Today we’re looking at two devices for those houseplant assassins among us. This is a better way to... KEEP INDOOR PLANTS!
If killing plants was a skill I'd (unfortunately) have something to bank on. Whatever the opposite of green is, my thumb is a bright that color. I've just never had the touch to keep small herb gardens as much as I'd love to have the resource. I cook frequently and it would be nice to clip a bit of my own instead of throwing $2 away at Trader Joes for every herb I need. Click & Grow and WindowFarms are more than products. They give you a sense of accomplishment and make up for natural deficiencies and they both offer specialized support communities to help you grow. They are two sides of a spectrum though. The Click & Grow is nearly maintenance free and just works, it's a bit limited in size though. WindowFarms is an entire garden grown vertically on your cramped apartment's window sill. It needs attention and adjustment though. It will automatically water the plants, but you'll need to adjust PH levels and be ready to check in every couple days. Both companies have winning ideas, which one is right for your need? Read on...
Click & Grow with Grow Light by Click & Grow
Rarely does a product on this site exceed expectations as far as Click & Grow with Grow Light did. There is no hype here, this is all promise fulfilled. If you follow the setup instructions as they are explained you'll end up with herbs, it's that simple. Without the addition of Grow Light, consistent sunlight could be an issue. The full system in place, it's the most user friendly piece of tech that I've seen in a long time. I was only able to test out the basil plant to date, but based on that performance alone I can fully recommend that you buy one of these today if you have the urge to grow. Be warned though, convenience isn't cheap. The honest truth is that to grow the amount of basil that you could purchase with the price of the Click & Grow system it will take you literally years. During that time you'd need to purchase refills for the plant as well which will further add to the cost. The problem with just buying the basil is that you didn't grow it yourself. You don't get the great smell of fresh basil wafting through your home and you can't show off all of the "work" that "you" did to friends.
Setup took less than 15 minutes. The very cleverly designed packaging is recyclable and unfolds to give you all the info you could every want or need for the Click & Grow system. All of the work is done the second you open the package basically. You'll peel a protective sticker from the center of the device that covers the holes that your plant will sprout through. Inside you'll see the very special proprietary soil already contained, seeds and all. You'll click off the two panels on either side of the center planting area. Inside you'll see a piece of bright red plastic, that's the cap to the battery compartment. For better or for worse, this is a wireless device. Batteries are quoted to last 8-12 months, but be sure to keep those rechargeable AAs handy. You'll install 4 AA's into the housing and install it back in and a blue light will start to flash. The device is thirsty. Whenever you receive a blue light the water sensor is telling you to replenish. Temperatures are reaching the mid nineties where I am this summer and I still only need to refill the device once every 3 weeks or so. After you fill the machine will 1 liter of cool water the blue light turns to green and you know that you've done good. You've done all that you need to do and the rest is up to the Click & Grow.
Beyond that you just need to place the whole thing in a spot where it will receive direct sunlight for a good portion of the day. A small clear disk helps the process during initial sprouting. Place it in the center and it seals the holes and allows the humidity and temperature to get to proper levels for quick sprouting. When the green soldiers start popping their heads out simply remove the disk and wait for more growth. The initial sprout took under a week to start during a southern California heat wave. After that, a little less than three weeks later the plant showed very usable small basil leaves. Whenever you think it's time, use a pair of sharp scissors to snip at the base of the sprout and in another 2 weeks the process will repeat. Some words of advice from Click & Grow:
“Different plants have different life cycles. Most plants grow 3-9 months, chili peppers and some blooming plants up to 12-18 months. The life time of a plant also depends on the light available, your room temperature and the way you look after the plant. For example, if you cut off all leaves off an edible herb at once, the plant may die.”
So far I've been growing basil for almost 3 months without any signs of stopping. I normally wait for one stem to sprout multiple leaves and then I only snip the top most set of leaves to promote quicker regrowth. I now plan our meals loosely around when I'll have the basil available. Every two weeks we have some really great pizza.
I did mention the Grow Light, it's a near essential accessory for apartment dwellers with limited natural light sources. Unlike the battery powered Click & Grow, the Grow Light shuns batteries in favor of a power cord that connects to the lamp itself by microUSB. It has a built in timer that is pre programmed for 16 hours on and 8 hours off to mimic natural sunlight. The whole thing is made of steel and the only complaints that I've seen about CLICK & GROW seem to come from people that didn't provide the right amount of natural light. The Grow Light takes user error out of the equation even further. One sour note, the light is not height adjustable. At a certain point the basil grows high enough to touch the light and the very top leaves will scorch and turn brown and dried out. A simple adjustment would allow you to maintain an inch or so of light separation and the plant could grow even larger still.
Stay tuned to this site for the evolution of Click & Grow. The company has successfully funded the Smart Herb Garden on Kickstarter and are hoping to ship by the end of September. The Smart herb garden combines the Grow Light into the planter and has three separate compartments for different plants. It's rectangular shape is also better fitted to slip onto a window sill. More on that soon...
