Saturday, February 13, 2016

Garden Report: Broken Pump

(I decided to steal an idea from Tom Naughton over at Fat Head; whenever he posts about his farm doings, he titles it Farm Report.  Since I don't have a farm yet, I decided I'd call my posts about garden stuff my Garden Report.  That way, you guys will know what you're getting into before you start reading.) 

When I bought my little Aerogarden 3SL a few weeks ago for a mere $30 on clearance, I didn't realize that it was a pretty low quality model.  I would have hoped that, at its original price of $50, it would at least last a few months or maybe even years.  It's hard for me to part with money, and when I do, I like to get the highest quality thing I can afford.  I knew I was buying a cheap Aerogarden model, but I didn't know it was a very badly built model. 

The reviews on Amazon had a lot of talk about how the pump frequently stopped working, and sometimes the lights would then stop working as well.  So I paid extra attention to my 3SL to hopefully take care of this problem before it ruined the whole device.

Sure enough, a few days into owning it, the pump stopped working, as I wrote in a previous post.  I simply cleared the holes of the bubbler as best I could, and it seemed to work just fine.  I would have to do this every day or two, but I figured that would be that and the 3SL and I would live happily ever after.

Except, one fine day, the bubbler just wouldn't work no matter how much I tried to clear it out.  The bubbler might have been clogged further in; for some reason, even though it had screws that could be unscrewed to remove the bubbler, I couldn't get it to detach completely.  However, I didn't think that was the problem; the pump just seemed to be getting weaker.  I wasn't really sure what to do, but I didn't want to leave it running and burn out the pump before I made up my mind about how to handle it.  So I turned the whole unit off and moved the seed pods from the 3SL to the three holes in the Bounty whose seeds never germinated. 

Then I took the 3SL apart!  I enjoy taking apart electronics and seeing if I can fix them.  I was pretty surprised when I opened that baby up; I'm sorry I didn't take any pictures of it.  Inside, there's two circuit boards, a tiny pump, and some wires.  Surprisingly simple.  But it was very illuminating.  I instantly found my problem, and also the reason why so many other 3SLs were breaking down.  The whole thing inside was covered with water.  The pump didn't have any one-way valve or anything, so I think when it shuts off at night, water runs down the tube, into the pump, and then it starts leaking all over everything else.  Sigh.  What a terrible design. 

I had a couple of options, but I decided to go with the simplest solution, which was to cut out the original pump and aerate with an external pump.  Which is fine, because I was actually thinking about getting a pump for the Bounty anyway.  The Bounty doesn't have an aerator built in; it just trickles water over the seed pods every so often.  I heard that with an added aerator, the plants grow much faster (plants like air; who knew?).

Now, picture time!

After cutting out the pump, I very thoroughly covered the hole with packing tape.  I took the plug from the top of the 3SL (that covers a little opening for an extrernal pump tube) and used it to plug the bottom of the tank, and then taped that on as well.  It doesn't leak a bit.

Here's the annoying little pump I pulled out of the 3SL. 

And here it is next to my new pump!  Kind of puny.

Here's all the supplies I got for the project; a small pump, 8 feet of tubing, two check valves, and a couple sizes of air stones.  All told, it was about $20.  I could have gotten it cheaper, probably in the $15 range, but we got a more expensive "quiet" pump.  It says it's the shape of silence.  I wish it was the sound of silence, because it's surprisingly noisy (it sounds like a small fan).  But, I guess that's a sacrifice you have to make in the name of indoor winter vegetables.

I set the two Aerogardens next to each other in our computer room.  I think they benefit from being close together; the 3SL gives the Bounty some heat from its CFL, and the Bounty gives the 3SL more light from its mega bright LEDs.

And now I have a little oasis of green growing things in the dead of  winter.  Chad's keyboard (the musical kind) is night next to this, so I usually come in and sit on his piano stool and just watch the lettuce grow. 

I'm not the only one who enjoys the green growing things, either.  I found this guy the day after I installed the pump.

I actually installed the pump over a week ago, and the plants are ridiculously big compared to these pictures.  I'll be sure to post again soon to show their progress.

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