Straight the Point
Want fresh herbs without fretting about if they'll ever grow? Meet the AeroGarden, a countertop hydroponic garden that's easy to use and produces beautiful, vibrant herbs (and even cherry tomatoes). It even has smart reminders to let you know when your plants need more water.
I’ve been using my AeroGarden for 531 days. I know this because it says so right on the tiny dashboard. (It’s smart enough to alert me when it needs nutrients and water but not smart enough to listen to my conversations, which is just how I like it.) Right now, on my countertop I have a pint container stuffed with chives and an actual explosion of cherry tomatoes.
I’ve been wanting to write about my AeroGarden for 525 days, ever since I saw the first tiny green leaf sprout up from the soil pod and felt the newfound pride of a plant-mom. But the editorial team wasn’t sold on it, which is understandable. For one, it’s an expensive purchase, definitely not a necessity—one that would take ages to pay for itself. Plus, with our guide to storing fresh herbs, it makes a whole lot more sense to just go to the store and get a big bunch.
I’ve caught my fair share of flak—I’m the only person in the office who unabashedly likes Goop, who leads our ladies-only slack channel conversations about the best skin care, and who might own a sequin blazer. It’s not that I am irresponsible with money. But I enjoy nice things, and a little machine that grows herbs without any effort is right up my alley. So the eye roll I received when I asked to put the AeroGarden in our holiday gift guide didn’t exactly take me by surprise.
But fresh herbs are scarce now, and the team is getting wise that my little grower-that-could might actually be a good idea. So now, atop my herb-filled soapbox, let me tell you a little bit about my splurge that paid off.
I own the AeroGarden Harvest. It’s about the size of a small houseplant or large cat, 11 x 8 inches. It sits nicely on my windowsill, but you can keep it anywhere, regardless of natural light. My unit holds up to six seed pods, which are essentially tiny plastic grow baskets with pre-seeded sponges. To get the whole unit up and running, all you need to do is place the pods into the water chamber and add water.
Depending on what you’re planting, the machine will set an automatic timer for its built-in lights. Herbs require 17 hours of light daily, for example, and you’ll get an alert whenever it needs additional water or nutrients. Soon enough—most seeds germinate between five and 15 days—you’ll start to see some sprouts. (Doesn’t that sound like an amazing gift? Perfect for a gift guide, perhaps?)
Just to warn you, the 20-watt LED light is very bright. I’m on the fourth floor of my apartment building, and you can see it clearly from the street. I like to think of it as a shining beacon of herbal prosperity, but I bet it would be very annoying in a studio.
I’ve grown all sorts of herbs with the AeroGarden but some do better than others. Mint is the playground bully, growing so tall and so thick that it steals all the light from everything else. Chives, on the other hand, are my star pupil. They shoot straight up. You can snip to order, and they’ll miraculously go right back up in a few days. Since the light is adjustable, they can grow pretty tall. Mine have gotten to be about eight inches and seem a lot heartier than what you find at the grocery store. As you can imagine, everything I make is covered in chives now.
Genovese and Thai basil also grow extremely well but require more frequent pruning. If you can keep up with the pruning, you can have yourself a solid bunch of basil every week. That’s enough to make and keep a batch of pesto on hand for whenever you need it.
I’ve been growing cherry tomatoes since April, and while they take longer to harvest—I waited about two months before I saw any fruit—they’ve provided me with the most excitement. Who wouldn’t love picking a generous handful of your own adorable tomatoes every few days? Who, I ask! Only a monster. And the Serious Eats editorial team.
The AeroGarden website says that the lifespan of the herbs is about four months and the tomatoes have nine. My current garden has long surpassed its expected lifespan and I don’t see it slowing down. Maybe it’s because I’ve been its greatest advocate. Maybe it’s because it’s been waiting for its time to shine on Serious Eats. Call me a plant stage mom, but...no, it's okay, call me a plant stage mom.
If you’re looking to pick up an in-home growing system, you should know that not all are created equal. Miracle-Gro, the maker of the AeroGarden, has many different versions of this machine, some that aren’t worth the price tag. I had a Miracle-Gro Twelve for a few months and found that it really couldn’t live up to its promise of bountiful lettuces and herbs. Instead, it produced a hive of fruit flies and really murky brown water that was impossible to clean. Ultimately, I decided to get rid of the machine because it simply wasn’t worth the space when every square inch of this small apartment needs to be working real hard.
But my AeroGarden contributes well beyond its square inch-age. Above practical reasons, it has contributed to my sanity over the past few weeks of self-isolation. It’s nice to know that if I take care of it, it will take care of me. It’s a constant that I appreciate in these uncertain times. When that little light turns on automatically with a click, it reassures me that, at least, I’ll have what I can grow.
*Hops off soapbox. Dons sequin blazer. Goes to pick more tomatoes.*