First Harvest of the Herb garden

Well, day 25 was the first harvest with the first cloning attempt and first harvest for eating. Since there wasn’t much I just added it to a salad and my wife says that she will be using the bigger basil leaves in something along the lines of pizza. The cloning can be seen here and here is the first harvest to eat.

1stprune

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Cloning On the Cheap

Well, it’s day 25 and the herb garden is looking great.

day25

I have been procrastinating a little as I’m at a point where I can and should be pruning the larger plants back to make more light available for the smaller plants to catch up. I have been holding off though as I am not a big fan of basil and have not been in the mood to make any pizzas. I’m sure there is so much more that basil can be used in, but I haven’t done any research on that. The basil plants (Thai and Genovese) are both very fast growers as is the norm, and since the dill is such a tall plant it is actually taller. The difference is that the basil leaves are extremely large compared to the spindly dill leaves so the basil block a lot of light.

I’m excited to say that this post will have a few firsts which are:

  1. First pruning
  2. First salad (yahoo!)
  3. First cloning attempt on the cheap

First Pruning

I have been torn on how I want to prune the plants back since I don’t really use a lot of herbs. Those herbs that I have grown and dried in the past are pretty much still stored in the pantry just waiting to be used. So, I just think that these herbs will probably suffer the same fate if I cut and dried them. So for my first pruning I will be adding them to a salad really just for the sake of using things that I have grown. I have never had a salad with dill, cilantro, and basil before but it’s winter and maybe the flavor will pick up my spirits a little. If nothing else they will add some kick to it with my first Aerogarden harvest.

It is quite amazing to see how dense the root systems have grown in just 3 weeks and 4 days. This Cilantro is a great example of how packed it can be.This shot shows a lot of roots poking through the sides of the pod. What I didn’t show here was how long the roots are below the pod.

cilantro

My first thought when I started the herb garden was to just transplant them right away quickly after they start. I feel at this point a may have waited a little too long, and as is usually the case for me I have a hard time thinning the plants and I feel it is a waste to just get 7 plants potentially out the pack. There is also the possibility that the transplants will not actually make it since I have read that is can be tricky to go from hydroponics to window sill especially in the dead of winter. So I will leave that transplanting for another time and go on to try and make a bunch of plants from a couple. So without delay, let’s get propagating some plants by cloning.

First cloning (on the cheap)

Cloning can be done in many ways. For lots of plants (including basil) it is extremely easy. Just cut the stem below a growing node, insert into a moist area, remove most of the leaves so the plant focuses on roots, and wait. After just 3 and a half weeks of growing I’m gonna give it a go.

thai-cutting thai-cutting-2

There are of course things you can do to raise your chances of success such as using a bubbler, but all of that costs more money.

At first I had thought of buying an air pump and stone and setting up a more elaborate system, but decided against that plan for now at least. Since I am heading out of town for a week soon and want to get more plants for as cheap as possible I will just go basic in case it fails. My first thought for the system I need is that the plant has to be able to move along with the water level. Since I will not be able to monitor the level and add more water, the plant has to fall with the water level. So for that I will have to use a sort of raft system. I also would like it to be cheap, use materials I already have, and be reusable. So my first plan is to use a plastic cup, some packing material which I have a bunch of lying around, a toothpick to keep 2 sides of the packing material raft together around the plant, some water, and a plastic bag to form a greenhouse to minimize evaporation and raise the humidity. All of which besides the water can be reused over and over again. I am also going to place the cup close to the garden to get stray light so no other lights need to be used. Here are the first materials:

tools

I have read of people adding nutrients to the solution, but decided against that due to cost and it increases the chance of algae growing since the water is not fully covered by the raft. I had thought about dipping the ends in a rooting compound too, but that is usually used along with a soil like substance and not just water. That is also not supposed to be used with plants that will be eaten (although I am not sure why). So I am hoping that basil is hardy enough to just start growing in straight water and nothing else. Here is what the first raft would have looked like had it actually worked.

1st-attempt

I love the idea of using the toothpicks as they can be reused and can be moved based on how many plants will be growing. It also allows the plants to be removed very easily when the roots have started by just pulling the toothpicks out. Unfortunately, the only packing material I have lying around is the biodegradable kind. Great for the environment, but horrible as a raft as it disintegrates in water. If you have the other styrofoam type available this would still be my first choice for raft material.

