Sunday, December 28, 2008

Day 169 / Day 104 - Bye Bye Lettuce and hopefully Bye Bye Whiteflies

Well, the little whiteflies on my lettuce just got to be too much, so I retired the lettuce Aerogarden. Here's what was left of it.

As you can see, the leaves were still in decent shape, but dealing with the flies just got to be too much. Every day I'd vacuum them clean, and the next day there'd be a couple dozen more. I'm just glad the whiteflies' eggs and pupae stages are too small to be seen with the naked eye, or I'd be totally grossed out!

In any case, Heather, I read your comment in the last posting, and if it's any consolation, you're not alone! I did a little research on whiteflies and aphids, and they seem to be a very, very common problem in households and greenhouses.

I'm still not quite sure how they happened to get into the house (the usual way is for them to hitch a ride on other plants, but I haven't gotten any new plants for a few months). My guess is they were attracted to the bright Aerogarden lights that I have on overnight. All it takes is two randy whiteflies to find their way through a crack in the window, and then it's like they're in Vegas--bright lights, all-you-can-eat salad bar and...well, you know the rest.

The good news is, I made the very prescient step a few months ago of NOT putting my houseplants (and my other herb plants) near the Aerogardens, so they haven't infested the whole house.

They seemed to particularly love the lettuce and the tomatoes, and even though they're not supposed to like basil, I noticed they didn't mind that mind that either. They all but destroyed what was once a glorious basil plant. This is the one that had been transplanted from my original Aerogarden and was at one point the biggest, most productive basil plant I had. But by now, the leaves were all wilting and falling apart, and the underside was sticky (whiteflies excrete a sticky honeydew which, if left around, eventually turns into icky black mold fungus).

So, the plan is still to shut down the tomato Aerogarden--taking Corinne's great advice from the last post, I've been trimming the leaves which does two things: it help control the whitefly population (they hang out and lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves), and it ensures that the bulk of the remaining nutrients goes straight to the tomatoes.

I did salvage pieces from the lettuce Aerogarden. As luck would have it, one grow light had gone out in the Holiday Herb Aerogarden, so I took the one working light from the lettuce Aerogarden and put it into that. And I used the two remaining grow tablets from my lettuce kit to give the tomato Aerogarden a few more days of growth.

Once the tomato Aerogarden is gone, that'll leave just the Holiday Herb Aerogarden (which currently has the thyme growing weakly, the oregano growing moderately, and the parsley growing through the roof). So far, the whiteflies don't seem to be infesting those, but to be safe, I did a little investigating as to the best way to be sure they don't.

Insecticides, of course, won't work because the herbs have to be edible.

Ironically enough, one popular method to control whiteflies is to use a vacuum to suck them up, but as I've found, that's a losing battle.

The most popular solution I found has been sticky yellow Whitefly Traps. They're available at Gardener's Supply Company. These are not only safe, they're also very easy to set up, and I imagine once you get over the ickiness factor, you might get a sense of satisfaction seeing all those pests done in by their own gluttony.

The way they work, you stick up a yellow card near your plants. They'll attract and capture whiteflies, (as well as gnats, aphids, thrips and other pests). Once the card is covered with insects, you just replace it with a fresh one.

So once I retire my tomato Aerogarden, I'll be investing in a couple of these just to make sure the Holiday Herb Aerogarden can live out the rest of its days in peace. I still have a lot of plans for that parsley.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Day 154 / Day 89 - The good, the bad, and Critters! :(

So, I'm minding my own business when it hits me--I write a blog, don't it?

Yes, it's been about three weeks since my last post. A lot has happened since then with the Aerogardens.

The good:

  1. The week after Thanksgiving, I bought myself two ducks on sale at the supermarket, with the intent of using my fresh basil to cook this recipe. I started by harvesting the basil:

    Now, usually the rest of this post would be a beautiful picture of the beautifully honey glazed duck glistening in the oven, but guess what? I FORGOT TO TAKE A PICTURE OF IT!! So you'll just have to take my word for it that the duck was flavorful, juicy, and absolutely delicious.

  2. The tomato Aerogarden is absolutely thriving. All of a sudden, tomatoes are sprouting up like crazy. I counted not 10, not twenty, but THIRTY new tomatoes growing on the danged thing! If you look carefully, you can count up to 15 in this picture!

