Monday, November 27, 2017

Product Review: AeroGarden Ultra

When SHTF and supply lines break down, getting fresh plant matter in your diet can be hard. The AeroGarden is something that I would recommend that a prepper consider to fill that role. I am reviewing the “Ultra” model, but all of them work on the same principles.

What is an AeroGarden?
AeroGardens are small automated aeroponic (growing plants without soil or other media) gardens where everything from the lighting to the watering is automated. You add the water, seed pods, and fertilizer; tell the garden what you are growing;  add water and fertilizer when the display tells you to (usually once every two weeks); and then harvest.

The Good
  • Aeroponics are incredibly space efficient. My 7-pod Ultra has a small footprint  -- less than 1.5'w x 1'd x 3' h -- yet I get enough from it that I have trouble keeping up with eating all it makes. (The light at the top extends upwards in order to give the best lighting to the plants.) 
  • I have never needed to weed my AeroGarden. Maybe you like weeding, but I will pass. I also never have to bend over to harvest, since mine is on a counter.
  • It is actually more water-efficient than a standard dirt garden, since almost none is lost to evaporation.
  • I can grow just about anything I consume. Lettuce and tomatoes are what I am growing currently, with a single basil for pesto. They even sell a Grow Anything kit that makes this fairly easy.
  • I can sprout plants for my dirt garden and transplant then when I am ready. A nice big root structure helps to get a nice head start. There is even an accessory tray that you can purchase just for that.
  • If you like salads like I do, it is (eventually) a cost savings over purchasing them from the store. This can lead to a cost savings, especially in the off season.
  • You can re-use basically anything plastic that comes with this kit. Just make sure to scrub and sanitize to prevent pathogen spread.
  • When I had issues and had to call customer service, they were excellent.

The Bad
  • At $150 for the model I purchased, they are not super cheap. Mine has paid itself off in savings over purchasing fresh vegetables over the winter, but it first took a full season of use.
  • In addition, you really cannot grow root vegetables. Garlic, potatoes and onions are not an option for my AeroGarden, and I have to grow them in my dirt garden.
  • You have to remember to use the proprietary seed pods, which is rather obnoxious if you lose or break one. I re-use the pods, and have never had one break, but I would expect that it is possible.
  • It is a pain in the butt to clean all the little spaces after each harvest. Budget a couple of hours to do it, and make sure to have a Scotch-Brite pad handy. Thankfully, this cleaning is about a once a year task.
  • When my initial garden shipped, they had left out a couple of the little plastic domes that cover the seed pods while they sprout. Thankfully, they sent out new ones with no fuss when I called. 
  • It requires a special liquid fertilizer. You can purchase the name brand of it (made by Miracle-Gro) or any number of off-brands that work just fine.

The Ugly
This unit requires electricity. Even though the newer ones use an LED light, and have a "power interrupt" feature so that they can tell if the power went off, these units do require power.

Thankfully they are VERY low draw, and a couple years ago when I had several neighborhood power outages I purchased a cheap ($25) UPS for it. The AeroGarden ran for up to 14 hours during an outage without once losing power.

In Conclusion
If you can generate or store some power, and have about two days' worth of minimum wages to invest and about two square feet of counter space, I would consider this an excellent addition to your prepping arsenal.

I would recommend this even if you have a "black thumb." It is easy to use and take care of, and the seed pods bought from the company have a guarantee to sprout.

Good luck, and remember to practice.

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