Hooking your Earthbox Automatic Watering System (AWS) to 1/2″ drip line the easy way

It’s no hidden secret that I’m a big fan of the Earthbox. The self-watering design works great, and it’s the only way I will grow Tomatoes and Peppers (check out this link to see why). The only downside to the Earthbox is watering. When it’s really hot in the summer you often need to fill the reservoir two times a day or your plants will suffer. This year I decided to simplify my life and install an Earthbox Automatic Watering System (AWS). I’m hoping that the constant stream of water during the hot months will decrease work and boost production!

Based on an Earthbox forum post I decided to make some changes to the AWS. I wanted each box to be independently controlled by a ball valve so I could turn the water on, off or reduce the flow. I also wanted a quick detach method so at the end of the season I could bleed the lines, unscrew the drip tube from my 1/2″ line and store it away until the next growing season. After a LOT of research I decided on the following design:

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This set up starts with a compression T that has a threaded end. I attached a ball valve to the threaded end and a threaded 1/4″ compression adapter to that. Since the 1/4″ compression adapter screws into the ball valve, I can unscrew this at the end of the season take the line and emitter inside for storage. From the 1/4″ compression adapter I branched out with 1/4″ line, added a 1/4″ to 1/8″ barb and then ran a chunk of 1/8″ line to the nipple on the AWS emitter. I tested everything yesterday and it worked (more testing is needed though).

When assembling this stuff there are a few items to be aware of. First, soak the 1/8″ line in boiling water for 2 – 3 seconds before attaching it to the nipple on the AWS emitter. With a few simple twists it will go right on. Second, make sure to leave some extra slack in your 1/4″ and 1/8″ line. That way if you need to alter these down the road you won’t need to remove the 1/8″ line from the AWS emitter (I’ve read that they have a tendency to break). And lastly, you need your boxes to be level. This was a bit of a pain, but after a few hours with a level we had the concrete pads they sit on perfectly level.

I can’t wait to see how well this system works this summer. More importantly, I’m looking forward to NOT having to water each individual box 2 – 3 times a day. That eats up a lot of time, and I noticed last summer that some of tomatoes got blossom end rot during the hottest months. There was plenty of calcium (viva la snack!) so I’m pretty certain that the plants didn’t have a steady stream of water. I’ll keep the blog updated with my progress and post pictures of my veggies once they get into full bloom. Can’t wait to start eating them!

Parts list for folks interested in building these:

Ball Valve
1/2″ Compression Tee
1/4″ compression Adapter
1/4″ Barbed x 1/8″ Barbed Connector

How to produce lots of lettuce in an Earthbox

I am no doubt a fan of the amazing Earthbox. I had amazing success growing tomatoes, cucumbers and basil in the boxes I purchased, but after producing a mountain of food this summer my plants eventually died out. When I was removing the roots from the boxes I started to wonder what else I could grow in the soil that was left over. I eat a lot of salads so I figured I would give lettuce a shot. I don’t know much about lettuce, so after salivating over the pictures and reading the lettuce descriptions at Baker Creek, Botanical Interest and Territorial I decided to grow butterhead, buttercrunch, red sails and a mixed seed variety from Johnny’s select seeds.

To prep the soil in the Earthbox I removed the old fertilizer strip and then dumped the dirt out on a plastic tarp. I washed out the container, fluffed the dirt and poured it back in. I wasn’t planning to use the sub irrigation feature of the Earthbox for this go around, just the soil and container. When all the dirt was back in the box I mixed some water and worm tea from my worm factory and poured that over the top of the soil. Then every inch or so I made a small indentation and added 7 – 8 lettuce seeds. This turned out to be WAY TOO MANY seeds, so the next time around I will plant 2 – 3 seeds per hole. To ensure that each seed had the right nutrients to germinate, I sprinkled a little bit of the worm tea mixture in each hole and then put some 6mil plastic over the container. Then I sat back and waited.

