Building an indoor hydroponic gardening system from scratch is a tall feat for newcomers to hydroponics, but these days there are a number of compact hydroponic systems on the market that are easy to assemble and operate. To discuss the advantages of ready-made hydroponic gardens, my guest this week is Tina Edwards, a marketing manager for AeroGarden.
Tina joined the AeroGarden family in 2018. The product is a self-contained system that takes the mystery and guesswork out of setting up a hydroponic garden. Tina explains that Aerogarden has been on the market for 17 years in different iterations and designs, but the company really hits its stride in 2017 and 2018. Then in 2020, when hobbies that can be done at home and indoors skyrocketed in popularity, Aerogarden took off.
With the arrival of November, the outdoor gardening season is over or soon to be over for most of us in the United States. With winter on its way or already a reality in some regions, many gardeners start to get interested in how they can take their hobby indoors for food — not just houseplants. That’s where hydroponic systems such as AeroGarden come in.
And an AeroGarden is also a good introduction to gardening for beginners and a good solution for anyone who doesn’t have the space and light necessary to grow outdoors.
I’m a big proponent of encouraging people just to get started. Don’t worry if you think you don’t know enough yet: Get out there and figure it out as you go, and you’ll learn from your mistakes. That being said, if you really want a fool-proof way to start gardening, AeroGarden is it.
Earlier this year, I had Roger Sadowski, a student in my Online Gardening Academy™ and an avid hydroponic gardener, on the podcast to discuss hydroponic gardening. It was a great primer, but I recognize there is still a significant learning curve. Well, I heard from many “The joe gardener Show” listeners that they have had hydroponic gardening success with Aerogarden.
“I just want everyone to experience the joy of watching a seed sprout,’ Tina says. “And there’s just nothing better than going to bed one night with nothing showing in your AeroGarden, you wake up in the morning and you have six plants just popping out their little heads. It’s just the best feeling. So however we can make that happen for everyone in the world, I’m all for it.”
Before proceeding with my conversation with Tina about growing indoors hydroponically and AeroGarden, I want to take a second to remind you that I have a new book out, “The Vegetable Gardening Book: Your complete guide to growing an edible organic garden from seed to harvest.” It’s chock full of insider tips and new-to-you information that will help you step up your gardening game and tackle challenges.
And on tap for 2023 is my new Online Gardening Academy™ premium course, Organic Vegetable Gardening. Sign up for the waitlist here.
Why Tina is a Fan
Tina is originally from Arizona and has lived in Boulder, Colorado, where AeroGarden is based, for about 12 years. With a background in digital marketing and advertising, she joined the AeroGarden marketing department in 2018. She said she loves focusing on the sustainability sector and doing things as close to natural as possible.
“Living in the environment that I live in, it’s just something that’s around us all the time, every day,” Tina says. “It’s a huge culture out here.”
When she began her job at AeroGarden, it was a small brand with a small, super-scrappy team, she recalls.
“It really felt like we were able to kind of make something happen,” Tina says. “And I have enjoyed my time working on a lot of different products with AeroGarden and really getting to know the ins and outs of the development of the garden, where the future of the garden is going, the people who love to use the AeroGarden — AeroGardeners, as we refer to them — and really just getting involved in the community of AeroGarden.”
Tina is a gardener herself, with some small gardens at home and three AeroGardens, one each in her office, living room and kitchen, all growing different things.
Tina says AeroGarden helps anyone access gardening, wherever they live, whatever their climate and whatever their home situation. “It’s really just about accessibility,” she says.
Tina’s husband is a home chef, and she got into cooking during the pandemic, so they cook a lot at home. To that end, the AeroGarden in their kitchen is almost always growing herbs such as basil, dill, oregano, etc. “It’s just nice to always have them readily available,” she says.
Her kitchen doesn’t get enough sunlight to grow herbs on her windowsill, she notes. Using the AeroGarden overcomes that.
In her living room, the AeroGarden there grows flowers and lettuce. Tina recalls when she first started growing lettuce, her daughter was 3 or 4 years old and would walk up to the garden and grab bits of lettuce as snacks. Isn’t that a lot better than a candy bowl?
In Tina’s office, she grows flowers and other decorative plants, and right now, the Aerogarden’s castoff light is helping her cactus houseplants thrive.