So the second option is not my favorite, but will have to do for now. It makes the raft out of a small piece of bubble mailer with holes cut in where the plants go. I do not like this method as much as the plants are going to be harder to remove and it is not reusable as the raft will have to be destroyed to get the plants out. But, I have some lying around so it is still free. I am also hoping that as the roots grow they do not weigh down the raft too much that it sinks.

final-uncovered 2nd-attempt

Here are the 2 holes cut in for a Thai basil and Genovese basil. Here is the finished raft which quickly had the paper side become water logged, but appears to be fine for now. The last part is to add the greenhouse cover (plastic bag) and let it sit.

final

Germination mode is complete- A recap of the first 14 days

Well, day 14 was completed on Christmas eve at 11:05 pm. I must admit I am a little ashamed that I couldn’t wait for Christmas to open my gift to myself, but am so glad that I did, or I would just be starting now on my Aerogarden Adventure. As it stands the first 14 days are in the bag, and all 7 of the herbs are growing in their pods.

As a quick review germination mode is when the lights are on and off for their preset time in their normal rotation (dependent on the plants that are growing), but the pump only runs 1 hour and is off for 11 hours. In the case of herbs like I am currently growing the light cycle is to be on for 17 hours in a 24 hour cycle.

Since the plants did not have roots for much of this cycle, and when they did start to have them they were pretty small there was no need to add any water besides at the end of the 14 day cycle. It is at this time that more nutrients are added. The pump only running 2 hours out of the day also slowed down any evaporation that may have normally occurred with the pump running for longer periods.

So for the entire germination mode only 6.55 kwh of electricity was used which is a very small amount. I am also on a program with my electricity provider called real-time pricing which has the cost of electricity change real-time as the demand changes. This is great as I can use my appliances during the non-peak times to pay less for the electricity that I use. This is much lower in the winter months and the peak is in the early evening when I have my Aerogarden set to have the lights off. So for the 6.55 kwh that were used the total cost averaged about 4 cents per kwh which totals 26 cents for the electricity. So the summary of the things needed for the first 2 weeks (germination mode) is as follows:

  • 1.2 gallons of water
  • 16 ml of nutrients
  • 6.55 kwh electricity
  • 7 herb pods (all of which have germinated)

As far as total costs go this will be a little tricky to nail down as both the pods and 3 oz of nutrients came with Aerogarden Ultra LED. It won’t be until the end of the aerogarden’s days that I can estimate it’s cost per use, but I paid $169.99 total with free shipping and tax from Costco.com. At the time they were giving a $50 rebate off the product at checkout. Like I said both the nutrient and seed pods came with the unit, but at full cost these items would cost $17.95 and $9.95 each plus any S/H. I would never pay these prices as they tend to go on sale quite often so it’s just a matter of finding the best deal you can. Since I did want to try some of the seed pods and will make my own later I bought 3 different seed pod kits for $11.16 each and the 3 oz was available at $6.36. I also bought a quart bottle of nutrient for $20.76 with a full price of $29.95 which I will use as the nutrient when the 3 oz runs out. So not including the garden itself the running costs for the first 2 weeks are

  • 1.2 gallons of water  .01   (less than 1 cent since I am on a well and the only input would be softener salt)
  • 16 ml of nutrients    1.01    (88.7 ml/bottle & bottle equals 1/2 of the pod kit $5.58)
  • 7 herb pods              5.58     (1/2 of the pod kit $5.58)
  • 6.55 kwh electricity    .26      (6.55 kwh at 4 cents/kwh average)
  •  TOTAL FOR 14 DAYS  $6.86

So the next big decision is when to start pruning. The tips for great growth says to ‘Be brave enough to prune. Pruning promotes greater health, larger harvests, and more beautiful plants.” But it doesn’t give any tip on when exactly to start this. There is a diagram that shows to prune right above the starter leaves. So I must be a wimp as this really worries me. It would seem that I can tinker with this one on my basil and possibly dill to see if it works or not.

Here are the plants before any pruning and on day 14. Notice that the mint and parsley are still small enough to be in their grow dome.

14days2

14days

Day 4- IT’S ALIVE!!!

applause

Well, it’s day 4 or 3 days 11 hrs and 18 minutes at 10:23 on 12/13/14 (which won’t happen again for 20 years by the way) and the first plants are starting to pop up! Here are the times given on the packets

  • Thai basil 4-7 days          Right on with 2 small leaves
  • Mint 6-10 days                 Nothing yet
  • Cilantro 8-14 days          Early starting to break seed open
  • Parsley 8-15 days            Nothing yet
  • Chives 8-21 days              Nothing yet
  • Genovese Basil (none given) but 5-10 days on another site    Early with 2 small folded leaves

The 2 basil plants are just about 1-2 mm tall and still below the label so they can’t be measured anyway (and who would at that height). The seed pods also state that there are a minimum of 4 seeds per pod and with a guaranteed 50-70% germination rate it will be interesting to see how many actually come up.

