Sunday, January 27, 2013

No go on the parsley, struggling cilantro, and overachieving tomatoes: Day 26

A lot has happened since the last post, some of it good, some of it not-so-good.

There have been a couple "tips" from the AeroGarden Ultra. Some of them have been helpful, others not-so-helpful.

Here was the tip around Day 19:

"Don't thin seedlings! Let as many sprouts per pod grow as you can. This will lead to bigger harvests down the road"

This one was interesting. I'd always thought that you wanted to thin seedlings to 1-2 per pod so that plants wouldn't crowd each other out. But here, my Aerogarden is telling me to just let them all grow. I have found that no matter how many seeds start out in the pod, only 1-3 end up growing anyway in most cases, so maybe the plants naturally thin themselves out over time.

I saw another tip pop up shortly after on Day 23:

"Prune fast growing plants like basil so slow, low growers get enough light. Trim basil above a left joint when its 3-4 in. tall."

This was a pretty good tip. My basil was growing ridiculously fast, and I could totally see it making me have to riase the lights prematurely and/or block out light from the other plants. I snipped the basil and used the leaves to spice up some pasta that I happened to be cooking for lunch--my first meal hopefully of many.

The next tip on Day 24 said this:

"Try not to raise lights until slow and low growers are well established. Prune fast growers often and enjoy your first small harvest".

Okay, at this point the Aerogarden is starting to get a little repetitive. And here was the tip on Day 26:

"For instructional pruning videos and articles, search on Pruning at 1-800-476-9669

I get the feeling at this point that someone at AeroGrow really, really wants me to learn about pruning but can't fit it into the character limit of that little AeroGarden Ultra window.

In other news, the Whitefly Traps worked AMAZINGLY well. Not sure how well you can see it in this photo, but you can see that there are bunch of those little critters who met their demise by flying into that big yellow light. Since I put the paper up I haven't seen one whitefly on the leaves, but every day I see more on the paper (the squeamish among you might want to not click to zoom in).

Actually, even when zooming in it's hard to see, but looking at it in person I see a white fly graveyard with about 10-20 white flies.

Now for the not-so-good news. The parsley has gone well past its 21 day limit. Here's what the seed pod looked like when I finally lifted the plastic dome off.

It looks like the seeds never quite got started, or they grew a tiny bit but then grey moldy. 

Also, if you look carefully at the cilantro, you'll notice that it's struggling to stay alive as well. It started out well enough, but the roots are yellowing and the base is weakening.

Notice that the sage, too, is struggling to stay alive. Again, it started well enough but the steam just seems to be buckling due to the larger leaves on top. 

The oregano and thyme are growing very slowly, but seem to be doing okay so far. The basil, of course, is thriving.

I'll give it a couple more days and then will be reaching out to Aerogarden to ask for replacements for at least the cilantro and the parsley. We'll see about the sage and the others.

In other news, the tomato plants continue to grow well.

I'm actually curious as to what "tips" the Aerogarden Ultra would have given me had I grown in in that, but in lieu of having that, and against all my better instincts, I decided to follow the Aerogarden's manuals and trim the tall leaves above 4-5 branches.

I've been timid in the past about pruning too much of the Aerogarden tomatoes, which resulted in top-heavy plants. In this case, we'll see if pruning early results in super-strong roots and base stems. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

White flies are back :( Day 16

Back in 2009, I recounted my woes with fighting whiteflies. Whiteflies are little white flies (not to be confused with little white lies) that are harmless to humans but can infest plants and become really, really annoying as they feed on the underside of plant leaves and lay eggs and larvae.

As I was looking at my new baby sage plant, I noticed little white specks. When I shook the plant, they flew all over the place. Amazingly, it only took a few days for whiteflies to find it. I have no idea where they came from--it's the middle of winter here in New York and you'd think they'd have the decency to wait until spring. My only guess is that they came through a crack in the window and were attracted to the Aerogarden lights. Either that, or they hitched a ride on some clothes or some other plants we brought into the house.

