I'm blind- have question about self-watering container gardening

floridadawgloverSeptember 29, 2011

Hi everyone,

I've been reading the posts about self-watering containers on this forum with great interest. I am a physically active blind woman and I'd like to start a vegetable and herb garden this year. I have a screen reader that reads text on my computer, but pictures and diagrams are totally inaccesible to me. Thus, I very much appreciate any and all answers to my questions below.

I live in SW FL (near Tampa) and the only area I can put the containers are along the south side of my stucco condo-- thus they will be exposed to full sun with no shade. Am I correct to assume that given this location and my visual impairment that my best bet are the self-watering containers? If so, which brand do you recommend regarding durability, practicality, best results, etc)? Just as important, which brand has a water reservoir that is least likely to be accessible to mosquitoes, or is this a problem with all self-watering units? The ones I have read about include the earthbox, growbox, and gardener's supply sw containers-- are there others I should look into?

Being a new gardener and all, I'm going to start small, and hopefully add more boexes as I go. Given where I live (hot and humid) and where I will have the containers (next to the south side of the condo) which begetables do you recommend I try growing? Which ones would you definitely advoid. I am thinking cherry or grape tomatoes, banana or green peppers, cukes, arugula, and maybe green or yellow string beans?

Any and all suggestions and advice would be very much appreciated.

Thank you,


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Hi Linda,

Let me start by saying I am still somewhat of a novice myself.

Were you mainly thinking about self-watering containers in order to monitor the moisture levels, or do you have other reasons you think your impairment would be an issue with watering?

I'm personally a bit wary of self-watering containers since persistent moisture levels can cause fungal problems. That shouldn't be an issue if the container was designed well, but is worth mentioning. I know other people use them though, and I have no experience with them, so hopefully others will chime in with advice on specifics regarding those.

I mainly wanted to say that the most reliable indicators of when to water that I use all involve touch rather than sight. I rely on visual cues like drooping foliage and apparent soil moisture to keep them from getting into big trouble, but that's only the most blatant indicator, which I try to avoid relying on.

Instead what I try to do is, for example, when my peppers are just starting to wilt, I can't always tell by looking, so I touch the leaves to see how pliable they are and that lets me know unambiguously if the plant has begun to wilt.

For my other plants, which I'm usually a little more careful about and don't allow to dry out too much, I keep either wooden chopsticks or skewers in the potting medium. The best way for me to check the moisture level is by removing the skewer and touching the end to see how dry it is.

Even if you do use some sort of self-watering system, you may still be able to rely on touch to help monitor moisture levels. I don't really grow many veggies, so maybe there are other factors I'm not considering that would make my process less useful for vegetable gardening? I'm not sure.

Anyway, thought I'd share.

I'll be curious to hear anyone in your zone comment on how peppers and tomatoes do in that area. I know they like it hot, but I'm not sure if they like humidity!



    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 1:47AM
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dickiefickle(5B Dousman,Wi.)

There is Florida Forum here which can help you get the correct planting dates ,as Florida has two planting seasons .I am concerned you may fry plants with out any shade .

    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 4:17AM
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stay away from the gardeners supply swc. they have no over flow drain and if it gets any soil in the water fill tube you are screwed. with a good soil mix there isnt a problem with fungal problems. you can put a cork with a piece of wire in it and put it down the fill tube and use it as a indicator of the water level. as for gowing in florida i dont have a clue, im along way from there.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 9:48AM
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To answer your question, I would try an earthbox as your self-watering container. Other options would be Lowe's or Home Depots's city picker or patio picker box.

The Earthbox is easy to use and is somewhat full proof if you use the right "soiless" mixture. I would also consider using some bamboo sticks to attach a piece of sunshade to provide a more tolerable environment from the sun the plants will receive. The sticks can be pushed into the soil mixture. I would make sure the shade is high enough for the crops you will grow and to allow maximum airflow.

If you start early (January) start with lettuce, beets, and carrots. As you move through the Spring replace the lettuce with a cherry tomato and beans (March). You will have to remember the tomato plant get crazy big and may hit the top of our sun shade depending on the height of the bamboo sticks. Please don't quote me on the dates as I am not as familiar with your area. Someone from your climate should best advice you.