Day 4 A Change of Layout

Well, I must admit that since I am not actually performing an experiment I don’t feel bad changing my set up and variables to actually help the plants grow with what ideas and knowledge is already out there. Right now I would find it hard not to change my set up given some of the data that is already available in other experiments, posts, blogs, and reviews and why reinvent the wheel just for the sake of reinventing the wheel. So I am excited to say that I have added some aluminum foil and rethought the placement of the temperature detector to give a better representation of the temperature of the seed area. The nice thing is that I can still see the temperature outside of the enclosure which allows me the luxury of comparing how much the foil is changing the interior temperature. The result is a raise in temperature and light for sure.

Day 4 foil added

So here is what adding the aluminum foil now looks like around my Aerogarden. I am currently holding it up with 4 pieces of double-sided tape that are approximately 1.5 inchs long for a total of 6 inches used. Much cheaper than Aerogarden’s version which actually is slitted to help release the heat (which for me is not what I want to do as the ideal temperature is 77). The following temperatures have been observed today:

  • 10:07 am just added and light on       Inside: 73 and rising        Outside: 69        Delta: +4
  • 10:23 am                            light on        Inside: 80                           Outside: 67        Delta: +13
  • 10:29 am                            light on        Inside: 77                            Outside: 69       Delta: +8
  • 11:06 am                            light on        Inside: 77-79                      Outside: 69        Delta: +8-10
  • 5:03 pm                              light off        Inside: 73                           Outside: 68        Delta: +5
  • 7:10 pm                              light off        Inside: 70                           Outside: 68        Delta: +2
  • 8:20 pm                              light off        Inside: 70                           Outside: 69        Delta: +1

day4tempdiff

My light is set to turn on at 11:05 pm and turn off at 4:05 pm so it seems that in the germination phase with the pump not running much with the light on the temperature is raised to a much nicer 78 to 80 degrees with a change of roughly 12 degrees and with the light off after 1 hour of it being off the difference is 5 degrees and it slowly goes back to ambient over the off cycle. This is a much better fix than raising the room temperature which at this time of the year in winter would be much more costly

Day 4 of Herb Garden (Conditions and Costs)

Well, it’s day 4 or rather 3 days 8 hrs and 30 minutes into the herb garden adventure and the seed pods still just look like empty seed pods. None of the plants have started to sprout yet and going by the times given on the seed pods themselves none should have either. I have read and experienced myself a fair amount of seeds sprouting early given the right conditions and being like most people I assumed my seeds would be “above the average” or “better than your seed pods”. I am a little disappointed that there are no signs of life yet. But that topic is one that could go on for hours. That is- the topic that most people would rate themselves above average, so much so that if we went by what people said there would be no average at all.

In any case I can’t write about the glories of seeing green growth, but this does give me the opportunity to talk about conditions to change for next time (yes already). There are really only 2 conditions that I can think of to change for next time that may have any affect of speeding up the process- LIGHT and TEMPERATURE.

The first being light I do not think will have any affect on the germination. In order to add more light all I need to do as add some reflective material such as aluminum foil or some similar material that is pre-made and much more expensive. The Aerogarden website has this one called the Power-Grow Light Booster that retails for $14.95 and states it is enough for 7 Aerogardens. It would seem a little bit of an overkill for sure and one of it’s attributes is that it is ventilated to allow better air flow and reduce temperature. Which sounds great when the plants are growing, but is against what I want to do in the germination phase (raise temperature). So for now and possibly evermore I will skip this add-on that adds $2.14 to the cost per use.

It is here that I will add my 2 cents (as if that is not what this all is anyway). The majority of reviews on this product say it is just a piece of mylar with slits cut into it attached by double sided tape. It appears that mylar is available at most hydroponic stores (that is if you have one of these near you) and double sided tape can be purchased in lots of different places for sure. And as I have noticed that a large portion of the products on the Aerogarden site are extremely marked up. This of course is what most companies do, and I think their mindset is that they are trying to appeal to not only their pocketbook like most companies, but the specific customer base is the ‘turn key’ one that wants the product to be simple and ready to go right out of the box. Which to me seems to be a fairly good business model in this day and age. In addition to this they get the person like me to have my interest peaked by running a large number of sales and price reductions. They can go this because their products are extremely marked up leaving their profit margins through the roof. So to put that in perspective right now the deal on the Power Grow Light Booster (ie mylar with double sided tape) can be purchased using code GIFT25 and purchasing 2 (enough for 14 Aerogardens) for $14.96 or 1 cent more than buying just 1. Which reduces the cost to $1.07 per use-which peaks my interest slightly, and for those that have this in a high traffic area may be enough to make them pull the trigger.

