The Burpee Ultimate Growing System
Workmanship - 3 of 5
Usability - 3 of 5
Results - 2 of 5
Recommendation - If you over water, or just plain forget to water this system can can solve that problem. If you don't have problems with watering then there are plenty of better options.
The general design of the system is solid. The self watering setup works well to keep all of the cells moist but not wet. I lost no seedlings to damping off. I had issues with the holes punched out of the bottom of each cell. Namely the holes were still attached or in some cases piled up in the end cells. You must be sure to properly clear all of the plastic circles out of the cells in order to ensure proper water flow. The plastic is very thin and flimsy overall. Being very careful I was able to extract all of my seedlings without major damage, so I'll get at least two uses out of it. Still I don't expect all that many more.
Once you get past the initial setup issues the system has very little maintenance, which is really its biggest win. For those of us who spend our days on the road to work, at work, or on the way back from work the system makes it easy to keep seedlings properly watered. Moving the unit once it is in place, however, is not an option. The plastic reservoir is far to flimsy to support such a move. Actually filling the reservoir is a challenge too, until you realize that you can just pull the wall down to dump in water. A small advantage to the thin plastic. Extracting the plants from the cells is also quite a challenge. If you poke up through the hole in the bottom with a dowel the starting mix crumbles and roots tear leaving you with damaged weakened or dead seedlings. For sturdy seedlings a mix of push from beneath and pull on the stem will work, but risks a catastrophic stem failure.
In the end I found a push from the bottom with my pinky finger while extracting the seedling with a table fork worked best to keep the root systems in tack. The cell tray does come apart with a little help from some scissors, and I suggest you separate them before you start to make seedling removal easier.
I was very disappointed with the results I achieved from my initial tray. Assuming the holes in the cells would be clear was a major mistake causing a number of them to dry out, preventing germination. Initial trouble removing the seedlings that did germinate left some growing wounded. From the initial batch I achieved a germination rate of around 70% which is far lower than I would have expected. While the reservoir of water works well at providing moisture it also acts like a small swamp cooler Even though the room temperature was 70F during the day, the tray of water averaged about 5 degrees cooler around 65F. At night when the room fell to 55F with the heat off the water would dip to around 50F and really shut down germination.
For the second batch of seedlings I ended up placing a submersible fish tank water heater in the reservoir and setting it to 76F. This kept the soil at 70F even during the night when the room temperature dropped. The germination rate on this tray was 100%, and with all of the plastic circles removed from the holes everything had the right amount of moisture. In the end I was happy with the results of the second tray.
I'd get fired if I was in Burpee marketing, but I'd call this the Ultimate Watering System for people who like to drown their plants at a young age or leave them unsupervised for days at a time. The general concept can be applied to any sort of reservoir mixed with an uptake material and container with holes on the bottom and I may explore replicating it with sturdier materials. If you solve the heat problem then I think this is a very viable way to start your garden, just not the most economical.