ONE-COLUMN STARTER BUNDLE: One-Column WindowFarm by WindowFarms
WindowFarms, while similar in basic idea to the Click & Grow is an entirely different endeavor. Where the Click & Grow is hands off the WindowFarms system is very hands on. As part of the starter pack you'll receive organic water additives, special coco soil, clay pellets and live baby plants that you'll plant in your windowfarm yourself. This shouldn't be seen as a chore but rather as a privilege. Too many of us (myself included) spend nearly the whole of our lives in cold gray cities and barely put our hands in soil. It's important to interact with the earth every now and again to remember just how amazing nature can be. You aren't just planting swiss chard, you're renewing an appreciation that some of us lose over time in our convenience driven society.
The Click & Grow can be compared to a color by numbers whereas the WindowFarm is a do it yourself set that arrives with a blank canvas, oil paints, different brushes, and a community of artists to give you guidance if you're stuck. For some the commitment will be a bit much, for others the fact that everything is in one place will give them the push they've always wanted to get started gardening on their own. I was excited about the idea, but it is a commitment. The automated aspects of the system are nice, but they aren't really taking the workload away.
As a nod to the environmentally friendly leanings of the company, WindowFarms does not include printed instructions in the package, a small card refers you to the website that allows for more explanation on the setup process. I appreciate the thought and I'm on board with the movement, but something printed on recyclable paper would have been very welcomed here. I don't really like mixing my computer or smartphone with water and soil. The potential for catastrophe looms heavy. To further the bit of struggle, setup was a bit disjointed and at times hard to follow. A simple quick start guide would go a long way. The company wants you to embrace the process fully and become a committed windowfarmer but it isn't for everyone, especially not right away. Included in the package that ships in one large box you'll find the white powder coated metal vertical frame, 4 plant holders with integrated water spouts, plastic mesh planting baskets, The water reservoir and housing, a special “soil” made from decayed coconut shells, clay pellets for proper drainage, a water pump, electrical outlet timer, and PH testing strips. Assembly seems straightforward enough, but ended up taking around an hour to get things just right. Setting up the water pump just right takes some finesse and online instructions for the electrical timer don't explain the process very well. In the end I got the system functioning but didn't feel too confident as I had to feel my way through a couple of steps. Rather than detail the lengthy process here again, I suggest you go through the steps HERE if you are interested in the system. If you are committed to get things right and the process doesn't scare you off then you'll most likely have a great experience.
Now that the system is setup, we move on to the actual planting. The baby plants ship separately, the idea being that you can have the system set up and waiting when the live babies arrive. They will show up live and still moist in a small cardboard box. DON'T PUT OFF PLANTING! The longer you wait to plant the more likely the little guys might not survive their trip. Even when handled properly, the plants will experience what was described to me as transplant shock. Prune away leaves that aren't looking great and you'll give the plant the best chance to rally and grow strong. Two of my plants looked to be on the edge of death for the first 3 days and then miraculously they seemingly woke up and did well after that.
The plant selection is vast and depends on what kind of micro climate your window creates. The site allows you to figure out your own best bet and I'm a “Partial Sun Warm” as it turns out. Here is a list of different plants that are best for me. The starter kit includes two each of four plants; upland watercress, chives, wildfire lettuce mix, and Italian flat leaf parsley. You can pick from “Cool” or “Hot” climate starter kits down the line. Cool mix has swiss chard, baby kale, german thyme, and a spicy salad mix. The hot mix has upland cress, pea shoots, red veined sorrel, and red romaine lettuce. I selected a bit from each and found that the Hot mix definitely thrived more in my window. The upland cress seemed to be doomed from the start though and never really got started before it eventually died. All of the plants seemed to reach half size and stall eventually. I really do attribute any problems to user error. I started this by saying I was great at killing poor innocent plants. The WindowFarm probably deserved better attention than I could give it.
The tech that makes WindowFarms amazing is something worth talking about despite my issues. The base water reservoir holds water that you'll adjust the PH balance of with testing strips and included organic additives to promote growth. When the water is at it's best, you have the base you need. The electrical timer will trigger the air pump at set intervals throughout the day. I believe I initially set things up for a fifteen minute watering every hour for the hours of sun exposure through the day. I was never really sure though because the instructions for setting up the timer and what interval to set was very vague. A little more hand holding is needed here to help the budding farmer to confidently set up the system. When the air pump is triggered water ascends the main plastic tubing up the window farm and a curve deposits it in the top plant holder. The soil is saturated and then that water slowly drips down into the plant below it and so on until water is flowing through the whole stack. The “used” water is finally deposited back into the reservoir on the bottom at the end waiting for the next watering. You'll need to monitor the fill line and replenish the reservoir once every few days. There are several installation options depending on what kind of window you have in your home. They cover all bases and there is a viable solution for every situation. I'm in an apartment and rather than drill into the window sill or the wall for mounting, I received the optional plant stand and placed the window farm on a side table near the window.
Vertical window farming is such an intriguing idea. It means that there aren't any excuses or hurdles for the truly committed urban farmer. I tested a single column but you can start as many as your window can hold and your wallet can tolerate. If you have the will to learn and the time to commit to learning your micro climate, WindowFarms has a lot of potential. It's nearly the same price for the WindowFarm single-column starter pack vs. Click & Grow with the Grow light with much more expandability using WindowFarms. Consider which fits your need and stop buying herbs for good!
Thank you again to the companies above for supplying their product for this review.
ENJOY YOUR GADGETS!