    I learned the secret of successful "pollination" of the tomato plants. The instruction booklet says to shake the plants, but that's a good way to send fragile little flower buds flying across the room. Others have suggested Q-Tips or toothpicks, but that just takes too much time. The method I've found which works best is to take your index finger and just lightly tap the stem underneath the flower buds. If you look carefully, you'll see a little cloud of pollen spread out (you'll also smell a tomato-y scent). If you're feeling silly, you'll make a little buzzing sound when you do this like I do.

    The pollen will pollinate the flowers--each time I've done this, within days I'd see a cute little tomato form.
The bad:
  • My grow bulb has finally went out on my Holiday Herb Aerogarden unit. Now this isn't really 'bad', because the bulbs lasted through two generations of Aerogardens. Pretty amazing when you consider these units are on 15 hours a day non-stop.

  • I am down to my last nutrient tablets on my Tomato Aerogarden and my Lettuce Aerogardens. The lettuce has served me very well, but I'm a little wistful that it's only when the tomatoes are starting to pop up that it's time to say good-night. I guess I could order a new set of nutrient tablets, but my goal is to retire the Tomato and the Lettuce Aerogardens in 2-4 weeks because of one little thing...
The ugly:

...actually, it's about two dozen little things and counting. That's right, it's the worst nightmare of an Aerogarden gardener-critters! More specifically, I've seen these tiny little winged flies on the undersides of my tomato leaves.

The good news is, they're not scary looking. They're just little white flies (in fact, they're called whiteflies). If they were fuzzy or had big bulging eyes or creepy antennae or big hairy teeth, I'd retire as an Aerogarden gardener and throw all three units out the window. But they look pretty harmless, and don't even seem to be sucking the leaves as I've always heard whiteflies do, it looks like they're just hanging out to be under the light. They've also attacked the few potted plants I have on the kitchen windowsill--all alumni of the Aerogardens: a mint plant, a thyme plant, two basil plants, and a chive plant. Interestingly, they don't seem to be very interested in the basil, something I've heard is to be expected because of the essential oils (as I was writing this I just realized for the first time in my life that "essential oils" means "oils that give off an essence", and not "oils you can't live without" :P)

I'm not even sure how they got into my kitchen, but there are dozens of them. I'm thankful that (so far), they haven't made the migration into the living room where all my houseplants are, because I've heard once they get on houseplants, it's all over...they are nearly impossible to get rid of. So when I walk from the kitchen into the living room, I make sure to shake up and down to make sure I don't carry any with me (critters like whiteflies and aphids love to hitch a ride on loose clothes).

I have a unique way of pest control. I take my Dyson handheld vacuum and hold it like a gun. Then, I shake the leaves, and once the whiteflies start scattering, I suck them up. It's like a lame, 3-D version of Whack-a-Mole.

The Aerogarden manual actually gives instructions on how to get rid of critters, but it involves taking the unit and showering it under a stream of water. But since the lifecycle of the tomatoes and lettuce are almost at an end, I'm just going to let them live the rest of their lives in peace and then retire them (I'll figure out something cool to do with those 30 tomatoes) and try to make sure it's rid of whiteflies before starting a new batch.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Day 134 / Day 69 - Recipe for Fresh Oregano

Tomorrow is our company's "pot luck". Now, every year I've come up with a dish that I've made in the past, but this year, I figured I'd make use of my bumper harvest of oregano from the "holiday herbs" Aerogarden. 

The "holiday herbs" Aerogarden has taken a bit of a back seat to the tomato and lettuce Aerogardens, but that's only because it's been doing so well, like the well-behaved child that doesn't get much attention because his siblings are busy getting into messes.  

Well, our star pupil has gotten into a bit of a mess. The Aerogarden's grown into quite a bit of a jungle. The oregano in particular has grown so voluminous that it's intertwined with the parsley and the thyme, and the one sage plant (the other never came up) is gargantuan! 

So, my goal was to find a recipe that used fresh oregano. A LOT of fresh oregano.

Most of the recipes I found were for fish dishes. Turns out fresh oregano is excellent with salmon, red snapper, halibut, and a whole bunch of other great fish. But of course, I can't bring fish to a potluck (although in the coming months, I'm sure I'll be attempting a fish dish.

I decided upon this recipe: Fresh Tomato Penne with Oregano.