Well, I didn't freak out. Whiteflies are actually a little less invasive than other critters I've dealt with in my indoor gardening such as aphids or spider mites. They're wimps, in that a little shake of the plant will send them flying for dear life, rather than other critters that sink their sharp teeth into the plants and refuse to let go.

It's always tricky treating herbs for pests, as you don't want to use chemicals for anything you will end up eating. Here are the steps I took and would recommend:

1) Use a vacuum cleaner to suck away as many free-flying flies as I can. I had to be careful to keep the nozzle away from the plants, as they're still very fragile.

2) Take some mildly soapy water and wash the underside of the leaves each day, which hopefully will kill any larvae or eggs down there. 

3) Put up Whitefly Traps that I had left over from Gardener's Supply Company. These are basically really sticky pieces of paper that I taped to the side of the AeroGarden. The bright yellow color attracts whiteflies, and they get their little legs stuck on the paper. I'm happy to say that so far they seem to be working just fine: this morning I checked after 12 hours and the Whitefly Trap had 1 whitefly compared to zero on the leaves.

In other news, here was the latest "tip" from AeroGarden Ultra:

Hmmm...yet another "non tip". But it's a good description of what the plants look like.

I'm a little concerned with the sage, which is a bit droopy (it doesn't seem to be related to the whiteflies, as the leaves still look healthy--it seems that the leaves just grew a little too heavy for the stems to support). I'm also concerned with the cilantro, as some of the leaves appear to be getting burned by the light. Still, we'll see if both of these recover in the next few days.

Thyme and oregano are both looking good and almost hitting the plastic domes, but I'll keep them on for as long as I can until I know the whiteflies are under control.

Still waiting on the parsley...according to the seed pod we can give it another 8 days before I start to panic. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

First Nutrients Added. Also: Why isn't the Airstone in the AeroGarden 6 Working: Day 14

So, right on time the AeroGarden Ultra is reminding me, in no uncertain terms, to add nutrients.

Interestingly, they give you the option of adding them now, or hitting a snooze button of sorts to put it off until tomorrow. I decided to go ahead and add them now. For the herb gardens, I just need to use up the 8 ml packets of liquid nutrients. As someone who's been using the AeroGarden from the early days, I have to say I really prefer these liquid nutrients over the old chalky tablets they used to have. Although I have to say, I still wish there was a better way--it's a pain to cut the nutrient packet, have plastic all over the place, and not be able to get all the nutrients out of the packet. Perhaps one day I'll invest in their Liquid Nutrient Syringe (3-pk) and 1 quart bottle of Liquid Nutrients to make the nutrient process cleaner, but in the meantime I'll use up the free ones they give me with the seed packets.

After emptying the pouch and clicking OK, this message showed up:

Good tip; even though the water was still close to the fill line, I took some fresh water and mixed it in to clean the nutrients off the plastic and to make sure the water was at the fill line. Because you're only seeing a corner of the AeroGarden, remember that it'll take more water than you probably think to to get it back to the fill line.

After pressing OK, I noticed I had yet another tip! Here's what it said:

Again, this was an interesting tip. It was a good reminder that the portions they dole out from feeding to feeding are specifically designed to be the right amount of nutrients for the plants. Thinking you can put extra nutrients to make the plants grow faster is somewhat like feeding a baby twenty bottles of milk a night and thinking he'll grow into an adult faster. Doesn't work that way :) 

So far, the Aerogarden Ultra is doing spectacularly. Here's what it looks like today. If you compare the progress this go-around with my previous herb plantings, you'll notice that the plants are growing faster and taller than before. I do think the improved design of the AeroGarden Ultra is helping, not to mention the fact that I didn't delay before planting the seeds. 

In other news, here's an update on the tomato plants in my old AeroGarden VeggiePro (this was basically the AeroGarden Extra with 6 seed pods instead of 7). 

I actually did look up a previous post after writing my last blog post, and I sadly had to prune two healthy growing seedlings in each pod. 

As before, it really feels like a shame to chop down two perfectly good seedlings, but if you don't do that then none of them will grow very well. By trimming it down to one, you can assure that the one strongest seedling will have plenty of room and nutrients to grow the best it can be. I admit, part of me felt like I was on some kind of "death panel" for tomato plants, but having been through this before I knew it was the right thing to do.

