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timcunningham February 15, 2006 07:36 AM

Homemade selfwatering containers.
Also called Homemade Earthboxes. They are a little extra work to make than using a 5 gal bucket or a grow bag, but they really do a fantastic job of delivering consistant watering. When I run out of 'in ground' space I make more of these (Instruction link below). Right now I have 20 of them. In the summer they mostly contain tomatoes, a couple with herbs. In the winter they hold collards, brocolli, lettuce and herbs. This year I have about 5 people supplying me materials to make one for them. They also seem more willing to take my tomato seedlings when I explain that they only thing they need to do is top up the reseviour every other day.

Has any one else made their own Selfwatering containers? is the design I followed. Do you have a better design?


Emaewest February 15, 2006 08:32 AM

Hi Tim! I made one homemade EB last year and loved it, so I've been making more this year as a winter project.

The only major difference between the design in the link and the one I used is that instead of cutting one of the totes in half and inverting it, I used a smaller tote and just nested inside the big one. This keeps the sides from bulging out once it's filled with soil. Otherwise, it's basically the same.

Have you noticed that the quality of Rubbermaid containers is diminishing, while the price seems to increase? The totes I've picked up recently are almost see-through, compared with the relatively sturdy and rigid ones I bought only last year, and they cost about $1-$2 more each.

timcunningham February 15, 2006 05:44 PM

Hi Emaewest,

A smaller Tote, that is a good idea! I will try it this year. I have noticed that with Rubbermaid. I saw a documentary on Rubbermaid's relationship with walmart and now I understand why. Wallmart basically put them out of business.

The documentary may or may not present all the facts, but Rubbermaid now makes everything overseas, and it seems the quality has suffered.

MsCowpea February 26, 2006 09:29 AM

I have used a similar design I got from username Dreamster a few years back. He used cut-up black drainage pipe and you did not have to use electrical ties to connect it to the box. In that sense it was much easier. Will post photos if I can find them or take some new ones.

I have done 5 gal. containers pretty much like the one on the site. Not sure mine gives an adequate water reservoir though.

I have mostly used two whole totes whenever I make them but I think the inverted box is a neat idea -- you don't have to cut the lid up to make the bottom separating the soil from water. I think I will try that one of these days. The pictures and instructions on Josh's site are great.

Real earthboxes are still my favorite--they last longer in the sun.

Emaewest February 26, 2006 10:08 AM

I would love to have a real EarthBox, but the EarthBox company won't ship to Canada, and the only place that will ship them here charge $19 for shipping, on top of the $39.95 cost. So, that's almost $60 before translating it into Canadian funds. :shock:

I'm sure they're worth every penny, I just don't have that many pennies. :wink:

cthomato February 26, 2006 11:44 AM

Emaewest - you should try Tim's design (see earlier post in this thread). It doesn't take too long to do and I'm all thumbs. It'll save you alot of those pennies. :)

And thank you Tim!! Great directions! :D
I owe you one. Let me know if you ever need seeds.

cthomato February 26, 2006 11:46 AM

OOPS! Sorry, Emaewest, I didn't see your earlier post. :oops:

timcunningham February 28, 2006 11:17 PM


I have had both a "real" earthbox and the home made ones. I prefer the homemade ones. My biggest problem with the EBox is the I have to refill it so often. In the hot South Gerogia Sun, you really need to fill it twice a day. There is roughly about 2 gallons of water in the tank on the purchased eboxes. My homemade ones I have been able to store about 5 gallons of water, which will just barely last for a long weekend if you want to go somewhere and not worry about the tomatoes while you are gone.

MsCowpea February 28, 2006 11:46 PM

Tim, that is a good point. You sure have to fill EBs all the time. When the plants are big if you miss a day they are wilted the next. No way you could go away for 3 or 4 days.

Emaewest March 1, 2006 06:48 AM

Tim: that's good to know. I won't feel so bad about not having the "real" thing. :D

Some folks elsewhere were discussing the "new and improved" EarthBox. They come in different colours, have a larger reservoir with a shut off valve (? I think I'm remembering this right) and they have spots to attach casters to the bottom. That's all I can recall offhand. The price went up, too.

