Living in an RV, one of the things we miss is our garden, and fresh herbs. Fortunately, we've found a way!
In this article...
Even before we hit the road, we chose to cook at home most of the time, and rarely ate out at restaurants. Since moving into our RV, that has continued - in fact we cook nearly every meal!
Why? We do still eat out at restaurants from time to time, but cooking at home just makes more sense for us. We're often boondocking several miles (or more!) from the nearest town - and small town restaurants don't always offer the selection of quality, healthy food we'd prefer. Then there's the cost perspective - we can cook much more cheaply than eating out all the time. And lastly, it's just something we like doing. Even in our little RV, we have everything we need to cook great tasting meals - we have a Blackstone grill, a pizza stone in the oven for homemade pizzas, and for just two of us, it works really well.
We've also become pros at grocery shopping. Back in our house, we'd typically go to the grocery store almost every day after work, buying whatever food we needed for that meal. Or we'd shop at a weekend, and then plans during the week would change. The result was a huge amount of food that would get wasted - sitting in the fridge until it had gone bad. Nowadays we simply don't have the fridge space to do that! So we make a meal plan each week and write it on our fridge.
- Related: Installing Magnetic Dry-Erase RV Fridge / Freezer Doors
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Then we go grocery shopping. If there is one nearby, we start at Costco - their produce is awesome! Really well priced, often organic is available, and a good selection. We have a rule at Costco though: don't buy anything sweet. The quantities are just too large to risk buying chocolate, pastries, candy etc for two people! We then look for quality grocery stores if we can find them: Whole Foods, Sprouts, Nature's Grocers, and good, local grocery stores. Finally we'll resort to the "usuals": Safeway, Albertson's, Walmart. We can usually find everything we want on our list.
Except herbs. Fresh herbs.
For some reason, good quality fresh herbs are hard to find. And if we do find them, they're expensive, and often looking pretty sorry for themselves in the plastic container. Occasionally we'll find a fresh basil plant, but these don't tend to survive long in our RV - plus they're a pain on travel days.
So after a year on the road, we decided to do something about it. We want fresh herbs in our RV.
Enter the AeroGarden. The AeroGarden is a self-contained, indoor hydroponics system. In short, it means you can grow almost anything, with no soil, no mess, no weeding and very little effort! It's an incredibly compact form of growing too.
The basic concept is that plants are started from seed in specially designed pods - you can make your own, or like us, buy the seed pod kits. Different plants grow at different rates, but herbs seem to do really well in the AeroGarden - you can begin harvesting after 4 weeks or so, and then continuously for up to 5 months!
AeroGardens can be used to grow lots of different things - herbs, vegetables (cherry tomatoes, green beans, chili peppers, etc), salad greens (lettuce, kale, etc), flowers and other plants.
Before we hit the road, we had an AeroGarden. Actually, we had a couple. I bought my first AeroGarden, in December 2016 - the small, 3-pod AeroGarden Sprout LED. I loved it, but wanted more, so in July 2017 we upgraded to the 7-pod AeroGarden Ultra LED. We had endless bounties of basil, dill, thyme, mint and more. Honestly, given we were out working 9-5 jobs, we had too much!
We wanted to bring one of them on the road. They are relatively compact, but they still do take up space - we felt confident we could find space. But there was one, big problem - power.
Both the AeroGardens we owned required 110V AC power to operate. They also need to be powered on 24/7. That would mean running the inverter all the time - something we didn't want to do. Why? Well, let's do the math quickly. The AeroGarden Ultra LED uses about 30W @ 12V DC for 16 hours per day. This would draw about 3A from the batteries (due to inefficiency in the inverter), totaling 48Ah per day. But the inverter itself has a background draw of about 3A @ 12V DC just by being turned on. Which it would be for 24 hours per day (the AeroGarden still needs power at night for the timers, etc). That's another 72Ah, bringing the total to 120Ah. In other words, enough power draw to drain our RV batteries within 2.5 days if we didn't get any solar power - and that's just the AeroGarden, never mind everything else we run!
Normally at this stage I'd find a way to convert the product in question to run off 12V. Unfortunately, because of the way the AeroGardens work, this just isn't feasible. Our dreams were crushed. No fresh herbs on the road.
AeroGarden Harvest Elite
Until...almost a year after hitting the road, we were really missing our fresh herbs. I started researching the options, and came across a new AeroGarden I hadn't seen before: the AeroGarden Harvest Elite. There was an older model by the same name, but this one was something new. The concept is exactly the same as the others, but this is a 6-pod system. And reading through the manual, I came across a magical sentence:
Garden Input: 12Vdc, 2.5A • Adapter Input: 100~240Vac, 50/60Hz • Adapter Output: 12Vdc, 2.5A
The garden itself runs of 12V DC, using an external power adapter that people can plug into a normal wall outlet. OK, I admit I may get a little overexcited at these things, but this means we can run the AeroGarden Harvest Elite directly off 12V in our RV. Jumping quickly back into the math, the AeroGarden Harvest Elite draws about 2A @ 12V DC for 16 hours per day, for a total of roughly 32Ah (overnight power is very low). In other words, it needs roughly a quarter of the power of the AeroGarden Ultra LED.
