How much water do I add to the watering cup?
The level of the water in the cup is the same as that in the bottom of the planter. There should be a half inch to an inch of water in the planter, when growing shoots, but no more (unless you are going away for a few days). When the water level in the cup drops below the top of the tubing, quickly filling the cup one time, and allowing it to drain, should put the level back above the tubing. If not, add one more cupful of water. If you are going away for a few days, add water until the level in the cup is at the top of the grommet. Obviously, the plants will consume more water as they grow.
Can I use potting soil in my planter?
No. Only a soil-less mix, generally peat-based, works to wick water up from the reservoir. Heavy mineral-based soil will not work. If the bag feels heavy, it is probably not the right stuff.
Can I re-use my potting mix?
Not directly. The spent mix will be loaded with roots, which is why our system is so productive. The roots decompose quickly in a composter, or a vermicomposter, however. Once composted, it may be used again to grow more microgreens. Otherwise, it can be dumped as-is in garden beds. It is much too valuable to simply throw-out.
Can I amend my potting mix?
Yes. We sometimes add about 20% compost to our potting mix. You can also add 20% worm castings. This will only increase the nutritional value of the shoots, as well as their shelf life. See the discussion below about our hydroponic nutrient kits.
Can I use sunflower bird seed?
Don't be tempted. Even I am not that cheap. A big reason to grow these nutritious shoots is for their health benefits. Who knows what chemicals have been used to produce those seeds.
How do I harvest my sunflower shoots?
If we are harvesting the whole crop at once, a serrated bread knife makes quick work of it. Otherwise, a scissors works well to snip a handful for a meal. Let the sunflower shoots grow big enough to remove most of the hulls for you. Since we cut the shoots well above the soil, they are nice and clean. We do not rinse them before bagging and storing (unsealed) in the refrigerator. Sunflowers last us about 2 weeks.
How do I harvest my pea shoots?
2 harvests of pea shoots is the norm. Some even get 3 harvests. If the top leaf sets are harvested, leaving the lower leaves to grow, you can harvest fresh pea shoots over a couple of weeks. A scissors works best for this selective harvesting of pea shoots, which last up to 3 weeks, bagged in the refrigerator.
I have mold growing on my soil and on my sprouting seeds. What do I do?
Don't panic. When the cover is removed, some mold will likely be present. It usually dies back once exposed to sunlight. We have not had mold issues persist beyond this stage. If it persists, you may have to dump the batch and start over. You should first clean all parts in hot water, then insert the 3 silicone plugs in the planter. Fill it with water, and add a teaspoon of household bleach. Allow all surfaces of the planter, insert, and tubing to have at least 20 seconds of contact with the bleach solution. Allow all parts to then air dry.
Don't be fooled by the tufts of filaments coating young sunflower seedling stems. This looks like mold, but it is just the normal part of some healthy young plants. To knock mold back before removing the cover, mist the surface lightly with water using the spray bottle. This may not eliminate the mold, but it makes us feel better if we cannot see it. Remember, the potting mix is actually inocculated with fungii.
Can I use your system for a small-scale commercial operation?
Absolutely, with a few modifications. Several planters can be daisy-chained together, as long as everything is on the same level. Planters (except for the final one) will need 2 grommets, and our split tubing inside to prevent clogs. A float valve box is then recommended, connected to a water supply, to automate watering for the entire growing period. Contact us for more information.
Can I grow small-seeded microgreens like radish or broccoli in my system?
You can, but it may be over-kill. Our system is designed to grow the deep-rooted shoots that cannot be grown as well in shallow trays, or hydroponically on mats. I would stick with the standard tray methods for these tiny greens.
Can I grow herbs in this planter?
We grow bountiful harvests of basil, parsley, cilantro, and mixed lettuce greens in our planters all winter long. We would not be without this steady supply of fresh herbs. There are some tricks to growing success, however. Overwatering is the biggest concern. Use just enough water to hydrate the potting mix (about 1 and 1/2 quarts). Do not, at this early stage, let water pool in the bottom of the planter. If there is water, tilt the planter to drain it into the cup, and drain it off. Mist the surface to moisten it, plant the seeds on 1" centers, mist again, and install the cover. If planting cilantro, I cover the seeds with 1/4" of potting mix before covering, since the seeds germinate so slowly, and over such a long time. Once the seeds have germinated, remove the cover, and water by lightly misting. Do not add water to the cup until the plants are vigorously growing. Use the "feel" method. Lift the container with one hand. You will develop a feel for the proper weight of a planter. If it is light, add a cup of water. If too heavy to lift with one hand, it is over-watered.
Do I need grow lights?
Microgreens do fine with just ambient light. Herbs and lettuce require more light energy to grow to mature plants. We use LED lights made by Happy Leaf. They have a higher up-front cost, but have high PAR (photosynthetic active radiation) value, use little power, and are long-lived. To grow plants to maturity, a high-energy output light is recommended.
What about adding nutrients to my herbs and greens?
Our hydroponic nutrient kits make 64 gallons of complete hydroponic solution. If you want to grow herbs and lettuce, it is highly recommended, for a bumper crop. There is only a finite amount of nutrients in the potting mix. It is enough for microgreens, but not for herbs. We have basil growing for 4 months in our planters. They need a boost, and watering- at least every other watering- with a cup fill of nutrient solution does wonders for your plants.
How do I install grommets in my own containers?
The 3/8" silicone grommets are the handiest way we know to create a leak-proof seal when using 1/4" diameter vinyl tubing. A 9/16" spade drill bit works fine, but it must be sharp, and not wobble. Drill slowly, to create a clean, round hole, with few plastic burs. The grommet is installed by sliding as much of the plastic into the slot as possible, then squeezing the grommet while pushing it into the hole. A snap of the flange on either side will seat it nicely.
What diameter hole do I drill to install your mini float valve?
Use a 7/16" spade drill bit to create a hole for mounting the float valve. The silicone gasket makes a for a leak-proof, finger-tight connection.
My float valve stopped working. Water is not flowing into my container. Why?
The most likely cause is debris in the orifice. Usually blowing through the line will dislodge it. A stubborn clog requires the removal of the cotter pin, and the removal of the float arm, to remove the clog. This is a small hole, so it can clog easily if the water supply is not clean. We recommend a screen if using a garden hose adapter, and a lid on your water reservoir that keeps debris out.
The water stopped flowing from one container to the next one in my daisy chain of planters, even though I used the split tubing inside of them. What's up?
Most likely there is an air pocket in the tubing between the planters. The shorter the run between planters, the better. A sag in the line can get an air bubble, should the planters ever run out of water. Since the air pressure exceeds the tiny amount of water pressure, it stops the flow. Lift the tubing to remove the air bubble, once the planters are re-filled. Check to be sure water is flowing again. There may be inquisitive roots clogging the works, too, which may need to be removed from the split tubing.