Indoor gardening is boosted by the seedling system

Kitchen countertop hydroponic herb gardens have been around for several years, and I have to say I was a bit skeptical about their practicality. Then I received one as a Christmas present, and the journey began.

My family is always looking for gardening items that I need. Sometimes I find I really must have it, and sometimes I’m better off without it. My son gave me an AeroGarden Harvest Elite kit, so of course I had to try it.

It came with six pre-planted pods – Genovese basil, Thai basil, dill, thyme, mint and parsley. You fill the water tank, insert the pods, plug it in and turn it on.

For herbs, the full spectrum LED light stays on for 18 hours a day. You have a button to press to tell it if you’re growing herbs (6 p.m.) or vegetables (4 p.m.); or you can leave it on for 24 hours. I use the 18 hour grass setting.

The lamp base is height adjustable. When I first planted my herbs the light source was closer to the base, and after the plants started growing I increased the height until it was now at the maximum height of approximately 12 inches. Including the light, my kit measures 17.4 inches tall by 10.5 inches wide by 6 inches deep.

As gardeners know, not all plants are created equal and not all seeds germinate at the same speed. My Genovese basil germinated in three days, while it took 2.5 weeks before anything appeared in the parsley pod. Even now, after 2 months, the parsley is barely growing.

But the good news is that I don’t need that parsley – I already have plenty of it growing outside.

The instructions said don’t remove the tags from the pods telling you what was growing. So I didn’t. I advise you to remove the labels. Leaving them on makes space more limited. I started removing the tags after the plants started growing and accidentally uprooted a dill seedling.

If you’re afraid you won’t remember what it is, make a list for yourself.

The kit includes small plastic domes to place over the pods to help keep moisture in during germination. Once the plants sprout and start hitting the pods, remove the domes. I saved mine for future use, but a small clear plastic cup would also work.

The kit also comes with liquid fertilizer and instructions on how much to use. A little light comes on at the bottom to remind you when to fertilize and add water if you’re not careful.

I think you’ll be amazed at how much water you’ll need to add once the plants really start to grow. I check it frequently and add water regularly.

I was impressed. I have been using basil for weeks. The more you prune it, the more it grows.

I don’t use dill that much, so I just let it grow, and grew it. It was easily top of the lighting kit. I finally cut the dill by two-thirds, dried the tops and potted it for later use. It grows back, but I don’t know if I’ll keep it or not.

I knew to plant dill towards the back of the pot as it grows taller. It’s something to think about. Try to learn something about the plants you are going to grow and arrange them according to their height. I know thyme grows low, so I planted it out front. I put the two basils side by side, and the dill and mint at the bottom. Even if the mint does not grow, it will spread.

Now that I have been using my hydroponic garden for two months, I am convinced of it. I have a few things that I will change. I’m going to pull the parsley and clean the pod and replant.

Speaking of cleaning, I missed the tip about cleaning the tank once a month. I had no problems, but it was quite dirty when I cleaned it after two months. You unplug the machine from the wall, unplug the pump, then remove the part holding the pods (take a look at those roots!), then drain the old water, clean it with plain water (no soap) then wipe dry -her down. Fill with water and add fertilizer, then put the plants back in place, plug them back in and you’re ready to grow.

At 43 days, parsley far behind the other plants in the AeroGarden Harvest Elite box. (Special for the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)
GOODBYE, PITIVE PARSLEY

I get rid of parsley because it doesn’t grow and I don’t waste space. I’m going to experiment by adding a few small cilantro transplants to one of the pods. I think the key is to develop what you use.

You can plant your own seeds, but some seeds are slow like molasses to grow (like parsley), and I can be an impatient gardener, so I’ll experiment with transplants.

I like to have fresh basil all winter, but I’ll probably try something else in the summer, since I grow basil in my outdoor garden in the summer. I love having thyme in the kitchen because I use it, but I also have a ton of thyme growing outside. If cilantro works, I could grow it indoors all summer as it doesn’t do well outdoors – and I love and use cilantro. I can also try oregano.

The key is to experiment. As with any type of garden, some things are easier to grow than others. If something isn’t working, try something else.

I keep my house on the cool side – some might say the freezer! I was concerned that low temperatures would affect the heat-loving basil, but it thrived. Temperature can make a difference with some plants, but so far nothing has bothered me.

The unit I have is one of the smaller gardens from this company, but for me it’s just the right size. It doesn’t take up much counter space and it’s convenient. If you have a large family or want to grow more plants, there are plenty of larger options available, ranging in price from $79.95 to over $1,000.

Besides herbs, you can also buy pre-planted vegetable pods. I think lettuce would be easy, and depending on your family size, this setup might produce enough for you to grow and eat. I can try this in the summer when I want fresh lettuce and can’t grow it outside.

I’m a little skeptical of planting tomatoes indoors, purely because of the size of the vines, but cherry tomatoes might be fine. I think another application could be seed starting. You can use it to germinate your seeds, then transplant them into their own pots once they are growing.

Based on size alone, a counter garden won’t provide a family with unlimited vegetables, but it’s fantastic for providing me with fresh herbs. I even had my favorite caprese salad with heirloom cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and my basil!

Garden catalogs are full of innovative ideas for home gardeners. It’s always great to try something new!

Read Janet Carson’s blog at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet.