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If you want to grow a vegetable garden and you have a limited amount of space to grow, this article is for you! It’s especially great for those who want to grow vegetables in a small home or apartment. In this I dive into the pros and cons of growing vegetables indoors using an AeroGarden vs. growing vegetables in containers on a patio or balcony.
Pros Growing Vegetables in Containers
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Let me start off by sharing with you what I love about growing vegetables in containers.
You Can Move Container Gardens
One thing I love about container gardens is that you can move them easily. This is especially true if you plant your vegetables in something like five-gallon buckets that have handles.
If your containers are getting too much or not enough sun, move them! If your plants are getting too crowded as they grow, space them out a bit.
The thing I love about being able to move my container garden is that depending on season or even the weather conditions on a particular day or week, I can move the containers. If a hard freeze is forecast, I can move my vegetable garden inside for a day or two.
You Can Grow Larger Vegetables in Container Gardens
I also love that you can grow even large plants such as huge tomato plants in containers. Yes, you need to make sure to plant large vegetable plants in containers that are an appropriate size for whatever it is you’re growing. You don’t want to plant three tomato plants in a single five-gallon bucket! But one huge tomato plant in a bucket? No problem! You can even plant vegetables that like to sprawl such as squash or watermelon in containers. Just trellis them, or plant them in a container that gives them room to spread out. For this purpose, I like using huge Rubbermaid totes.
Outdoor Container Gardens Don’t Require Electricity
Assuming that you place your containers outdoors on a patio or balcony, you don’t need to use any electricity when growing vegetables in containers. The sun is provided to you, free of charge, day in and day out!
Fruiting Vegetables are Naturally Pollinated
One of the things I love most about checking on my container garden outdoors is seeing all of the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds enjoying my garden. While they are enjoying my plants, they also provide a great service to me – pollination. This is a necessary part of growing vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and peppers.
Cons of Growing Vegetables in Containers
While I’ve had a decent amount of success growing vegetables in containers, I’ve also had my share of difficulties. Here are the biggest challenges and failures that I’ve personally faced.
Nutrient Deficiencies in Container Gardens
I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve been excited about what I’m growing, only to find that my tomatoes or squash have developed blossom end rot due to a calcium deficiency.
I’ve also experienced cucumber plants that put out perfectly good cucumbers early in the season. Then later in the season, the same cucumber plant starts producing yellow cucumbers due to a nitrogen deficiency.
I’m still working on figuring out how to provide the right amount of nutrients to the vegetables I have growing in containers.
Sometimes I’ve added too many nutrients and had all of the blossoms fall off a plant. Or not enough, and because of that, had to throw out vegetables after weeks or months of investment.
Vegetables Grown Outdoors are Prone to Pests
Another obvious con of growing vegetables in containers outdoors is that they often succumb to pests, especially if you grow organically like I do.
Right now, among other things, I’m growing some cherry tomatoes. The plants are loaded with tomatoes, and they are beginning to ripen. I’ve only picked two of the tomatoes so far, and both of them had to be tossed since they were so deeply damaged by. . . something.
I also seem to be feeding the birds more blueberries than I’m eating myself, and while I’m happy to share, I’ve about given up on a substantial blueberry harvest for myself.
It’s terribly disappointing to nurture vegetable plants, to see the promise of a harvest, and then lose much of it to pests.
By the way, there are things to do to keep pests at bay, such as neem oil, or bird netting, but they it can be a hassle to get all of that in place and they don’t always work.
You Have to Plant Your Vegetables Based on Season
I live in Southern California, and while I have a much longer growing season here than most places, I still have to consider seasons when planting. For instance, in the summer it’s over 100 degrees many days, so there’s no way I can grow cool weather crops such as broccoli most of the year. In fact, even if I wait until fall, there are days when it’s simply too hot to grow certain things.
This will even be truer when I relocate to Colorado. For several months out of the year, I won’t be able to grow anything, due to it being too cold.
The Soil in Containers Dries Out Quickly
Finally, an issue with container gardening is that soil can dry out very quickly when growing vegetables in containers. This is especially true if, like me, you’re growing vegetables in a hot, dry climate.
Last summer I tried growing tomatillos in five-gallon buckets, and with our 100-degree days, in spite of the fact that I liberally watered them each morning, they are still droopy the next morning. They do perk up when I water them, but they dry out every day.
Pros of Growing Vegetables in an AeroGarden
Now let’s get into the pros and cons of growing vegetables in an AeroGarden.
Plants Grow Super Fast in an AeroGarden
One of the most fun things about growing vegetables in an AeroGarden is that they tend to grow really fast. According to AeroGarden, plants grow five times faster than they do in soil. Now I’m not sure that’s completely accurate. For instance, if the seed package says that the baby bok choy will be ready to harvest in 40 days, does that mean it will be ready to harvest in eight days? No! However, I have found that I can typically harvest my “40-day” bok choy in about 21 days, so twice as fast as if I were planting outdoors.
