New improved homemade self watering container / Earthbox

jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)May 30, 2005

Hello all,

I know I am sorry that I am late with this but I have found a way to make my homemade earthbox cheaper and stronger than before (Six million dollar man theme song here). I have replaced the paint pail with 4" PVC drian pipe (the one with the holes alredy drilles into it. It comes in 10 foot lengths for 5 bucks at the Borg (Home Depot). One pipe makes 18 supports for 4 and a half tubs or 2 tubs with 5 supports see pictures below. Another advantage of using the PVC is that if you have not drilled your overflow hole yet you can change the height of the screen to increase the amout of the water the resovoir will hold by making the PVC pipe supports longer. First remove the paint pails from the screen.

Make sure there are hole at both top and bottom of the PVC to allow air and water to access the area inside the PVC pipe. Also a few holes a different heights will also help with water flow.

These are cut from 10 sections of drain pipe.

Attach the PVC supports to the screen using wire ties just like the paint pails were.

Here I used 5 supports just to see if it would be better. The ceneter support just sits under the screen it it not attached although you can attach it if you want to.

The new screen instaled into the tub waiting for Soil and and plants.

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october17(5chgo)

I find your containers VERY interesting. But, the thing I don't understand are the wicks. Can you post a picture of the wicks? I'd like to make some of your containers.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2005 at 7:55AM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

The wicking is done by the potting mix itself. The soil sits in the open holes inside the PVC pipe and wicks the water up to the roots. I am currently working on complete instructions for building several types of self watering containers. This design is based on the Earthbox and they work great. See Earthbox.com for more info. I had the instructions posted on here but they were removed because they were over 10 pages back. I am compiling all the info and questions into a complete how to guide. It should be ready very soon.

Thanks,
Joe

Here is a link that might be useful: Earthbox website

    Bookmark   June 1, 2005 at 11:00AM
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Bethany873(Z6 RI)

greatly looking forward to your how-to guide! thank you for putting in all that effort, it's very much appreciated!

    Bookmark   June 1, 2005 at 3:18PM
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rfolse(8b)

Hi Joe,

I've been following your postings. I read where one of the "box builders" stated that there was soil buildup at the bottom where only water should be, and more "overflow" holes were drilled in the side of the container to prevent overfilling.

I had a thought about using standard non-metallic window screen as a "filter", both in the wick containers and on top of the "soil support" lid, to minimize sediment buildup.

What do you think?

Ron

    Bookmark   June 3, 2005 at 12:47PM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

Hello Ron,

This issue has come up before and yes you can use the non metallic window screening or breathable landscape fabric both allow air and water to penetrate them. However if you do not have any large holes or voids between the aeration screen (soil support) and the tub wall it is not needed. The real Earthbox has a small gap between the screen and the wall as well. Some soil may fall into the water reservoir but not enough to worry about it. When you first put the soil into the container it needs to be moist. This moist potting mix tends to cling together and not drop down into the lower chamber. If you want to try please do so and take pictures and let us know how you make out. I have not done this yet and have had no problems. When I dumped my potting mix out of the tubs very little was in the bottom. I empties them to see how the paint pail held up most were fine but some cracked a caved in a little. Bear in mind the soil was soaked from the rain so that may have had something to do with it The PVC drain pipe is much stronger and cheaper than the paint pails so it was an easy decision to make to replace the paint pails with the PVC pipe.

Thanks,
Joe

    Bookmark   June 3, 2005 at 1:25PM
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rfolse(8b)

Joe,

I haven't made my two yet... I just purchased the containers yesterday. I had already purchased the paint pails from Lowe's last week. Since you mentioned the slight "cave in", I believe I'll just return the paint pails & opt for the drain pipe. The only problem I foresee with the drain pipe is possible seepage of wick soil between the pipe & the bottom of the Rubbermaid container, for there are newer models out... claiming a 20% increase in size... but I'm not sure how flat the bottom of their "new" container is... I'm at work now and can't check it.

I read the earlier "purged" postings, but now can't recall the hole diameter you drilled in the lid (soil support). I imagine if I opt for the fiberglass screen "filter", I could opt to drill a somewhat larger diameter hole... however, for safety's sake, I'll stick with the proven scheme. I ordered some "goodies" from e.burgess.com & plan to plant stawberries, watermelons, shallots, and bell peppers... Please advise about the hole diameter... (trying not to fill up 10 pages again)... Ron

    Bookmark   June 3, 2005 at 2:39PM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

Ron

Actually the paint pail had lot more half inch holes around the base tnen the Pipe does so it is practically the same thing. The Earthbox uses a support grid to hold up its screen and its wicking chambers do not have a bottom either. It is just a box made from 2 of the support grid pieces that cross each other and the corner of the tub make up the other two walls of the wicking chamber. If it really bothers you hot melt a piece of plastic or something to seal the bottom

Thanks,
Joe

    Bookmark   June 3, 2005 at 3:54PM
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hut123

I made about six of the homemade self watering containers last spring and they've been a total failure for me. I know it must be something I've done wrong. Only change I made was to use mushroom compost instead of potting soil (the mushroom compost worked greated in my Earthbox). I gave one of my boxes to a friend who did use potting soil and his box failed also. Yesterday I plugged my original drain hole and re-drilled the hole about an inch and a half higher to deepen the water reservoir. My friends think they're not getting enough water. The tomatoes in my boxes have barely survived until now and are getting taller but foliage is very limited. Any ideas? [URL=http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v630/Piddling/earthboxfailure.jpg][IMG]http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v630/Piddling/th_earthboxfailure.jpg[/IMG][/URL]

