AeroGarden

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AeroGarden, Red Rubin Basil, 20 days

As a gardening enthusiast and cooking addict, I enjoy growing my own herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Because the climate in Northern Virginia does not permit year-round outdoor gardening, I keep an indoor herb garden most of the year in an attempt to have a regular supply for cooking. Over the years I’ve grown many different kinds of herbs indoors with varying degrees of success, and I’m always looking for ways to improve herb yield and quality.

AeroGarden box

I first saw the AeroGarden® on television over a year ago and thought that it looked interesting. I tried hydroponics several years ago when I was growing alfalfa sprouts, but this was different and definitely a step or two up from the very basic non-motorized system I had used. I wanted to learn more and decided that I should review it myself. I contacted the company to see if they would consider allowing me to take one for a test drive and write an honest review, and they graciously agreed. They packed up a Classic AeroGarden and sent it to me.

The unit arrived early in November, and I set it up on November 10. The new model, called the Deluxe AeroGarden, is due out sometime in December.

AeroGarden parts

The above photo shows what came in the box, a scaled-down version of the kit that ships for paying customers. I think the unit I tested had been returned or previously tested because I found some cat hairs in it. The unit comes in four pieces plus the two Grow Bulbs. Assembly is easy with the Simple Steps book and the handy illustrations, and the pieces just slide together. In other words, I didn’t need my husband, the aerospace engineer, to assemble it for me. It was very simple and quick.

AeroGarden, assembled

The unit works by suspending seed containers, or pods, in a tank of water and flowing water to the pods. As the seeds gather enough moisture, they sprout and roots begin to form and hang down into the water. There is no soil at all, just water, air, and nutrients.

AeroGarden basil roots after 20 days

AeroGarden herb collection, International Basil

The unit came with an International Basil seed kit which has seven different kinds of basil: Lemon, Marseille, Napolitano, Genovese, Thai, Red Rubin, and Globe. According to the directions in the lid and accompanying booklet, the pods are laid out in the box the way they should be put into the garden for optimal growing, so the three front pods you see in the photo went into the front row of the garden in that order from left to right, and the same for the four back pods. Each pod is labeled according to seed type, and the directions state that the labels should not be removed because they help identify the type of plant and also inhibit algae growth. The included nutrient packs are added to the water on a predetermined schedule, and each pack is labeled 1, 2, and 3 so that you can easily identify them.

AeroGarden pods

You can see in the above photo that the pods do not sit completely level with the unit surface, but these were not in far enough and were loose in the holes. I did not push down firmly on mine because I was initially concerned about cracking the base, so I think the seeds were not getting enough water flowing to them and took a few extra days to germinate. Once I realized the problem I pushed down firmly. The base held up just fine, and the seeds began to germinate a couple days later.

AeroGarden domes

The small plastic domes should be pushed on top of each pod and left until the sprouts start to come up through the hole in the middle. This creates a warm, moist environment and encourages sprouting and growth, much like a terrarium. The seeds started to sprout on day 7 and the leaves started coming up through the holes on day 14. As of today, the plants are 25 days old and about 3 inches tall.

AeroGarden, Genovese Basil sprouts

AeroGarden, Thai Basil, 20 days

The AeroGarden has a number of proprietary seek kits available, each with different seeds, including 8 herb kits, 5 vegetable kits, 6 salad kits, and 1 flower kit. Each kit has different nutrients and a different program setting on the unit. Some kits, such as the tomatoes, have fewer seed pods due to space requirements for the fully grown plants.

The unit is quiet, and we only heard water running the first week or so before the roots sprouted. The pump runs continuously to keep the roots moist. The grow bulbs are key for encouraging growth as they provide full spectrum light for an optimal amount of time each day, about 17 hours for the basil. That seems like a lot of energy usage, and I tried to find out the total watts of the system, but could not find information specific to the pump unit. Each compact flourescent bulb is 26 watts. AeroGrow claim in their FAQs that the unit uses less electricity than a standard 60 watt light bulb. Using that information and allowing 8 watts for the pump (extrapolated based on their 60 watt claim), I estimated the daily and annual cost of electricity to operate the unit in Northern Virginia (does not account for taxes and government surcharges on electricity).

