There are many container gardening kit systems designed for growing vegetables. Typically, they include a planting box with an integrated watering reservoir, along with other kit components, such as a water fill tube, surface mulch fabric, or fertilizing pads.
One such product is the Earthbox, offered by Novelty Manufacturing, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Earthbox is a large self-watering container garden that even the least attentive gardener can use with success.
Earthbox kits are available in several configurations and sizes, in both square boxes and rectangular planters that can rest on a deck railing. The plastic boxes are made from UV-resistant plastic and come in many colors.
The specifications on the original Earthbox:
- Dimensions: 29"L x 14"W x 11"H
- Holds up to three gallons of water in the reservoir
- Holds two cubic feet of potting soil
- Made of food-safe, UV stabilized, recyclable plastic
- Available with organic or conventional fertilizer
- Allows plants to get a continuous and even supply of water
- After initial fertilizer application, no additional food is needed (though additional calcium may be needed to cure blossom end rot)
- Soil cover prevents over-watering of plants
The Earthbox is sold as a complete package, which includes the box, an aeration screen, a water-fill tube, two covers, fertilizer, and lime. There are also kits that come with potting soil, but you can use almost any good quality potting mix purchased separately. You can also buy just the box, screen, tube, and the covers.
All gardening products come with exaggerated claims for their quality and efficiency, but in the case of the Earthbox, our tests found the claims to be substantiated after experience with 10 different Earthbox planters.
The Earthbox was designed by a professional tomato grower and it took years of refinement and research before it went into production, and it shows. The Earthbox is not only durable but extremely efficient in its use of water and fertilizer, making it very environmentally friendly.
The Earthbox system has several advantages over conventional gardening, and one of the most important is that because your soil is covered, it is impossible to over-water your plants—which is probably the single biggest reason most container gardeners fail. It doesn't matter if you have a rainy summer or a dry one: if you consistently keep the Earthbox reservoir full, your plants will get the right amount of moisture.
An Earthbox is incredibly simple to assemble—it takes about 15 minutes to put the kit together, and planting it exceptionally easy. Putting wheels for an Earthbox may be a good idea because once planted and watered, it can weigh about 80 pounds.
The kit comes with detailed instructions for assembly, including a diagram with suggestions of how many vegetables you should plant per box. While it is tempting to grow more plants than recommended, it really is counter-productive. Follow the kit instructions on this, because the box and fertilizer recommendations are designed for a carefully specified plant capacity. Don't try to squeeze more produce into the box than the instructions suggest.
One caution: stay on top of watering. When your vegetables are in full production, they can consume an amazing amount of water and will require daily watering. In very hot climates, you may even need to water more than once each day. If you are growing tomatoes or other seeded vegetables, letting the soil get too dry can cause blossom end rot. If you do see blossom end rot, the Earthbox website suggests, to mix 1/4 cup of hydrated lime or pickling lime with one gallon of water and add it to the reservoir. Do this only once and pick off the affected tomatoes.
Pros and Cons
The Earthbox has proven to be a good product that lives up to the manufacturer's claims. Among its virtues:
- More productive than conventional container gardening
- Easy to set up and use
- Great design
- Environmentally friendly
There are only a few drawbacks to the Earthbox:
- Organic "replant kit" is expensive
- Requires frequent monitoring of water reservoir
The advantages of using Earthboxes are many: huge vegetable production with very little work, and the ability to grow crops in areas that are dry and where the soil is bad or even non-existent.