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 10:30AM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

Hello Hut123,

Difficult to say without more information I looked at your picture (that is a large fill tube you are using - but should not have any effect on the box). The only thing I can see wrong with the picture is that the containers look like they do not have enough potting mix in them. They should mound in the center to protect the fertilizer stripe from getting wet. Are you using a fertilizer stripe? If so the rain may be getting to it and burning the roots of the plants. Other possible problems are you need to use potting mix not potting soil (you said that your friend used potting soil). Potting mix has no actual soil in it and is what wicks the water to the roots of the plant. Did you change the design of the container? Can the mushroom compost reach down into the water chamber? Mushrooms are like sponges but I have never used it for growing medium. Are you in the South? We had a guy last year that was having problems and it turns out that his boxes were getting too hot. He shaded or covered the side of the box and they took off. I would replant one of the containers with potting mix to see if your mushroom compost is the problem. Check these things out and let us know how you make out. I am using the containers again this year are having no problems. Here are some pictures for you to see.

Thanks,
Joe

One week later. The tub in the rear is the same tub from the first picture above.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 10:23PM
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hut123

Hi, Joe
Thanks for taking the time to try to help me. And, IÂm sorry about being late responding but itÂs been hectic here. About the size of the fill pipe  I made mine larger because I fill my Earthbox with a water can and frequently the spout slips off the edge of that fill tube and if I try to fill it very quickly the stream of water gushes over the pipe edge. I like the larger fill tube. My problem may be the mushroom compost but that stuff worked fine when I started my Earthbox 4 years ago. I live in Southwest Missouri and not sure if heat is a problem but my Earthbox  which is the only thing I have to use for a comparison, and itÂs black  is doing great. When preparing the containers for the season I did carefully make sure the paint buckets were packed well with the mushroom compost. I followed your plans pretty carefully, I think. I will try potting mix and see what happens. Maybe IÂll also shade one of the containers. Thanks for your help.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2005 at 12:52PM
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sharons2(z3-4 ID)

Is your complete how-to guide finished yet? I'd like a copy of it. Thanks!

    Bookmark   October 12, 2005 at 9:21AM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

Hello All,

Yes the guide has been available on my website. The link is below. You will need Acrobat Reader 6.0 or higher to see it (a free download from Adobe.com). Now that is it cooling off again I can work in the garage again. I have another design that I would like to add to the guide. It uses 2 tubs one 18 gallon and one 14 gallon and is the easiest one yet.

Thanks,
Joe

Here is a link that might be useful: My webpage

    Bookmark   October 13, 2005 at 9:52PM
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nealsc(Zone 6/NYC)

Not so sure that you should be using PVC pipe. CHeck out:
http://www.besafenet.com/pvc/safe.htm

Here is a link that might be useful: PVC NOT safe!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 8:56PM
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legacy

hut123,

You should not use SMC alone as a growing medium.

"Spent mushroom compost has been researched as a growing medium additive in nursery container culture for a wide assortment of woody species. Mushroom compost cannot be used alone because of its lack of stability, its low water availability, its high salinity level and its neutral pH. It can, however, be used as part of a total compost component in a mix."

Here is a link that might be useful: Source:

    Bookmark   May 5, 2007 at 1:23AM
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medontdo(8)

what if you used nylon hose, ya know, womans, to put the soil down into them holes. and for the soil not to get down thru them smaller holes, if ya wanted couldn't ya use coffee filter's? that way ya still have your wick and all, am i understanding that right?

    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 11:00PM
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cecropia7(IL zone5)

Hello Joe,
We are having some problems too, maybe you can help? We just made some earthboxes following your single-tub design with the only difference being that we used a pond basket as the one wicking chamber in the center (like your dual-tub), pvc supports in the corners. We put in mostly 60% peat, 30 vermiculite and 10 perlite (with a small amount of compost from some old square foot garden mix). Well, I have been trying to keep the water reservoir filled but it seems that the top of the soil is dry down about 3/4 inch no matter what I do. We watered the plants from the top when they were put in (the past weekend) so they are doing ok for now, but the fertilizer strip has NO moisture. I'm not sure that the moist soil I'm seeing 3/4 inch down is holding moisture from when we first mixed/filled or if it's actually bringing water up from the bottom. We are in the Chicago area and I have trouble believing our boxes are getting too hot at this time of year, BUT we are using black garbage bags as our "mulch." On the other hand, I'm not finding the boxes or mulch hot to the touch.

I can take some pictures of our boxes if it would help. Thanks a bunch.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2007 at 6:04AM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

Hello Cecropia7,

I am sorry that have not been able to get back to you sooner I have just been so busy with work and home that I have not much time to be inline. What has been happening with this box? My first guess is the mix. I am sure the Mel's mix will work properly in the Earthbox. Are you using an 18 gallon tub or a larger one? Did you wet the mix well when you filled the pond basket and the tub to start the wicking process? Earthbox filling instructions can be found at the Earthbox web site. The link is below. Please let me know how you make out.

