The AeroGarden System
The AeroGarden 6 Elite+ is a six-pod, desktop hydroponics system that's designed to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers indoors. The unit comes with a bubbler, high-intensity fluorescent grow lights on a telescoping hood, and a 1-gallon reservoir for water. Seeds and hydroponic nutrients are provided by the manufacturer, along with simple instructions on how to use the unit.
AeroGardens are available in a variety of sizes, ranging from small units with three growing pods to larger units with up to seven pods. Taller units, including the 6 Elite+ are supposed to be able to grow vegetable crops including cherry tomatoes, full-size tomatoes, and even cucumbers and green beans. All units are capable of growing small herb gardens.Set Up and Use
I used the AeroGarden 6 Elite+ to grow a crop of cherry tomatoes. The total product set-up time was about half an hour, including removing the unit from its box and reading the instructions. Overall, it was extremely easy, and once I got it set up, it was only minutes until I had placed the seed pods and the unit was up and running.
I followed the instructions exactly, with no modifications to the unit or the nutrient schedule. Overall, it was extremely easy, and I spent no more than a minute or a two a day, filling up the reservoir with water as it ran low and the plants grew.
The Good Stuff
The seeds germinated rapidly and grew extremely fast. Once the plants were growing, the real fun started: my four-year-old son gave me regular, top-of-his-voice updates on the plants. "LOOK! They have FLOWERS!" or "There's a TOMATO!" It was really pretty cool.
Sure enough, the plants flowered heavily, and I harvested my first cherry tomato about 10 weeks after we planted. After that, we had a succession of cherry tomatoes, all vine-ripened and bursting with flavor. We enriched salads, skewered them, and sprinkled them over tacos. The flavor was good and the color was excellent. At about week 10, I had to purchase the overhead trellis system for about $20 to hold up the heavy vines. The extra expense was annoying, but the trellis system worked perfectly.
There was a lot to like about this gardening system. It's fun and exciting, and the energy cost was so minimal that if it increased my energy bill, I didn't even notice. The company's support was excellent when I had questions, and it yielded exactly as promised. We're definitely looking forward to more crops in our AeroGarden—especially my four-year-old, who will no doubt keep close progress of the plants.
There were, of course, a few drawbacks. The first, and probably most prohibitive, is cost. The unit I got was listed for a retail price of $199.95 at the time of purchase. The seed packet was included, but from now on, I'll have to buy special AeroGrow seed packets, which generally cost about $20. The trellis system, too, was another $20. There are less expensive models, of course, and the company runs frequent promotions if you're willing to check back at their website.
My only other observation was with the crop itself. I happen to have a lot of experience growing tomatoes, so that made it easier, but trimming tomatoes to thrive and bloom under an 18" hood is no small feat. At one point, my plants looked positively shrubby, and their tops were brown from proximity to the lights. I think I might have appreciated more in-depth trimming instructions, either in the seed packet literature or somewhere on the website (if it was there, I missed it). This isn't a huge issue, though, because the first time is always a learning experience. Finally, I noticed a fairly significant amount of leaf rolling on the plants as they aged. I don't think this affected the crop or the plant's health, but rather was probably due to a lack of light reaching the lower leaves. It was purely an aesthetic issue.