One question for you, is there any type of overhang that would shade the plants at all? I have some plants under a complete overhang that are growing incredibly well. They miss the midday sun and that seems to be ok with them.

Just a thought,

    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 10:04AM
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To answer the replies to my original post so far:

I am thinking self-watering containers to reduce potential problems with insects and other pests (which I can't see) -- a potential problem with in-ground planting, because these containers seem easier to maintain (ie. fertilizer strips), and to lessen the likelihood of me over or under watering.

Thank you for telling me about the Florida forum. I will definitely check it out.

I also love the cork/wire suggestion for monitoring the water level as well as the suggestion to use bamboo poles to rig up sun shades. My husband, who is also blind, is quite handy with his hands, so he will be able to fashion all these things for me. There is a little bit of an overhang, but it won't offer much shade.

Regarding the proper potting mix, I am confused. the earthbox website seems to suggest all you need is their potting mix, dolimite, and fertilizer strip and you are ready to go. Yet on this forum, I keep reading about all kinds of "recipes" for creating the best growing environment and drainage. Mixing up my own stuff is pretty much out of the question, so is there anything that is ready-made that you recommend for the earthbox?

And finally, what about mosquitoes? Are they able to breed in the water reservoirs of the earthbox for instance?


    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 11:44AM
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I am in Florida. In your circumstances, you could order Pro Mix through Lowes (Potting Mix not SOIL) or a Jungle Growth (Potting Mix) try to avoid those with extra wetting agents. I mix up my own but I have used ready mixed "soils" in the past.

Mosquitos - I use little mosquito pills. I drop one down the pipe about avery 6 weeks. These pills are meant for outside water fountains or bird baths. I did not have problem with mosquitoes once I started using these pills while gardening in Texas and so far I have not had problems here in Florida.

Under the circumstance buy the Earthbox from the Earthbox Store online and it will come with everything you need. You may need someone to initially help you set it up. I am about an hour away from you but I would be willing to help when you get it.


    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 6:10PM
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Hi Laurie,

Thanks so much for telling me about the mosquito pills-- I will definitely find and use them. Also, I am truly touched by your generous offer to help me set up-- but I actually live in Sun City Center which is more like an hour and a half from Orlando. Nevertheless, I would very much welcome meeting you in person if you still would want to make this trip.

I took the suggestion to check out the Florida forum and I have been learning alot by reading the threads there. Would you believe that I discovered on that forum that the Earthbox Research Center is located in Ellenton, which is only about 25 minutes from where I live??!! I am going to have my daughter, who lives in tampa, take me there-- it's so close to where I live that I am sure that whatever works in the Earthboxes there should work for me too-- well theoretically anyway..

. smile.

I'd love to keep in touch with you, is it safe to post my personal email address here?


    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 9:08AM
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I used SWCs for over 10 years and my parents in florida have one.

If you go this route, garden supply sells a mix for their SWC that is pretty good. I helped them set it up.

They planted tomatoes that did well at first but did develop diseases late in the season.

Personally I moved away from SWCs because even with the optimized mixes my plants alway developed fungal and other diseases late in the season compared to traditional pots.

Depending on your situation you might want to consider doing a traditional pot with some store bought mix. Mix in some controlled released fertilizers also. CRFs can also be used in SWCs.

You could do a traditional pot and an SWC to see which does better for a season, before you go all out and buy a large number of SWCs.

Eggplants like it wet so they do ok in SWCs.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 2:35PM
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hi Linda, I just tried to email you through this post but it said you could not receive email. If you want you can email me by pressing the email this post option. It will go to my email account and then I can email you from there.


    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 6:19PM
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sutremaine(UK S.Wales 9)

And finally, what about mosquitoes? Are they able to breed in the water reservoirs of the earthbox for instance?

It seems like it should be simple to put some mesh over the overflow hole and some more mesh (or a solid barrier) over the watering tube. Is it that simple...?

    Bookmark   October 5, 2011 at 6:41PM
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You can use mosquito pills. Just drop them into the water tube and presto no mosquitos. I have been know to put a knee high over the tube as well.


    Bookmark   October 5, 2011 at 7:02PM
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