Home made potting medium for Tomatoes in Earthboxes

alina_1May 10, 2012

Hi everyone,

After a failure to grow Tomatoes in the garden last year (critters ate everything), I decided to try Earthboxes. I have some patio space and deer, rabbits, and squirrels seem to not like to have their breakfast too close to the home.

I ordered a couple of Earthbox kits. The kits include Coir - enough to fill the entire container. I think that using just Coir alone would be too lean for tomatoes...

Here what I have:

  • Fine pine bark mulch

  • Organic garden soil

  • Perlite

  • Tomato-tone fertilizer

  • Coir (coconut?) fiber that came with Earthboxes

Do you think I can mix these ingredients to get a good potting medium? If so, what proportions I should use? Should I add aspirin tablets?

I would really appreciate any useful info/advice.


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I have grown tomatoes in EBs for several years. Recently, they came out with the coir in some of their kits and it has not been well received. General reaction from gardeners is to use it with potting mix. You mention soil. Never use a product which contains compost or manures. Soiless potting mix is what you want. I have some of the coir kits myself and just mix some of it in with my regular mix. I would not add more than, maybe 25% coir. My regular mix is about 50% peat moss 35% potting mix, the rest pine bark fines and perlite. I use 3 cups of tomatotone in a strip. You do not need to "build soild" in an Earthbox as you might in the ground. You are simply providing a growing medium to hold the roots so they may absorb moisure and ferts provided. Do not add asprin, eggshells or any such thing. Add 2 cups of dolomite lime or if you cant find that add Epsoma garden lime available at Home Depot. Good luck. I love my Earthboxes!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 11:25AM
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That is a response I hoped for :)
Thank you for the detailed description. I am an experienced gardener, but not with tomatoes.

I saw Epsoma lime in our HD. It is advertised as an additive for changing Hydrangea color. I was wondering whether it would be a good substitute for dolomite. I guess, this lime is exactly what you meant, right?

Can you tell me what are your favorite tomatoes for growing in Earthboxes? I already bought all varieties basing on Tomatoes forum recommendation, but I would also like to know your opinion. Do you plant two tomatoes in each of your Earthboxes?

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 12:04PM
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Not positive about the lime as I actually purchase labeled dolomite lime at my nursery. I saw Epsoma Garden Lime at HD last week and checked to see that it had Magnesium and Calcium which is what you are looking for. Check Epsoma on line and they will have a full description of their products. I pretty much only grow tomatoes and love them all, well, almost. I do plant two in an EB and I live in a hot SoCal climate so they drink up the water fast in summer. I typically grow heirloom indeterminates although I am trying various smaller, determinates lately. I really like a tomato called Druzba, also like Jaune Flamme, Prudens Purple. I have read on Daves site that somebody has had good success with both Box Car Willie and Mule Team in an Earthbox so I am trying both of those this year. In my experience, it is a lot easier to grow toms in an EB. Biggest mistake people seem to make is getting the wrong growing medium. Most important is that it wicks and to wick, it needs to have lots of peat moss. First year I grew in straight peat moss because I thought that was correct LOL. They still grew!!! Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 1:16PM
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Thank you!
For some reason, I can't find the fact sheet for that Epsoma Lime. I guess, this new organic one would work - it is not hydrated and they recommend to use it on ornamental plants and on vegetables. It is also slow-releasing.
I would probably use that Coir I already have instead of peat - it is supposed to wick and has very similar qualities.

Thank you again! That was really helpful!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 1:49PM
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Yes, thats what I saw and I think it has mag and cal which is what you are looking for.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 3:35PM
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I bought that Epsoma Organic lime yesterday. It is exactly what should be used with tomatoes - dolomitic, non-hydrated lime. Both calcium and magnesium are there and it is slow releasing.
I thought I'd mention this here in the case someone else is reading this thread.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 1:36PM
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Perfect - thanks!

    Bookmark   May 13, 2012 at 11:24AM
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I have been using Earthbox containers for four years. I find a high percentage of my tomatoes had BER. I have tried changing fertilizers but have used Dolemite from EB in every box. Has anyone tried a water soluble mineral mix at planting? I normally dampen the potting soil from the top dowm at planting until overflow and then water into the tubes from then on. I am still experiencing BER. Any ideas?

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 10:53AM
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My garden supply person sold me gypsum when I asked for dolomite. She told me it would do the same thing - supply needed calcium to prevent BER. Anyone? Is this true or should I be worried? (Using earth buckets/ earth boxes & DIY earthboxes)

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 1:59PM
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Dolomite lime is also important to keep the PH in normal range when growing in Earthboxes and similar containers. Peat and peat based mixes get acidic over time, I don't know if gypsum works in the same manner. You always need to tell nursery / garden workers you are growing in an Earthbox container. However many of them have no idea about the specific growing conditions needed for success.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 11:02AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Wow, this thread is filled with bad info, Peat is a compost. It's not a very good one, but most certainly is compost. I don't use or know anything about earthboxes. I use pots and I use manure and compost, especially with tomatoes! I have for decades with fantastic results. So some of us here don't follow the no compost rule. Actually no one does as peat is a compost
You can replace peat with better compost.
Lime takes 6 months to a year to work. It will not help for BER as this problem is due to inconsistent watering, too much or too little. The roots are damaged and are unable to take up calcium. I guess it's possible if a lot of calcium, it may help, but no proof that I know of? I don't see how adding more calcium is going to make the roots take it up? How that cures the roots inability to absorb? If you want a quick calcium fix try calcium nitrate. If the plant already has plenty of calcium, the damage from too little or too much water can be negated somewhat.
Some tomatoes are prone to some BER like paste tomatoes.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 3:52PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

BER is more often than not a physiological issue, occurring when the plant's ability to absorb Ca is outstripped by it's need or demands placed by rapid growth. BER often occurs during periods of peak growth, even when the plant's roots are healthy and there is an adequate supply of Ca in the soil. Cultural conditions that slow the nutrient stream exacerbate the problem - soggy or compacted soils and cool, cloudy conditions with high humidity; and some varieties are more apt to be affected than others.

I'd like to see some pictures of Drew's tomatoes grown in conventional container culture using a mix of manure and compost as the growing medium.

Whether peat or peat-based soils become acidic or basic over time depends on the analysis of the water being used to irrigate and whether the fertilizer is acid-forming or base-forming.

Alina - how 'fine' is the pine bark? A picture of a handful?


    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 4:12PM
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