Thanks,
Joe

Here is a link that might be useful: Link to earthbox instructions.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2007 at 1:26PM
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justadncr(z8OR)

Dont anyone get mad at me. I am only asking a question. Isnt PVC used in plumbing? I know things are now PEX tubing but I thought PVC was save for drinking water. If someone is really worried about plastic they wouldnt even be using the plastic tubs. I am a firm believer of using recycled and recyclable products so that may be a good reason to stay away from PVC.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2007 at 2:06PM
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cecropia7(IL zone5)

Thanks for the reply, Joe.

We have been watering the boxes and the situation is the same. The soil is moist up until the top 1/2" which is dry. What is concerning me is that the fertilizer strip is not getting wet. When we filled the boxes we used moist but not saturated soil in the ratio of 60% peat, 30 vermiculite and 10 perlite, plus a portion (1/4 or 1/3) of each box was some old square foot garden mix we made a while ago (1/3 each peat, vermiculite & compost). When I put the fertilizer strip on the top I did not moisten it. Right now it is dry but there appears to be a little bit of mold growing over the fertilizer strip. I'm afraid to moisten it from the top but maybe I should try it? There are 2 18 gallon boxes and the third box is a little bigger, maybe 22-24 gallon? They are all having the same problem. I think the water is wicking up like it's supposed to, just not up to the top. We are not having the fill the boxes very much until water pours out of the drainage hole.

I'm wondering if putting in a strip of cotton fabric which extends from the bottom of the pond basket to the fertilizer strip would wick the water more efficiently. Or maybe digging the fertilizer into the soil about an inch down where it's staying moist.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2007 at 9:20PM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

Thats what I would do. I would dig down an inch or so for the fertilizer strip. it is probably the soil formula that is not wicking as well as it can. What I had someone do once was to water from the top until the water came out of the overflow hole (make sure you fill the water reservoir first) to start the wicking process because he loaded the tub with dry soil. You can try that also. Just add the water on the plant side or the side opposite the fertilizer strip.

Thanks,
Joe

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 12:55PM
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richdelmo

Anyone have a comment regarding the question justadncr asked about the PVC link neilsc provided, it certainly makes you think PCV is not safe. I know nothing about it but would have to ask the same question...Don't we use PVC for our drinking water or is different?

    Bookmark   May 17, 2007 at 5:14PM
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kingturtle(Zone 7 GA)

Just want to say how much I appreciate everyone's helpful posts and inspiring pictures. Joe, your informative how-to posts are particulary appreciated. I'm a novice container gardener who has some experience with more traditional gardens, but am now living in a mountainous area of NW Georgia with steep slopes and poor soil which has necessitated adaptation from what I am familiar with. After reading a good bit about container gardens here and elsewhere, I am starting to see the advantages over traditional gardening on the ground as far as maintenance, water conservation, etc.

I have started this season with Earthboxes which as everyone here has noted, are nice but pricey, but have been reading with great interest the posts and comments about home-made containers. I was intrigued about the plastic bucket grow pots which would save alot of money. I was thinking of trying this design out for beans, okra, peas.

Joe, your design (I have the long pdf version) calls for a single 5 gal pot or two 5 gal pots - one inside the other. I was wondering if you or anyone else here had tried a variation using a 3.5 gal pot inside a 5 gal pot which would seem to allow more volume for water but at the expense of potting mix volume. Do you forsee any problems with this ratio of potting mix to water? Can you employ the EB method of dry fertilizer on the surface using a pot like this? How do you apply fertilizer - around the edge? Any overheating problems or fertilzer distribution concerns? Do you have any other additional tips or precautions to share about using buckets like this.

Thanks for any advice.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2007 at 1:30PM
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nealsc(Zone 6/NYC)

If you look on the bottom of those Rubbermaid Roughneck tubs you will see that they are made out of Polypropylene. While I don't think any scientist would say that Polypropylene is completely safe (it IS a plastic afterall) - it is FAR and ABOVE safer than Polyvinyl Chloride (aka PVC). Instead of using PVC for support in these self-watering containers you should try to use a Polypropylene alternative (they are out there is some Home Depot's in the piping section - look for a recyclable symbol of 5). You KNOW PVC isn't safe when companies such as Walmart and IKEA begin to phase out products that use PVC (due to consumer complaints). And yes - unfortunately, PVC is used in both water piping and in some home sidings. But the danger from PVC comes when it is HEATED (such as sitting in the sun all day) when it releases all its endocrine hampering fumes into the soil and plants near it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Another link on PVC and unsafe plastics

    Bookmark   May 26, 2007 at 4:10PM
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schwankmoe

nice. similar to the homemade EBs i'm running with, except i went a bit simpler (read: faster).

i drilled a buncha holes all over the inside bin, not just at the bottom, for good aeration. and instead of using a big tube for filling, i just drilled a few more overflow holes and use those to fill with a small hose that fits in and a homemade funnel made of a cut-up water bottle.

thing is, in hot weather my tomatoes are still pretty heavy drinkers and i need to refill every few days. but i just figured out an easy way to do it.

i have another container that i used for lettuce. it's a 40-quart plastic bin, short, wide and long. i set it up by my self-watering bins and run a hose like my filling hose into the reservoirs of my containers, making sure the hose lays at the bottom of the reservoirs.

then i fill the hose with water and shove it into the bottom of the old lettuce container which is filled to the same level as the EB overflow holes and voila, by the magical effect of the siphon i've effectively tripled the reservoir size. now i can just dump in a bucket of water into the extra bin every week or so.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2007 at 5:26PM
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emgardener

Thanks Joe for your designs. I've made about 10 of them to do my vegetable garden this year.

