SimGar® stands for 'Simple Garden' and this company's patented design is unique in how it addresses container gardening. Their self-contained units are a hybrid combination of hydroponics and traditional containers. There is a 32 gallon water reservoir that the dual containers sit atop of and a solar-powered pump delivers water to the roots via a special channel designed to aerate and cool the growing medium.The soil stays moist, but never waterlogged due to the patented chanels and drainage system. Water is constantly flowing, but drains back into the reservoir as it circulates.

cutawayThe cut away drawing at the left is courtesy of SimGar® and shows how the unit is designed to function. SimGar® advertises that their unit works great for apartment dwellers and gardeners with very little property. Users can grow vegetables on patios and balconies and the water reservoir delivers a consistent amount of moisture to the roots of their plants.

This is one of the biggest challenges for growing fruits and vegetables in containers as it is difficult to maintain healthy moisture levels in most of them. With the large holding tank, gardeners have about 30 days before they need to refill the reservoir and liquid fertilizer is delivered right to the root system where it is most needed. The solar pump keeps the water circulating so it never stagnates. It is completely enclosed, so it isn't a mosquito hazard either.

ImageStep one was to assemble the SimGar®. The box was sturdy and well-packed with the various components to the system. I decided to put it together by myself even though my husband offered to help. I'm pretty handy and thought it would give me a better understanding of the challenge if I flew solo on the project. I laid the various pieces out on the driveway and checked them off with the instructions. Unlike many 'self-assembled' items, the SimGar® folks sent extra bolts, nuts and washers...very nice. I did need a wrench to attach the wheels and used a 14mm from my household tools, but a 9/16" would work too. I had no trouble following the instructions, and the system went right together for me, but I have to stress that I'm extremely familiar with tools and printed instructions. If you are not, recruit a buddy to help. I understood the science behind the system and how it was supposed to function. This helped a great deal, so if you're unsure of your talents, ask for assistance.

ImageIt took about an hour to fully assemble the system. There's a pump that is enclosed in a filter box that sits in the reservoir that has the water lines connected. Those tubes are fed up through the special holes in the top and attached to the planting containers. The hard plastic is designed to withstand UV damage and won't rot or split due to exposure. The company recommends flushing the system and rinsing the filters every 60 days. There's an access panel in the top of the unit and once I had everything assembled and leveled (this is important if your site isn't flat) I started to fill the unit with water.

ImageIt is easy to tell when the unit is full, the excess water just runs out between the bottom of the reservior and the top. This prevents waterlogging in case of excess rainfall. Once the unit was filled, I connected the pump cord to the little solar panel and tested it. Be sure to align the panel so that it is in the sun for the longest part of the day. The panel powers the pump, but there isn't a battery bank, so when it is shaded, the pump is inactive. The water began to circulate and I could see it pumping out in the bottoms of each container. Once I knew that it was working properly, I covered the chanels with the Natural Spring channel covers. These are specially designed plastic covers that prevent the system from clogging and allows the containers to drain properly.

I filled my containers with a combination of commercial organic potting mix and organic bagged garden soil. Potting mix is very light-weight and I prefer a little more substance if I'm going to grow vegetables, so mixed it half and half. Bagged garden soil is too heavy to use alone in a container, so the potting mix helps to fluff it up.

ImageWe're going to be growing squash and cucumbers from seed in this series of articles. I chose some old favorites of mine that are old open pollinated selections. Summer Yellow Crookneck squash is the best there is. You can't improve on perfect. It is early, prolific and has a 'squashier' flavor than its hybrid cousins. This squash even makes great pickles when they get a little old and tough. National Pickling cucumbers were developed in 1929 by the National Pickle Packers Association (say that real fast!) in conjunction with the Michigan Agriculture Experiment Station. These cucumbers have a blunt end instead of a tapered end, so there's an extra bite on each pickle in the jar. I like them for fresh use too. Since my SimGar® arrived on Friday, I put my seeds to soak in a little water overnight. I planted them on Saturday afternoon and the cucumbers were germinating by Tuesday morning. The squash were one day behind them and started coming up on Wednesday morning.

ImageSo far, my SimGar® is functioning as advertised. The solar panel runs the pump and I can hear the water running through the Natural Spring chanels in the bottom of each container. I have it situated right outside my back door beside my Gronomics planters that Terry and myself trialed a few years ago. Incidentally, those planters are still in perfect condition and are lovely every year filled with flowers and veggies. I hope that I'm as pleased with my SimGar® as I am with them. Check back in about 4 weeks to see the progress of my veggies. I'm excited about the possibilities!