Sunday, July 3, 2011
The Best $20 I Ever Spent
It may not look like much, but the APS40 Seed Starting Kit from Gardener's Supply Company revolutionized seed growing around here. It consists of a water reservoir, moisture wicking mat, a styrofoam pegboard and seed cells, and of course a plastic cover to retain moisture before seed germination.
Historically I've had problems with watering seedlings. Either I water too much and they end up damping off, or I water too little and they dry up. What's worse, whether I'm watering well or not, the force of even a small stream of water from a watering can often damages delicate seedling stems, which for me has led to the loss of many healthy seedlings that just got flattened and never recovered.
So I thought to myself this past winter that I would finally invest in a seed growing kit that was self-watering. I chose the APS 40 after much research because the water wicking mat was supposed to keep soil moist for five days (which to me sounded like a long time between refillings).
When it first arrived I was wary that the styrofoam pieces would be cheap and flimsy. So far this year, through two rounds of seedlings, they've held up remarkably well with no real cracking or flaking of little pieces to speak of. As for the water refilling timetable, five days was a massive underestimate! There were times my APS 40 went for two full weeks (i.e., 14 days not 10) before I had to refill the reservoir with water, all the while keeping the soilless mix evenly and thoroughly moist. To ensure it works, you've got to follow the directions closely and be sure the mix is well connected with the mat to keep the water wicking up. But if I could make this work successfully, I'm confident that just about anyone can do it.
My other reservation was that popping the seedlings out of the styrofoam cells would be difficult. Getting seedlings out of plastic trays has always been my bugbear with transplanting. In all honesty, I was flabbergasted at how easy it was to get the seedlings out. A little push from the bottom side and they came right out, with a perfectly intact root system. This feature was quite possibly the best part of the entire system.
To show you how crappy our spring and early summer weather has been, I am just now packing away my APS40, and it's July 3rd! About a week ago I finally transplanted my last basils and coleus plants, which had to wait as long as they did because of dreary, cool weather through much of early June. Clean up of the seed starting kit was the proverbial breeze: I rinsed the reservoir, pegboard and seedling cells, and I soaked the water wicking mat (per the directions) in some bleach water and it's now drying on my porch, waiting to be packed away with the other clean, dry components.
If you've struggled with seedling issues like damping off, forgetting to water them, crushing them while transplanting, or just general frustration at how much babying they need, I highly recommend you shell out $20 for an APS 40 (or APS 24 if you start fewer seeds). Gardener's Supply also sells replacement parts in case those styrofoam pieces turn out to be flimsy. (However, I skipped their seed starting soil mix because seriously, I can get perfectly good soilless mix for a fraction of the price with no shipping cost at my local garden center.) If you're thinking of starting cool-season vegetables in your air conditioned house for a fall crop, you would be wise to consider it!
As you can probably judge by the title of this post, I bought the APS 40 with my own money and received no inducement or compensation from Gardener's Supply Company to write this review.