Friday, February 06, 2009

Growing Your Own: Hydroponics for Dummies

I have BIG Aerogarden news to impart! Ladies and gentlemen (drumroll, please), I have harvested my first crops from my wee little hydroponic garden! YEAH!!

First, behold it at five weeks' worth of growth (in a freezing-cold house, right by a drafty window, I might add!):

Here's what I harvested. Is it not lovely stuff...especially the red leaf?!

And here's what I left behind, for another salad in another week or two (and now the herbs have more room to groove):

I'd say my little gardening experiment, though far from cost-efficient, has been lots of fun, so easy to do, and quite successful! I'm particularly impressed because I made my own way with the system and broke some of the cardinal rules. First off, I am using two different kinds of seed pods--four herbs that came with the machine (the classic model with a full-on water pump and seven slots) and three lettuce pods that were made for the newer versions of the machine with a water bubbler and only six slots. You can use the latter in the former, but not the other way around. And if you use all of the new-style pods, you have to either modify the machine or cut them down so they'll fit (and you have to cover the seventh hole with tin foil or a milk jug cap to inhibit mold growth in the water reservoir below).

Bollocks to that, I said to myself! I put three lettuces in the middle, where the long plastic pods could hang down without hitting any obstacles. Then on the sides, I put the squatty pods of herbs (above the partitions in the basin of the machine). This leads me to broken rule #2--you're not supposed to mix and match crops! But my thinking was, the light and nutrition needs of these plants couldn't be all that different. So I chose to put the lights on "salad greens" mode for more light for the lettuces which grow so fast, then I could cut the leaves back and give the herbs enough light to grow once they were more mature. Though my plan was unconventional and flew in the face of standard Aerogarden wisdom, it's worked like a charm thus far!

So, I had my first winter harvest of tender, hydroponic greens! What was a girl to do to honor them? Homemade dressing seemed like a requirement, and I decided to make a lovely and seasonal grapefruit vinaigrette. Sometime over winter break, I was perusing the fine blog, Homesick Texan, and she had done a post about how she never liked grapefruit because it was too sour for her, until she learned to broil it with a sugary topping. Then some of her readers wrote in to tell her about a variety of grapefruit from Texas called Rio Star that is heralded as being super-sweet on its own. I looked into mail-ordering some of this famed citrus, but with shipping, it was prohibitively expensive. So color me happy when I rounded the bend at Sam's Club a week ago and found a big bag of the Rio Stars right there and for only about five bucks! (Plattsburghers, take note.)

To make the dressing, I started by supreming one of the beautiful, ruby red grapefruits. Oh, the aroma was heavenly! My thought was to squeeze another one for the juice, but I had plenty just from squeezing the membranes (that sounds positively pornographic!) and the cut-away rinds that still had some flesh clinging to them, not to mention the juice that collected in the bowl that held the grapefruit segments, which I promptly poured off into the vinaigrette. Once I had dealt with the fruit, I prepared the following yummy dressing:

Grapefruit Vinaigrette

1 large ruby red (preferably, Rio Star!) grapefruit
1/3 to 1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey, optional
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon fresh herbs of your choice, chopped (I went ahead and harvested a little parsley, thyme, and dill from my Aerogarden!)
two good pinches of salt
generous grinding of black pepper

Peel the rind off of the grapefruit with a sharp knife, removing all white pith. Supreme the grapefruit (cut into segments, slicing inside the membrane on each side) and reserve the segments. Squeeze the remaining membranes and the peels which should yield close to a 1/2 cup of juice.

Whisk in the olive oil, then the mustard and honey until dressing comes together and thickens. Stir in the shallots, herbs, and seasoning. Chill until ready to serve.

Now, what to put this fine homemade dressing on? Looking around the kitchen, I spied a perfectly ripe Haas avocado (oh, how I LURVE them!) that I peeled and sliced, and because I love any combination of seafood and avocado, I grabbed some medium shrimp out of the freezer and defrosted them under running water for a few minutes. Finally, I very thinly sliced some red onion and commenced to construct a most elegant and tasty salad full of winter's bounty. I tossed my lovely lettuce leaves (again, such fine alliteration!) in a generous amount of the vinaigrette, then threw in half of the avocado, a handful of shrimp, about a quarter of the red onion, gave it another quick toss, and then plated it. I rushed off to take a picture, and then grabbed a fork and dove right in so that my salad didn't get all soggy. About halfway through, I realized that I had forgotten the most important part of the salad--the beautiful grapefruit segments that I had reserved! ARRRGGGHH! And now I didn't have enough salad left to photograph properly. DANG IT! So even though the picture below is nice enough, and the salad tasted good without the grapefruit pieces, you must trust me when I tell you that it's sooooo much better if you remember the fruit that you've carefully cut and set aside! SHEESH!

Nevertheless, behold the splendor of the....Shrimp, Avocado and Grapefruit Salad, or if you prefer, Winter's Treasure Salad!


red icculus said...

You got tagged on the Growing Edge blog!

I do tons of aerogarden stuff on my blog too. Check it out.

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