inaugural tomato? Post a comment if you have any ideas for me! 

Monday, December 21, 2009

Still time to get them an Aerogarden for Christmas! :)

Well, if you've done it again and put off Christmas shopping to the last minute, Aerogrow is about to bail you out ;)

They're offering Free 2 Day Express Shipping with any garden purchase. But hurry, in order to get it delivered by Christmas, you need to order NOW!

As you're sitting down for Christmas dinner this year, you can talk about how next year, they can make the stuffing using fresh sage, parsley, and thyme from their own indoor garden! :)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tomato plants getting bigger on the VeggiePro.

Well, two weeks have passed, and take a look at the VeggiePro now.

I count a total of about 6-8 full tomatoes. As someone who used to grow tomatoes outdoors, I can definitely see that the tomatoes would definitely do much better if they were outdoors and not bunched together like this. On the other hand, what a thrill it is to have living tomatoes in the month of December when the temperature is 18 degrees outside!

The Aerogarden Veggiepro hood is officially raised as high as it'll go. The larger plant is close to hitting against the hood, so chances are I'll have to prune it (although I'd hate to, as there are several flowers on that stalk). This larger plant is the one that has the most tomato growth.

I have to say I'm still disappointed with the second plant, though. It's grown large but it was yet to produce flowers that don't fall off immediately; I'm guessing there was definitely something wrong with this batch of seeds. To Aerogrow's credit, they did send me a replacement pod, but I'll keep this original plant going just to see if anything will come of it, and then at some point I'll plant the new pod.

In the meantime, the one plant has all but spread out the entire unit, so I'm not disappointed.

As each week goes by, I'm doing quite a bit of pruning. Of course, any leaves that grow too far out of the light get cut, as well as leaves which turn brown or spotty because they're being covered up. I'm also cutting off some of the larger branches that are clearly not producing flowers or fruit, in order to let more water and nutrients go to the tomatoes.

Something else I've been doing every few days is filling up the unit with water. This thing drinks water at an amazing pace.

As branches have gotten big and flopped toward the ground, I've been using the trellis system that was provided with the VeggiePro. Right now I have three of them supporting the branches, all of which are now producing fruit, some large, and some tiny ones like these cute little guys.

Hopefully in a few weeks I'll have the first fruits to show you. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Welcome to the jungle!

(with apologies to Guns N' Roses)

That's right, the two tomato plants are officially gigantic now. The VeggiePro is officially extended all the way it goes. I have still been pruning the parts of the plants that grow outside the grow light area, and I'm now filling the water up about once every two days; the plants are drinking up the water that quickly. I just added two more nutrient tablets too, and of course I'm pollinating the flowers every couple of days too.

So the burning question is...are there tomatoes? Well, take a look:

In total, I count about 10 tomatoes so far on the plant. The biggest two are slightly bigger than cherry tomato size, well on their way of being full-grown heirloom tomato size. There are about five in this picture alone.

Unfortunately, all is not well. I notice there are a LOT of flowers that simply grow weak and fall off. I'm a bit confused as to why this is happening.

Still, as long as I have some flowers that stay on the vine and grow into tomatoes, I'll be satisfied.

One very nice thing about the VeggiePro is that it comes complete with a trellis system, something that previously had been an additional cost. The Trellis system is basically two pieces of plastic you connect to the top of the unit (conveniently, the screws are already there, you just slip the plastic on and tighten the screws).

Here's what it looks like when it's complete:

The system comes with a retractable cord with a plastic snap on the end. Here, you can see me holding up the large plant with one of the cords. As the tomatoes grow larger, this will hopefully stop the plant from snapping and collapsing from the tomatoes' weight.

Not sure how much longer before I'll have tasty tomatoes to enjoy, but you'll be the first to know! :)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Special Deal at Aerogarden.Com

If you've been on the fence about buying an Aerogarden, there's a great deal going on. But you have to be quick--the deal ends at the end of the day Monday

It's called 33% off 3 Gardens, 3 Days Only, and it'll let you purchase

Aerogarden 3 Elite for $79.95 ($50 off)

Aerogarden 6 Elite for $119.95 ($60 off)

Aerogarden Classic (7 pod) for $99.95 ($50 off)

These are probably among the cheapest prices you'll find on the Web for a brand new Aerogarden (Amazon is about $30-$50 more). All the units, of course, come with an herb kit. Great time to stock up for Christmas presents--there are few better presents you can get for the gardener or chef in your life

