Sunday, February 24, 2013

Root rot in the Aerogarden? Day 56

It's Day 56 of the Aerogarden Ultra, and suddenly things aren't looking great.

My basil plants, after starting out so well, aren't doing too well. now. One completely died and the other is turning yellow, all seemingly in a matter of days. I did an autopsy on the seed pod to try to figure out why. Here's what I saw:

It looks like a classic case of root rot, which is weird because I've never experienced this with other Aerogarden plants before. 

After doing a little diagnosis on the Web, it has the classic symptoms of Fusarium wilt, although for the life of me I have no idea how the fungus could have gotten into the Aerogarden. The only explanation I can think of is that somehow the seed pods had it to begin with. 

The thyme and oregano don't seem to be affected, but of course the parsley never got started, the cilantro is struggling, one basil is dead, and the other basil looks like its stem near its roots is deteriorating fast, resulting in yellowish leaves. 

Doesn't look like there's much life left on this one. The cilantro looks similar--the leaves are starting to wilt and the stalk at the base is getting thin. 

It may be time for me to write to Aerogrow and ask for replacement seed pods. Not sure how they'll react when I say I need two new basils, a parsley, and a cilantro. I'll also ask them for advice on how to prevent this in the future, and whether they'd suggest I completely sanitize and restart the garden.

Here's todays' tip, complete with a sprig of thyme in the picture: 

"As your plants grow, you may see some dead or brown leaves. This is perfectly normal. Just remove with your shears".

In the meantime, the tomatoes are still going strong, although to this day I still see the occasional white flies circling around. I guess they've laid their eggs on certain leaves and are hanging on as long as they can. I'm still trying to spot the eggs and remove the leaves as much as I can.

Using the Aerogarden in cooking: Day 52

We're at a point now where we're ready to use the Aerogarden herbs for cooking. Here's where we made some fried rice, harvesting some of the cilantro to add some flavor.

Lisa also tried cooking pork tenderloin for the first time, using Martha Stewart's recipe for sage and garlic crusted pork tenderloin.

Boy, this turned out great.

The tip of the day from the Aerogarden was as follows:

"For best appearance, turn grow pod so fullest growth faces OUT and the thinner side IN towards the garden's center".

This is something I've never really tried before, but it makes perfect sense--you want the thin side to receive more light and the side with more growth to maybe slow down a little.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Whitefly culprit found--the poinsettia did it! Day 48

We're approaching day 48 of the Aerogarden Ultra garden. By the way, it's you're reading this on Feburary 16-18, 2013, Aerogarden has one of their best sales yet--use coupon code BOGO to get buy-one-get-one-free on everything in the store, whether you need new seed kits, new grow lights, or even a new Aerogarden Ultra (I tried it, and if you put two Aerogarden Ultras in your cart, you can get $125 off, effectively getting each for less than $190.

The whitefly problem continued unabated, to the point where I thought I was losing the battle. It was bizarre, because I would vacuum all the white flies off all the leaves, pick the leaves off that I saw eggs on, wipe off the leaves, shake the leaves to be sure I caught any stragglers and either vacuum them or watch them fly right into the whitefly traps.

But the next day, I would come back and see them again. It's the middle of winter, so even with the windows open, I don't see any flying through there.

Then, one day I was sitting in the living room and glanced at a poinsettia plant we'd gotten around Christmas (around the time the whitefly problem started). I noticed that a lot of the leaves were losing their color. Then, I finally put two and two together and flipped one of the leaves over. Sure enough, this is where the whiteflies were calling home base. There were lots of flies and lots of eggs. It was a shame, because this poinsettia plant was a beautiful, huge plant.

I checked the other houseplants and luckily it doesn't look like the whiteflies had a taste for them. They stayed away from the succulents, the bamboo, and even my geranium and orchids, I'm guessing because the leaves were hard on their teeth (or suckers, or whatever). They seemed to go for plants with thin leaves like the poinsettia (and sage).

It was difficult, but I ended up tossing the whole poinsettia plant and putting a fresh whitefly trap near where it was. Happily, that trap is clean, and I'm not noticing any new whiteflies on the Aerogarden. Crisis least until spring comes in a few weeks!

Lisa is starting to pick off fresh herbs from the Aerogarden and toss them into her cooking. Here's some grilled squid she made, with some thyme and sage from the garden.


The Aerogarden Ultra popped up another tip recently:

"After your harvest, lower the Lamp Hood to keep the lights 1 to 2 inches above the plants."

I actually had never done this before, but after following this advice, I noticed that my herb plants, which had started out strong but were looking a little weak after enduring the whitefly invasion (not so much damage from the whiteflies but from me vigorously shaking them every day), were now perking up again. 

In the meantime, the tomato plants are still looking strong. In fact, the first three flowers have appeared. I checked the water, and it turns out the basin was bone dry--I need to remind myself that these tomatoes are drinking up water at a huge pace now. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Battle of the White Flies: Day 41

Day 41 has come and gone. At least I think it's day 41. There have been a couple more power outages, but at least this time the system kept track of the right date and time. 