My water system is:

1 50gallon Rubbermaid Heavy Duty trash can. Drilled a small hole in the bottom and attached a 1/4" drip line which goes to a 5 gallon plastic bucket with a float value set to about 2". The the plastic bucket has another 1/4" drip tube that is connected to the 10 homemade "Earthboxes". So the siphon action keeps them fill to 2" of water. Everything is on a flat deck. So now I only need to fill up the 50gallon can every 2 weeks or so and can go on vacation and not worry.
Can post pictures if anyone interested.

Regards and thanks for all the info on this site,
EM

P.S. Learned the hard way to use the peat moss + vermiculite mix + compost mix. I used some "high quality" planting mix initially. All the plants did fine at first, but then died from being waterlogged.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 8:21PM
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biermaster

please do the photos, I am looking to do something like this. Thanks

    Bookmark   June 22, 2007 at 12:16PM
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emgardener

Beirmaster,
I'll post the pictures as a new message. I'd like to get comments from other people who have/are doing this.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2007 at 11:05PM
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mrleeinjaco

what might one use in place of fertilizer strips. we live outside the US (costa rica) and can't just go out and buy things like in the states; no walmart or home depot around!

    Bookmark   November 11, 2007 at 8:50AM
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scottyj

what they mean by fert. strip you can use any kind of fertizer that does not mix with water and instead of spreading it around the plants just put it in a straight row in front of the plant or in between the plants i would think any kind of fertilizer would work
thats just my opinnion im new at all this myself oh yea my sister uses horse manuer and so far her stuff looks real good

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 9:37PM
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linda_boylan_yahoo_com

Joe,I'm not in a hurry for a response as I'm in Michigan and won't plant till June 08.I have a few questions.I'm converting some decorative 5 gallon planters to earthboxes ,where I previously grew green peppers in regular ammended soil.One question is instead of regular fertilizer can I use a compost tea or some other more organic means of fertilizing? Also I hear alot about colored plastic mulches so could I use a green plastic on top and can you reuse the potting mix from year to year? Now after reading some comments about the saftey of pvc I wonder about the saftey of my plastic pots for growing food(I origanily started growing in pots because my yard is landscaped with r.r ties where the previous owners had a garden).I'm only going to start with converting 2 this next year as I plant about 30 pots. .thanks for your time

    Bookmark   December 26, 2007 at 12:59AM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)

Hi Linda,

Not Joe but I grow almost exclusively in EarthBox brand EarthBoxes. You can use compost tea. You would mix a weak solution of the compost tea and pour it into your reservoir. I call it "bottom feeding". 2007 was my first year with EB gardening and after the major growing season was almost over I began to experiment with pouring weak liquid fert solution into the EB reservoir - worked great!! You can use colored plastic mulches instead of black plastic. What ever you decide to use just be sure it is not toxic to use around food plants. Yes PVC does have some issues but for info on that you will have to do heavy duty web research and after reading you will have to decide which path to take. I have 15 'real' EBs and 5 "growboxes" that I made myself from 5 gallon buckets for the reservoir and 3 gallon buckets for the growing chamber. I used PVC pipe for the watering tube in 2007 but will use Bamboo in 2008. I plan to use red plastic on 2 of my tomato EBs in 2008 just to see if there is a difference in yield. I have been told that in my zone (7++) there is no advantage to using the red plastic.

Good luck in 2008 - you are gonna LOVE gardening in EarthBoxes. Come join us over on the EB forum. In respect for the EarthBox company most of the members on the EB forum do not talk much about their alternative containers. It is a really lively forum most of the time with LOTS of info on alternative ways to grow in EarthBoxes.

DL

    Bookmark   December 26, 2007 at 1:39AM
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pjintheozarks(6A)

emgardener, as fast as messages scroll here, I don't know where the thread is that has pics of your setup and I would love to see them. I have quite a few big containers in my garden and watering is really an issue for me. I'd like more info on how you're doing it. Thanks. PJ

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 5:26PM
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amenita

Is a wicker chamber (pond box)really necessary? There isn't one in the real commercial earthbox. All it has is a screen?

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 6:07PM
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its_kristy(8b)

Dancing lemons

You mention using bamboo for your EB. How are you removing the solid core in the joints of the bamboo? I am making some homemade EB's from 36 gallon totes and the length between the joints is in sufficient.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2008 at 4:19PM
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drtluvr_in_z6

Amenita,

You write about earth boxes & their clones.
If you look closely at the screen in the real earth box, or watch the video, you see there is a hole in the screen that is in the corner. This is packed with potting mix to serve as a wick. I'm debating whether to build one or buy one. The shipping charges are high.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2008 at 8:11PM
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bugsey2

Is there any simple instructions on making an earthbox? Anyway, I have been lurking in this forum and I don't live in the USA. What some people do here is this : they get a plastic containet; they fill the bottom sides with hard pebbles; then they put the potting mix. They also put something like a long bamboo or PVC pipe LIKE THAT... is the "idea" the same as the earthbox?

