Despite what YouTube may have us believe, Miracle Gro’s popular indoor hydroponic garden, the AeroGarden, isn’t actually for amateur weed growers. Well, it may be to some degree, but the convenient countertop appliance is actually meant as a handy tool for all of us locavores wishing to play urban farmer from the bucolic environs of our own downtown condos. And though some real hydroponic aficionados deem the AeroGarden little more than a toy, if it’s crispy leaf lettuce, ripe peppers and tomatoes, or fragrant herbs you want, the fairly foolproof AeroGarden can bring them from seed to table in no time.
Showcasing his use of the AeroGarden to grow medical marijuana via YouTube, licensed Colorado grower Craig Taylor, aka Straight Talk, says he receives “extensive correspondence from potential future growers with questions regarding the AeroGarden’s ability”—at least two emails every day. Kelley Maloy, marketing manager at AeroGrow Intl., the company that the sells the AeroGarden, also can’t deny the device’s popularity among the cannabis crowd. “Consumer attitudes and the legal and regulatory environment surrounding cannabis are changing rapidly, and we monitor these developments closely,” she so corporately articulates.
But alas, that’s not why we, nor the AeroGarden, are really here.
Of course the device’s actual purpose is to grow food (and as of a more recently introduced product line, flowers—both edible and non). The machine comes in a variety of sizes at various price points, ranging from $69.95 for the cute 3SL model, up to $299.95 for the larger Ultra LED model. The price of the machine, along with the special seedpods (about 18 bucks for a seven-pod kit), the specific replacement bulbs, and basically the system as a whole, may actually make for the world’s most expensive salad, but it’s a salad that can be grown and picked right in your own house all year long. It really doesn’t get any more fresh and nutritious than that.
Expensive or not, consumers seem to be eating it up. With the #homegrown and #freshpicked food trends only growing in popularity, fans of the AeroGarden are taking to social media to show off the bountiful basil they (sort of but not really) grew themselves. The AeroGarden Facebook page, where they post recipes and “photo of the week” contests, currently boasts over 18,000 fans. And on Instagram, AeroGardeners are posting pics of their pretty plots, complete with mini garden gnomes and all.
For my own first go with the AeroGarden Ultra, a birthday gift from mom, I planted tomatoes. It was quite the experience, watching the little sprouts peek out from their tiny dirt pods, and then, after 14 long weeks (and with pretty much zero effort from me), watching them turn into fruit bearing plants right before my eyes.
Less exhilarating though, was eating them. Turns out tomatoes grown in water tend be just about as flavorful as water. I was bummed, but not about to quit: There were other seed options to try, and my light bulbs had yet to burn out.
I then went with the herbs and the lettuce—both of which grow way quicker, making them much more fun for us instant gratification folks—and I can now say I am an AeroGarden fan. There’s nothing quite like wandering over to your own little garden, as it gurgles and glows in the corner, with your colander and shears to harvest fresh leaf lettuce for dinner that night … in January … in Canada.
The Expert’s Take
With that all said, however, it seems some hydroponic experts see the mainstream AeroGarden as a limited device reserved for mere hobbyists.
“While this is a fun, high-tech looking gadget, I would consider it more of a hobby-level, toy-type system,” says horticulture expert Jake Northrup of Hydroponics Inc.
Northrup cites the AeroGarden’s small size and limited lighting capabilities as its greatest drawbacks.
“The amount of food that can be produced in this system is rather small,” he says. “It is sold as a countertop garden, so large yields should not be expected.”
Northrup does however see some merit in the AeroGarden, calling it a “great entry-level place to start, for someone who’s interested in hydroponics but has never had a chance to try it.”
Either way, as the cold weather now begins to creep upon us, forcing many outdoor urban farmers to begin readying for a season of root veggies and dried herbs, we urban AeroGardeners can continue reveling in our small batches of crisp produce and fresh flavors (and continuous cannabis, if that’s your thing) all winter long … or at least until the bulbs burn out.