Gardening a PhD Can Do – Earthbox Tutorial

As the weather gets closer to spring, and the seed catalogs are piling up, I decided it was time to rebuild the Earthbox Tutorial that was lost in the ISP switch, so the family can use it as a refresher, and I can provide examples to everyone I mention them to.

I am in no way compensated by the Earthbox company for my enthusiastic support of their product.  But I LOVE these things. As someone without much natural patience, and little patience for maintenance routines, these planters make it possible for us to have real tomatoes growing along our driveway, and to have fresh herbs within reach of the kitchen door all summer.  These make home cooking fun and more tasty.  How’s that for Slow Food?

Of course, you can learn this in more detail from the Earthbox site, but these are containers that have a water reservoir in the bottom, and a mulch cover on top, so it is gardening with  NO WEEDING and it’s IMPOSSIBLE TO OVER WATER.  We currently have about 6 Earthboxes in our collection, and we may supplement them this season, as we have yet to have too many tomatoes.  Essentially, all you need to do is go buy yourself an Earthbox, some potting soil, and some healthy seedlings.  After about half an hour of setup time, all you do all summer is add water, and pick vegetables!

We  grow herbs and tomatoes and peppers in our Earthboxes, but you can grow almost any plant in them.  In the tutorial, I’ll demonstrate how I planted herbs in a new Earthbox, and then how I replanted an existing Earthbox with tomato plants.  (For some history, for Xmas, we had given several relatives a  Complete Kit and this was to show them how to set it up.)

Besides a good pair of scissors, the best things to have around when gardening with Earthboxes is this:

Water Bucket and Funnel

Water Bucket and Funnel

If  you have easy access to a hose, that works, too.

When you get an Earthbox Complete Kit (my recommendation for newbies), here’s what comes in the box:

Earthbox Package Contents

Earthbox Package Contents

The thing that looks like a black plastic bag is the mulch cover.  The two white packages contain dolomite (for mixing with soil when growing tomatoes) and the plant food (fertilizer) packet.

If you decide to get an Earthbox without the complete kit, do yourself a favor and get the casters from the Earthbox people.  I decided to cheap out one year, figuring these were standard things I could get at the local Menards/HomeDepot/Lowe’s, but I was WRONG, and the  Menards casters wouldn’t stay in, and fell out at inopportune times.  I ended up buying casters from Earthbox the following summer.  Save yourself the frustration, if you are planning to put your planters somewhere on a deck or a driveway, etc.  The wheels are great- we can roll the boxes into the garage if there is threat of frost/hail.  Or if you’re really obsessive, you can roll the planters around to different sunny spots as the sun moves around each day.

Attach the Casters

Attach the Casters

Turn your planter upside down, and put the metal legs of the casters into the holes.  They won’t click with a sound, but they will set into the housing.  It doesn’t require much pressure.

Empty Earthbox

Empty Earthbox

Here’s the empty Earthbox, now right side up. Note the drain hole, at the top center.  This is one of the features of genius.  Note in the lower two corners, some small areas that are squarish.  This is where the cut out corners of the grate go when it is added, which is the next step.

Soil Grate In Place

Soil Grate In Place

Now, you see the round hole in the top left, where the water tube goes, and the square areas which you will pack with potting soil.  These corners provide the wick for the water to get to the plants.

Water Tube and Soil Wick

Water Tube and Soil Wick

This picture shows the watering tube in place, and you can see that I’ve packed the corners with soil.  Your next step is to fill the Earthbox with water, using your trusty bucket and funnel (or hose).

Water Running Out the Drain Hole

Water Running Out the Drain Hole

As you can see, I’ve filled up the water reservoir, using my funnel and bucket, and since the water reservoir is full, the excess is draining out.  This is your signal to stop watering.  🙂  See?  Even a PhD can do it!

Box filled with potting soil

Box filled with potting soil

Now, you fill the box as completely as possible with potting soil.  This is an important step.  You want the soil to be mounded up as high as possible, so that when you cover it with the mulch cover, rain will run off, rather than pool in the cover.  Below is a profile view.

profile view of mounded soil

profile view of mounded soil

This may require more soil than you think.  The specs on the vendor site say 2.0 cubic feet.

The next step is to add the plant food/fertilizer in a strip on top of the soil.  The position depends on the kinds of plants you are growing, but in this case, herbs, you put the strip of plant food down the middle on the top of the soil ridge, in a strip shape.

fertilizer strip for herb plants

fertilizer strip for herb plants

Now, you put on the “shower cap” mulch cover, which comes with a hole for the watering tube.  This is what keeps you from having to weed.  Hurray!

With the mulch cover

With the mulch cover

Now that the mulch cover is on, you need to get your seedlings together, and your scissors, since it’s time to plant. You can fit 8 seedlings in with this configuration.

You might want to take some time to figure out which plants grow tall, (basils, sage and parsley, for example) and which plants tend to grow out and across (marjoram and thyme, for example), and decide where you will put them in the box (tall on one long side, short on the other; or four talls on the left and four shorts on the right, so you can turn the box as sun exposure needs change).    This is something I didn’t do last year, and my marjoram and thyme died out underneath the basil and parsley that took all the air space.  Again, please learn from my experience.  You’ll have better results.

Now take your scissors, and cut a small X in the mulch cover where you are going to put your first plant.  You may be able to see the faint red box around the x shaped hole in the cover.

X shaped hole cut in cover, for plant

X shaped hole cut in cover, for plant

Use your fingers to push the soil to either side, to create a hole big enough for the soil packed around your seedling.

make the hole for the seedling

make the hole for the seedling

And, as you might guess, stuff the seedling (gently) into the hole, and pull up the corners of the mulch cover over the soil.

add the seedling

add the seedling

And JUST THIS ONCE, you will add a little water from the top to coax the seedling soil to meld with the Earthbox soil, and get things going. After you’ve planted the box, you will only add water through the watering tube.

JUST THIS ONCE, water lightly from the top

JUST THIS ONCE, water lightly from the top

Repeat this cut/dig/plant/water process with your remaining plants.  In this case, I only had 6 herb plants to put in a box that could have held 8.

Herbs Planted

Herbs Planted

Now, for the rest of the summer, all we had to do was keep the water reservoir filled, which we did, using our trusty funnel and bucket.  You’ll be amazed at how well the plants grow.   I’ll show more evidence in the next post, where I talk about growing tomatoes in the Earthbox.

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5 Responses to Gardening a PhD Can Do – Earthbox Tutorial

  1. joancoleman says:

    This was helpful because last year (my first) I put potting mix to the top but didn’t mound it. Although we don’t get much rain here, a big, ugly fungus grew just under the shower cap and partially up the stem of my tomato plant…must have been from excess moisture from the sprinkler system pooling on the shower cap .

  2. admin says:

    I’m glad this was helpful. Here’s to better luck this year. 🙂

  3. christian says:

    I love your site. It my first time gardening. I went on vacation and left the water responsibity with my sister and I think she did not add enough water to the resovoir. The bottom part of tomato plants leaves are all golden and curled up. Is it all messed up now. Is there anything that can be done to salvage my lil plants. thanks

  4. Jennifer says:

    Don’t sweat the dead leaves. Just cut/break them off. Keep watering as normal, and don’t give up hope! Eventually leaves will brown by themselves. It doesn’t mean you won’t get tomatoes.

  5. Eric says:

    You forgot to explain about the Dolmite

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