Monday, December 31, 2012

Tips from the AeroGarden Ultra and Overachieving Basil...again

One of the things I was most looking forward to seeing were "tips" from the AeroGarden Ultra. I saw that my first one was available yesterday (yes, that's me up at 3:42 AM due to jetlag).

I clicked OK and got the following "tip".

Okay, not exactly an earth-shattering tip, but I did like the fact that they reiterated their "Guaranteed to Grow" policy, where if a seed pod does not sprout, they'll replace it for free. Readers of this blog will remember that I used this guarantee a few times and was always very happy with the results.

On day 3, just two days after planting the garden, lookie at what we have here:

Yes, as we've seen in previous gardens, the basil is overachieving and is the first to pop up. This is even quicker than in previous gardens; I'd attribute this not necessarily to the AeroGarden Ultra, but more so to the fact that I've planted the seed pod immediately after receiving it rather than waiting weeks or months.

We are in business!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

AeroGarden Ultra - My Unbiased Review

At long last, my AeroGarden Ultra is HERE. Well in all honesty it was here two weeks ago but I wasn't--I was in Asia on my honeymoon. But I did track the progress of my shipment via email, right to the point where it arrived at my front door. To AeroGrow's credit, it did arrive well in time for Christmas as they'd promised.

When I finally arrived home I found the box waiting for me. Strangely, from the green tape on the box it looks like the box had been opened by the Department of Homeland Security, but thankfully none of the contents were missing nor seemed the worse for wear.

aerogarden ultra box

Opening the box revealed a catalog, the manual, the packing slip, and the two seed kits I had ordered: the mega cherry tomato kit and a custom kit of herbs. I wish I'd read Scott's comment on my last blog post in time, as I probably would have substituted the cherry tomatoes for another herb kit (as I've covered in previous posts, while growing tomatoes indoors is a nice novelty, it's difficult to get any kind of meaningful harvest). Still, since I still have my old Aerogarden VeggiePro (a.k.a. AeroGarden Extra), I figured I'd plant the tomatoes there and save the Ultra for my herbs (which I know I can get a lot of use out of).

The box itself was packaged very nicely.

I noticed right away that the base of the unit is a lot sleeker and rounder and less bulky than previous Aerogardens. And one other thing I noticed right away: there are once again SEVEN seed pods! I admit, I wasn't a big fan when they reduced the seed pods from 7 to 6, as I'd always have pods left over.

Here were the entire contents of the box:

As you can see, it comes with three grow lights, a base, a basin, a top, and a telescoping rod. It took me a while to figure out what the two "U" shaped plastic pieces were, but it turns out they're used to attach trellises  for when your garden gets too large. The actual Trellises are sold separately; I don't see why they couldn't have thrown in a couple here, but I guess they have to make money somehow.

Assembly was a piece of cake, even simpler than previous AeroGardens. You start by putting the telescoping rod into the base. The rod is simple to use, easy to hold, and not awkward like those old bulky chunks of plastic.

And then you put the basin in place. 

Interestingly, they don't use the "water trickling into the seven seed pods" they did with the first 7-pod AeroGardens, nor do they use the "air stone" technique they used with the 6-pod versions of the AeroGarden. It does look like they've gone back to putting the pump in the basin itself, and it looks like the new pump system can deliver a lot more oxygen than before, which presumably will mean bigger and faster growth for plants. They are selling a special pump for the AeroGarden Ultra on their parts page, so they will be user-serviceable. 

Next, you plug a small cable from the pump to the base, which at long last is a simple, easy-to-use plug. A notch in the back of the unit ensures that the cable can pass from inside to outside the unit without affecting your garden. 

You install the grow lights by popping them into the top (no twisting!) 

Push the top of the unit onto the telescoping rod until it "clicks" (four hands would be useful for this one).

And then plug the cable from the base into the top to power the lamps.

It quite literally took me more time to write out the steps than it actually took me to do them. Here's the completed AeroGarden Ultra, standing on my AeroGarden Shelf System.

Now if you observe carefully, you'll see that the unit doesn't quite fit onto the pre-molded shelves. I guess this is the price of progress, but it does point to how myopically engineered the shelf system was (and why I assume they've stopped selling them). Not only do they not conform to the form factor of the new AeroGardens, the shelves aren't adjustable, so I had to literally hack it to make it fit two tall Aerogardens vs. three regular ones. If I could go back in time, I would have thought twice about buying the shelves. Still, just a minor annoyance in an otherwise simple and delightful setup process. 

Next is where the magic begins. Now with the old AeroGarden you had to do some convoluted steps to try to get your lights to go off at a certain time and on at a certain time. As you see in previous posts, you also had to keep track of the last time you put nutrients in, something I'd usually do fastidiously in the first few weeks but then completely lose track of later. Something else I didn't like about the old gardens was how messy refilling the unit could be--trying to get nutrients and water into the opening mouth often ended up with me watering the kitchen floor. 