    Bookmark   February 5, 2008 at 12:14AM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)

its_kristy,

To get the core out of the bamboo I use a long drill bit called a paddle bit. You will have to find one with a long stem or drill each bamboo rod from each end to meet in the middle. If the bamboo is really old and dry you can just shove a metal rod down thru the middle and that will push out the dried inside 'stuff' - this did not work to well for me so I got the paddle bit.

drtluvr_in_z6,

Can't tell where you are in the US but if you are on the east coast the shipping charges are not that high for EB. They have a special 'clearance' price on EBs with NO casters. You get 5 EB for $125 and the shipping is $25 for the whole lot. If you go on the website click on the 'clearance' tab. Right now the clearance boxes are available in white and terracotta. You do have to buy the entire 5 to get that price.

DL

    Bookmark   February 5, 2008 at 1:02AM
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its_kristy(8b)

Bugsy, instructions on building your own can be found here:

http://www.josho.com/gardening.htm

There is a very long thread below regarding the use of these EB's.

http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/tomato/msg0712005018644.html?31

    Bookmark   February 5, 2008 at 4:42PM
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its_kristy(8b)

DL

I can't find a paddle drill bit that is a foot long, which is the minimum length I would need. Have you seen one?

    Bookmark   February 6, 2008 at 10:20AM
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veggie_fun_garden

Hello All,
Sorta Off Topic, but with intent to help :its_kristy,
I have a tool suggestion. There is an extended drill bit
device, that uses an allen wrench set screw to attach a
drill bit size of your choice, to make that longer reach.
I found one, cheap, at a Big Lots Store, here in Va. If
you have these stores near you check it out or check at
one of the major big box stores in their Tool Sections.
Hope this helps.
Mike

    Bookmark   February 23, 2008 at 1:21AM
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bruce825

Below is a copy my response to to a post emgardener made on showing photos of his automated watering system for earthboxes on another thread. I think it's a good way to cheaply water a bunch of boxes and wondered if anyone had thoughts on how to improve it.

[snip]

Nice post emgardener. I've been looking around for a cheap automatic watering system, yours makes a lot of sense.

What do you think of this idea -

Why not put the Hudson valve in the 5 gal bucket and then you could get rid of the reservoir? If you mount it high enough on the side, you should always have enough water to keep the feeder/outlet tube under water (and preserve the siphon effect to the rest of the containers.) Or am I missing something?

[end]

I'm going to try it on the 30 homemade boxes I've got on my garage roof. My pics are here.

Here is a link that might be useful: Rooftop boxes that need an automatic watering system

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 8:44PM
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vicinsea

I am way too cheap, errr, FRUGLE to actually buy an EB but I have read a lot about them. One of the things I have read is that "they" get really testy about us common folks using the name EarthBox(R) to discuss anything except their company's product. In light of that I propose that we start calling our homemade versions something else-I call mine Soil-Cells!

This year I am experimenting with a Soil-Cell design that I can build for $1.50 each.

So far this is the cheapest & fastest way I have found to make Self-Watering-Containers. And, yes I will be hooking mine up to an automatic watering system this summer.

Here is a link that might be useful: Up close look at my Soil-Cells

    Bookmark   April 14, 2008 at 6:22PM
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tarotmama_gmail_com

I find that the best way to feed plants is to foliar spray them weekly. I mix weak compost tea, seaweed tea,and any other organic nutrients that I want to give my plant into a spray bottle and spritz the leaves in the early morning before the sun gets hot. This works much better than feeding thru the roots, and causes no problems with the water in the reservoirs getting mucky.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2008 at 4:11AM
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seanseansean(8b)

where do you guys get your buckets for these and how do you go about asking for companies to donate these buckets to aspiring gardeners? :-)

    Bookmark   April 15, 2008 at 4:33AM
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vic01(z4MN)

We made some of these containers last year and they are great. Made some modifications, a plastic container you buy coffee in is a good substitute for the paint pails, drill some holes in the sides and fasten it just like the pails or tubes..it's about 6 inches high. We plan to make more this year, had super results and so much easier than bending over with a bad back.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2008 at 8:05AM
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silversofva

i know some have issues about using pvc,which I find odd. Do they realise that the potable water coming into their homes to drink out of is the same stuff?It gets heated up too when you turn the hot water on,lol. Anyway ,thanks for the tip on the coffee containers , I knew I was saving them for something. With only 3 days of rains in over 8 months here, I can't get my garden watered enough as well as the molecricket problem so my husband and I are making 24 boxes this weekend to start off. Thanks everyone for all the tips and pics. I"LL keep everyone posted and re-read your comments if I forget something, I usually manage to do that,lol. Another alternative I'm going to try are the hard plastic colanders I found at the dollar store.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2008 at 6:22PM
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iyengar21(z7 MD)

I'm planning to make a few of these containers this year for tomatoes and eggplant. Does anyone have recommendations on a specific fertilizer? I have some Miracle Gro that's been sitting around for a while and would like to use up and was wondering if I could use that. Thanks!

    Bookmark   May 2, 2008 at 12:08PM
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npthaskell(coastal oregon)

Silversofva wrote:

> i know some have issues about using pvc, which I find odd

PVC is normally rigid. To make PVC flexible, plasticizers are added. Some plasticizers are not toxins or carcinogens in a classic sense, but they mimic steroid hormones and may effect the way your cells read the genetic code (example: feminization of males). I bring up this issue in a thread about using vinyl coated window screen as a material to make pots. I bring up a similar issue, involving using fabric made from recycled PET soda bottles, in another thread about using bags as pots (Wal-Mart has cheap bags, made of recycled PET, that I think could be used as pots).