Cold climates, short days, low light and a lack of space to grow in are a few of the challenges that AeroGardens have helped gardeners overcome. AeroGardens take advantage of cutting-edge, super-efficient LEDs to provide light, and they offer a controlled environment that takes pest and disease issues out of the gardening equation.
“You don’t have to invest a lot of time, invest a lot of research and energy and financing into building a structure and a system that’s going to do this work for you,” Tina says. “We have contained it. We’ve packaged it into a system that is super, super easy to use. … It just makes gardening and growing and connecting to plants and the earth a little bit more accessible to everyone.”
I can attest that the Aerogarden is super easy to set up and get going: My garden manager Tobi did it for me in all of 20 minutes. I admit I was shocked that’s all the time it took, but then I reviewed the instructions and saw it truly is super simple.
Seed Starting Made Simple
“Seed starting in the AeroGarden, it just cannot be beat,” Tina says. “It’s a spa for plants, and they really do thrive, and your seeds are going to start so much faster. Plants grow five times faster in a hydroponic AeroGarden environment. And because of that, you can do that kind of planting and that succession system so much more efficiently. And it just really opens up a lot of opportunity and options for you if you are a soil gardener.”
Why would plants grow five times faster in an Aerogarden? Well, there are a bunch of reasons that come to mind immediately: The nutrients are available faster, there is water and air moving through, and there are optimal light conditions.
“The ‘five times faster’ is definitely because the environment is pristine and perfected to facilitate faster growth,” Tina says. “The lights are powerful and close to the seedlings so you’re not worried about overcrowding from external plants. The environment for the nutrient delivery system is much more efficient, and you know that the nutrients are exactly what is needed for the plant.”
Tina says gardeners can work to perfect their soil and add soil and add nutrients, but there is still a lot of work involved for those nutrients to get into those seeds. And sunlight, the rotation of the earth and nature all affect how plants grow outdoors.
Measuring yield per square foot, AeroGarden wins compared to outdoor growing. The plants can be crowded together without the disease issues we worry about outdoors. And because the AeroGarden lights are so bright, the plants are able to produce more fruit, Tina says.
It’s also easy to trim just what you need from plants such as lettuce and allow them to grow back. While that’s also true of lettuce grown outdoors, AeroGarden-grown lettuce takes longer to bolt than lettuce that grows in a stressful outdoor environment, so each plant is more productive.
For Tina, living in Colorado, where there is snow in May, it’s difficult to grow large fruiting vegetables. The growing season just isn’t long enough. But she can use her AeroGarden to start seeds indoors, and once the weather is appropriate for planting, she can transplant those seedlings outdoors. That gives her plants the headstart they need to reach maturity before the first frost of fall.
Tina also starts seeds of varieties that aren’t available at her local home stores.
“There are a lot of different varieties of tomatoes and peppers and things like that, that you can go and pick up from a nursery or from your home store,” Tina says, “but if there is a particular seed or variety that you’re not finding, you can start that in your AeroGarden, plop ’em out and pop ’em into your soil garden at your leisure.”
Tina also finds that using her AeroGarden helps with succession planting. Once she pulls early beets and carrots out of the ground, she has seedlings waiting in the wings in her AeroGarden to take the place of the beets and carrots outdoors.
How Aerogarden Uses Technology
Today, Aerogarden has models that are Bluetooth equipped, and they can send a notification to your phone when they are low on water or fertilizer. It’s a vast contrast between my conventional, raised bed gardens that take a lot of thought and care and putting a pod with seeds into an Aerogarden and the next thing I know I’m eating salad.
“I sometimes equate it to like a gateway drug for gardening,” Tina says of Aerogarden. For those who are just starting out or don’t have the space for a big garden, they can get a countertop AeroGarden that will tell them everything they need to know: the water level, when the last time it was fed, when the next time it will need more nutrients, and other data.
Recent models also allow users to dim the lighting and adjust the schedule from their phone without even being in the same room as the AeroGarden.
But there are also simpler AeroGarden systems that use flashing lights or a window to let users know that the water level is running low.
“It eases you into the idea of being a plant parent, whatever that might look like for you, and makes it a little bit more comfortable, and it allows you to start to stretch your wings a little bit,” Tina says. “And maybe you want to start doing a little bit more with soil. Maybe you want to start asking some more questions and kind of developing a little bit more challenge. Maybe you grow things in your AeroGarden that we don’t have on our website.”
