Ok, so the headline is misleading. This is not exactly an Aerogarden. It doesn’t squirt nutrient rich juices at the roots of your plants. But it does do the one thing that I think makes the Aerogarden popular, and that it is a garden that sits on the counter without needing additional light sources.
I took this idea from a viral video that was popular about a year ago entitled “How to make a USB greenhouseâ€. Freaky, geeky, interesting thing to do, but really, if there are two important things to remember.
A) Plants need liquid to survive.
B) Liquid fries computers.
Conclusion – attaching a plant to your computer does not fall into the good idea realm.
But the idea was intriguing. I had not done a How To in forever and this looked perfect. Could you make a counter top garden using common LED lights? I did a little research…
It turns out that LED lights are becoming popular for indoor gardening. Low wattage and low heat are making them popular. But there is a catch. You need a combination of various color LED lights to mimic natural sunlight. Plants need blue and red spectrum light to grow correctly. But wait! This project is not dead. There is more.
Blue light is responsible for vegetative growth while red light is responsible for flowering growth. The average “whiteâ€ LED that you can buy from the store is high on the blue spectrum of light (that is why it has that blue – not white – tinge when you turn them on). They can be used to grow plants where you want the vegetation (that would be the leaves) to grow. i.e. perfect for an herbal counter top garden.
I am a huge fan of fresh herbs. To tell the truth, fresh herbs (ok, the freaking high cost of buying fresh herbs) was the original lure that brought me back to gardening in my college years. I have tried to grow herbs indoors in the winter, but, alas, I really, really suck at it. Well, no, I don’t suck at it. Cleveland just does not have sun power in the winter. As a matter of fact, I am fairly certain that the sun flies south in the winter as far as Cleveland is concerned.
For this project, you will need:
- 1 large coffee can – free from the recycling bin
- 1 large margarine tub – free from the recycling bin
- 1 pack of two stick on LED night lights – $6.50 at Target
- 1 roll of duct tape – Free if you have an adult male living in your home. If you have an adult male and there is no duct tape, please refer to the reading material of PFLAG as this talk is coming soon.
- Batteries (for the night lights) – $3
Start with the coffee can. It needs to be a metallic can. My husband is a coffee drinker, but not a coffee connoisseur, so we just buy the cheapest coffee imaginable, which comes in a metallic can. If you are a coffee connoisseur and your coffee comes in air sealed bags or plastic canisters, you may need to rummage through a neighbor’s recyclable bin some night. Also, it needs to be a coffee can. Not a peaches can, not a industrial size ketchup can. More on this later.
Take the coffee can and mark out an area that is about one third of the can. Leave a 1 – 2 inch lip near the bottom (non open) part of the can. Cut the marked area out. We used tin snips, but you can use what you have available, like perhaps a sawsall (with a throw away blade) or a nail as a punch .
The end result should look like a beginner, flat broke fanboy’s attempt at a helmet for the renaissance festival.
The edges on the can will be very sharp, so be careful. The author of this post is NOT responsible if you severely cut yourself and must be rushed to an emergency room which cost millions of dollars and you then feel you must sue the author to recoup the costs. I warned you. I am just about broke anyway. So just be careful.
Because the edges are sharp, we need to cover them. Take the duct tape and use it to cover all of the cut edges of the coffee can.
Next, remove the paper backing on the LED night lights. The night lights I bought had 3 LEDs each. The more LEDs in the night lights, the better.
You can put up to 4 night lights in the can (which I may do later, depending on how the plants grow) but then this would be a $15 counter top garden. Your choice.
Stick the night lights to the can. Place them as far back as possible. This will ensure that more of the light stays inside the can.
The reason the metallic can is important is because we need to try to keep as much of the light bouncing around for as long as possible. The metal will reflect the light back at the plants where plastic would just absorb it.
Next, prepare your margarine tub. Again, it must be a large margarine tub. Other tubs will not work. More on this later.
If you would like, you can cut drainage holes in the bottom. I did not because I did not want to worry about water draining out over the counter. But I will need to make sure I do not over water my plants. You can also add a layer of Styrofoam peanuts or gravel to the bottom of the tub to help with drainage. I use normal potting soil in my margarine tub.
Next, plant your herbs. Mine were dug up from the garden. I will warn you, most people will want to make this in the Fall. Plant stores don’t sell herb in the Fall. I know, I went to 4 of them and not one had herbs. Plan ahead or get your herbs from an established garden.
The type of herbs you use are up to you. I chose sage, thyme, rosemary and oregano. I may start a whole new counter top garden just for basil.
Now, here is the step where I explain why you must have a coffee can and a margarine tub. If you look in your margarine tub, you will see a little lip about a quarter to a half inch down on the inside. Your inverted coffee can will sit exactly on that lip, so that the coffee can will not sink into the soil.
Turn on the lights and place the can over the plants. Trim back as much as you can of any plants poking out of the opening. Plants growing outside the opening will not live. The plants will only live if they grow inside the can.
Make sure you use the herbs A LOT. This will keep them compact and bushy, so that they do not outgrow the can.
So there you go. A counter top garden for herbs that you can make. Yes, it does look like you ran away with the Black Knight’s helmet and used it for a planter, but that’s what you get for being cheap.
And yes, I know, having the light on all the time is not the healthiest thing for plants. Yes, I know, this is not the ideal growing light for plants. But the point of this is not to create an ideal environment or even pretty plants. The idea is to have fresh tasty herbs without having to sell one of my children to gypsies in order to pay for it. It is a “make dueâ€ until the sun once again graces us here in Cleveland.