Here's today's tip:

"For the best flavor, harvest herbs just before using. Any time you prune, you can use them in salads, soups, on frozen pizza, etc."

The herbs are about the same as last time. The cilantro continues to hang on but it's struggling. We used a bunch of the basil.

As you can see from the two whitefly traps, the whiteflies are still a problem. I thought I had cleared them all away, but when we tried to pick some basil after about two days of not checking, a whole bunch of flies flew out at us.

Persistence is the key to battling whiteflies. I'm not using any chemicals, I'm just using a Dyson handheld vacuum cleaner, shaking the plants, and picking them off as they fly out. A lot of times the yellow sticky traps will do the job for me, as the flies have a tendency to fly full-speed right into them.

I noticed, though, that the flies are getting more resistant. Some flies will fly into the traps but wiggle their way off. Other flies will cling onto the leaves no matter how much I shake them.

I notice they really like the sage and the basil. I've been trying to pick off leaves that I notice a lot of flies on, especially ones where I see the telltale signs of whitefly eggs (they look like translucent scales on the underside of the leaves). So far, the battle seems to be a draw--I manage to clear them away, but if I don't stay on top of them they'll come back with a vengeance. Also, I notice the basil that started so strongly is beginning to struggle; I'm wondering how affected it has been from the flies sucking at its juices.

In the meantime, the tomatoes in the Aerogarden above are still doing pretty well. Happily, the whiteflies don't seem to care for the taste of tomato leaves.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Information wiped out on the AeroGarden Ultra, but saved by the Custom Setting menu - Day 33

Well, my worst fears happened. I woke up a few days ago to find this error screen that the Aerogarden had lost power again.

Like last time, I selected "My Power Went Out". Once again, I got this message that the AeroGarden holds all of my critical settings during a power outage, and for me to check that the time is accurate.

The clock wasn't right, so I went through the process of setting the clock. Then, I was flabbergasted to see that my garden had been reset to 0 days.

Ironically, if the power was out, it hadn't been out for very long, and yet the AeroGarden totally lost track of the number of days I'd planted it. Even the old AeroGarden with its built-in battery would keep basic settings, but all my settings seem to have been completely wiped out from the Ultra. Not cool.

I was about to start writing an angry blog post when I noticed that there is a home menu on the AeroGarden Ultra. It has interesting options. Among other things, you can select "Quick Plant" (to start a brand new garden), "Set Lights" (to set the on and off times for your lights), "Set Clock" (to set the system time),

"Help and Tips" was interesting--it lets you read ahead and see all the tips the Ultra serves up for all kinds of gardens--tomatoes and peppers, flowers, the seed starter kit, and herbs.

"Set Audio Alerts" lets you set alarms, a feature I haven't tried yet. "Garden Status" shows you lots of vital statistics about your garden. "Order Supplies" is kind of a silly feature where you don't actually order the supplies on the unit, but you'll get a QR code you can scan to bring you to the page on to order.

The menu option that caught my eye was "Custom Settings".

You see a description of what this option is:


"Your AeroGarden lets you fully customize your pump, lights, nutrient cycles, and more"

The next thing you see is a scary warning message saying that only "Advanced Grower" should use it. 

 "Customizing these settings should only by (sic) done by Advanced Growers and is not needed in normal operations"

After all these years of using Aerogardens, I think I qualify...

More scary messages: "AeroGardens are factory set for optimal growth. Customizing these settings may void seed kit guarantees".

At this point I want to shake my AeroGarden and say "enough with the warnings! If you'd just remembered my settings like you were supposed to, we wouldn't be in this mess!"

At long last I got the the Custom Settings menu. Looks like you can customize all kinds of things, from the light cycle, to the nutrient cycle, to the pump cycle. The one I needed was "Days Planted".

Again with the disclaimer.

Finally, I got to the point where I could customize the days planted.

Luckily, I've been taking copious pictures of my screens for this blog, so I knew exactly what I had to set it to.

Happily, after this point the unit was back to normal. On the one hand, I wasn't happy that the AeroGarden Ultra that was supposed to maintain my data during a power outage lost it so quickly. On the other hand, I do like how easy it is to set it to the right number of days so I didn't have to miss a beat. 

If you're wondering what the garden looks like, here it is today:

Everything except the parsley and cilantro are growing really well. The one odd thing is that none of the herbs seem to be growing very strong at their base, so they grow tall and then flop down from their own weight. I'm not sure why this is happening when it didn't happen to my previous Aerogardens. Still, hopefully in time they'll get stronger. 

Two plants that are definitely very strong are the tomato plants. Remember the big chunk I cut off last time. Look at how the base of the plants in this case are incredibly thick and strong, and new growth is quickly coming out of the strong foundations. If you're skittish about over-pruning your tomato plants, don't be...they're resilient and will make up for however much you lop off the top in no time. I'm definitely happy with the way these are coming out.