In other news, interesting developments with my tomatoes. I'll post an update soon! :)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Aerogarden Liquid Nutrients - Coming soon to an Aerogarden near you

2010 Update: Liquid Nutrients are now available in the Aerogarden Store

While I was corresponding with Aerogarden about the slow start of my tomatoes, John at Aerogarden was kind enough to write to me directly. He gave me some good advice that sometimes cold temperature can affect how quickly the seeds germinate and sprout. I expressed that I was still concerned at the very slow start of my second tomato plant, and he was gracious enough to send me a new seed pod (although, as he predicted, I wouldn't need it, as the second plant finally did grow to be strong, albeit several weeks after it probably should have).

John was also kind enough to include in the shipment something a sneak peek into to something neat that Aerogrow is working on. I think it'll will be a huge improvement when it's officially released (he said it'd be sometime in November).

These are new Aerogarden liquid nutrients.
For those of you who have had multiple Aerogardens like me, you'll know that the nutrient tablets, while cool in a "plop plop fizz fizz" kind of way, do have their drawacks. Opening the packets can be difficult, sometimes the tablets crumble inside the packets because of excessive moisture, sometimes the tablets don't seem to dissolve evenly enough, and often, you can see white specks in and around the Aerogarden unit from the residue of the dust.

I'll show you a demonstration of the liquid nutrients, with the disclaimer that it's not clear when these will be available on the Aerogarden store (may be as early as later this month). But they're so cool I wanted to give you a sneak peek.

The packets sort of look like duck sauce packets that you might find in a Chinese restaurant. Inside is a brown liquid which I assume contains the same rich nutrients found in the tablet.

When the two week "Add Nutrient" light add us, instead of using the tablets, I'd instead open a packet and pour the contents in.

Voila, that's it. Helped by the water pump inside, the nutrients spread evenly throughout the bowl. It's quicker, easier, and more effective.

So look out for these in the coming months on the Aerogarden store. I'll also post a link on this blog once they're available.

One interesting development this week. While I was shaking the first big tomato plant to pollinate it, I was disappointed to see one of the yellow flowers fly off. That is, until I looked more closely at the plant where the flower fell off!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tomato Flowers on the VeggiePro!

Looks like the first plant is making some real progress. Over the last week, a bunch of flowers sprouted. In total, I count about 20 of them!

Now, as far as whether they'll actually turn into 20 tomatoes, that's something we'll find out in time. But following the instructions in the manual, I dutifully shook the stalks to pollinate them. Something I learned with my cherry tomatoes many moons ago was to not only shake them, but to use my finger to "tap" the thickest part of the stalk where the flowers are growing from.

The VeggiePro is definitely gulping up the water--I need to refill the reservoir every couple of days now, and I'm still pruning leaves that grow too far outside the light. The plants are tall and aren't stopping. I'd say it's probably a few more days before I lift the lamp arm one more notch.

Anyway, just wanted to update you on the progress. More soon.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Six weeks into the VeggiePro, it looks like we're getting somewhere

Here's what the plants look like this week.

As you can see, the plant to the right has grown like wildfire since the last update. In fact, the leaves are growing so that they stretch outside of the lights.

The plant to the left has grown surprisingly impressively as well, much more than I expected.
The VeggiePro manual gives instructions to prune the tomato plants after four or five weeks, specifically, to chop off everything that is growing above the first five branches. Since it's been over weeks and the plant doesn't even have five main branches yet, I'll be disregarding this initial pruning and instead skipping ahead to the section titled "ongoing pruning". The instructions here say to cut off leaves that are growing outside the Lamp Hood's lights. Indeed, I noticed that leaves which the lights weren't reaching were growing brown. No use in using up the precious nutrients on leaves that'll never produce fruit.

After pruning, the floor looked like what our kitchen floor used to look like when my dad used to give me haircuts as a kid.

And look at how well-manicured the tomato plant is. Makes me want to go into bonsai. If you click on the photo and take a close look, you'll see that there are even little flower buds starting to form. I've got a good feeling about this. For good measure, I even started hand-pollinating the plants, again from the instruction manual of the VeggiePro.