All of these things are wonderfully improved with the Ultra, and the key is the new control panel in front of the unit. It makes what was once a daunting task of keeping track of your garden easy, with iPhone-esque simplicity. 

When you plug in the unit, you'll see the AeroGarden Ultra logo upon "boot up".

You then see a welcome message. I got a kick out of the fact that the font looks exactly like the font on my old beloved Apple //e from the 1980s. 

Choosing "Quick Plant" then leads you through a step-by-step guide to planting your garden.

You start by entering the current time. From this point on, your AeroGarden will double as a kitchen clock, always showing the current time of day.

Next, you select the kind of seed pods you're growing:

Depending on what you select, you'll see a message that tells you precisely how many hours the lights will need to be on. It's much improved over the days when you had to search and search for this information hidden in a manual.

Next, I saw an alert to "ADD WATER NOW". You can ignore this message if you see it during setup, as you'll officially be prompted to add water later in the process. I think this message will come up any time the unit senses that its water level is too low. 

Next, you can select the actual time of day that you want your lights to go off and on. Again, a vast improvement over the old days when you had to hold down buttons for such-and-such number of seconds at such-and-such a time of the day, and not even be sure if it worked. Here, you'll know exactly when the lights go off and on. By setting them to go on in the morning and off at night, you can always be sure that you come home to a room with lights, and it even makes a great burglar deterrent for when you're away.

You then get a message saying that setup is complete and you're ready to plant your garden. 

There are literally three easy steps. The first is to (officially) fill your basin with water.

Unlike previous AeroGardens where you had to open the front cover and water would splash all over the place, now you can fill water into a convenient port in the front. It reminded me somewhat of the chlorine bleach dispenser in a lot of washers, and I appreciated it because the mouth is now so much wider and easier to pour things in. You just pop off the cover and pour. A lot less splashing, plus now you can very, very clearly see the fill line. 

Next came the step to add nutrients. 

Again, these are added through the port in front of the unit.

The instructions on the nutrient packet were a bit confusing; I really wish the seed kit had come with specific instructions for my particular kit (or the control panel could help), but I think to save money they decided to put all instructions together. Again, not a show-stopper, just a little bit of an inconvenience as I had to figure it out.

Finally comes the time to pop in your grow pods.

This is the same, fun experience as always. Just pop them in and put the cover on. My herbs consisted of parsley, two basils, thyme, sage, cilantro, and oregano.

Put the grow domes on the seed pods, and you're done. 

You'll get a congratulations message.

From this point on, the control panel in front will tell you the date, the number of days the garden has been planted, and remind you of when to add nutrients. It's all presented on a backlit screen that's easy to read any time of day.

One thing I was most looking for were "tips" from AeroGrow, and I immediately got my first one.

Granted, I wish they could be a little more specific about what "Germination Mode" is, but from the context, I'm guessing it means that the pump will not run constantly for the first two weeks as the seeds are sprouting, but will start once the root systems are in place and need the oxygen from the pumps. I did appreciate this message, as I otherwise might have been trying to guess why the pump was not pumping (something I did with previous gardens a lot).

Clicking OK shows what the display will look like in general, with continuous display of the current time, days planted, and countdown to nutrient addition.

And voila, the finished garden. 

aerogarden ultra

Now for those who have read the blog, you know that I have a love-hate relationship with my AeroGardens. I've enjoyed many great harvests over the years and some klunkers, mostly due to my own carelessness in forgetting a feeding. I think the AeroGarden Ultra is perfect for someone like me who wants to garden indoors but may not have the discipline or the time to keep checking water, keep track of nutrient dates, and so on. This new system makes it amazingly simple.

Kudos to AeroGrow for some great improvements. But of course the proof will come when those herbs finally start popping up. I'll provide you a full update as that happens.

If after reading this you've decided you want one of your own, you can order your own AeroGarden Ultra here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Aerogarden Ultra is on the way...for real this time!

Mystery solved of why we haven't been getting out Aerogaeden Ultras...this came in my email today...

Dear AeroGardener,

Thank you for being one of the first to purchase our all new AeroGarden ULTRA. We had planned for the first shipment of this exciting new product to arrive at our warehouse several weeks ago, but due to a random customs inspection and an extended port strike on the west coast, their arrival was delayed.

I am now pleased to announce the first shipment is arriving at our warehouse today and your AeroGarden ULTRA order will be shipped immediately. Thank you for your patience, and I think you’re going to find it was well worth the wait. The ULTRA is our biggest, fastest, smartest garden ever and it has been very well received.