BULBS: (52 watts x 17 hours)/1000 x 0.08118 = $0.07 per day

PUMP: (8 watts x 24 hours)/1000 x 0.08118 = $0.02 per day

TOTAL ANNUAL ELECTRICAL COST: 365 days x $0.09 = $32.85

I believe in evaluating the total cost of ownership (TCO) of an item before investing, so I calculated the first year cost of ownership based on the going rate for the unit, electrical cost, bulb replacements on the schedule recommended by the company, and the cost of purchasing two additional seed kits (extrapolated based on the average 4 to 5 month life span for each seed kit).

UNIT: starts at $149.95 + starter kit

BULBS: $19.95

SEED KITS: $19.95 x 2 = $39.90

ELECTRICITY: $32.85
__________________________________________

FIRST YEAR COST: $242.65

ANNUAL COSTS, YEAR 2+: $132.60 (2 sets of bulbs, 3 seed kits, electricity)

That is a substantial amount of money to invest in one year, and of course this begs the question of whether or not the unit is worth the investment, and I think the answer should be based on potential usage. I enjoy cooking with fresh herbs, but buying them here in Northern Virginia is not cheap. A bundle of hydroponic basil costs over $2.99, and other fresh herbs start at $1.50 per bundle and go as high as $4.99 for one of those plastic containers with a few leaves in it. I spend about $7.00 per month on fresh herbs if I don’t have any in my container garden, which comes to $84.00 annually. Unless you spend $20 or more per month on herbs, you will probably not recoup your cost in the first year. From the second year onward, you must spend at least $11.00 per month on herbs to recoup your operating costs. For tomatoes, the return on investment might be better depending on the yield of the kit. It would be interesting to test those to see how they work.

I dislike buying herbs, especially when the bundles are so large that I can’t use them up before they go bad. Tossing rotted produce is so annoying, so that’s why I try to grow my own as much as possible. Seeds are cheap, and potting mix isn’t so bad, and I just set up pots on a shelf next to the window and put grow lights on them at night. Total cost of doing it that way is maybe $40.00 annually.

To be fair, I have room for setting up a shelf and grow lights for my herbs, but many people don’t. Small apartments or condos or homes with poor outdoor light access are all good candidates for the AeroGarden, and I believe that this is the target audience for the product. People with a lot of room to spare or a south-facing room really won’t have a need for this.

I disagree with the company’s decision to go with a proprietary light design because it prevents owners from buying less expensive alternative bulbs. There is also a rumor circulating that the company has gone with a fixed price scenario for all their affiliates to prevent someone from undercutting other sellers, but I can neither confirm nor deny that allegation. If it’s true, it means that shopping around may save you some money, or it may not.

I believe that the company could do themselves a favor by lowering the price point on their products. If they want the product to really catch on for the long term and not get a bad reputation, the pricing strategy should be rethought. The unit itself should be under $100, and the seed kits should sell for no more than $15, and $10 would be even better. If they are going to use proprietary bulbs in their product they should lower the price point on those as well. I think the product potential is very good, but currently it is not cost effective.

Final Thoughts: Let me emphasize that I like the AeroGarden and if it were more cost effective I would probably have six of them hanging on the wall growing herbs and tomatoes on a staggered schedule! I sincerely hope the company will give some thought to their pricing strategy.

The bottom line:

Pros: Easy to assemble and use, relatively low energy usage, clean, small footprint

Cons: High TCO, proprietary grow bulbs, proprietary seed kits

Size: 15.5″ high x 18″ wide x 10.5″ deep, 21″ high with light arm fully extended; new Deluxe model slightly larger

Colors Available: black, white, silver, brushed stainless steel (extra cost)

Where to buy: Amazon.com, Costco.com, Aerogrow.com, many other online retailers

Company Website: Aerogrow.com

[An original post from Andrea Meyers: making life delicious. All images and text copyrighted, All Rights Reserved.]