Here's what the garden looked like after the trimming.

One thing I noticed before adding nutrients (I'm ignoring the flashing LEDs and the reset button on this unit and just using the AeroGarden Ultra to guide me with this garden too) is that the water was stagnant and had a film on top. I looked inside and it was clear that the airstone was not letting out air (the VeggiePro, like the AeroGarden 6 and AeroGarden 3, uses an airstone instead of a pump).

Here's the weird thing--I tried replacing it with a brand new one that I'd purchased directly from AeroGarden. They come 5 to a pack, and I had 4 left. But when I tried all four of them none of them were blowing air. I knew they weren't blocked by minerals or plant debris, as they were brand new. And I knew the pump was working, as when I removed the plastic tube it bubbled fine. 

My conclusion was that this was just yet another example of good intentions but poor design (probably one of the reasons why they discontinued the VeggiePro and AeroGarden 6's and went back to using pumps for the AeroGarden Ultra). My guess is that the output of the pump in the base of the AeroGarden is just too weak to blow a lot of air through the airstones. 

I'm going to try to write to AeroGarden to see if they can send me new airstones, but in the meantime, I figure I'll just leave the tube in place without the airstone, as the plants can still get some oxygen from those bubbles. The bubbling noise is a little loud, but since the unit is all the way in the kitchen it's not too bad. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Aerogarden Plastic Domes: Day 12

We've hit day 12 of the Aerogarden Ultra, and a new tip has appeared:

Here's the tip:

The tip: Remove the Grow Does when seedlings begin touching the dome. At that point, their job is done. Grow domes may be recycled.

Now as you can see from my garden, four of my grow domes are off already. I actually didn't know you were supposed to taken them off when they touched the dome; from my earliest Aerogarden days I just thought you were supposed to taken them off when seedlings appears.

In any case, good tip, but a little late for the sage and the basil. By the way, you can't see it from the picture, but the oregano and thyme are growing healthy and starting to peek their way through the seed pod hole.

Unlike earlier Aerogardens I'm not freaking out that some of the plants seem stuck under the holes--enough of them will eventually find their way to the light.

The only holdouts are the parsley, which I'm still waiting to see plants for. But the seed pod says 12-20 days for those to come up, so I'm not worried yet.

In other news, I can't remember if I even told you that I've also started growing tomatoes in my old Aerogarden VeggiePro (since rebranded as the Aerogarden Extra). I started them at the same time as the herbs. They're growing much faster than the ones I've had in the past--look at how big they are already.

Now to go through my past posts and figure out how to prune these things...! 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

More herbs and another tip from the AeroGarden Ultra: Day 7

I admit, I'm starting to get a little like William Shatner in the Twilight Zone episode "Nick of Time" as far as reading the tips on the Aerogarden. You know, that's the episode where he and his wife are mesmerized by a fortune teller machine. I admit, just like him, I walk by the AeroGarden every day and get excited when a new tip appears.

Day 7 of the Aerogarden has passed and here's the tip du jour:

Um...okay, but the tip is a little late...I'm happy to say that all of the herbs are now present and accounted for. I'm still waiting for the little plants to pass through the hole in the seed pod before taking off the plastic domes for the remaining three herbs.

The tip did get one thing right: the basil is usually the first to come up--Julie actually left a comment on a previous post saying that hers actually sprouted within hours!

The little herb plants are starting to show their distinctive shapes: the sage is getting bumpy leaves, the basil is showing tiny heart-shaped leaves, and so on.

More soon!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Support the Gardeners in Orlando Being Fined by the Government

We interrupt our indoor garden coverage with some thoughts on outdoor gardens.

I've mentioned a number of times how, while I love indoor gardening, one day I hope to do as I did in my childhood and plant a victory garden. As much as I love the handful of tomatoes I can get from my AeroGarden, I really miss the bushels and bushels of tomatoes I used to harvest when I was a kid in my parent's house.

There's a couple in Orlando, Florida who planted a garden in their front yard. It's not even a bad looking garden.

