Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Replacing the Arm on an Aerogarden 7 or Aerogarden Classic

In my last post and also back in 2009, I posted some information on how to purchase a replacement arm for the Aerogarden 7 or Aerogarden Classic (newer versions of the Aerogarden have an improved design where this is not required). I'm still waiting for the shipment from my last post, but in the meantime I still have the second arm I ordered two years ago, which I'll use to refurbish one of my black Aerogarden Classics. To buy a replacement arm, just go to The AeroGarden Store. You can get the arm in the color of your Aerogarden unit, whether Black, Silver, or White (unfortunately, since writing this post original they seem to have taken these parts off their catalog, but it's still worth trying to contact customer service and see if they can sell this to you for your out-of-warranty Aerogarden).

Just a recap: if you have an Aerogarden where you see white gunk forming on the copper contacts between the basin and the arm, you may need a replacement arm. This gunk is called copper oxide, and while it looks like the white residue you may see elsewhere on your Aerogarden from the nutrient tablets, it's actually a chemical reaction between the contacts and oxygen.

The first step is to remove the lamp and hood from the unit. This is as simple as raising the arm and popping it out of the arm attached to the base. A part of the arm will come with it. 

The new replacement arm comes wrapped in plastic.

...and comes with both the inner and outer parts. Separate the parts. We'll actually be using only the fat outer arm and not the thin inner arm (unless your existing inner arm has some damage, it'll save a lot of time just to keep using it). 

Next, remove the old, chubby arm from the base by pressing the plastic tab on the bottom in and popping the arm out. Unless you're sentimental about such things, you can toss it out (I harvested the screws, as they can be useful for when you replace other parts on the Aerogarden like the pump. 

Pop the new arm in until you hear a snap. 

One last optional thing you can do is to cover the contacts with vaseline. This will help prevent copper oxide forming the next time around. 

Use a moist cloth to clean the hood and the base, which probably has some white gunk (the residue from the nutrient tablets).

Voila! You have a brand new Aerogarden again. 

When I replaced the basin on the unit, the pump still wasn't running. It's then that I realized that I had a lot of copper oxide on the pump contacts as well.

There was always the option of buying a replacement pump, but I figured I'd try to see if the pump was still working and just blocked by the contacts. I used the trick of making a paste out of baking soda and warm water, slathering it on the contacts, and waiting for a while. Then, I wiped it off, and then used a metal tool to scrape off what I could until I could see the contacts shiny again.Make sure every part of the metal that will come in contact with the arm is shiny to prevent spotty operation of the pump.

Surely enough, when I tested it now, the pump motor ran strong and smooth.

Now, all I have to do is wait for my new seeds and we'll start the next generation of indoor gardens!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Aerogarden Parts: Bringing an old Aerogarden 7 (a.k.a. Aerogarden Classic) back to life

Being the proud owner of four Aerogardens (three old-style 7-pod Aerogardens, as well as a 6-pod VeggiePro...a.k.a. Tall Aerogarden...a.k.a. Aerogarden Deluxe....a.k.a. Aerogarden Elite 6 Plus) for many years now, they're all starting to show their age. The cool thing is, Aerogrow designed their units to be modular, in that if any part breaks, you don't have to buy a whole new unit. Instead, you can buy parts.

Since I need to buy a bunch of parts myself, I thought I'd help everyone out there in the same situation by listing out the right parts you'll need to buy to refresh your Aerogarden Unit.

The following parts are ones I'll be buying to refresh my Aerogarden Classic. Here's a diagram of the parts:

Black Replacement Arm

1) Black Replacement Arm (no longer directly available from the Aerogarden Store, unfortunately): This is the part that I've found needs replacing most often, because the brass contacts that connect the unit to the pump get green with corrosion (the green is copper oxide, which is not harmful, although I would still wash my hands after touching it). I explained this in an earlier post talking about replacement Aerogarden arms. There are ways to stave off corrosion (I've heard that putting Vaseline on it may extend its life a little), but you can't really stop it. It's available at Aerogarden Store for $9.95. Replacing it is a snap (literally)--you pop off the old arm and discard it, and pop in the new arm.

2) Replacement Pump:This is the second-most part that needs replacing for the same reason--the contacts get corroded, and in some cases the pump gets clogged. It's available at the Aerogarden store for $9.95 as well. Replacement is a little more complicated than replacing the arm, but just as straightforward--you pop off the black cover holding the pump in, carefully pop the tubing out from the unit, and unplug the tubing from the base. Then, you do everything in reverse to install the brand new pump.

