Container gardening sounds like something made for only those Atlanta gardeners whose outdoor space is limited to a fire escape, brick patio or front stoop. It's true that container gardens are often the best options for these gardeners. However, they are also a great option for homeowners with lots of space but not a lot of patience with things like weeds, tilling, soil preparation, pests, pesticides, etc. Earthboxes add a kind of self-watering system to the usual container garden set-up, making it even easier to grow flowers for the table or veggies for a meal.
How does an earthbox work?
An earthbox is a container garden system first created by the EarthBOX company. Since then, it has become a common name for this type of garden even if it doesn't carry the EarthBOX brand. It has four basic components: a tub-shaped container, screen, liner and tubing. Put the screen at the bottom of the container and the soil so that the plants can rest on top of it. The space between the screen and the container's bottom becomes a place for water to collect below the soil and plants. The rigid tubing gets placed in one corner and extends from the bottom of the container to the top, allowing you to refill the water when it runs low.
After planting the plants, place a liner over the plants with holes cut to allow the individual plants to poke through. This allows for better moisture retention. Typically, the water at the bottom of the container needs replenishment as infrequently as once a week. Other than that, the soil draws what the plants need for hydration up through the screen. An outlet placed on the side of the box above the screen level makes sure that you can never over-water. Easy enough?
The pros of an earthbox garden
When compared to an earthbound vegetable garden, an earthbox has many advantages. First of all, once you get one set up, it's generally far less labor-intensive than its more traditional cousins. The liner over the plants all but eliminates the invasions of burrowing pests and rodents. Soil preparation becomes a thing that "other people" do, and with all the time you save not watering your garden, you can finally learn the cello or take up some other equally satisfying hobby.
Weeds are not a factor in earthbox gardening. The design of the box and the garden's lack of connection to the ground simply don't allow weeds to take root. In addition, removing these types of gardens from their earth-bound cousins (the traditional gardens that do suffer infestations from insects) makes it likely that these problems will not transfer to those in your earthbox. This eliminates the need for harmful pesticides or fumigants.
An earthbox is also easier to manage in unpredictable weather. If a sudden frost sets in, it is nearly impossible to bring a traditional garden indoors. All you have to do is lift your earthbox to safety or roll it in on casters. Also, in the springtime, when nearly everyone is impatient to see the results of spring plantings, those planted in an earthbox mature as much as two weeks faster than plants planted in the cold ground. Imagine enjoying fresh spring peas or vibrant blooms two weeks before anyone else in your neighborhood.
Creating your own earthbox
Earthboxes are available commercially in gardening and home improvement stores as well as online. Typically, they run anywhere from $40 to $100. They can also be made at home, usually far less expensively, with simple materials. To make your own, you need a big plastic tub with a lid, some PVC pipe, ground cover cloth, a bag of gardening soil designed specifically for container gardens and a few common tools. If you don't have all of these materials, check out your local Atlanta garden center.
Take a razor or a box cutter and cut around the inner edges of the tub lid. This, when drilled with 1/2-inch holes at 1-inch intervals, will become the screen upon which the soil will rest. Next, take the PVC pipe and cut into 16 2-inch segments using a hack or electric chop saw. Line the bottom of the tub with these and place the screen on top. This will allow enough space for the water reservoir. You will need an extra length of pipe long enough to reach from the bottom of the tub to the top. This will be used as the tube for refilling the reservoir's water. Next, pour in your garden soil, and plant your seedlings or mature plants. Cut a piece of ground cloth the size of the tub and cover the plants, making holes for the seedlings to poke through.
Congratulations! You've just made your own earthbox. You have just enough time left to figure out what you're going to do with all that time you aren't spending fighting weeds and watering every day.