PVC pipe is somewhat rigid. Therefore, I assume that these "dangerous" plasticizers are not added to PVC pipe. I agree, the concern seems "odd" given that drinking water comes through PVC pipe in many homes.

It is just an example of how stories mutate upon retelling. "Some PVC products may be dangerous" mutates to "All PVC products are dangerous".

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 8:18PM
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npthaskell(coastal oregon)

I now see that there is a thread in this forum specifically about PVC pipe; this thread in turn links to a more detailed thread about PVC pipe in the tomato forum. Link below.

Upon reading the thread in the tomato forum, I realize that my concern about fabric made from recycled PET was based on reports about polycarbonate bottles. I was confusing PET with polycarbonate. OOPS! Sorry.

Upon reading the other thread, I now realize that part of the PVC concern isn't just about plasticizers; but about issues related to the manufacture of PVC and the disposal-by-burning of waste PVC (or accidental fire of non-waste PVC). In regards to PVC pipe, these other issues have some merit. In my opinion, these other issues do not have enough merit to reject using PVC pipe as a structural component in home made earthboxes. Most of the other issues (except accidental fire) probably have simple technological fixes and just require enforcement of rules and laws already on the books.

Here is a link that might be useful: PVC thread in this forum.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2008 at 5:01AM
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mikewrt

about 2 years a go I found plans for making EB type containers, they used 2 rubbermaid totes, a 14 gal inside an 18 gal. I haven't been able to find the plans again on the web. Does anyone have copies of these plans.
thanks
mike

    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 12:12AM
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vic01(z4MN)

jmalt, we made our own version of these growing containers last year. They worked great but due to expense hubby substituted a red plastic coffee cannister( commonly sold in most groceries now). He drilled plenty of holes in the cannister and used it as the main wick. Works just fine and saves money too as well as recycling the coffee containers.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2008 at 8:30AM
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hollan(7)

I made several boxes by combining some of Joe's ideas. They have 2 wicking chambers, no holes in the screen, and 1-4" aeration tube. I used Miracle Grow Organic potting mix and white plastic on the top so it wouldn't get too hot. I put 2 cups of lime in the tomato box.

I planted them just over a week ago, and so far most all of the plants are starting to turn yellow. The top of the soil has stayed wet since it rained 6 days ago.



The pepper in the bucket is from the same tray as the 2 in the back of the self watering container that are now smaller and more yellow . I've read on this board that you don't have to use the plastic cover, so I'm thinking maybe I should take it off, take out the fertilizer strip, and hopefully allow the soil to dry out a little more so the plants won't turn yellow. I'm wondering if I should've used a different soil. Anyone having better luck that could advise me?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2008 at 5:49PM
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yaquigrande(6)

I just built my first box. I followed the instructions found on www.josho.com. Here where I live, there is a "second hand" materials store where I bought a 25 foot of extruded aluminium pipe (less that 1/8" thick) for $5.00 dlls. After I cut the pieces I need, I'll be paying less than a dollar per tube. For my first box, I went all out and bought a copper pipe for $5.00 at Lowe's. So far, the birds ate all the cantaloupe plants but one and it is doing ok. I haven't noticed it growing any faster than the cantaloupes growing on regular soil, but it is not growing any less either. I went on vacation for a week and it was great not having to worry about watering. If this works, I'll be building more of them next year.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 11:40PM
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phyllis__mn

To the poster above with the pictures....if you have no holes in the "screen" your plants are probably too wet.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2008 at 6:45PM
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wd8lee

I am confused about where to put the landscape material. Does it go over the aeration screen? Do I cut a hole in the landscape material so that the soil is able to wick the water up to the roots? I just assumed that it would go over the screen to keep the soil from falling down in to the lower water reservoir. I see that in some of the pictures, the landscape material is covering the tubes for aeration. I would appreciate any help on this.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 12:06AM
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jleiwig

yes to both your questions. I put window screen over my aeration bench, and cut holes over the wicking chambers.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 2:51PM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

Hello All,

The latest version of my documents can be found here:

http://grow.lot-o-nothin.com/self-watering-container-instructions

Making a Self Watering Container 1.45 MB
Dual Tub Self Watering Container 498.33 KB
SWC Comparison Results 4.03 MB
Decorative Self Watering Containers 2.81 MB

Thanks,
Joe

Here is a link that might be useful: Here is the same link

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 4:36PM
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wd8lee

One more question about the landscape material: Do I need to put this around the 4" PVC supports that is used for wicking? If not, does the soil get in to the water reservoir?

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 7:37PM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

No the supports do not get covered. Yes a little of the potting mix gets into the water reservoir but not enough to worry about it. These things work, I and many here have been using them successfully for 5 years (at least for me) or more. I have not had any problems with them.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2009 at 1:00PM
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wd8lee

Thanks Joe. I appreciate all the information that you have provided. I have 2 containers and I have already cut out the lids. The next step is to cut the pipes. I am looking forward to getting these ready for the planting season. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2009 at 12:12AM
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vic01(z4MN)

Joe, I tried clicking on the link you provided but it says you do not have permission to enter this site. Any suggestions?