  • 1  (16-oz.) package penne pasta
  • 1/4  pound  prosciutto, chopped
  • 1/4  cup  olive oil
  • 3  plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 4  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1  (2-oz.) package pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 1/4  cup  chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2  teaspoon  dried crushed red pepper
  • 1/4  teaspoon  sugar
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8  teaspoon  salt
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)


1. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and keep warm.

2. Cook prosciutto in hot oil in a large skillet over medium heat 8 minutes or until crisp. Add tomatoes and next 7 ingredients; cook, stirring often, 5 minutes or until tomatoes are tender. Toss with warm cooked pasta. Serve with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

It seemed like the perfect dish. I had most of the ingredients already, and tomatoes and prosciutto were on sale at the local supermarket. So, I went and bought what I didn't have.

The first step was harvesting the oregano:

A pretty good haul. I managed to chop 1/2 cup full of oregano, more than what this recipe later, but it would turn out handy later. 

Next step was mincing the garlic and chopping the proscuitto into diced pieces. I read a handy hint on the Web that the best way to chop proscuitto is by freezing it for 15 minutes (yes, I know I'm spelling prosciutto wrong each time, but at this point I've given up trying to fix it).   

Next step, chopping the tomatoes. It would have been cool if I had been able to harvest the tomatoes from the Aerogarden, but alas, the smiley salad was the last recipe for a good while. 

In an effort to "inspire" the tomato Aerogarden like last time, I held the box of tomatoes up to it and gave it a little Knute Rockne inspirational speech. 
Well, long story short, after a while, my whole house smelled soooooooooooooooooooooooo good. If I were in the scented candle biz, I'd sell a candle that smells like fried proscuitto. It was one of the most amazing smells, especially when intermingled with the garlic and the toasted pine nuts and the fresh smell of oregano. 

I mixed it with a pound of penne pasta. I tasted it, and unfortunately, it ended up tasting like slightly-flavored penne pasta. 

Not to be defeated, I went and repeated the whole process again. Turns out I had double of every ingredient, including the all-important fresh oregano. So I made another batch and tossed half of it into the pasta. That brought the flavor out, and it was not bad, although knowing what everyone else is bringing to the pot luck, I have a feeling this dish isn't going to blow anyone away. 

And so, this is what I'm bringing tomorrow: 

I'm hoping people like it, but if they don't, that just means I've got my dinner plans set for the next few days!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Day 132 / Day 67 - You say tomato, I say dinner

For those who can't remember what the "Day 132 / Day 67" means, it means the Aerogarden Tomatoes have been growing for 132 days, and the Aerogarden lettuce and Holiday Herbs have been there for 67 days.

Dedicated readers of this blog know that I've been a little frustrated with my Aerogarden tomato set. Well, check out what's been happening in the last two weeks:

That's right, all I had to do was ignore it for a few weeks, and all of a sudden, there are at least a dozen new little flowers and tomatoes growing! Still not the bountiful crop I had first envisioned, but then again, it's more than just three. I guess I must have just gotten a late bloomer seed kit. Let's hope these little flowers grow up to be nice tomatoes.

Speaking of which, here's their fearless leaders. And yes, today is the day I'm picking them! The tomatoes have been bright red for a while, and when I squeeze them, they're just the slightest bit plump. From my old gardening days, I know that's the sign they're ready.

A couple of their golden harvest brethren appear ripe for the picking too. They turned out to be a bit smaller, but they're bright yellow and plump.

It was a momentous occasion: four months since planting those little seed pods, I'm finally harvesting my first crop of three red tomatoes and four yellow tomatoes.

Of course, I didn't know what to expect. For all I know, I could cut open the tomatoes and find who-knows-what in there. So I sliced open a tomato in a dramatic way reminiscent of the old Ginsu knife commercials (you know, after they sliced the tin can), and this is what I found:

Yep, that's a tomato all right.

The next step was thinking of what to do with them. I decided to go the boring route and put them in a garden salad. Not just any salad, but a salad made up of leaves from the lettuce Aerogarden, which had grown back to its former glory. I figured this would be the first meal I create 100% with home-grown vegetables.
I know you were expecting something dramatic, so where I lack creativity in the recipe, I'll make up for it in what they call on Iron Chef the "Plating".

