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Can You Use An AeroGarden In A Campervan?

Can You Use An AeroGarden In A Campervan

Emily and I were always interested in growing our own food in our campervan, and we thought that Aerogarden might be the secret to gardening in a campervan.  Every time we would buy an edible plant for our camper van, usually basil, we could barely keep it alive for a couple of weeks.  And the plants were not very fruitful either.  But my sister was using an Aerogarden in her home, and always producing bountiful harvests with little effort.

Aerogarden makes little self-contained planters that basically do all the work for you.  They use an array of LED lights on a timer to simulate sunlight cycles.  And then you just need to add water and “plant food” periodically.  You could be the farthest thing from a “green thumb” and still find success with an Aerogarden.

However, we were curious if it was possible to have a successful Aerogarden in a campervan.  Could this magical planter hold up to the rigors of vanlife?  Life on the road comes with bumpy roads, dramatic temperature swings, and constant vibration.  How would the plants hold up under these conditions?  Here’s what we found.

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Which Model AeroGarden Is Best For A Campervan?

As you can imagine, we have very limited space to put an Aerogarden in our campervan.  So we decided to buy the smallest Aerogarden they make.  The “Sprout” is a small model with room for only three plants.  But that makes it the best size to fit in the corner of our countertop.

But if you have more room (and ample electricity) there are about a dozen other larger AeroGarden models to choose from. With enough space, you could have a pretty substantial garden in a campervan.

AeroGarden Growing Process

Each plant starts from a pod.  These little domes provide an incubator for the seeds to get sprouting.  You can choose from several different pod sets, that include a variety of herbs and vegetables.  We started with Genovese Basil and two types of leafy greens: Red Sails and Black Seeded Simpson.

For the first couple of days, we watched anxiously, still unsure if this experiment was going to work.  But within about a week, our little seedlings started sprouting. Yay!  And the leafy greens were quickly ready for their first harvesting in about 2-3 weeks.  We made a small salad from the leaves grown right in our campervan (with some additional ingredients from the market).

The basil was a little slower to start producing usable leaves, but eventually became taller than the leafy greens.  It’s a bit of a learning process to figure out the best method for pruning and harvesting plants.  But we found pruning guidance on the Aerogarden website and also from other YouTubers for methods that encourage plants to grow fuller and bushier.  It’s in your best interest to keep all your plants around the same height so they have equal access to light.

So, Can You Use An AeroGarden In A Campervan?

So to answer the question “can you use an Aerogarden in a campervan?”.  YES!  We are honestly thrilled with our little Aerogarden producing some fresh lettuce and herbs for us.  We often vanlife in remote areas where access to fresh produce is limited.  So having the harvests from our Aerogarden is a nice way to supplement our diet. It’s an easy way to get into gardening for vanlife.

How Practical is An AeroGarden In A Campervan?

But really, how practical is having an Aerogarden for vanlife?  There are other considerations that need to be made for keeping one in a vehicle.

Energy Consumption

For starters, the amount of power that an Aerogarden uses is pretty negligible to operate in a normal house.  But the power consumption of the LED lights and water pump may be more noticeable in a campervan. The amount of power used varies between the different Aerogarden models (see the breakdown here).

We have the smallest model they make, The Sprout, and it uses about 13 watts.  Which we have verified to be accurate.  It’s not a huge amount of power, but that adds up since it runs for a default of 15 hours per day.  Our campervan has an off-grid solar-powered system with 200 amp-hours of lithium battery and a 320 Watt solar panel {Vanlife Solar Shop}.  And we find that, for us, 13 watts for the Aerogarden is an acceptable amount of power to devote.  Especially in the spring, summer, and fall, when we collect plenty of solar power.

Electricity is a little more scarce for us in the winter, but we probably won’t operate the Aerogarden during winter for the next factor.

Climate Control

An important part of growing plants is, of course, keeping a controlled climate.   Most commonly, keeping the temperature above freezing.  But extreme heat can kill plants too.  When we are on the road, we experience large temperature swings.  Particularly because we don’t have reliable heat or AC that runs while our van’s engine is off.  So if a cold spell comes through, or we are camping at high elevation, we risk killing our plants during a chilly night.