No Confusion About How Much or When to Feed My Plants in an AeroGarden
AeroGarden has very clear instructions about when and how much to feed my vegetables. There are even lights that go on to remind me that it’s time to add nutrients! Feeding is as simple as putting in the right amount of food based on the size of the garden. As an example, I use one small capful of food in my Sprouts, two capfuls in my Harvests, and so on.
Now some say to feed tomatoes, peppers, and so on more, but so far, I’ve had a good experience with feeding according to the AeroGarden instructions.
I love how straightforward it is to feed my vegetables the right amount of food. It’s been nice not to experience any of the problems associated with nutrient deficiencies like I’ve experienced in my outdoor container garden.
No Dirt or Pests
Before I get into this topic, I want to say that some people have a huge problem with aphids when growing vegetables in an AeroGarden. I’m not sure if that’s because they’ve “carried” pests in from outdoors or what, since indoors isn’t a natural habitat for aphids or other creepy crawlies.
Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll just say that it’s a joy to not see chewed up leaves, or worm holes in tomatoes. I also love how clean it is to grow plants in an AeroGarden since they are grown in water.
Once you’ve grown something a couple of times, you have a pretty good idea of how much food you can grow and how long it will take. As an example, I’ve learned that my baby bok choy grows in three weeks, and that two bok choy is a good amount for one serving.
If like me you have a goal of feeding yourself (and if applicable your family) from the food you grow, it’s easy to calculate how much you can grow in an AeroGarden in any given period.
AeroGardens Produce Light
I struggle with seasonal depression, and so the more light in my home, the better! I love that in addition to the emotional boost that I get from tending my vegetable garden, I also get an emotional boost from the light.
I also have AeroGardens strategically placed throughout my home to provide light in the middle of the night for anyone that gets up to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water.
I Can Tend My Vegetable Garden in My PJs
Okay, this may seem a little silly, but it’s nice being able to roll out of bed and water, feed, and harvest the vegetables growing in my AeroGarden without getting dressed. No need to get dressed and put my shoes on!
I can also tend my garden after dark, something not so easy outdoors.
Cons of Aerogardens
Okay, by now you can tell that I love growing vegetables in my AeroGardens. But as is true with all things, there are some cons of growing vegetables in an AeroGarden. Here are some of them to be aware of.
AeroGardens Require Electricity
AeroGardens are very energy efficient since they use LED lights, but they won’t work properly without electricity. Now it’s no big deal if there’s a power outage, unless it lasts for a long time. If you’re familiar with the Kratky method of growing vegetables, I see AeroGardenns without electricity as being similar to the Kratky method.
So don’t despair if you experience a power outage, but if you’re prepping and have concerns about losing electricity for a prolonged period of time, you need a backup electricity plan for your AeroGardens, such as solar generators.
You Have to Hand Pollinate Fruiting Vegetables
As I mentioned earlier, vegetables grown in containers outdoors are naturally pollinated. Fruiting plants such as tomatoes and peppers that you grow indoors in an AeroGarden require you to hand pollinate them. You can do this by shaking the plants, running a fan, using a Q-tip, or an electric toothbrush. This isn’t necessarily difficult, but it doesn’t happen automatically.
AeroGardens Have Plant Size Limitations
This is my current biggest challenge, because I currently have just three sizes of AeroGardens – Sprouts, Harvests and Bounties. Now, you can grow more than you might think even in these smaller gardens, but you’ll need to do some serious pruning to grow something like peppers in a Harvest.
The good news is, there are vegetable varieties that are very compact. For instance, right now I’m growing Patio Baby eggplant, and “pot-a-peno) jalapeno plants in Harvests.
There are also larger AeroGardens available that accommodate tall plants such as bell peppers, and full-size tomato plants.
However, there’s a problem with those, and that brings me to my next point.
AeroGardens Are Expensive
I’m a naturally frugal person, so shelling out money on AeroGardens was something I had to get used to. Afterall, you can snag a five-gallon bucket for just a few dollars, and $40 is the cheapest that I’ve managed to get an AeroGarden for – and that was for a Sprout! AeroGarden accessories such as the pre-seeded pods are also expensive. The good news is, you can save money by buying sponges and using your own seeds.
I’ve also found that in the long run, you can save money by growing vegetables in an AeroGarden, if you focus on things that grow fast, grow year round, and so on. But the initial cost outlay is rather daunting. (There’s a reason I don’t yet have a Farm model!)
Which Growing Method I Prefer Most
There’s no one-size fits all answer to what works best when it comes to vegetable gardening in a small space, such as an apartment. But for me personally, AeroGarden is the way to go.
I plan to continue to grow vegetables in containers outdoors, because there are some advantages to container gardening. But I’ve had so much more success with the AeroGarden right out of the gate. Because of that, I plan to invest more time and money into learning how to maximize my AeroGarden vegetable garden harvest.
AeroGardens also make the most sense to me when I think about my future, which includes plans to move into a condo as my retirement home. While buying a condo with a large balcony is a top priority for me, I plan to produce most of my vegetables indoors and AeroGardens are a great way to do that.
Pro Tip: If you feel overwhelmed by adding gardening to your prepping plan, check out my post Why Every Prepper Should Add Sprouts and Microgreens to Their Prepper Pantry.