Of course, it wouldn't be complete without a unibrow made up of Catalina Dressing:

And now, what you probably want to know: how did the tomato taste. Well, it a tomato! It was juicy, slighty sweet, and thank goodness didn't taste at all like "nutrient tablet", as I'd feared it might.
And so there you have it. The fruit of 132 days of indoor gardening. Let's see what the next 132 days bring...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Day 127 / Day 62 - Time for a Basil Class Reunion

Remember the basil Aerogarden that started this blog? Have you ever wondered whatever became of those basil plants? Wonder no more!

Cue "pomp and circumstances". Today, I assembled a "reunion" of the old basil plants, traveling back from the far reaches of the kitchen and the bedroom and the window by the living room, and all joining together back in the original spot of the living room where the Aerogarden once stood. I felt like a proud pappy knowing that they've done so well with themselves out there in the big world.

I've found that the basil plants that I planted in the bigger pots grew to be larger. Makes sense--those are the ones where the roots could spread out, and happy roots means happy leaves.

For the reunion dinner, I decided to make the delicious recipe in the Basil Aerogarden manual that I made four months ago: Basil and Tomato with Toasted Garlic.

Just as in the old days, I chopped off a bunch of basil.

And then prepared some penne pasta with olive oil, toasted garlic, diced tomatoes, freshly grated cheese, and of course the chopped basil.

The whole house (including yours truly) reeks of toasted garlic right now, but it was well worth it--the dish turned out as tasty as it did four months ago. It was especially worth it considering that I had nothing left in the fridge tonight and would have otherwise ended up eating a handful of Honey Bunches of Oats for dinner.

So, how are the current inhabitants of the Aerogardens doing? Well, those three tomatoes are ripe for the picking, but I'm still trying to figure out what to do with them.

In the meantime, the Golden Harvest tomatoes haven't gotten much bigger, but they are getting golden.

The holiday herbs on the top shelf are growing out of control. I really need to find a recipe soon that uses a lot of fresh oregano.

And good news--even though I decimated the lettuce Aerogarden at the last post, I'm happy to say it's resilient. It's managed to return to its former glory, ready for another home-made and home-grown salad soon!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Day 121 / Day 56 - Feeding Time

Well, the flashing lights went on again, so it's time for another feeding. I just plopped two more tablets into the tomato, the lettuce, and the holiday herbs Aerogardens.

Speaking of the holiday herbs, it just struck me that I haven't been reporting on them for a while. They've just been hiding quietly on the top shelf.

Well, take a look:

My experience with the holiday herbs once again confirms to me that the Aerogarden is first and foremost best for herbs. The oregano is growing through the roof. The parsley is growing too, although at a slower rate. The thyme is growing a little slower, but two of the strands are impressively long.

The odd one is the sage. One of the sage pods never sprouted--it's still sitting in the back with its plastic hood over it, and at this point I think it's safe to say it'll never sprout.

But its neighbor has more than made up for it. As you can see in the picture, it's grown to a huge height, and as if it wanted to give its neighbor a hand, one stalk has even grown so long that it grew into its neighbor's space.

Needless to say, I need to find a recipe that uses fresh oregano--and quick!

In the meantime, check out the cherry tomatoes. This is an actual picture!

I think it's safe to say the tomatoes are just about ready for picking. As they're the only red tomatoes I'm ever going to get from this Aerogarden, I'm still trying to think of a suitably appropriate way to prepare them.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Day 115 / Day 51 - Do my eyes deceive me?

Here's an interesting turn of events. Only two days since the last post, I looked at the same three tomatoes, and check them out:

That's right--they're actually TURNING RED! Maybe my little gag of putting the big ripe BJ's tomatoes next to them inspired them.
Now, before you get too excited, remember that on the whole vine, these are the only three tomatoes that ever grew. But still, if I can bring these three little guys to harvest, I'm going to declare victory.
Now, I have to start to think...what do I do with these tomatoes when they're ready?
Should I...
...put them in a garden salad with my lettuce? (which I fear I've damaged for good the other day)
...make another BLT, slicing the tomato in 0.5mm slices to fill up the bread?
...make a teaspoon of tomato sauce and eat it with a strand of spaghetti? out a hungry bunny?
...make a teaspoon of tomato juice so I can make myself a shotglass of Bloody Mary?
Decisions, decisions....

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Day 113 / Day 49 - How do you spell "BLT"?

Well, it's been 12 days since the last update. What would you say if I told you that in 12 days the tomato Aerogarden started to produce big beautiful tomatoes?   

Well...sorry, I'm being a bit silly here. Consider it a 5-month early April Fool's joke. These tomatoes are actually fresh out of the box I just bought at BJ's.  