The much more sensible option would be to just buy some aluminum foil such as this cheap roll sold by walmart for $5.98 at 180 sq. ft. That would put it at about 3.5 cents per square foot with tax figured in. You have to figure in the double sided tape which I have found to be about 1 cent per inch. I figure 12- 1 inch pieces should hold up the foil. This is much more flimsy and ugly, but if your garden is not in a high traffic area like mine up in my office it really doesn’t matter. To match the normal enclosure it would be about 3 sq. ft. which is only 23 cents each with tape or to fully enclose the garden it would be about 28 cents. You could get 7-9 aluminum foil covers for the same price as the Power-Grow Light Booster. If you buy the Booster on sale now you get 4-5 for the price of one. You could of course skimp on the tape to reduce your cost as needed.

So the next condition and one that I believe is much more important is to raise the temperature (another spoiler alert it has been proven). This would also be achieved by adding more light with an enclosure or raising the room temperature. This idea is no new one for sure and a great example of what the ideal temperature is can be seen here. I’ll make this one short since there is a lot of evidence already on the percent of germination which is what most studies care about (and most seed companies too). Within the above study the germination time was also decreased when at the ideal temperature in most cases. (Spoiler alert) The ideal temperature for seed germination seems to be 77 degrees F for most vegetable plants. So at that temperature you will possibly have to send your seed pods back less and gain a few extra days of plant growth. Which is great since who wants to send their seed pods back and waste all of that time you could be growing plants in that spot in your AG.

So for the first 3-4 days I have had the temperature fluctuate from 67-69 degrees which seems to lower the percentage of seed germination by 0-10 or so percent in most vegetables. In the above study it also added 1-10 days (in a few rare cases cooler was more ideal) with the norm being about 1-2 days gained. I can only assume that herbs are fairly similar. In the study, most germination rates are in the high 80s or high 90s. On the gourmet herb box the guaranteed germination rate is:

  • chives 50%
  • cilantro 70%
  • curly parsley 60%
  • dill 60%
  • genovese basil 50%
  • mint 50%
  • thai basil 50%

So, what seems to make the most sense is to cheaply raise the temperature of the seeds to as close to 77 degrees F during the germination phase. To me this can be done by adding aluminum foil as raising the room temperature (even slightly) in my mind costs way too much.

How I shop

Well, I must admit I am like your typical guy- I hate to shop. So much so that I really only ‘shop’ 1 day of the year. You may guess that it is Black Friday, and if so you would be correct. This year the money hungry retailers ‘made’ me shop for longer as it seems Black Friday turned into Black friday week, which was preceded by pre-Black friday. This was conveniently followed up by cyber Monday which turned into Cyber Monday Week. But for the most part that wasn’t that much of a big deal as long as I didn’t have to actually go to the store to shop.

In any case, it really is hardly shopping at all. I don’t leave my house and really just shop online for longer than normal and with much more preparation. So that being said I purchased my Aerogarden and other equipment and off I went.

The biggest score in my mind was buying the Aerogarden Ultra LED for $159.99 plus $10 tax from Costco. This price was listed at Costco for $199.99 with a $40 ‘rebate’ which was really just a cost reduction. This included free shipping and on the Aerogarden site you couldn’t get near that price even with all of the deals they were and are running. The Aerogarden site has a very long 20% off sale which says that it is running 1 day only. If you use a holiday code you get some other amount off which appears to be 20-50% off. They never took 50% off of their actual gardens as far as I can tell.

The other items I did purchase from the Aerogarden site as the reduction and sales made sense and Costco only had a few items for sale in the Ultra LED line. Here is what else I bought as I didn’t really have a lot of time to look into other options for nutrients just yet (not that I want to start off mixing up my own cocktail).

  • Universal seed starting kit             paid $19.16    reg $29.95    on sale $24.95
  • 1 quart (32 oz) super nutrients    paid $20.76    reg $29.95    on sale  $26.95
  • Mighty mini tomato pods              paid $11.16    reg $17.95    on sale  $16.19
  • Salad greens universal kit          paid $11.16   reg $17.95    on sale  $16.19
  • Grow anything 1 season                paid $11.16   reg $17.95    on sale  $16.19

All of these items also included free shipping so no other cost was added. I will further break down what these costs turn out to be in the costs page later.