As you can see, I've been raising the lamp arm to accomodate new growth of the bigger plant, and have been dutifully refilling the water (which now needs refilling once every few days thanks to an impressive root system starting to form and take in the water and nutrients). Having been somewhat burned already by the cherry tomato experience of a few months ago, I'm not getting too excited yet, but after a shaky start, the plants are definitely doing much better.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A tale of two tomato plants

It's now a complete month since I planted my Aerogarden VeggiePro. Take a look at what's happened to the first of the two tomato plants:

After a shaky start and a little bit of the nudging as I described in the last post, it looks like the first tomato plants are finally making some progress. In total, three plants showed up, one anemic one, but two fairly strong ones. The plants still are very, very much behind what the instruction manual says I should see at this point in time--the manual says that at 4-5 weeks the plants should be extremely thick and ready for pruning. As you can see, the plants are nowhere close to that, but at least they're in the game now.

Since the two "good" plants were about 1-2 inches now, per the instruction manual I took some scissors and thinned them to all but one plant. The one weak plant was easy to get rid of, but it was hard deciding which of the two healthy plants to chop. I chose the one with the slightly thicker stalk and more leaves.

Now for the bad news. The other pod is still extremely disappointing. The very first seed that sprouted is completely dead now. Three others have sprouted. One of them is barely an eighth of an inch tall, and another is about half an inch. In both cases (the same as with the first doomed stalk that came up), the seed outer "shell" portion never came off but stayed stuck to the top of the stalk. I'm no agriculturalist, but I get the sense that this means the plant is not getting the needed light it needs to grow.

In the case of the fourth plant, the seed outer shell finally did come off, but very, very late, which I'm guessing led to the stunted growth you see below. This is after 4-5 weeks, and this, the tallest plant, has a tiny amount of malformed leaves and is not even 1 inch tall. Terribly disappointing.

I'll be contacting Aerogrow this week to explain and to see if they'll send a replacement for the second tomato pod, as this seems highly unusual. I'll let you know what they say.

In all, not a very auspicious start for the VeggiePro. The plants are not growing close to the pace that was suggested on the pod or in the manual, plants are growing under the paper shield, plants are growing stunted.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Little tomato seedlings...sort of

So, the first sprout you saw in my last post is all but gone. You can see it in this picture below. It was the first out of the gate, but the "seed" part never fell off, the leaves never emerged, and eventually the whole thing shrivelled up.

Luckily, there were two other plants that sprouted up in the same pod. Although neither of them are showing leaves yet either, so we're still not out of the woods yet.

When I looked carefully, I noticed there was a plant wedged underneath the paper cover for the pods (look to the left of the big green sprout in the photo, below the cover).

I took a paper clip and gently nudged the plant so that it went through the hole. The plant was pretty weak, but it was also pretty long, having probably grown for days without me having noticed because it was growing under the cover.

So this is what tomato pod #1 looks like now. The first sprout to come up is officially dead, but there are three others vying to be the top dog. According to the Aerogarden instructions, only the strongest plant can remain--all others must be pruned. So for the next few weeks, we'll have our own tomatoey version of Survivor. While we're waaaay behind what was promised in the instruction manual as far as timing goes, the good news is, we do have greenery. A few more days, and hopefully we'll see a strong winner emerge.

Here's what the other pod looks like. Much better, as the leaves have actually made it on two of the plants. Note that I had to do the paper clip trick to nudge that top plant out into the sunlight. Again, we'll see if the lights and nutrients can get the weak plant a little stronger. If I were a betting person, I'd put money on the lowermost plant though.

Will provide an update in a few days. But it looks like they're all out of the gate, with a little help from a paper clip!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tomatoes finally sprouting but still not strong: Day 14 of VeggiePro

We've just passed the 14-day mark of the VeggiePro. Right on cue, the unit started flashing "Add Nutrients" and "Water Level Low". I added two nutrient tablets from the one pouch marked "Growing Nutrients" and added a little water to bring the water back to the fill line.

I was a bit disappointed because the seed pod says on it that plants should appear in 4-7 days. After 9 days I saw nothing, so I wrote to Aerogarden.

Hi. I planted my Heirloom Tomatoes in my new days ago. I still do not see any plants, not even a hint of a plant, even though the label said I should see something in 4-7 days. I have three other Aerogardens, so I know I am doing everything right. What can I do now?

Here's the response from CJ at Aerogarden:

It is not unusual for germination to be slower than is expected. I can offer a personal tip as I fill the plastic dome with water and pour the water directly down the center of the hole three or four times a week for slower germinating plants. Always replace the dome to create the little greenhouse effect.

If you do not see any germination by the end of two weeks, Please call customer care at 1-800-476-9669 so they can help diagnose the problem when you are with your new garden. Our hours are: 7:00am-6:00pm, M-F, MDT.