    Bookmark   March 19, 2009 at 7:29AM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

I do not know what happened to person who was sponsoring the docs must have folded the website. I have uploaded them to Google docs for now. If you are a member of Google docs please send me an email and I will send an invite to download them. (it is free to join and they did not ask for personal information) The link to Google docs is below. Otherwise send me an email and will have to email them to you. This may take some time if I get a lot of request.

Thanks,
Joe

Here is a link that might be useful: Google docs

    Bookmark   March 20, 2009 at 12:35PM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

These are now back online the link is below.

Here is a link that might be useful: SWC PDFs

    Bookmark   March 26, 2009 at 1:37PM
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kawaiineko_gardener(5a)

Hello, this sounds like a great idea. I have a few questions about it though. First off, what is an earthbox?
Second, could you use this homemade self-watering container
for container gardening? If so, how? Would I have to make changes and measurements to your design based upon how big the container I use would be?

So far, I know the most common size containers I would use for container gardening would be 1 gallon, 5 gallon, and 10 gallons; possibly 15 gallon containers, but that's not likely unless I plant something that needs lots of space, like melons, tomatoes,
eggplant, or any type of squash.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2009 at 4:47PM
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azbookworm

Anyone from Arizona use these Earthboxes?

Just wondering since the heat can ruin plants so fast! How often you have to water, etc.

Share your experience?

    Bookmark   March 30, 2009 at 11:07AM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

The heat can be an issue in your area. We had a guy from Texas if I remember correctly and he had a problem with the tomatoes wilting until he planted another container next to the first one. The second one shaded the side of the first container the the roots we not being roasted. the first container did fine from that point on. I believe that tied a few boards to any side that was in full sun. the plants were about 3 inches from the side of the container. perhaps moving them closer to the center may help as well. I have also head of people mounding dirt around the boxes as well or partially burying them with a chamber for the overflow hole.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2009 at 3:54PM
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catlady10(6)

I read about a simple solution to the PVC pipe problem in Organic Gardening.You simply use a tube of cardboard like one that comes in the plastic wrap or aluminum wrap and shove it into the soil.Then you pour pea gravel down the tube and slowly remove it.I guess you could leave the paper tube in since it is biodegradable.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 1:07PM
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lightfusegetaway

azbookworm, and others in hot climates,

I am in southern AZ and just built my first self-watering container the other night.

While I can't answer you on the basis of experience, I was in Lowes the other day and ran across some stuff that may work really well for insulating. It looks like a roll of foil bubble wrap. It was near the plumbing parts. I didn't catch what it was exactly. I believe it's made for insulating AC ducts, but it looked like it was about the right height for wrapping the Rubbermaid containers. Just sort of popped into my mind after reading your question.

Hope this is helpful.

-Owen

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 1:58AM
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vmckague(Central Mo. Zone 5)

This is my first year with earthtainers and was also wondering about the rubbermaid totes getting to hot. I'm going to try and use the leftover lids for shading the boxes. Any ideas on how to attach the lids to the sides of boxes leaving a 1 or 2 inch air space between the lids and the side of the tainers? This idea won't probably be pretty but it should work. Shouldn't it???

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 6:20AM
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mollywk(5A)

sorry if this has already been addressed, but are there alternatives to using pvc tubing? not because of the pvc concerns mentioned up-thread, but simply because i don't have the tools to cut it! any thoughts on this?

also, are the fertilizer strip and mulch necessary? i was planning to build a SWC for root vegetables, which would mean that I'd have quite a number of plants per container, and, if I understand all of this correctly, would therefore have to cut a corresponding number of holes in the covering? I'd just as soon leave the top open and use slow-release and/or fertilizer in the water; am I missing something here?

Thanks!

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 10:48AM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

Hello Mollywk,

If you have a drill then just drill 2 or 3 1/4 holes to the bottom of the tube. It does not need to be cut. Also I have included a link below to see what can be grown in a SWC. Yes you can use fert in the water it has been done before. The reason for the cover is to protect the fert strip from getting wet and releasing too much fert into the soil at once and burning the roots and also, to keep the soil from drying out due to evaporation.

Thanks,
Joe

Here is a link that might be useful: What to grow in a SWC

    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 4:40PM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

Vmckague,

You can use some scrap wood or branches as spacers and then just tie a string around the tub. It will not look pretty but as you say it should work. A better solution is to use 1 inch foam insulation sheets sold at the home centers they are not that expensive. Foam coolers may also work if you cut them and tie or glue them on.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 4:48PM
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trungson(9b San Jose CA)

I just built a test box and use the Earth-Gro potting soil ($5 per 2 cuft at Home Depot) and leave it outside under the sun and wind. It still stays pretty moist, not wet.

One problem I have is with cutting the lid, with a knife, it's still quite challenging and time-consuming.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2009 at 3:54PM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

The dual tub design is the easiest type to build. It does have the cost of the extra tub (one 18 gallon tub and a 14gallon tub to fit inside it). See my instruction from the link above and here below. No need to cut the a lid with this design.

