Last summer, at a farmers market, I met a photographer who was telling me about what it was like to be a professional photographer. As a gardener, his most interesting story was about traveling with a rock band ( I forget which one) that was socially conscious and liked to fund agriculture products in developing countries. They would start gardens in an Earthbox and auction them off at their concert stops. I'd heard about the EarthBox before and even the Grow Box before but the thought of these rockers starting gardens in them made them more appealing.
It just so happened that the farmers market I was located in the parking lot of the organic rooftop farm at Uncommon Ground, here in Chicago. Going upstairs and looking at them was kinda painful. I mean, they're beautiful and useful items but not exactly free. I've seen people make homemade sub-irrigation planters like the EarthBox and Grow Box before out of either plastic storage bins or plastic buckets. You can even find directions of making one out of them in Gayla Trail's new vegetable gardening book Grow Great Grub. The EarthBox and the Grow Box and learning how to make them have gone mainstream.
After this conversation all I could think about was the EarthBox and attempting to make one myself. If you read my review of Troy-Bilt's lithium ion battery powered garden trimmer, you know the conundrum I was faced with. The fear of injuring myself, possibly loosing an finger, emboldened me to go ahead and buy myself an EarthBox or a Grow Box. Then one day I was in the dollar store and saw a lady carrying two Styrofoam coolers with a plastic bag over one of them. The synapses started firing in the brain and the frugal gardening light bulb went off over my head.
Two dollars and change, a plastic garbage bag, a rubber band, a scrap of copper pipe and two 'Better Belle' pepper plants later and I had my homemade sub-irrigation planter like the EarthBox and Grow Box. For the potting medium I used coir made out of coconut husks, the same one I use to start my seedlings. It isn't as sturdy as the homemade sub-irrigation garden planters made out of storage bins and buckets, nor is it as pretty as the EarthBox and the Grow Box but it worked. The best part was that I didn't cut any fingers off trying to create two holes for watering and wicking up water into the soil. I punched out the holes with the copper pipe. If you are an older gardener or have mobility issues or arthritis; simple things like drilling and cutting are difficult so these Styrofoam containers may be ideal.
Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures of me putting it together and these pictures are from September/October when the plants didn't look so great anymore. Each of the coolers were only about 12 inches wide by 15 inches deep and were the perfect size for the back porch. I'm planning on growing more things in them this year since each were only $1.00. Why spend money on containers that only I'm going to see when I got onto the back porch?
One or two may be wondering if "Better Belle" peppers are suppose to be green, and yes they are. If you leave them to ripen further they turn red.
After I'd harvested the last of the peppers I felt bad about composting the plants because they still had these little peppers forming around Halloween. Made me wish I had a greenhouse where I could take them in and let them develop over the winter.
The guys over at Green Roof Growers have directions for making your own self-water (or sub-irrigation) planters out of buckets. There is also this cool video on YouTube. This blog shows you how to make them out of the plastic storage containers. The bloody finger at the link is an example of why I don't like making things that require tool, ha!
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Deluxe Grow Box, Self-Watering Container.
The Garden Patch Grow Box