This first shipment of ULTRAs is completely sold out, so we’re pleased we can send you one from this shipment. The next shipment is due in next week and is already selling out fast - and guaranteed to be delivered before Christmas. I was fortunate enough to receive one of the first ULTRAs off of the production line and have already put it through some rigorous testing. I’ve grown lots of AeroGardens over the years, but the ULTRA has truly given me my best growing experience ever. My plants germinated faster, look healthier and even seem to be growing faster – I've been growing romaine lettuce on my counter at home for about a month now and it tastes incredible! But, the real difference is in the MyGarden control panel. It keeps me engaged and informed on a level that I couldn’t have imagined.

My Wife said it has quickly become her favorite appliance in our kitchen – and wow, is it ever beautiful. Thank you and Happy Holidays from all of us here at AeroGrow.

Mike Wolfe
President and CEO AeroGrow International, Inc.

Once I get the Aerogarden, I'll be posting the unboxing here, along with my unbiased review. If you want yours right now, it's back in stock here:

Aerogarden Ultra Introductory Special!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Oh where oh where is my Aerogarden Ultra?

Just wanted to write a post to let you know that no, I didn't fall off the face of the earth again! It's just that it's 24 days later and I haven't received my Aerogarden Ultra yet. The order I placed on November 1 still says "PROCESSING". Very curious. I did place another order today (for replacement pumps), so let's see if that order "bumps" my previous order and gets some action on it. By the way, if you're ordering from now until Monday, Aerogarden is still honoring their Black Friday sale, where you get free shipping on all orders and they have a Buy One Get One at 50% off on every item in the store. I ended up getting four replacement pumps for my Aerogarden 7s for about $7 a pump.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Aerogarden Ultra...the first new Aerogarden in years, and a good one!

Sorry for falling off the face of the earth since January. For those of you who were waiting to hear what happened to the lavender and the peppers, the lavender ended up growing really well and filled the house with a delightful lavender odor, but then I made the foolish decision to try to transplant them into pots, where they didn't survive for long. As for the peppers, I got harvest after harvest of them, but after a while I got a little absent-minded about watering them, and they pretty much dired up. Then, I got married which put a damper on all my blogging for a little while :)

That said, I'm officially dusting off this blog to report some exciting news from Aerogrow.

After years of living with the same old Aerogarden models, they've just announced a new one called Aerogarden Ultra.

This one looks really, really cool. It's got a digital display that tracks how long you need before feeding it (I admit, one of the biggest problems I had with my gardens was absent-mindedly forgetting to feed them). It also has a larger reservoir, better oxygen delivery to plants, a better trellis system, easier cleaning (another pet peeve of mine), and is the size of the Aerogarden Extra tall gardens.

It's no secret that Aerogarden has been struggling financially, but I look at this as a great improvement. I've placed my order for one of these gardens and will let you know what my experience is.

Here's the link to get yours! Aerogarden Ultra at AeroGarden.Com!

I placed an order for mine, and in 2013 will be reporting on whether this brand new high-tech Aerogarden is worth it, by going back to basics planting a classic set of herbs that I bought using the Make Your Own Herb Seed Kit feature on their Web site. It should be a good harvest this year! For those of you who are hanging on, stay tuned to some old school herb gardening!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Look at the Aerogarden Peppers!

Thought I'd share with you my Aerogarden peppers.

It looks like only the red peppers are blooming; the other surviving pepper plant isn't bearing any fruit, possibly because the red peppers are getting so big and sucking up all the water and nutrients. I find that the plant is sucking up water so fast that it's bone dry even before the "Add Water" light lights up, and the plant starts to wilt. Which is scary because I'm never sure if the plant has wilted beyond the point where it can come back.

I've already harvested a handful of the peppers, chopped them, and used them in some stir-fry dishes. They are really, really spicy, which I love. Let's hope this lasts!

In other news, the lavender plants are doing very, very well.

Still not quite like the purple fields of lavender I saw in Washington, but I figure there'll get there eventually. Although I still am at a loss to figure out what to do with them once I start harvesting them.

The grow-your-own-herbs are a different story.

As you can see, the basil seeds have sprouted amazingly well, not a surprise given my past experience with basil. The parsley is doing quite well too. And the thyme is slow to come up, but one little plant just came up.

On the negative side, the oregano and one of the thymes are having issues. With the oregano, I saw tiny little plants start to appear, but then they seemed to just die away, leaving behind some fuzz which I assume is mold of some kind. The other thyme did the same thing, which is weird because the seeds were exactly the same as the first thyme (let me just say a "no pun intended" for the whole post and get it over with :P). I'm not sure why these two pods just failed to grow. But luckily, I still have two "leftover" pods from the beginning, so I'll probably eventually replace these underperforming pods with those.

Now to find a recipe that uses basil, parsley, thyme, and lavender...hmm....