[Disclosure: This blog earns a few cents on items purchased through the Amazon.com links in posts.]

Comments

  1. De in D.C. says

    I’ve seen these advertised in some of my gardening magazines, and thought it looked interesting. Like you, I had decided that they were too expensive to deal with, so I’d just stick to my usually setup. I have a high bookshelf in the basement that I hung a shop light over on chains with one warm and one cool florescent bulb. I sprout seeds in trays on top of the fridge, and transplant to individual pots when they have 2 sets of leaves and put them under the shop light. As the plants grow, I raise the height of the light. Total cost was less than $20 not including seeds and electricity.

  2. says

    I saw this in a catalogue, which was vague on specifics, so I’m really pleased to read this post. I don’t want to buy their seeds, I’d like to choose my own – I never like buying something that ties you to buying consumables from one company. So I think a better investment would be a book on hydroponics. But then, it probably wouldn’t look so pretty in my kitchen.

    Thanks for sharing – really really useful … and I hope that your post has some influence with the company, because it’s SUCH a good idea
    Joanna

  3. says

    DE: Sounds like your setup works well!

    Joanna: I agree, the unit looks very cool on my counter, and I would probably continue using it if it weren’t for the whole proprietary light and seed thing. I found out that the company does sell a Master Gardening kit which allows you to use your own seeds, and it includes all the pods, labels, domes, and nutrients you would need for about one year. But it’s $40 for that kit, and I think that’s a pretty high markup for what you get.

  4. says

    Andrea, I know absolutely nothing about gardening, but I really want to start an herb garden. Living in Phoenix, I figure it’s too hot here to really do it well. You mentioned in your review that you use grow lights in your house. Where would I be able to find these? We try not to leave the shades on the windows open very often as it usually heats up the house significantly.

    Thanks!

  5. says

    Hi Tara. I found my grow lights at Wal-Mart in the area with all the light bulbs. Price, if I remember correctly, was about $9 each. The lights are made by GE and each unit is about 26 inches long. The unit has an electrical cord and a power switch, and the cover comes off easily for changing the bulb. I attach mine to the shelf using velcro strips, but I’ve also used cotton string and long zip ties. I’ve used them for a couple years and they’ve been great!

  6. Hawk says

    I just bought my Aerogarden and am loving it. Its been going since the 7th and already 3 of the 7 pods have sprouted. I agree it is expensive on all fronts and the price of unit and supplies could come down significantly. But I’m in the position of I like to cook with fresh herbs and can’t always have them available because I have 2cats that think any potted plant is a salad bar grown just for them. It has a small footprint and is very self contained which has allowed me to place it where its very convient for me and inaccessible to the cats. Its also the novelty of the thing as I am a gadget guy. I’m going to experiment after this first kit is done with mixing my own nutrients for it and would be interested in anybody elses experience with doing this. Also the baskets that come with it can easily be reused. You can buy the sponge type they use in a beauty supply shop and cut them to fit. Then just lay the tops over them or discard if algae doesn’t bother you.

  7. says

    Hi Hawk! I’m a gadget girl myself, so I understand. I’ve been doing some research on the nutrients issue but haven’t found anything reliable so far. I hope that the prices on the seed kits come down, because if the company does that, then they’ll have me as a customer. I do like the AeroGarden for all the reasons I listed in the PROs section of my review, but the price issue still rankles me…

    Let us know how your experiments turn out!

  8. Nikia says

    Thanks for such a thorough review. I’m in Chicago so this time of year it’s hard to keep plants in areas of good circulation and keep them warm too. Does this unit have any sort of heating device? Would the lights be sufficient heat?

