I wish the Earth Box had been around when I first started to grow vegetables back in 1978. At the time, I lived in a row house in South Philadelphia that had no yard. I grew everything in containers – large, plastic basins I bought at the hardware store – on my back porch. I drilled holes in the bottom of the containers to allow for drainage, but soon discovered that in order to prevent the soil from drying out too much during the summer I needed to water everything twice a day.
Years later, living outside of the city and with an in-ground garden, I found myself intrigued by the Earth Box, advertised as a maintenance-free, high-tech growing system that “controls soil conditions, eliminates guesswork and more than doubles the yield of a conventional garden – with less fertilizer, less water and virtually no effort.” What’s not to love?
I imagined what it would be like to grow vegetables in a weed-free environment, in sterile potting soil with no chance of soil-borne diseases. I envisioned how much easier gardening would be if I didn’t have to worry about watering.
The Earth Box kit came with the container, two plastic covers (elasticized around the edges to fit snugly over the edges of the box) and excellent directions for spacing requirements for a host of different plants.
Once I had the container filled with potting soil and the plants installed, the main task was remembering to keep the reservoir filled. The mechanics couldn’t have been simpler – all I had to do was put the end of the hose into the filler tube for the 3-gallon reservoir in the lower portion of the container. An overflow drainage hole made it impossible to over-water.
Overall, I was very pleased, and I’ve gotten good yields from my Earth Box. However, I’m very visual, and for me out of sight means out of mind. Because I couldn’t see how much water was in the reservoir, I alternately forgot to water or I added water when it wasn’t needed. So it didn’t actually save me much time. And I had to remember to water the container after days of heavy rain, because the plastic mulch cover kept the rain out.
The Earth Box does provide what it promises, and overall the results have been excellent. I think if you must garden in containers it’s a great way to go. But for me, even an Earth Box requires more work than my in-ground plantings. For starters, there’s some work involved in mixing up 2 cubic feet (about 60 quarts) of potting soil and getting it into the tub. In addition, I discovered that deer – a huge problem where I live – don’t care what kind of container a plant is growing in, and I ended up having to drag the Earth Box from my patio to inside my fenced-in garden.
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Pam Baxter is an organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton, PA. She is a garden writer and columnist for the Daily Local News in West Chester, PA. She has written for The American Gardener (the magazine of the American Horticultural Association) and is the newsletter editor for the Valley Forge Audubon Society and the Green Valleys Association. Pam blogs at http://www.gardeningonearth.com. You may also follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pamsgarden.