I think it's a good invention, but I find the website really cheesy. It reads like a bad infomercial.

creister March 1, 2006 04:04 PM

How do you all fertilize them. I saw in josh's directions something about a fertilizer strip. Is there alternatives to using these and still growing successfully? What about adding lime or dolomite? Why must you add these for tomatoes?

I only ask because I have never used any type of earthbox before. I am expanding into using containers as my garden is not large and I want to grow more varieties of tomatoes.

MsCowpea March 1, 2006 07:26 PM

The alternate to the fertilizer strip (which is usually something like 6-6-6 or 10-10-10 or any number as long as it is below 15 --according to the Earthbox instructions) is to use organic (granular) fertilizer.

The earthbox holds 75 quarts potting mix -you are supposed to use a strip of 2 cups of regular fert. or 3 cups if you are using an organic fertilizer ( I believe they say to mix that kind into the mix).

Dolomite is a source of calcium and also moderates pH of peat-based mixes.

clay199 March 1, 2006 08:51 PM

Using these earthboxes, do you put one single plant in one or can you put more?

timcunningham March 1, 2006 10:11 PM

Clay - Purchased earthboxes say that you can put two tomatoes per box. This is true, but since I am making them and they are much cheaper than buying them, I tend to only put one per box, and I also buy bigger containers than the earthboxes. I want to give my tomato roots *lots* of room to roam. I did experience much better yields from the homemade boxes that only had one plant per box. That being said, if it comes down to not planting a new variety and not putting a second plant in the box... I will put a second plant in the box.

creister- adding a cup of lime to the soil is recommended for tomatoes, since potting soil tends to be somewhat neutral in ph. Tomatoes like a higher PH, and like the calcium. As far as fertilzer goes... I put a strip of two cups of 10-10-10 fertilzer in a row, the furthest from where I place tomatoes.

However, I against all that the earthbox says I do add some "Miracle Grow, Blue stuff" to the water. I add two scoops once a week when the plants seem to stall in growth or flower production. I don't know why the folks at eBox say NOT to add "blue stuff", maybe it effects the wicking properities of the soil, but I have never seen any undue effect from it.

The biggest benefit I can see from using a homemade earthbox compared to any other container (or in ground plants for that matter) is this:

Consistant watering

The soil only wicks as much water as it needs.

The roots only take as much water as it wants.

The reservoir will supply both of these as long as it doesn't go dry.

And from what I have read about tomatoes, the biggest problems with tomatoes come from inconsistant watering.

Blossom End rot: Comes from extremes in soil moisture.. too moist or too dry - cause calcium deficiency.

Cracking: Too little water, followed by to much water.

Yellowing of leaves, wilting, root rot, blackening of leaves, fruit drop.. all caused by inconsistant watering.

A secondary benefit, is NO WEEDING!

Also if you find the area you picked gets not enough / too much sun, you can move the box.

And despite what some people say you don't need to grow dwarf varieties or determinates in a box. I grow only indeterminates (save for Silvery Fir Tree which I grow to get tomatoes before anyone else) and they all grow to a freakishly large size. These plants are 8 to 10 feet tall! Small children have gotten lost in them! There is a troop of boyscouts still missing in the Cherokee Purple! I can see their little camp fires now..

Okay, sorry I get carried away.

Selfwatering containers are a very sensible way to utilize space. Any questions?


Mischka March 1, 2006 11:23 PM


Originally Posted by timcunningham

Okay, sorry I get carried away. :)

I don't think so at all. :)

This thread has great potential to help those that are interested in "Earthbox" type container growing.

If anyone has pictures of their homemade Earthboxes, I'd like to see them, too.

I went to one of those "Lot" type stores and noticed they carry a large assortment of large plastic containers. I hesitated to purchase any, for two reasons.

1. They appeared to be thinner walled, compared to Rubbermaid branded ones. I am going to bring my micrometer to measure them, next trip.

2. The available colors were medium blue and clear. Not sure either are good choices.

I also wonder if the Earthbox people have the plastic company add UV stabilizers to their molded plastic? This makes a big difference in withstanding sunlight-related decomposition.

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