3) Replacement Filter Pack:These are the little sponges that protect too much gunk from getting into the pump. It's a little outrageous that they charge $7.95 for 10 of them (I wish they'd just give them out with every new pump), but I guess that's how they make money. If you can't buy new ones, in most cases you can just wash the old ones in warm soapy water.

6-Pack Grow Lights For All 1 and 2 Light Gardens4) Replacement Grow Lights:. With my Aerogarden Classic units, I always used glow lights that were more or less shaped like a typical florescent light bulbs. It looks like Aerogarden has successfully re-engineered the light bulbs for all its gardens to be the wider grow lights, yet still fit into 2-lamp units like the old Aerogarden 7. I am definitely buying a pack of six, as the last thing you want is for a grow light to go out while your garden is in full swing. Note that there are even cheaper alternatives to Aerogarden grow lights if you're feeling a little adventurous.

There you have it. Those are the most common parts you'll need when breathing new life into your Aerogardens. So instead of paying $100 or more for a new unit, you're looking at under $20.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ending the 2010 Gardens and Transplanting Aerogarden Plants Again

So, the 2010 Aerogarden "reboot" is officially over. Recently, I retired the Aerogarden plants which I'd started on August 9, 2010.

My verdict for this round? It was a moderate success. Some of my takeaways:
  • While the idea of "Aerogarden Vegetables" was a valiant attempt by Aerogrow to extend their brand, having grown three batches of Aerogarden tomatoes now, I can say that it's really not worth the effort to try to grow tomatoes. While I had far more success with the tomatoes this time around than I did the last two times, bottom line is the number of cherry tomatoes you'll produce is far less than what you can get in just one or two $5.00 crates at your local supermarket. Considering the time, electricity, and energy you spend to get that, not to mention the cost of the seed pods, I'd say Aerogarden Tomatoes are not really worth it. You really can't replace things like full sunshine and having real bees pollinate your flowers.

  • Do not be tempted to purchase seed pods on clearance. In fact, I wouldn't necessarily even recommend purchasing them from retailers like Amazon, as you don't know how long they've been sitting in a warehouse. Get them from AeroGrow directly. And don't be tempted (like I was) to order them on sale and then let your seed pods sit around for a long time before planting them. I found this out the hard way this go-around when most of my seed pods wouldn't sprout, or like my sage sprouted and then quickly died.
  • Having said that, I was once again astounded by the success of the herbs that did grow. This again shows the Aerogarden at its finest. As you saw, the mint and the basil grew like a weed. The parsley was slow in getting started, but it hung on.
I cleaned and washed out the Tall Aerogarden. I took out the one remaining tomato plant, which looked like this:

I transplanted it into a pot.

I put the pot by a sunny windowsill, and even though it's a few weeks later now, and the plant is actually still growing and still producing red tomatoes (which, interestingly, are sweeter in the soil than they ever were in the Aerogarden, which leads me to suspect that the "natural" nutrients in the soil are preferable to the liquid nutrients.  I don't expect this to last forever (some of the leaves are browning already), but it's fun to give the plant a little more life even after the Aerogarden.

I attempted to transplant my mint using the same Aerogarden transplanting technique I told you about before. The mint didn't last too long, so I then tried the same with the parsley. What I did differently was that I kept the parsley under the grow lights (basically removing the bowl and putting the plant right on the base of the unit). It's been a few weeks, so I've concluded that this is the "correct" way to help the roots used to water get acclimated to soil.

Grow Light AdapterOne very, very cool innovation from the folks at Aerogrow is this
Grow Light Adapter
. It basically lets you take your grow light out of the Aerogarden unit and to plug it into any lamp, turning it instantly into a grow light. What'll they think of next?

I'm eager to start another batch of Aerogardens. I'm thinking of going with the Chili Pepper Seed Kit (6/7-Pod) (which hopefully grows more like an "herb" than a "vegetable", the Lots of Lavender (6/7-Pod) kit (what can I say, I love the smell of lavender), and maybe a Custom Herb Seed Kit (my goal this time is to get the right herbs that I could use in preparing a real rotisserie chicken to cook in my brand new Ronco Showtime Rotisserie, which I finally caved and bought after watching the infomercial ten thousand times).