In reality, the real cherry tomatoes are pretty much exactly the same size as we left them two weeks ago. In the interm, I've been filling the basin with water and there was another "feeding" of nutrients, but it seems that most of the growth is happening to the leaves around the tomatoes, not the tomatoes themselves.

Same goes for the golden harvest tomatoes. Pretty much the same as last time, although there's a heck of a lot more tomato leaf growth. It's a shame there aren't any good recipes for tomato leaves (fuzzy tomato leaf soup), or I'd be cooking up a storm now. 

In other news, the lettuce is still growing well.

Although admittedly, I'm having a hard time figuring out how to follow the directions in the Aerogarden manual. The manual says to harvest the leaves at the base of the plant and also to harvest "no more than 1/3 of the plant". 

But this is a bit of an oxymoron, because most of the new growth is happening on the tip of one stalk. So if I cut the stalk altogether, by definition I'd be harvesting more than 1/3 of the plant.

So, I took a gamble and gave the lettuce plants a major haircut, basically gutting the tall leaves, leaving the stalks, and lowering the lights. If the plants start growing again, all is well. If not, that may be the end of the lettuce Aerogarden.

But if it is the end, at least it's going in style. As I said, my goal has been to make a BLT. Here's the harvest of the "L".

I baked a fresh loaf of bread in the breadmaker just for this occasion. 

And so, the recipe for a BLT is two slices of bread:

...some bacon, lettuce, and tomato: 

Some might argue that taking 3 hours to prepare a sandwich you could typically prepare in 3 minutes is overkill, but I have to admit the sandwich was pretty good. 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Day 101 / Day 37 - Salad, anyone?

Guess what I had for lunch yesterday?

I following the instructions in the manual and harvested about 1/3 of the leaves in the Aerogarden. I got the whopping harvest you see above. After I was done, the Aerogarden looked like this: 

As luck would have it, I have a three-set bottle of salad dressing which I bought at BJ's a long time ago and never opened. It was a no-brainer which one I'd choose first: the Catalina (which I think is a fancy way to say "French" in Kraft language). 
I didn't have things like croutons or bacon bits or onions or peppers in the fridge. And you know what my tomato situation is. But I did have a block of cheese, which I grated on top of the dressing.

I have to admit, it was a little surreal eating a lunch that had only minutes earlier been a houseplant. I pictured myself roaming around the house and nibbling on my gardenia plant and my African violets and my money tree plant, making mooing sounds. But no, this was most certainly lettuce, and fresh lettuce at that, with no critters, dirt, pesticides, or 3/4 of a head to throw away. I'm looking forward to many more meals with my Aerogarden lettuce. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Day 100 / Day 36 - Welcome to the Jungle

How time flies. It's been almost two weeks since I last posted an update. And boy, have things changed.

First of all, the lettuce is growing very, very nicely and is about ready for harvest. What I find really cool is that the lettuce doesn't grow in a head of lettuce, but as separate leaves. How they managed to figure out how to do this boggles my mind. It's as if they figured out how to grow corn one kernel at a time or growing potatoes in fry form (I'm sure they're working on it).

Feeling somewhat silly, I made like a bunny and took a little bite out of one of the leaves, just to make sure it was lettuce. It sure was.

So for the next post, I'll be reviewing the manual to make sure I know the correct way to harvest the lettuce leaves.

It's day 100 of the tomatoes. They're still underperforming, but I still got my eye on the big three. The plant doesn't look the worse for wear since it toppled over, although these three guys are still the only tomatoes on the whole plant. So amongst two "red heirloom" plants, there are a ton of leaves, but still only three tomatoes growing.

As you can see, they're a little bigger, but I'm still waiting for them to turn red. If they don't turn red by the next posting, I'll may need to start telling embarrassing stories about them.

The "golden harvest" plant surprised me. All of a sudden, it's got quite a number of tomatoes. These are the ones that'll turn yellow when they grow up. I admit, it's fun looking playing "treasure hunt" trying to find the little tomatoes and teeny weeny tomatoes growing. See how many you can count in this picture.

The herbs are growing well too. Everyone's up except for the second sage plant, which I'm about to give up on. As you can see, the other sage plant is more than making up for it.

Since it is called the "holiday herb kit", I am looking forward to using it to make a turkey come Thanksgiving time. Let's hope it grows enough in that time.