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How Programmable Planters Work

        Tech | Other Gadgets

The Aeroponics Cartridge
As of May 2012, the following six cartridges are available from Click and Grow: basil mix, mini tomato, chili pepper, busy lizzy, cockscomb and thyme.
As of May 2012, the following six cartridges are available from Click and Grow: basil mix, mini tomato, chili pepper, busy lizzy, cockscomb and thyme.
Screencap by HowStuffWorks

Click and Grow sells a pair of starter kits that include the planting pot and a pre-installed cartridge. They offer basil and painted nettle kits for about $100. Other cartridges cost about $13. As of May 2012, Click and Grow sells seeds for basil, mini tomatoes, chili peppers, busy lizzy, cockscomb and thyme.

As we mentioned on the last page, a starter plant cartridge is more than a simple container for seeds. The plastic housing fits inside the flower pot, and is perforated with large holes in the top for plants to sprout out of. To sprout, seeds need three things: nutrients, water and sunlight. Water is added to the pot and the sunlight part requires you to find a nice spot for the plant on a window ledge or under a strong light source. And what about the nutrients? They come in the plant cartridge.

Typical aeroponics systems are used to grow plants in a mist instead of a normal growing environment like soil or water. Click and Grow describes its system as something different: The growing medium uses minerals to mimic the buffering ability of soil by absorbing and releasing nutrients. The site's blog claims its mineral balance eliminates the drawbacks of home-use aeroponics systems because fluctuations in water quality and uneven fertilization aren't issues [source: Click and Grow].

The cartridge's mineral release system is designed to release nutrients that it detects are in minimal supply to promote growth. Consider it the plant equivalent of a balanced breakfast -- every food group is represented! And nothing goes to waste -- unlike a plant growing in soil, the Click and Grow's cartridge doesn't lose nutrients to decomposition. The blog calls its mineral release system nanotechnology, which makes perfect sense when you think about it: The cartridge really is releasing elements like nitrogen and potassium into the growing environment to balance out a plant's mineral intake.

These proprietary cartridges take one to two weeks to sprout and reveal a healthy growing plant. After that, your new flora will remain healthy for the duration of its natural life, as long as it has light and water (which needs to be refilled every month or two). Talk about a hands-off growing experience!

The Click and Grow shows how simple gardening can be with computer aid, but it doesn't demonstrate the full flexibility of programmable planting. Next, let's look at the do-it-yourself method: building an Arduino planter.


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