The other climate consideration would be humidity.  For this initial Aerogarden test, we have been in Colorado and Utah where the air is quite dry.  Humidity in our van has been fluctuating between 10-35% humidity.  It seems like the plants are getting all the hydration they need from the water in the Aerogarden.  But it’s possible they produce more harvest in a humid climate.

Light and Noise

And then there’s the issue of light and noise coming from the Aerogarden.  Most vanlifers have probably already learned to tolerate different external sources of light and noise when they sleep.  And at least the Aerogarden is consistent and predictable.  The LEDs are pretty bright and cast lots of light into your living space.  During the daytime, it’s not much of a factor because you probably have other lights on anyway.  But they run for the ‘optimal’ 15 hours per day, and sometimes that may not align perfectly with your sleep schedule.  (We run ours from 7:30am to 10:30pm).

However, you can customize the light hours to best fit your personal sleep schedule.  And you can always turn them off manually with the tap of a finger, which can be good for the occasional times that it’s really bothering you.

Next, you need to tolerate the sound from the water pump.  It runs on the same schedule as the lights, and can be described as a light trickle.  It’s definitely not loud, but it is noticeable.  The biggest problem is that this sound can subconsciously make people have the urge to pee.  We pretty much pee every morning anyway, but it may sometimes speed up the process when we are trying to sleep in.

Choosing Practical Plants For An AeroGarden In A Campervan

There are certain plants that don’t seem like a good fit for vanlife.  For example, the fruiting vegetables don’t seem like a good choice for life on the road.  For starters, they can grow up to 36 inches tall, which is more physical space than we can devote to our plants.  And with all the movement and vibration, I could see fruiting vegetables like tomatoes and peppers falling off before they are ripe.

For those reasons, we chose to stick with herbs and leafy greens.  They can produce well in short and medium heights.  However, herbs and leafy greens also come with some caveats. As a reminder, we only have room in our Aerogarden for 3 plants total, which isn’t ever going to produce an overflowing bounty.

Leafy Greens Results

We currently have two of the slots filled by leafy greens (Red Sails and Black Seeded Simpson).  And the harvest from those is modest for two people (we find anecdotally that the Red Sails has been out-producing its neighbor).

A single harvest from these greens is not enough to make salad dinners for two (unless we wipe out the whole plant).  But with normal pruning, it’s more like two small side salads every 5-10 days.  And we always add some other ingredients from the store to complete the salad.  It’s not really a salad with just lettuce and dressing.  Or the greens yield plenty to add to sandwiches or burgers.

The salads are a nice supplement to a meal, but not really enough to be the main event.  Of course, if you were growing for just one person, it could be a little more substantial.

Genovese Basil Results

The basil plant (we think) is still yet to reach its full glory, so the basil harvests have also been modest.  It has been a great garnish for pizza, pasta, and Caprese.  But with just a single basil plant I don’t think we’ll ever be harvesting enough to make a respectable amount of basil pesto.  You would probably have to devote all three pods to basil for that end goal.

Conclusion | Can You Use An AeroGarden In A Campervan?

So, in conclusion, we were thrilled to have successfully grown our own vanlife plants in our AeroGarden Sprout.  And seriously, operating the AeroGarden is so easy that anyone can do it.  You can see on the side when the water is low, and there’s an indicator light that tells you when it’s time to add more plant food (nutrients).  So the challenge is not really about operating the AeroGarden itself, but rather the other considerations for vanlife gardening.

If you are able to spare the electricity and can keep your campervan climate-controlled, then you definitely can use an Aerogarden in a campervan!  And if you have the space and electricity, you may benefit from buying one of the large models for more bountiful harvests.  We find that herbs are probably the best option for the smaller AeroGarden models.  Since you only need smaller amounts of fresh herbs to make a big difference in the kitchen.  And if you grow too much, you can always dry it for later.  Producing big harvests of salad greens or fruiting vegetables is probably better suited to larger Aerogarden models.  Thanks For Reading!

Check Out The Best Plants For Campervans (Non-Edible).

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