(NaturalNews) There's a new countertop herb garden device on the market called "AeroGarden," and it's being sold by catalog companies, online retailers and even some home product stores. Marketing text written about the AeroGarden device claims the unit, "...uses aeroponics, a form of gardening tested by NASA and used to grow crops in space where plant roots are exposed to a fine mist of nutrients." (Source: Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, Spring preview 2007, page 50).
Editor's note: The AeroGrow company has responded to the initial publication of this article in a concerned, constructive manner. The AeroGarden pump failure mentioned in this article, I have learned, was due to a bad batch of pumps that was limited to the early units and has since been largely resolved. Dealing with poor quality components is not unusual in the first release of new products, and AeroGrow told me they have been working with customers to replace those pumps at no cost.
The other criticisms in this article, including the "exaggerated language" and the definition of aeroponic technology, are planned to be handled by a discussion session between myself and AeroGrow. In that discussion session, the plan is to jointly explore the use of marketing language about the AeroGarden unit and see if we can come to agreement on some common points. We may, of course, only agree to disagree, but at least AeroGrow is demonstrating a keen interest in learning from this critical review and seeing how they might improve communication with customers about the AeroGarden product.
The very fact that AeroGrow is constructively engaged in problem solving and is interested in a conversation about these criticisms speaks volumes about the company's integrity. It shows that they are not simply trying to pull a fast one on consumers and are, in fact, working to resolve issues in a way that is acceptable to the green living community. Depending on the outcome of this upcoming conversation, I may choose to significantly alter, edit or enhance the original article that appears below. I will, of course, keep NaturalNews readers informed of these actions.
Please also note that my journalistic boundaries remain fully intact, as usual. I have not solicited any sort of payment or funds from the AeroGrow company, nor have they offered any. In fact, I reminded them of my financial bounderies and my resolve to serve solely the interests of NaturalNews readers. Whatever the outcome of this discussion with AeroGrow, I will bring you an honest, independent and upfront assessment of what I think about the AeroGrow company and its product line. Stay tuned for an update... - Mike
What follows below is the original article about the AeroGarden product.
I acquired an AeroGrow AeroGarden device several months ago in order to test the unit for review. What I discovered surprised me: the AeroGarden product generates no mist or spray whatsoever. In fact, as far as I can tell, it has no true aeroponic capabilities at all. Rather, the device simply dribbles a water/nutrient solution over plant roots which then hang suspended in a tub of water. For the life of me, I can't figure out how anyone could call this an aeroponic device at all.
Given all the hype surrounding this product, and the cool-sounding NASA comparisons, I was strongly disappointed to discover what was really under the hood. Sure, retailers can claim it's an aeroponic device, but is it really aeroponic, or is it more of a hydroponic device? Let's take a look at the definitions of both hydroponic and aeroponic devices to find out.
I have considerable experience in both hydroponic gardening
and aeroponic gardening, and I've owned and operated several such units over the years. In hydroponic gardening, plants grow in a non-soil medium (such as a container of small rocks) and then are flooded with a nutrient-containing water solution every few minutes. As the plant roots are flooded, they soak up the moisture and nutrients they need. When the water drains away, the roots are able to get the air they need. This is called an "ebb and flow" hydroponic strategy. Hydroponic solutions are carefully controlled in terms of their nutrient
density (in ppm), pH (which varies according to the plants being grown), ratios of nutrients (which vary depending on whether the plants are growing or blooming) and even temperature.
My analysis of the AeroGrow AeroGarden device reveals that it has no true "ebb and flow" functionality, other than the simple dribbling of water over the tops of the roots, and that the main root mass of plants actually hangs in standing water much of the time. In fact, in the unit I tested, the standing water began to appear rather brackish after a couple of weeks, with small floating particles and some sort of foam growing around the edges of the surface.
In true aeroponics, a series of high-pressure sprayers combines with a high-pressure pump to spray a fine mist of nutrients onto the roots of plants. They grow in no soil or medium, simply relying on the nutrient mist to supply all necessary nutrients and moisture. As Wikipedia
explains, "In an aeroponic system, however, the plant is suspended into an enclosed air environment where the lower portion stem and roots protrude into a hydro-atomized nutrient solution and environment. The leaves and crown of the plant extended above into air. The root and crown of the plant are separated by the plant support structure. The lowest stem portion and root system are sprayed/misted for short durations with a hydro-atomized pure water/nutrient solution."
I have grown several seasons of lettuce, tomatoes, herbs and other plants using high-end aeroponic systems, and they indeed produce amazingly rapid plant growth. Plant root mass expands rapidly, and as long as you keep the nutrients supplied, plants will grow two or three times faster in an aeroponic system vs. soil.
The problem with the AeroGrow AeroGarden unit, however, is that in my analysis, I cannot see any justification whatsoever for calling it an aeroponic unit. The product has no sprayers, no spray nozzles, no high-pressure pump and creates no "fine mist.". It does contain a very low-pressure pump that delivers water dribbles to the plant roots, but that is a far cry from anything resembling true aeroponics.
As a result, I do not know of a single person in the aeroponic or hydroponic industries who would consider the AeroGarden device to be "aeroponic." Most wouldn't even call it, "hydroponic," either. One person I spoke with compared it to, "Growing a plant in a bucket of water." It seems bewildering that the AeroGrow company would even feel justified in claiming the device uses aeroponic technology at all.