  9. says

    Hi Nikia! I lived in Chicago for a few years, so I can empathize. The AeroGarden lights do put out some warmth. We keep our house in the mid 60s throughout the winter, and so far the plants seem to do well.

  10. says

    I just got my Aerogarden, and it has started to grow well, with my 14 year old son’s set up and daily monitoring! I plan on trying to reuse the pods to try my own choices in seeds, as I have seen on some other tip sites, but seeds are sold at reduced prices on several sites. However, I do not know how fresh those seeds are. I enjoy seeing it in the dinette area of the kitchen, and when the plants grow more it should really look nice and be useful for me, as I cook quite a bit. I used to have a home with a sunroom where I grew some plants in the winter, and now I really miss that.

  11. kathy says

    Does anyone know if you can mix plant types (such as tomatos and lettuce)? The aerogrow site says it is is possible “for experienced gardners”, but give no other information. Has anyone tried this? A 50/50 of lettuce/tomato would be a perfect combo for me.

  12. says

    You can certainly combine kits, though I have not tried it. One thing to consider is the amount of growing space required by each plant. The cherry kits have fewer pods because the plants require more space. I’m not sure about the salad greens. Nutrients for each kit may be slightly different, and you would have to work in manual mode since each plant would have different requirements for water, light, and nutrients. But I think it is very doable.

  13. Karen says

    Hi Kathy,

    Take a look at the AeroGarden forum at . I’ve read some cases of people mixing plants and others doing their own experiments with the AeroGarden.

  14. says

    I bought my Aero garden Pro 200 4 months ago.
    I have enjoyed it greatly. Glad that I got the 24″ model.
    I grew a pepper plant that within 6 weeks had to be removed and potted because it was getting too big for the Aerogarden. It’s thriving in the pot now. Not grwing as fst though, but to be expected.
    Due to the high ocst of the unit (I wish it was cheaper, then I would have 6 of them.)
    I use it to start plants and then pot them.
    I greww a 24″ high tomato plant in 5 weeks. Amazing! In the last weekd it seemd to grow more than one inch a daqy and when I rasied the Aerograden with would grow up into the lamp within one or two days.
    I now need a light for the potted plants. Any ideas?
    I was also thinking of trying the nutrients on a potted plant, but that is probable not an affordable solution.
    Torben

  15. says

    i loooove my EarthBox. During the fall-winter-spring in FL, I can grow anything and the EarthBox gave me so many tomatoes that I had to sneak bags into unlocked cars at the supermarket.

    But now its summer and too hot to grow anything but weeds. Love the concept of Aerogarden, but it’s pricey.

  16. Basil lover says

    I am intrigued with the aerogarden but can not justify the price and so I want to share my simple hydrponic experiment.
    Last fall before the killing freeze, I cut my basil and stuck it in a jar of water. It quickly filled the jar with roots. My basil thrived all winter. I was unable to have a garden this summer so will try and do the same with grocery store bought basil.

  17. says

    Thanks for sharing your tip. I purchased some hydroponic basil at Wegman’s last winter after losing the Aerogarden crop, and tried putting it in jars with water and in a pot in dirt. Both methods worked. With the jar you have to dump and replace the water about every other day. The potted plant required now maintenance other than watering. I’d say the success was about equal.

  18. Ibby says

    Hi, This is a great review and everyone’s comments are very helpful. Does anyone have any comment on what the vegetables taste like compared to shop bought produce?

  19. Claudia says

    I just bought an aerogarden mini (3 pods) for 20% off at Linens N Things bankruptcy sale. But it is LOUD! — a pronounced buzzing noise. Don’t have to worry about my cat nibbling on these plants, she is petrified of the noise and won’t go near it. Anybody else have this problem or did I do something wrong?

  20. says

    Hi Claudia. The only time I heard a loud buzzing noise was when the pump was starting to go bad. Roots and debris from the nutrients have a tendency to get stuck in the pump, causing it to fail if it’s not cleaned out.

