When I last talked about the [Rise Garden][risegarden] my family is using, it was during my first harvest two and a half years ago. I said I'd get the garden again. During the posts at the time, I also covered some physical changes that would be helpful and some application suggestions.
It's been two and a half years since I first assembled the garden and two years since my last update at the end of the previous article. Let's review and see how the garden has held up.
I mentioned above that I provided a few suggestions, and raised a few concerns. Here's a quick summary of those, so that we can easily see what I'm looking to address here based on concerns then.
- Number of plants the garden supports
- Few fruiting plants
- The number of pods that don't sprout
- Subscription service item availability
- Physical improvements
- Nutrient build up
Let's start with the application itself. In my previous post, I raised a couple concerns I had about the mobile application.
In good news, the splash screen issue has been resolved. The log in issue has also been resolved. I do still need to occassionally re-login, but overall, the application remembers me a lot longer than the handful of days it did at the time.
The lighting options have also been updated.
I have more than a simple time and duration option. The sunrise and sunset options aren't exactly what I asked for two years ago, but this is a nice compromise. It's winter, so I've moved my garden inside to a warmer location, which unfortunately places it out of direct sunlight. However, during the rest of the year, this gradual lighting is nice, because I was able to time it to when the sun hits the garden and when it does not. This allowed me to use less than 100% lighting through out the day.
I do have a complaint about this new screen though. Look back at my screen shot of the previous lighting page. Previously, I could select any time for the lights to come on, and it was a pretty intuitive hour/minute selector. Now, it is a single slider with 15 minute increments. It is really hard to hit exactly what you want with a slider. It takes a lot of small adjustments to get the time I want my lights to come on with this slider. I think moving to a slider from the hour/minute selector was a bad user experience choice.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the only bad user experience change.
This new page showing my garden is awful. The previous version showed an overview of the entire garden, and then allowed me to click a plant to get more details. This version shows a single tray on a single level and involves both vertical and horizontal scrolling to see all of my plants. I do not like this change. There is a lot more tapping and dragging around the screen to find specific plants.
The last application problem I'm still seeing is that plant information is wildly inaccurate. This is my current pea plant, that the application says is past harvest. It hasn't even started flowering yet. In two years, this page has not been accurate for a single plant.
The marketing images show very full gardens. When I've attempted full gardens and followed the application's recommendations, I get sub-optimal harvests. The large plants crowd out one another, even with aggressive pruning. The vines will take over an entire level and smother others, without aggressive pruning.
The plants that I can get to grow most consistently are lettuces and herbs. Fortunately, we use a lot of both. But, it'd be nice to get a consistent pepper, tomato, cucumber or pea plant each harvest too. Unfortunately, adding more than a couple of those plants to the entire garden results in a plant that doesn't produce.
Combining this with the sprouting failure rate I mentioned 2 years ago, that hasn't improved, it becomes a gamble on what to grow sometimes. The sprouting problems continue to plague each harvest, with approximately 1 out of 10 seeds across all plants not sprouting. Unfortunately, on my latest batch, I had 3 lettuce and 1 pea plant that didn't sprout. This was my highest failure rate so far.
I did notice, while writing this post, that Rise Gardens released a new nursery. It only supports 4 pods though, compared to the 12 pods one of my current nurseries holds. I'd have to replan how and when I plant certain plants (or buy extra of these small nurseries). I like to get two sets of lettuce in for 1 tomatato plant due to their different growth cycles. Fewer nursery spots would enforce more staggered growing. This isn't bad just something I'd need to adapt to.
I complained two years ago about the lack of variety packs. The garden came with a salad mix and a variety pack of plants. Those aren't offered as part of the subscription service. I don't need 4 tomato pods, because I can't get them all to grow at once, like I mentioned above. But, if I could get a tomato, a pepper and a couple other plants, I have a nice set of plants that I could use all at once. That is assuming that they all sprout.
I keep looking for this. Until then, I turn my subscription on and off for about three months at a time, because otherwise I just get to many seeds to utilize and I don't need to buy a subscription for seeds that have an increasingly common failure rate.
The garden hardware has held up really well. I did replace the original DC30 pump with the upgraded DC40 pump about six months ago. I did this because I kept getting nutrient build up in my tubing and along the bottom of my trays. Theorectically, the more powerful pump should solve this problem. At the end of my current harvest I'll have a better idea of how well it's worked, but I haven't had to do an emergency tube cleaning because the water couldn't get past the build up, so that is a positive.
I also installed chicken wire around the garden to give my climbing plants something to climb. This has been great at keeping the vine plants - peas and cucumbers - under control. It also has allowed a couple spots on the level they sit on to remain open because they don't completely overwhelm a tray. I have been able to utilize that to grow a faster plant on the level of these vine plants before they have spread all over.
The one physical concern I mentioned two years ago was the inability to easily level the garden. This still remains a problem because the garden needs to be level to ensure the water flows correctly. When I have the garden in my sunroom - which is less level than other areas of my house, I have a small wooden splint built to keep the garden leveled correctly.
I still highly recommend that Rise Garden make adjustable footings in their next iteration.
The question now: Would I get it again. Previously, I said that I absolutely would.
I would still do this again, but I think I'd get a smaller garden. This isn't because I don't want to grow plants indoors and year round. It's because I can't utilize all of the space I have now. A completely full garden hasn't been productive for me. I leave space open every time I plants. It's also due to the number of seeds that I've had not sprout. If I have less space to plant, I'll be a little more choosey on what I plants versus "I have some space available and might as well use it if these sprout". Additionally, the application changes have been very off putting. The new tray page is unusable and the inaccurate plant pages continue to be unhelpful.
This said, I am still enjoying growing my own food. It's still not sustainable, but that was never my goal. It's a fun activity. The kids enjoy planting and harvesting. They glance at it once and a while and provide updates on how they think things are growing or what we can harvest for a meal.
These stats fall into the same category as the plant stats. I'm not sure how reliable they actually are, but it is nice to see numbers. Saving nearly 3,000 gallons of water over two and a half years is drop in the bucket, but it's still good to see an impact. Rise Gardens describes it's "Food Miles" equation on their blog. Going with my calculations from this summer on gasoline savings and CO2 not produced due to remote work, I've made another tiny positive impact.
Finally, Rise Gardens: Add strawberries as a plant you provide in your subscriptions. I'd still like that API I talked about before, but I'd be much happier with strawberries.
Oh, and do something about the seeds not sprouting.