I admit, at first I was a little skeptical. And then on Day 10, out of nowhere, this little guy showed up.

It still doesn't look like the strongest plant, but it's a start. Per the instructions in the manual, I removed the dome. Let's see how it fares over the next two weeks.

The other pod was still barren. I looked down inside the pod and saw absolutely nothing. So I followed Aerogarden's suggestion and poured some water right into the pod, and replaced the plastic dome tightly. Right away, I noticed something I didn't before on the VeggiePro (but which I did see in my earlier Aerogardens): little beads of condensation formed inside the dome. This is the "little greenhouse effect" that CJ spoke of, and it's brilliant.

I took this picture today. If you look carefully, you'll see an itty bitty little plant forming. Granted it's about 10 days after I expected, but things are looking good.

We're not out of the woods yet, of course. I expected 2-3 plants to grow (which would later be pruned), but it looks like each is only yielding one so far. But we'll wait and see a few days and see if these two get strong. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Retiring the Gourmet Herb and Salad Greens Aerogardens; Day 10 of the VeggiePro

Well, the time has come to retire the Gourmet Herb Aerogarden. Here are the report card for this round:

Mint: A+
Basil: A+
Purple Basil: B-
Chives: C
Parsley: D
Thyme: D
Dill: F

For some reason, this round of gourmet herbs which started three months ago back in June didn't quite live up to previous experiences. The mint and basil were excellent, of course. But the purple basil barely got off the ground, the chives produced only a few thin sprouts, the parsely and thyme popped up but didn't grow at all, and the dill didn't even come up at all.

I'm going to give Aerogrow the benefit of the doubt and guess that I just got a bad batch of seeds. I recently purchased a fresh set of seeds, so hopefully my next Aerogarden won't have this problem. I ordered my seeds through Just the Aerogarden Store, so there's less of a risk that it's been sitting in a retailer's warehouse for a long time. Another nice thing about ordering through the Aerogarden store is that you can pick-and-choose your seed kits (perfect for me, as I don't use dill, but I could always use extra cilantro, for example).

Anyway, I accidentally destroyed my mint plants, but the basil plant was going strong. Just like in old times, I decided to use up the basil (which has been an overachiever since day one). I took my own advice from June 2008 on what to do with too much basil. That's right--pesto, pesto, pesto! I used the same pesto recipe that I used back then.

I picked three cups of loosely packed leaves, taking 40% of the regular basil plant and 100% of the small purple basil plant, and then added the four tablespoons of basil I had frozen. The result is what you see to the right. I put it in the freezer for me to enjoy throughout the next few months.

This left the Aerogarden looking like this.

I took the remaining chives and thyme, chopped them and froze them. My vast harvest was one teaspoon of chives and half a teaspoon of thyme.

My next step will be to find a recipe that uses exactly one half teaspoon of thyme and one teaspoon of chives :)

The remaining step was replanting the basil plant into a pot. While the other pods were somewhat anemic in their root structure, the basil was certainly impressive. Because I'd chopped off so many of the leaves to use for pesto, I also trimmed a bit of the root. Unlike what I did before, I also decided to leave the plastic on instead of cutting it apart.

Finally, it came time to harvest the Mesclun. I chopped the remaining lettuce off every single plant and you can see the beautiful variety of leaf shapes and textures. It produced enough lettuce for two large salads. 

I had a vegetable tray from my local supermarket, and as usual, I took a picture for plating presentation...

Once I got that silliness out of my system I threw together some tomatoes, red pepper, Parmesan cheese, and steak (leftover from lunch at Ruth's Chris!) and put some Catalina dressing on. Mmmmm! 

So now, my Classic Aerogardens are all officially retired.

I'll start them again some day, but for the immediate term I'm looking to focus all my efforts on the VeggiePro.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The VeggiePro Arrives. Bring on the full-size tomatoes!

I was lucky enough to get one of the first AeroGarden VeggiePros delivered to my door yesterday. This is the AeroGarden model that will allow you to grow full-sized fruits and vegetables. In fact, in the coming months, AeroGarden will release new seed kits under its "County Fair" line of seed kits focused on full-sized vegetables, including bell peppers and of course, full-size tomatoes.

As a former tomato gardener who's been consigned to apartment living, I made sure to get the VeggiePro with the free Heirloom tomato kit. It was delivered quickly.

