SimGar (short for The Simple Garden) was developed with the busy person in mind.
Sow your seeds or transplant your seedlings into the two planter boxes, and SimGar will take care of the watering. A reservoir holds 30 gallons of water–enough to keep plants hydrated for weeks–and a submersible pump powered by a solar panel keeps the water oxygenated and circulating, at least when the sun is shining. For today’s harried gardener, that sounds promising …
What You Get
The SimGar comes in a large box, bulky enough that I needed a hand truck to move it. It contains the following:
- 1 30-gallon water reservoir
- 2 29-inch x 15-inch plastic growing containers, about 8 inches deep (each holds 40 lbs of soil, the instructions claim. I used approximately 1.5 cu. ft of a lightweight soilless mix). Soil is not included.
- A filter box that holds a charcoal bag and filter (to filter out impurities and protect the pump, according to the manufacturer), as well as the submersible pump.
- Hoses and fittings for circulating water through the bases of the planters – these are pre-cut to size.
- A solar panel that mounts on a tube (about 3 1/2 ft tall) that stands above the assembly. A swivel mount is provided.
- An extra power cord is also supplied, in case you choose to mount the solar panel at a greater distance from the planter. The power cord connects the solar panel to the pump; it does not require an electrical socket.
Simple to Assemble – The assembly instructions are clear and easy to follow, with detailed photos provided for each step. I was able to assemble the SimGar myself in about an hour, though I needed an assistant to help level the filled reservoir. I suggest partly filling the reservoir, then leveling, then adding the rest of the water.
Optional Mobility Kit – The product I tested came with a mobility kit–4 castor wheels and a sturdy dolly deck. I chose not to use this for two reasons:
- the SimGar was to be used in an urban garden, and I feared that it might get wheeled away; and
- the ground was not level, so I used shims to level the reservoir. This would have been difficult with the wheels.
Size – Assembled, the SimGar is about 4 feet wide and 2 1/2 feet tall. The top of the solar panel, when it projects from the reservoir, stands at about 4 feet. For the amount of growing space, the SimGar takes up a lot of room, but this is a necessary trade-off for the 30-day self-watering capacity.
About the Solar Panel – The solar panel can be mounted separately, which might make the planters look less technological and more garden-friendly. However, this adds the complication of stringing a power cord between the planters and the solar panel. This may be possible on a homeowner’s deck; in the location I chose–a sunny spot in a paved urban space–it would have been difficult.
Leave Your Worries Behind?
To test the claim that the SimGar will grow plants twice as fast as other growing methods, I planted the two containers in the third week of July, one with chard seedlings, and the other with bush cucumber plants with a 52 day maturity time.
I positioned the SimGar planter in full sun, and aimed the solar panel toward the midday sun. Right away, I could hear the water begin to gurgle. In daylight, the submersible pump circulates water from the reservoir below the planters through the bottom of each planter, and back through a charcoal filter. The moist soil mix acts as a wick, drawing moisture up into the root zone.
As a control, I planted the same plants directly in the garden at the same time.
The chard in the garden thrived, but in the SimGar, they did not. With the sun high in the sky, the watering system was working overtime, and the soil was too wet for optimal growth.
After three weeks, I unplugged the solar panel to allow the soil to drain more completely. Six days later I reattached it, and replaced the three weakest seedlings with more vigorous specimens. This did the trick. The chard began to put on growth, and the cucumber plants also looked better.
The following week, in late August, I sprinkled some lettuce seeds among the cucumber and chard.
My first ‘Picklebush’ cucumber harvest (three fruits!) happened on September 9th, 7 weeks (42 days) after transplanting. And the lettuce is thriving in the cool September weather.
Upkeep will Depend on the Weather
At planting time I used a slow-release balanced fertilizer, following the fertilizer product instructions. This supplied adequate nutrients for the growing season so there was no need for additional feeding.
Check the Water Level Regularly – After about a month, I noticed that the water was not audibly gurgling. Sure enough, the water in the reservoir had evaporated enough that the pump was no longer submerged. I removed the wingnuts, lifted the lid, and refilled the basin. I recommend checking the water level every three weeks, especially in dry weather.
Don’t Worry About Overfilling – Two days after I refilled the reservoir there was a huge downpour, and the basin became filled to the brim from rainwater soaking down through the soil. I emptied some of the water, though this was probably not necessary. Overflowing due to heavy rain would not lead to a problem; the water would simply leak onto the surrounding surface.
Filter Box Needs Regular Cleaning – The manufacturer recommends that you maintain the filter box about every 60 days by rinsing out the charcoal bag and the filter. There is also a small filter inside the pump, which should be removed and rinsed. Replacement filters can be ordered separately. No maintenance is recommended for the solar panel.
Placement is Important – Place the planter in full sun. How you position the solar panel may require some experimentation, and optimal positioning may differ as the number of daylight hours changes. Check the soil moisture frequently, and if it stays too wet try swiveling the panel so that it faces the sun at a less direct angle.
I give the SimGar a 4-shovel rating. When days are relatively short, in spring and late summer, SimGar may act as advertised, and “ensure constant moisture flow, aerating soil to produce strong, great-tasting plants.” Although the product marketing also says that plants produce “twice as fast,” I found that to be a dubious claim.
During the long days of mid-summer, I recommend playing with the positioning of the solar panel. A full day of circulating water kept my plant roots too wet, but if the panel were placed so that water circulated for 8 to 12 hours, it would probably have been about right. The water circulated even on cloudy days.
Lettuce plants germinated and grew very quickly, so next year I will use the SimGar for greens.
Where to Buy
SimGar can be purchased on the SimGar website for between $139 and $179 (depending on accessories) and also on Amazon.With the mobility kit, the cost is about $150.
Buy it on Amazon >> SimGar Plus – Outdoor (Tan/Gray/Tan).
Now over to you – Have you tried growing veggies in a “self-watering” container? How did it work for you? Let us know in the comments below.
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Disclaimer – GPR would like to thank SimGar for giving us a free container to review. There was no expectation that it would be a positive review and we received no compensation for writing it. All opinions expressed here are those of the author based on personal experience using the product.
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