  21. cheryl Yancey says

    I’d like to buy your aero garden product though for a starter kit 149.95 is quite high in price for a senior.Please could tell me if their is a less expensive aero garden starter kit ?

  22. mike says

    ITs a nice idea but the problem is when the pump goes it will be difficult to replace it and the lamps doesnt go very high. ITs a cool idea having the lamp hood built in an being able to see this on you’re kitchen counter which is cool but you are much better off building you’re own out of a lightproof plastic storage box with a spray line. the seed kits are over priced. ITs cool but with reports of bulbs lasting less than two weeks and pump failure, not good.

  23. margarita maria montoya says

    Hola quisiera me enviaran a mi correo cotizacion del aero garden precio y direccion donde lo puedo conseguir en Tampa Florida

    GFracias

  24. Katherine F says

    I love my new Aerogarden. We started the herb pack on Sunday and already have sprouts in the thyme and basil.

    The booklet said you could use Super Grow for herbs. This means the lights stay on all the time. Do we need to change to having some dark for herbs after they have sprouted? Thanks.

  25. says

    Hi Katherine. The herbs grow best with plenty of light. We set our Aerogarden on a cycle of turning on at or near sunset, then they turned off automatically 18 hours later. Even though I keep our herbs in western and southern-facing windows, they still don’t get as much direct light in the winter, so having the Aerogarden lights on at night really helped them.

  26. Lawrence says

    Great review! I searched for “AeroGarden TCO” figuring I wouldn’t find anything, but am please find have found this site. THANK YOU!

  27. Cynthia says

    A very useful forum for anyone with an Aerogarden is at http://www.aerogardengrowers.com. I’ve learned how to find less expensive, non-proprietary supplies (except for bulbs) and am mostly growing my own seeds.

    By the way, the plastic baskets from the seed kits can be re-used. Peat sponges that fit them are available inexpensively from Park Seeds and other sources. Labels can be made on a computer printer or simply cut out of cardstock or thin cardboard. There are liquid nutrients that are easy to use in the Aerogarden (General Hydroponics Flora Series is one.) Don’t let the price of the official seed kits and supplies stop you from growing!

    Bulbs can be used longer than the recommended six month period, I go for a year on herb and lettuce/greens gardens before replacing. I do think that fresh bulbs are a good idea for more demanding vegetables like tomatoes, beans, peppers, etc…

    I’ve also found that I use overhead lights in my house less with an Aerogarden in the room, so the electric cost may not be quite as bad as one thinks. As for the cost of the units… they can frequently be found on sale and I highly suggest buying on sale.

    I’ve got several units in a basement room, and I’m growing chard, pak choi and green beans right now. Also herbs on my kitchen counter. The produce tastes great, is bug and spray free and fresh! My chard is so tender I mostly eat it raw in salads. I love my gardens!

  28. Lorraine says

    Is this still working for you? Some of the reviews on Amazon are very scary – some units only worked a few months then the pump went out. And the replacement pump and the replacement pump’s replacement died, too. Other people swear by their Aerogarden.

    I am also researching the Prepara Power Plant system.

  29. Cindy says

    I stumbled onto this site after buying my first aerogarden. They always looked so cool to me and since I have a brown thumb and can basically kill silk flowers, thought I would give it a try. Also, because it really bugs me to buy fresh herbs from the supermarket for $4.99 a packet only to throw out most of it because I can’t use it gast enough. Only reason why I decided to buy one now is because Bed Bath and Beyond are having a clearance on ALL aerogardens and accessories. $64.95 + 20% = $55+ for the unit, which isn’t bad. I also stocked up on the bulbs and an herb kit (slim pickins since it was on sale). The thing is whenever I grow anything I always seem to get alot of ants so I decided to set mine on my covered patio. I know it says not to use outdoors but I am hoping this would be ok since I don’t want to have a mound of ants on my counter! :)

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