Monday, September 16, 2013

Modern Sprout: a new player in the indoor gardening world!

As much as I've enjoyed hydroponic gardening with the Aerogardens over the past five years, I have to admit that as much as Aerogrow has tried to make the Aerogarden units prettier to fit into home decor (even going so far as to making one unit look like a ladybug), the big gurgling plastic monstrosities tend to be somewhat of an eyesore. Plus, I really don't like how you have to buy proprietary seed pods, motors, nutrient at ridiculous prices just to keep the thing moving.

Well, it seems there's a new kid on the block. There's a husband-and-wife team in Chicago who have a new start-up called Modern Sprout. As so many innovative entrepreneurs do, they went onto Kickstarter to tell the world about their idea, and the Kickstarter community embraced it enthusiastically.

The couple, Nick and Sarah, faced the same issues and frustration in their Chicago apartment that I've talked about on this blog and on that I've faced in my New York apartment, namely, wanting to grow healthy, vibrant plants, but not having a balcony or real windowbox I could use.

Their ingenious idea was to create a "windowbox" planter that sits inside and runs on hydroponics.  They put a lot of thought into their product.

Here's what the product looks like--notice they have designs ranking from modern looks, to wooden boxes, to chalkboard boxes.

They'll be selling a few different models on their site at various prices.
$129 – Plug-in model planter in chalkboard, high gloss white and weathered gray
$159 – Plug-in model planter in reclaimed wood
$219 – Solar powered in chalkboard, high gloss white and weathered gray
$249 – Solar powered in reclaimed wood

If the product works as beautifully as it looks, I think Nick and Sarah are going to do very, very well, given the number of you who's written in over the years to share your thoughts on the need for an indoor herb growing solution that actually works and won't break the bank. Hopefully I can try one of these out someday and let you know how it works, but if you've been able to use one of these, please leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Aerogarden Ultra "Recall" - Installing the Replacement Parts

As I mentioned in the last post, AeroGrow sent an email a few months ago that said something pretty much to the tune of "don't panic, there's no danger, this is just a precaution", and then finally that there was a risk of electrical shock or fire due to the design of the Aerogarden Ultra.

Evidently, if water overfills and leaks into the bottom of the unit, the bottom of the unit isn't protected well enough to keep the water out away from the electrical wiring. Probably not a huge risk of danger, but no doubt Aerogrow and its lawyers are exercising an abundance of caution.

They gave instructions for early purchasers of the Aerogarden Ultra to apply to get replacement parts in the mail. I got them a few months ago, but after dealing with bird mites and all kinds of other things in life, I put a pause on indoor gardening for a while.

But now that the weather is cool, I'm getting a hankering to start up yet another generation of indoor gardens again so I can enjoy fresh veggies and herbs through the winter. So I got the box out.

Just like they did with the AeroGarden Ultra, UPS pretty much smashed this box to a pulp

Inside, there were instructions, a new base plate for the main unit, and four rubber foot pads.

The instructions were pretty simple. Step one was to unscrew the old base plate from the unit

Comparing the two baseplates, it looks like all they did was to add some "ridges" to the plastic. So if water leaks and gets to the unit, the sensitive parts with electronic wiring will at least have a little bit of protection from water seeping in.

Strangely, while the base plate of the old unit screwed in to be flush with the base, the new base plate doesn't fit as tightly (notice how the edge juts up a little). But according to the documentation, this is normal.

The next step is to replace the current rubber feet with new ones, the only difference being that the new ones are slightly taller. Again, seems like a rather low-tech solution to the potential problem of the unit sitting in water.

Here's what the new baseplate looked like all assembled.

And so, it was time for me to start planting again I decided to plant two gardens again. For the first garden, I chose to grow "Chinese Cabbage". I admit, I was a little disappointed by my whole lettuce experience of a couple years ago, but I admit I do enough cooking with Chinese Cabbage that I figured I'd venture into the whole leafy green in an Aerogarden thing again.

With the Aerogarden Ultra, of course, setting up a new garden is a snap.

The seed pod instructions for the Chinese Cabbage were generic, so I just guessed that I had to use the "lettuce" setting.

The Ultra was helpful as always, telling me exactly when the lights would be turning off and on...

...and letting me adjust.

So, here's my September planting of a crop of Chinese Cabbage. We'll see what we come up with in a few months, assuming we can keep bug free.

In other news, I wanted to resurrect my old Aerogarden VeggiePro. If you recall, this was the tall garden with the 6 seed pods that Aerogrow tried to sell in various forms before it went back to the 7-pod garden. Among other things, these units used a "air stone" to supply oxygen to the plants, rather than the pump that's in the original Aerogarden (now call the "Classic" or the "Aerogarden 7") as well as in the Aerogarden Ultra

Sadly, the VeggiePro just isn't doing its job anymore I bought a few replacement stones, but the VeggiePro doesn't seem to be strong enough to blow enough air through them. This means stagnant water, dead plants, and algae.

Luckly, I still have all my original Aerogardens, and I literally dusted off my silver unit. To my surprise, the motor still works, and the metal contacts on the arm still conducted electricity and weren't totally corroded. So I planted all the seed pods I had remaining from my past few efforts (as well as the replacement pods Aerogrow's customer service finally sent me).

They include Italian parsley, cilantro, two basils, and three lavenders. I'm not sure how smart it is for me to grow a lavender together with the herbs, but if my herb start taking flowery, I'll plan on taking them out.

And so, we begin yet another generation of indoor gardens. I'll try posting more than once every few years :)