Hello Friends and Family,

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Have you ever lived in a foreign country? Or just pondered the possibility? It sounds quite exciting despite the potential language barrier and learning curve on local customs. However, I suspect the biggest challenge most of us would face is food. Yes, you might really enjoy that wonderful French cuisine (for example) — for a while — but at some point you might just get a craving for a good pizza or a tender steak or down-home corn on the cob.

Well, that is the challenge that my bride of eight years (as of yesterday) faces living in the United States. Sure, we can visit the Japanese market in Tempe or the bigger Asian market in Mesa — but they do not always have a few of the "essentials" of a good Japanese life — and so she must be resourceful. Some of Mizuki's friends in Japan will send her items not available (or very expensive) here — but even that still leaves a few holes in her culinary desires.

Aerogarden startingWith that in mind, she spotted a must-have item in a local store — The AeroGarden™ from AeroGrow International. This is basically a self-contained hydroponic garden. The top contains lights on a timer approximating the spectrum and duration of the sun. The base has all the controls and smarts. The middle section contains water, fertilizer, seed containers and eventually, roots.

The beauty of this device is that Mizuki can now grow her own vegetables or fresh herbs that she cannot obtain locally. And, if you remember the brutal sun of an Arizona summer, she does not even have to venture outside to tend her garden. In fact, she does not need to do much except add water and fertilizer tablets when the warning lights come on. Oh, and harvest her produce (but I am getting ahead of the story).

Aerogarden sproutingThe unit comes with a set of pre-packaged seeds — Italian herbs — but that was not exactly what Mizuki wanted. However, you can also purchase a kit for planting your own seeds — which Mizuki obtained from a friend in Japan.

Shiso and mitsuba — the former is used as an accent on sushi and sashimi — the latter can be used as an herb or blanched and eaten as a vegetable.

Whether you use the pre-packaged seeds or plant your own, the seeds are embedded in a porous sponge and suspended below the deck pictured here. A stream of fertilized water is directed onto the sponge so that the seeds will germinate and later provide nutrients for the roots. A clear plastic dome protects the seedlings until they are an inch or so tall.

Aerogarden GrowingAs beginners, we did not know what would grow well so we opted for a mixture of the pre-planted Italian herbs and our own choices. Besides two pods each of shiso and mitsuba, we planted Italian basil, parsley and rosemary.

The Italian basil turned out to be the star performer — or should we call it a weed? It grew so fast that we had to keep trimming it so the other plants could get adequate light.

Our only failure was the rosemary which never did germinate — which is a shame since we have a wonderful recipe for steak sauce that uses this aromatic herb. We will do a post-mortem at some point — perhaps the seeds were old or we planted them too deep in the sponge — time will tell.

Aerogarden overgrownI fully intended to take more photos showing the intermediate growth stages of Mizuki's garden but with the explosive growth of the basil and good growth of the shiso, I missed those opportunities as I was traveling back and forth to Santa Fe. Well, the photo at the left show it as of Saturday — with basil and shiso having been harvested multiple times.

[By the way, the fresh basil is so aromatic and we have really enjoyed it on sliced tomatoes, with a few thin slices of onion topped with balsamic vinegar.]

We have had such fun and such success with our Aerogarden, that we gave one to my parents. They are going all out with cherry tomatoes. Their plants are a month or two behind ours but I suspect they will be enjoying their harvest soon.

Well, our harvest is supposed to last about six months before we start all over. Until then we will have plenty of basil. Feel free to stop by and we will be happy to share. [Understandably, Mizuki may hoard her shiso unless you also bring some sashimi to share.]

Aerogarden shiso Now lean in a little closer to the monitor and smell the shiso. Hmmm.

Aerogarden basil Not your thing? How about some basil? Enjoy!

 Life is good.

 B. David