Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tabletop Greenhouses: Burpee or Bust

Several people have asked me what I think of the little miniature seed starting greenhouses, AKA: tabletop greenhouse. My answer to this is simple: If it’s not a Burpee brand greenhouse it’s not worth it. Every other brand I’ve tried has been an exercise in frustration. The Burpee brand “Ultimate Growing System” on the hand, is fantastic. Here’s why...

Other brands don't work the way Burpee does.

Other brands, like Jiffy, don’t actually use a self-regulated watering system. They use a submersed irrigation system that inevitably doesn’t water your seedlings evenly or regularly. You have to keep refilling the tray, depending on where you live that could be several times a day. Here in Arizona, where it’s extremely arid, even in the colder northern regions, you have to hover over the trays to keep the water level right.

Also, when you do add water to these things, it trickles through channels, flooding some seedlings, and leaving others dry. I actually had to use a squeeze bottle to water these things when I tried them, just to get the irrigation even.

And then the seedlings sit in the excess and runoff from the watering, increasing the chances of drowning and root rot.

How Burpee tabletop greenhouses work:

The Burpee tabletop greenhouse, by comparison, uses an automatic, self-regulating watering system that takes advantage of the siphoning abilities of good seed starting mixes that are typically high in peat moss. In other words, they suck, but in a good way. The Burpee system pulls the moisture up from a mat that in turn pulls moisture up from the cistern, which is below the seeding trays. The seedlings never sit in pools of water, so the chance of them downing is completely eliminated, and the chance of root rot is reduced so much it seems like it’s eliminated.

With the Burpee system you only have to fill the cistern at most once a day, and vent the greenhouse every so often. There’s no hovering involved. Even when I lived in Phoenix I only had to top-off the water in the cistern once a day, usually in the mornings, and vent it once in the afternoon. Because the seeding trays are elevated, venting is as easy as taking the clear top off for 5-10 minutes and letting the plastics and little baby leafs dry out. As soon as the condensation is gone you pop the top back on and go about your merry business.

Also, with the Burpee system you can buy replacement parts, while the other brands tend to make you by whole new kits. This comes in handy if your cats discover the joys sucking on the thermal watering mat like mine did. And, because the Burpee greenhouse uses actual pot cells you can use your own seeding mix if you want.

One would say that the only drawback to the Burpee Ultimate growing system is it’s price. And once would be wrong. Yes, you can get a Jiffy greenhouse system for $5 on sale at WalMart, but this is an instance where you get what you pay for. Actually, it’s been my experience that this would be $5 wasted. The $20 you spend on a Burpee system will get you a few years and several hundred seedlings, while the other brands usually don’t give you anything more than a headache.

For tabletop greenhouses my recommendation is Burpee or bust.

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