On this garden, Jason Helvenson grows carrots, bok choy, kale, and dozens of other fresh vegetables. At a time when food prices are rising and the hardworking family farmers that used to be the backbone  of the United States are going out of business and replaced by giant conglomerates, it's wonderful to see  Mr. Helvenson and his wife Jennifer taking the initiative to learn this important skill. Heaven forbid, if there's a crisis that disrupts the food chain, in their own little way Jason and Jennifer will have food to sustain their family and even neighbors. In the meantime, they're helping the environment, getting great exercise, eating healthy, saving money, and having fun.

But of course, the government of the city of Orlando doesn't like this. Evidently they passed a law saying that front lawns can only contain grass. Why such a ridiculous law is on the books is anyone's guess, but this is what happens when government gets out of control and pass law after law after law. Ironically, those we elect to preserve our freedoms are the same ones who pass more and more laws restricting them. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those anarchists who thing all government is bad--I appreciate things like National Parks, food safety laws, libraries, and stuff like that. But things like this go way too far.

Evidently, someone ratted out the Helvensons, and law enforcement came in and said that if they do not uproot their garden, they face a penalty of $500 a day until they do.

To their credit, the Helvensons are not taking this sitting down. They started a Web site called where they tell their story, as well as help educate people about the benefits of gardening. In a generous and clever little bit of civil disobedience, hey even have set up a form you can fill out to receive your own seeds and lawn sign that reads "Hands off our food!".

What can you do? The first thing is to visit their Facebook page and show your support. You can request one of their lawn signs and plant it in your front yard if you have one. And if you live in Orlando or one of the other localities that are passing laws preventing people from planting gardens, learn the name of your local government officials and tell them flat out that if they pass dumb laws like this, you'll pass on them next November.

It's funny that this story has appeared on both the New York Times and the Drudge Report in the last few days. I think it's because there are things here that transcend politics. The ability to plant a garden is something that has been part of our human experience since the beginning. And perhaps in more ways than any other it symbolizes the American ideals of hard work, perseverance, and literally reaping what you so. Do what you can to make sure a couple of dumb politicians don't take those basic freedoms away from us.

Now, back to our Indoor Gardening coverage...which thankfully is still legal :P

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The first herbs pop up in the AeroGarden Ultra!

It's day 5 (or so my AeroGarden Ultra is telling me), and all of the herbs have sprouted; four of them have already grown so high that I've taken the plastic domes off! 

Here's the control panel. As you can see, the AeroGarden has a new tip for me.
The tip of the day is this:

It's funny, but this was the exact question I was wondering when I planted the seeds; which plants to put into which position. The challenge with getting the choose-your-own-seed-pods is that unlike pre-packaged seed pods it doesn't tell you which plants to put in which position. 

What I liked about this tip was the timing; once the root systems form it'll be too late to move them, but as of right now it's fine to move them. Unfortunately, half of the seed pods I bought didn't specify whether the plants were short, medium, or tall, but luckily I'm enough of a seasoned indoor gardener by now that I could figure it out. I ended up swapping the parsley (which was in the front) and the thyme (which was in the back), as well as the cilantro (which was in the front) and the oregano (which was in the back). 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What happens when the Ultra loses power...

Here's an interesting turn of events. When I went to check on my AeroGarden Ultra, I saw the following message where I thought a tip would be:

The weird thing is, I don't remember there being a power outage; all my other appliances from my oven to my microwave to my Tivo seemed to be fine. But I guess it's possible there may have been a power surge. I clicked "My Power Went Out" and saw that the AeroGarden's clock was indeed off.

I then set it with the correct time.

Strangely, while it should have been on day 3, it now reverted back to day 1. I have to say I like this new system better than the old one (where you'd get no indication that the power went off, and you'd need to figure out how to reset the AeroGarden's lights blindly). But then again, it would have been nice for the unit to have done a better job at keeping the time/date settings while the power was out, as now it seems that my system will be a day behind. 

In any case, no harm, no foul. And I notice that six of the seven seed pods have sprouted, so we will have fresh herbs soon!