Some AeroGardeners buy pods they can add their own seeds to and some have even figured out how to grow succulents in their AeroGardens.
Aerogarden’s Proprietary Seeds
I’m a big tomato grower, with 60-something plants every year, including numerous indeterminate varieties. But big, sprawling plants aren’t well suited to compact AeroGardens. That’s one of the reasons AeroGarden has proprietary seed varieties of a number of crops to fit their various models.
“We work with cultivators around the world to identify the right seeds to grow in an AeroGarden because of height constraints, because of how much water usage are they actually going to take,” Tina says, adding that the size of their roots systems is another concern, because the roots can’t be too expansive for the garden space.
“When you are purchasing a seed pod, a pre-seeded pod from AeroGarden, that seed variety has been tested and determined to grow really, really well in that environment,” Tina says. “But we recognize that people want to grow their own things, and we can’t offer every single seed variety.”
There are some crops that are just not suited to an AeroGarden, so it’s important to realize that before acting on unreal expectations. For example, melons or other fruiting crops that require cross-pollination from male to female flowers would require a lot of work — especially considering hand-pollinating would definitely be required in an indoor growing environment.
“We sell varieties that just are self-pollinating,” Tina says. “We have tools and tips available to make that happen. Because again, you are inside your house. You don’t have a lovely gust of wind coming by to shake that pollen loose. But you can run a fan; you can use our ‘Be the Bee’ pollinator.”
The “Be the Bee” pollinator is a sonic pollinating wand with rubber bristles on the end for shaking pollen loose so flowers set fruit.
What’s in the Seed Pods
AeroGarden’s seed pods use peat moss as a growing medium. The roots break through the peat and grow into the Aerogarden basin and water. If transplanting the plant outdoors, the peat moss pods can go right into the ground, where they will biodegrade.
The peat moss pods fit into reusable plastic baskets that can be refilled with new pods.
AeroGarden also has a material they call “AeroFelt” that is specifically for its microgreens kits. To grow microgreens, the “grow deck” of an AeroGarden is taken off and replaced with a microgreens tray — a flat basin that hosts the felt.
How AeroGarden Fertilizers Provide the Right Amount of Nutrients
AeroGarden’s liquid plant food is designed to work with anyone’s tap water. It includes a pH buffer to account for the variability in tap water from one source to the next.
“Water quality from your tap varies widely, in all sorts of different areas,” Tina says. “And being able to provide a system that doesn’t require you to go to the grocery store and buy distilled water or buy special water, that was hugely important to us. So the pH buffer is really something that we’re really proud of.”
And the liquid fertilizer, formulated with the right amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and magnesium, can be diluted and used on houseplants and in gardens.
Turning Up the Lights
AeroGarden used CFLs years ago but now its lighting systems are all LED.
“When we moved to LED light panels, we became more powerful, more efficient,” Tina says. “So even with the pump electricity usage and the LED lighting usage, you are talking about pennies, like the amount of energy that you might use running your coffee maker. It’s extremely efficient.”
Even the larger units that can grow up to 24 plants each with two 60-watt lighting panels are still incredibly energy efficient, she adds.
I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Tina Edwards on hydroponic growing in an AeroGarden. If you haven’t listened yet, you can do so now by scrolling to the top of the page and clicking the Play icon in the green bar under the page title.
Have you tried indoor hydroponics? Let us know in the comments below.
Links & Resources
Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; seed starting and more.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Organic Vegetable Gardening: My new premium online course membership opens in 2023. Sign up for the waitlist here.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Growing Epic Tomatoes: Learn how to grow epic tomatoes with Joe Lamp’l and Craig LeHoullier.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Pests, Diseases & Weeds: Learn the proactive steps to take to manage pests, diseases and weeds for a more successful garden with a lot less frustration. Just $47 for lifetime access!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class: Learn how to create the perfect soil environment for thriving plants.
Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us, and compensation is not an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Rain Bird, Corona Tools, AeroGarden, Milorganite, Soil3, Greenhouse Megastore, PittMoss, Territorial Seed Company, Earth’s Ally, National Wildlife Federation and TerraThrive. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.