Herb garden day 2

Well, it’s day two of the herb garden and as to be expected nothing is growing yet. The garden is on it’s factory setting that relates to herbs. As I write this (9:40 pm) both the light and the pump are off. The pump and display earlier stated that it is in the ‘germination’ cycle which cycles the pump on and off. The light is set to go on for 17 hours per day. The room temperature is 67 degrees and it was about 69 when I checked 2 times yesterday. The herbs that are planted are pretty ‘easy’ growers and the temperature being a little low should not affect them or their germination time by that much. From what I have read a good temperature is at least 70 degrees which is why you see so many heating mats for sale for seed starting. It is also usually pretty cold when the seeds are started early so that plays into that too. The caps are also still on as they are to be removed when the seeds actually sprout and get big enough that they are hitting the cap. Not all of the seeds have a sprout time on them, but those that do are as follows

  • Thai basil 4-7 days
  • Mint 6-10 days
  • Cilantro 8-14 days
  • Parsley 8-15 days
  • Chives 8-21 days

I have read of some seeds taking as little as 2 days to sprout so was interested to see if I set a new record of 1. It has not even been 24 hours yet so that’s all for now.

Day 1 12/9/2014

Set up the Aerogarden and had it running within 30 minutes. The cycle in quick start for herbs is as follows: Add water to fill, Add 8ml nutrient solution, set time. The pump will run in germination mode for the first 2 weeks which is to run for a few hours then stop (not sure how often this cycle continues in those 2 weeks) and the light is set to be on for 17 hours per day. From what I have read the lights are 30 watts. I have a Kill-A-watt meter installed at the outlet to see the actual power consumption to try and track this. With the lights on and the pump running it states 30 watts so the 30 watt rating may be for the entire unit. The amp reading is currently .25 amps which makes sense at 120 volts since power=voltageXamps.

So as far as I can tell unless the seeds pop up (which they will) and I want to track their growth (which I do) I don’t have anything to do for a while until either the water needs to be refilled or the nutrients need to be added in 2 weeks at (8ml). One little addition to this is that the directions state that it is better to keep the water level near the top as often as possible. So, I may end up adding water before the add water prompt starts.

Day 1 all set up

About

Hi. My name is Scott. I have always loved to garden. I have also pretty much always stunk at it. I love to grow things just to see if I can do it. My loving wife hates that I grow things that we never use. Not that she cares that I do that or discourages me in any way. She just hates to see me break my back year after year, season after season just to watch me grow something that we can’t use or worse yet grow something only to have some other creature eat it up. Not to mention the fact that most of that trial and error costs money.

Well, now enter the Aerogarden. I can’t be entirely naive to think that this ‘project’ will be without its pitfalls and setbacks. But, I’m used to that and after all the box clearly states that it is simple. Nothing to it! This site is dedicated to the adventure of starting with a small Aerogarden Ultra LED hydroponic garden to experiment and see if I can extend my growing season, make a simple tool better, and just plain play around with it.

I have always loved to find out how things work. In high school I loved science the most out of all of my subjects that I studied. I didn’t truly have a master plan (but what high school student does) so I went to school (college that is) to just learn about what I liked-science. I had always imagined that I would either go into teaching or research. Isn’t it the American dream to actually love what you do? Well, that never happened, but I did earn a B.S. in Biology with a minor in psychology. And although I don’t do what I love as a job, I do get the chance to do what I love as hobbies.

I have also never liked to use any chemicals on my garden, lawn, or any other plant that I would touch, eat, or grow. It is a little ironic that hydroponics systems use nothing but chemicals. But, my hope is that I can grow things fairly easily (after all it’s only 6 or seven steps and you’re off) and without most of the normal pests you will find in the garden. Sure you may encounter the occasional aphid or the dreaded algae, but the is far less than the numerous pests, trials, and tribulations encountered in the garden. I also refuse to grow things that are bathed in roundup and other chemical cocktails that do more harm than good. It drives me bonkers to imagine some of the things that are on or in the store bought food that we all eat. I do plan on looking into the chemicals that are used as ‘super nutrients’, but from what I can tell right now they do not have nearly the bad wrap that the field grown crops have. More to come on that for sure.

So that’s just the tip of the iceberg on my back story. I hope you will follow along on this Aero Adventure!