Even the name of the unit, AeroGarden seems to imply some level of aeroponics. But as a 30-second evaluation of the device clearly reveals, there is nothing in the AeroGarden device that creates, "a fine mist of nutrients." No sprayers, no high-pressure pump, and no mist-creating devices whatsoever. So what's with all the promotional text describing the AeroGarden unit as NASA-like technology that can create a fine mist of nutrients? Either the promoters of the device are engaged in blatant consumer fraud, or someone has unintentionally made a serious error in describing what the product really does. Personally, I find it extremely deceptive. I cannot believe the liberal use of the "aeroponic" term in virtually all the marketing materials is somehow an honest mistake.
Calling the AeroGrow AeroGarden unit an "aeroponic" device is mere wishful thinking. There is nothing aeroponic about it, other than perhaps the fact that the roots of the plants hang in a tub of water that leaves an inch or so of air between the top of the water and the top of the roots. But that's no more "aeroponic" than, say, the air standing in your refrigerator right now. Just because there's air around doesn't make something "aeroponic."
The pump on my unit stopped working in less than two weeks
Beyond all this, the AeroGarden unit I was testing mysteriously stopped pumping water in less than two weeks, causing the plants whose roots had not yet reached the water to dry out and die. As you can see in the main picture shown here, this caused some plants to simple shrivel up and expire. Other plants with longer roots, however, managed to reach the water before the pump stopped pumping, and they continued to live for a while, although the water pumping never resumed functioning on the unit I was testing, and after a month, I realized that I could produce about the same results by hanging plant roots in a bucket of water and adding $5 worth of hydroponic nutrients myself. A bucket also costs about $145 less than the AeroGrow AeroGarden unit, by the way.
Due to this complication, my AeroGarden unit became the world's most expensive way to grow plants in a tub of standing water. In no way am I claiming, by the way, that all AeroGarden units will behave in the same way. It is possible that my unit contained a rare defect. Perhaps they forgot to install the high-pressure pump and spray nozzles that would have made it a true aeroponic device. Perhaps other people are seeing great success growing plants in the AeroGarden device (the promotional pictures sure look convincing). But even if the AeroGarden does manage to grow plants using its "water dribbling" nutrient delivery system, that doesn't mean it's an aeroponic unit. And in my book, that means it's being dishonestly marketed using names and phrases that imply genuine aeroponic capabilities.
If you are considering purchasing an AeroGrow AeroGarden device, I urge you to think carefully about what you're really buying for $150. It's a plastic tub that holds water, combined with a very small water pump that dribbles water (sort of like a tabletop fountain pump) through a series of plastic channels, a set of fluorescent lights with an auto-timer, a few nutrient tablets and herb seeds. $150 seems like a steep price to pay for such things. If the unit actually produced a fine mist using spray nozzles and a high-pressure pump, that would be different. But it for a device that simply dribbles water over plant roots, $150 seems like a steep price to pay.
The lights are good, though. In fact, after my AeroGarden experiment, I simply removed the water tub and have been using it as a really expensive desk lamp ever since. As a desk lamp, the AeroGarden device performs phenomenally.
In my opinion, many promotional statements about the AeroGrow AeroGarden device are blatant exaggeration. Below, I'll translate some of the marketing hype into plain language to let you decide for yourself (all the statement text is from the AeroGrow website at www.AeroGrow.com):
"Bio-Dome seed system with a mini greenhouse" = A seed container with a cheap plastic lid.
"Aeroponic optimizing chamber creates a near-perfect rainforest growing environment" = Roots hang in a tub of water.
"Plant roots suspended in a 100% humidity, highly oxygenated aeroponic growing chamber" = Plant roots are hanging in a tub of water with a gap of air above the water. All Earth air is "oxygenated" otherwise we would all be dead.
"NASA-tested aeroponic technology" - Maybe NASA tested the technology, but what were the results of those tests? They sure don't use these on the space shuttle.
I don't know about you, but calling a plastic lid a "mini greenhouse" seems like a stretch. By the same definition, a soda cup with a plastic lid might also be called a "mini greenhouse." And calling a tub of water with a lid an, "aeroponic optimizing chamber" is laughable. It's not even air-tight! Furthermore, claiming it's "oxygenated" is no different than claiming the air in your living room is "oxygenated." Of course it's oxygenated! Earth's atmosphere is around 20% oxygen. So all the air in your house, your car and yes, even in the AeroGarden, is oxygenated.
The use of exaggerated language by AeroGrow is, in my opinion, beyond mere creative description... I think it's blatantly dishonest. I think it's designed to give consumers the impression that the AeroGarden device is a lot more high-tech than it really is. It's sort of like those shower heads that mix air with water and call it, "oxygenated spa water!" Ridiculous. It's like calling that chair in front of your television, "a home theater viewing stabilizer platform with anatomical design features." But it's really just a chair.
I think the language used on the AeroGrow website describes a fictional device the company wished it was selling rather than the one it actually is.
By the way, if you're really looking for a true hydroponic system, you can buy a 24-inch by 24-inch growing tray, with a 20-gallong water container, plus a much stronger pump and plumbing, all for less than the retail price of the AeroGrow AeroGarden system. Check out www.GardenWaves.com to see their "2 x 2 Ebb & Flow Hydroponic System," which as of this writing retails for $143.00. Of course, you'll need lights, but I do recall there's a large thermonuclear-powered lighting device located somewhere in our solar system that provides light for free.