We were back in business!
As an aside, although you can buy AeroGardens at Kohl's, Bed Bath & Beyond and Macy's, we couldn't find anywhere in the Denver, CO area (where we were at the time) that had any in stock - they have to be ordered in. So we bought ours through Amazon and had it shipped to an Amazon locker near Denver, CO.
Powering the AeroGarden
Although the AeroGarden itself runs off 12V DC, it is supplied with a power adapter that converts 110V AC to 12V DC. Using the Digital Multimeter that I keep in the truck, I checked the output of the adapter: 12.54V.
Although our RV is nominally 12V, the reality is the voltage can get as high as 14.4V when the Lithium batteries are in the Float stage of charging. I'm not sure if the AeroGarden can handle 14.4V, and I didn't want to risk trying it.
One of the accessories we keep in the RV is a 12V car charger with an adjustable voltage output - from 3V up to 12V. It's great for powering those random devices that have a DC input, such as our Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i document scanner and Pacific Image Prime Film XE Film Scanner. On the 12V mode, its output is 11.96V. That's probably close enough.
I plugged in the AeroGarden using the adapter, and it worked!
Disclaimer: the 12V adjustable car charger above says it is only rated to a maximum of 12W, which equates to 1A at 12V output. That's only half of the 2A that we need for the AeroGarden. It's been working fine for us and doesn't appear to be getting hot, but when I find a better adapter, I'll use that and update this post. Use at your own risk!
We wanted to have the AeroGarden sitting on our dinette table, but we didn't have any 12V outlets in the slide. For charging laptops, we had been running a cable from a 12V outlet in the end of the bed, but this wouldn't work as a 24/7 solution. So I installed three 12V outlets under the dinette, one of which would be used to power the AeroGarden.
The AeroGarden has now been running for 2 weeks in our RV, and so far, we're loving it!
In a sticks-and-bricks house, you don't have to worry too much about securing things for travel. But in an RV, we do! Since the AeroGarden base is full of water, the last thing we want is for it to slide off the RV table and make a mess everywhere. Also, we'd probably lose our herbs.
Fortunately, another nice feature of the AeroGarden Harvest Elite is its removable tank. There is a little plug on the back which connects the tank to the base to provide power to the pump. Unplugging this lets you remove the tank from the base. So on travel days, we remove the tank and put it in the sink with a couple towels around it to stop it getting damaged.
The base stays plugged in and we put it on the floor - you can temporarily shut off the light too, so we do that. It's important to keep the base plugged in all the time, else it loses its memory of the current time. You can reset the time again, it's just not something you want to be doing on every travel day!
Noise & Light
An electric device with a pump and light running 24/7 in a small RV just 6ft from our bed.Are we crazy?!
Sure, but that's a separate issue. Obviously if your RV is larger and you can put this somewhere that's not visible from your bed, do that. Our RV is a small, open-plan layout and we just have one "room" so to speak. In other words, we can see the AeroGarden when we're lying in bed.
However, the light is on a timer. By default, it runs for 17 hours a day (for herbs) and you can configure what time it turns on. We used its custom mode to set it to come on for 16 hours each day - turning on at 5am and off at 9pm. We tend to go to bed at 9pm and get up around 5-6am, so this works well for us. However, you can adjust it to turn on for less time, as well as when it turns on / off. Just remember, less light means slightly less output from your herbs - I think we'll be OK though!
There is a small pump inside the tank, and it does make noise. But it's really, really quiet. It runs occasionally both during the day and night, even when the light is off. For the first couple nights, when it was completely silent in our RV (boondocking in the middle of nowhere), the pump was a new noise - and given it sounds like water dripping, it was a little disconcerting. But it really is so whisper quiet that we quickly became accustomed to it.
We love having fresh herbs on hand for cooking! As full-time RVers who boondocks 90% of the time, and don't run an inverter 24/7, the new AeroGarden Harvest Elite was just what we needed.
If, however, you do have access to 110V AC 24/7 (staying in RV parks, running an inverter, or just because you live in a house!), then check out some of the other AeroGarden models too - the AeroGarden Sprout LED is a greater starter, or for something bigger, check out the AeroGarden Ultra LED.
Another great thing about the AeroGarden is the community. There's a dedicated subreddit as well as a great forum over at AeroGarden Addicts - worth checking out for cool ideas about what you can grow and how to make the most out of your AeroGarden!
Let us know in the comments below if you'd like to grow fresh herbs or vegetables in your RV - what would you grow?