Here is a link that might be useful: link to SWC instructions

    Bookmark   May 12, 2009 at 4:46PM
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imstillatwork(8-9 Oregon Coast / Ca Border)

Joe, these have been downloaded over 200 times since I started hosting them. A lot of people are finding them. Mine are working great. I plan on having about 20 18 gallon SWC's next year.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2009 at 8:33PM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

Cool that's great news! I glad people are able to use the information and put it to good use.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2009 at 1:19PM
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tn_veggie_gardner(7)

What are your opinions on a still very cheap (poor man's version) of the Earthbox/SWC for someone who doesn't own a drill? I'm goign to HD later & would like to maybe get the stuff to put one together.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2009 at 4:18PM
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imstillatwork(8-9 Oregon Coast / Ca Border)

If you are really cheap for tools, find stuff at yard sales. Just be careful with battery / cordless tools this way, often the batteries are toast, and cost a LOT to replace.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2009 at 3:21PM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

bump

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 11:41AM
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imstillatwork(8-9 Oregon Coast / Ca Border)

might as well get this to the top for new people to find it :) I'm glad I did when i did.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2009 at 2:07AM
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johnny_tomato_seed

Thanks for bumping.

I am building the 18 gallon tote SWC. What is the middle smaller pipe for in the very first picture, filling ? I am thinking about putting the filler tube inside one of the corner 4" pvc support.

Originally, I was going to put the 14 gallon tote inside the 18 gallon tote. This allows about 6 inches of space for aeration and water, which is plenty, even too much if you ask me. It seems 14 gallon is plenty of space for the mix. But I am thinking 4" is plenty for the aeration and water rather than 6". I don't mind filling every other day. It's only 5 containers and eventually probably set up automatic watering.

Anyways, so there I was at lowes getting ready to buy the rubbermaid 14 gallon tote. Then I see the sale price for 18 gallon at $6 and 14 gallon at $7.47. Sheesh, paying more for less material. http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?action=productList&N=4294961544&Ne=4294967294&Ntk=i_products&Ntt=rubbermaid+gallon

So I decide I am just going to put one 18 gallon into another. I will use 5 piece of 4" X 4" support to allow more space for water but at the same time give almost 18 gallon of potting mix. There will be small gap the 18 now won't sit snug on top of the other one.

Comments welcome.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2009 at 12:46PM
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wd8lee

I am posting a follow up to let you know that I made 2 boxes and the plants are doing amazingly well. I don't know how to add pictures to this post but take my word for it, the plants are spectacular. I am growing some Jolokia peppers and from all that I have read, they are suppose to be very hard to raise. Well, you wouldn't know it from the way these are growing. The amount of peppers that it is producing is incredible. For me, there is no other way to garden.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2009 at 5:18PM
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jmalt31(NJ Zone 7)

bump

    Bookmark   March 12, 2010 at 2:10PM
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ilovegardening10

Not to knock the do it your-selfer but there is a cheaper stronger box available at agardenpatch.com.
It does the same thing but it will save you alot of time and aggravation.

Here is a link that might be useful: agardenpatch.com

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 11:51AM
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ggrizzyg_aol_com

I followed Joe's plan for last two years. I think mounding the soil mix is crucial so the mix does not get too wet during rain. I use landscape fabric in the wicking chamber and it work well. I put two tomatoes in an 18 gal roughneck and also put five peppers in that size. I put one tomato in a five gallon Home D bucket, one inside another. I make the wicking chamber a little higher now so there is more water in the bottom bucket and it also allows for air to surround the soil bucket which now does not sit all the way into the resevoir bucket. I wedge some scrap wood between the two buckets to allow air to surround the soil bucket. This works so well all of my engineering effort is figuring out how to support 12' tall tomato and 6' tall pepper plants.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 4:21PM
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MammaBlogga_xsoldx_com

There is no need to be concerned about using PVC, or drilling out bamboo, etc. Simply eliminate it altogether! Rather than drilling a 1/4" overflow hole in the reservoir container, drill a 1" hole instead and use it for filling until water runs out. You can even stick your finger in the hole to check for water remaining in your reservoir if you like.

Here is a link that might be useful: My Blog On Gardening

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 11:39PM
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spurs2150

Thanks to all of you who shared your designs and experience with self watering containers. My husband is building some for me to plant veggies in as I am typing this. We have 2 wheeled ice chests we want to recycle, and since they already have the wheels, we want to make them into self watering containers. Does that sound like it would work ok, or can you think of a reason why we should not. We are also making 4 self watering containers out of 14 gal. totes. Is that too small for 2 indeterminate cherry tomato plants? I was thinking maybe only one tomato should be planted per container. I have already viewed the recommended Earthbox diagrams, but it has one plant being planted in one corner. Wouldn't it be better to plant one plant in the center? I will be using a 5-6-6 organic fertilizer. Sorry for the multiple questions but I am new to this. Thanks in advance for your help and advice.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2011 at 7:06PM
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Yme405(10b SW Fla)

This is my first year with a self watering system and I used PVC for the fill pipe and some PVC lattice we had laying around to support the soil before I realized that that was probably not a good idea. So I am interested in making a switch to bamboo because my systems work and I don't want to mess with the design, just incorporate friendlier materials. Can those who used bamboo as a fill pipe please tell me about your experiences? Forgive me if I did not find a thread on this already. I did try searching but am new to the forums so may have some operator error going on there. My concern is that the bottom of the bamboo will be sitting in water and the majority of the rest of the pipe will be in moist soil. Has anyone had rotting issues? Is there a preferred bamboo type for use in this situation? How much of a lifespan do these bamboo fill pipes have (copper may be more $ up front but less in the long run)?

Thank you for any help,
Chrissy

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 9:12AM
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