I came home to see the box from UPS. It was a little beat up...

VeggiePro box
But happily, the box inside was in great shape, complete with sales slip.
brand new VeggiePro box

As I found with my other three Aerogardens, the package design of the VeggiePro was impeccable. Opening the box, you immediately see a Quick Start guide. The first thing I noticed is that the manual is for the AeroGarden Elite 6 Plus, which confirms my suspicion that the VeggiePro is essentially the same thing as what they'd been selling earlier as the Elite 6 Plus. I'm not complaining, because the price is at least $20 less, and it comes with the Heirloom Tomato kit and the Trellis kit, neither of which were included in the Elite 6 Plus.
VeggiePro manual
The box is packaged in layers with different pieces of the VeggiePro. The top layer contains one grow light (these are the new grow lights with more efficient and stronger light spectrum than the old style grow bulbs that I'm used to with my old 7-pod Aerogarden Classics.
It also contains the Heirloom tomato kit, with plenty of nutrient tablets, spacers, and two tomato seed pods. This is similar to what I saw with the cherry tomato Aerogardens--though there are six spaces in the AeroGarden unit for seed pods, only two tomato seed pods are included in order to give the tomato plants plenty of room to grow. The other four slots are filled with spacers that cover the holes so dust and critters can't get in.
Aerogarden VeggiePro heirloom tomato seed kits
The next layer in the box is the cover for the unit, as well as the trellis system (designed to keep the plants upright when they grow big)
veggiepro trellis system
The bottom layer of the box is the base of the unit, along with the remaining two grow bulbs.
veggiepro base and grow bulbs
Even though I've gotten pretty good at assembling Aerogardens by now, I decided to follow their instructions and read the manual carefully again. Happily, the process was just as simple as it always is. The whole thing took less than 5 minutes.
The first step was inserting the arm into the base unit unti you hear a "click".
inserting aerogarden veggiepro arm into base
Step two was plugging the grow bulbs in until you hear a "click".
plugging in grow bulbs
The next step was plugging the cord from the base unit into the lamp unit.
plug cord from base unit to lamp unit
The next step was attaching the arm to the lamp unit until, you guessed it, you hear a "click". The arm is a lot thicker than the old Aerogarden Classic arm, because it extends to two full feet.
attaching aerogarden veggiepro into lamp unit
When I examined the unit closely, I noticed some differences between the VeggiePro and the earlier classic Aerogardens I have. I believe Aerogrow introduced these improvements with the AeroGarden 6 units. The biggest improvement is that the pump system no longer pumps water through the individual seed pods, but rather pumps water through the center of the unit, causing it to bubble up the middle much like a fish tank aerator. This is what the new pump system looks like:
veggiepro pump system
Voila! The completed Aerogarden VeggiePro. I decided to put it in a corner of my living room. The instructions clearly state that vegetables needs a solid block of time of complete darkness, so I put the unit in a place where it could be completely dark between about midnight to 8 AM (the light cycle is on for 16 hours and off for eight). Also, I wanted to put it in a place far away from windows so critters won't get any ideas of setting up shop there. This is where my previous Aerogarden experience comes in handy.
the aerogarden veggiepro in its new home
The seed kit had a beautiful new brochure explaining how to grow the "county fair" line of vegetable seeds. I knew this was "hot off the press" because it had a error sheet correcting a mistake it had made in the book about which slots to plant the seed pods in.
county fair seed kit
Speaking of the seed pods, this is what it looked it. It's much taller than the traditional Aerogarden pods I'm used to.
aerogarden tomato seed kit
The next step was filling the base unit with exactly one gallon of water. I find that an old, cleaned out milk carton or in this case, a bottle of Hawaiian Punch is very handy for this purpose.
filling aerogarden with water
Following the instructions on the error sheet, I plugged the seed pods into the front two spots in the unit on the far left and right. The rest of the slots were filled with plant spacers.

putting in tomato seed pods

As with the old Aerogardens, I put a plastic dome on top of the seed units so the seeds don't dry out and get the perfect amount of humidity and light.

putting on aerogarden domes
As with the other Aerogardens, I added the two starting nutrient tablets.

adding aerogarden veggiepro tablets
Plug it in, and select "Vegetables" on the front panel, and the lights went on and the pump started pumping.
turning on the aerogarden veggiepro
That's it. And so, Aerogarden #4 is on its way. Let's hope that the experience is more like the herbs and not so much like the cherry tomatoes or the peapods.