So this summer heralded a lot of lifestyle changes for my family and, having more time than money I thought I would try to grow some vegetables. I was inspired by what I found in my shed: decades old EarthBox’s. An EarthBox is a planter that is designed to be filled with potting soil, fertilizer + lime, covered in plastic and watered through a tube. In addition to the three planters I already owned, I inherited three from my mother-in-law so I knew I could grow a lot of plants and have a generous bounty.
As you can see I was pretty determined to avoid weeding, and mowing around planters (been there, done that, no thanks.) I put down weed barrier fabric and bark mulch; to keep everything in place I used a handy edging system. This year we also added two small dogs to our family and keeping them away from my veg was important (read: don’t pee on the veg.) By creating a permanent home for the container garden I hoped I could allow the planters to overwinter in place and get refreshed with new fertilizer and topped off with potting soil, covered and replanted in the spring. I put the planter’s on 2×4’s, in case they needed to be moved and to avoid the drain holes getting clogged by bark mulch.
If you are a skilled gardener you may notice my naive belief that the tripod I constructed would be adequate support for SIX cucumber vines. I have never met a cucumber vine, I just know we like cucumbers and I quickly had to build another 8 foot tall tripod as well as a trellis on the deck railing to support the vines. In the end I think the vines grew about 20 feet long and climbed over 10 feet high.
I also learned something about the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomato plants. Because the entire project was born out of a desire to have vegetables and do very little work I did not take seriously the invitation to “pinch” tomato plants. This failure triggered the construction of more 8 foot tall tripods to respond to a 12 foot tall tomato plant. No, not even at this point did I think about pruning, I think I was so delighted to watch everything grow. Eventually my daughter and I cut off the tops of the tomato plants because we couldn’t build anything tall enough to support the heavy fruits.
Taking Stock: What I Would Do Differently.
I put one bush style Roma tomato and one slicing tomato in an Earthbox. I think I would avoid this configuration in the future. The slicing tomato got huge and took all of the water and nutrients and the Romas did poorly. While I will want four tomato plants again I need to rethink who bunks with whom.
I planted one EarthBox with six bush style green beans. This was a lot of fun and I was able to pick green beans everyday and by the end of the week we had a healthy collection of beans to eat on Saturday. The plants continued to provide beans all summer and we would still be in October if a bunny had not taken out a lot of the plants.
I put six pepper plants in one EarthBox; this was pretty successful and I would have gotten more bell peppers if I had staked them better. One plant was badly broken under the weight of the fruit. I talked about my pepper projects in a previous blog post: Hot, Hot, Hot! In the future I won’t need to grow hot peppers and if you have any suggestions for what to plant leave me a comment.
In another EarthBox I planted six different herbs, and other then the quickly wilting cilantro this was a brilliant success. I also planted some Chocolate Mint and Dill in flower pots and was able to harvest and dry a lot of herbs.
The planter full of cucumbers was amazing and was so much fun that I would definitely repeat this set up next year, especially since I have the trellis and tripod already constructed.
The biggest disappointment and hiccup in the process was running out of nutrients and the development of blossom end rot. The indeterminate tomato took a lot of nutrients and water, as did the cucumbers and because I am a low work, high yield sort of a gardener I didn’t think to begin watering twice a day and providing supplemental fertilizer until the plants were already stressed. Next year I will be sure to add a richer fertilizer when prepping the boxes and begin using a water based fertilizer about 8 weeks in or at the first sign of stress. The EarthBox website makes the claim you can get your entire yield from the fertilizer put into the potting soil before planting. Maybe that can be accomplished with their proprietary blend but not with what I was using. Both the tomato and cucumbers got yellow leaves but eventually responded well to epsom salt and miracle grow added with weekly waterings.
For next year I still have some questions:
- When do I stop providing plant food?
- How do I know when a plant will stop giving fruit?
- If one plant appears done for the season will it harm the others to cut it off at the soil level? Or should I just leave it until I pack up all the plants for the season?
- Do I overwinter with the plastic covering on? or off?
- How many years can I reuse the potting soil before I should just toss it all and start fresh again?
- If my tomatoes did not get as large as stated on the label is it because of light or nutrients?….or both?
I think the project was a success and it gave my family of three enough produce to keep things interesting and to put some food aside for the winter months. If any of my readers have suggestions or feedback it is most welcome.