It took about 3-days for the first seeds to show life, but after only a month both Earthboxes are FULL of delicious lettuce. We’ve been able to harvest a 5 – 6 salads worth of lettuce every 3 – 4 days. Here is a picture of our last harvest!:

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In addition to giving us all the greens we need the Earthboxes also look amazing:

Picture 1:
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Picture 2:
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This has been an amazing experience, and I can’t believe how much lettuce we are getting from just two Earthboxes! There is little to no maintenance (I only have to water every 3 – 4 days since the plastic keeps the moisture in), and the cut and come again approach is working very well for us. If you are a salad green connoisseur I would highly recommend picking up a container and some lettuce seeds. You will have fresh, healthy and tasty greens in no time flat, and you will have a blast watching them grow.

Growing yummy delicious cucumbers in containers

I previously wrote about my first foray into container gardening. One of my favorite vegetables is the cucumber, which I love to use in salads, as a replacement for crackers and for general snacking. Cucumbers contain several anti-oxidants and the cucurbitacins that are present in cucumbers have been getting some press recently for their possible cancer fighting properties. I’m no doctor, but anything that tastes good and has things that help my body are a win-win in my book!

My first cucumber plant was a seedling from the local nursery which I started in a 5-gallon plastic pot. The cucumber plant grew much faster than I had envisioned, and after a short period of time I realized that I needed to either let it cover my entire patio or install some type of trellis system and grow it vertically. I decided to grow it up and put a Tomato cage around it to offer some support. The tomato cage worked ok at first, but after a month or two it had outgrown it and I didn’t have any other choice but to let the plant grow where it wanted to.

After about two months (I started super early) of growing cucumbers I realized that I had plenty of time to grow more. I had an extra Earthbox available so I followed the Earthbox planting guide and planted four Marketmore cucumbers. It didn’t take long and these plants started to grow out of control and produce tons of flowers and tiny cucumbers. Given my previous experience I decided to trellis these with 6 foot supports, so I picked up two 6′ tall pieces of bamboo and placed them in the sides of the earthbox. I then tied these off to a rail and used twine every 12″ or so to give the plants support. This worked GREAT, and my plants have now hit the 6′ mark and are still growing. They are also producing one to two cucumbers a DAY, and booooy do they taste delicious!!!

For those who like to see veggies here ya go:

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My first try at growing cucumbers went extremely well. We are picking cucumbers daily, and other than filling the Earthboxes with water there is ZERO maintenance. This has definitely been a set it and forget it experience. To allow me to remember everything for next season, I figured I would summarize my thoughts on growing cucumbers:

– You need to have pollinators for your cucumbers.
– Make sure your cucumbers get plenty of water and nutrients. Water especially!
– Growing cucumbers vertically reduces space and provides easier access.
– Prune off the runners or your plant will quickly get out of hand.
– Cucumbers can be pollinated by hand.
– Cucumbers do wonderful in Earthboxes.
– Lady bugs are great for patrolling your leaves for pests.

Cucumbers are also super easy to start from seed, and all four of my marketmore cucumbers were started from seed. To start my cucumbers from seed I grabbed a natural coffee filter and ran it under water to moisten it. I placed 8 seeds in the coffee filter and then folded it over and placed it in a zip lock bag. I left the bag out on my patio for a couple of days in the shade and when I came back to it ALL of the seeds had sprouted. I picked four of the larger sprouts and placed them in small pots filled with a combination of seed starting and potting mix. I kept watering the pots and transplanted the seedlings approximately two weeks later. I’m hoping to test out some alternative methods to sprouting next spring. Specifically I want to try the tupperware greenhouse method as well as a soil cube. There are so many things I want to experiment with!!!

My harsh introduction to container gardening

This year I made my first foray into gardening. Since I didn’t have the space for raised beds, I decided to grow everything in containers. I started tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, mint, catnip, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme and Jalapeno and banana peppers. Most of my plants came from the plant sale at my local community garden, so I was hoping for great results. Oh how little I knew.

The first containers I purchased were 5-gallon Tara Cotta pots from Home Depot. These were kinda pricey but I thought at the time they would hold up better than their plastic brethren. This turned out to be a bad decision, since the Terra Cotta plants let water and nutrients bleed out through the porous pot and they were extremely heavy to move about on my patio. One of my tomato plants didn’t make it, and since I had no idea what went wrong I decided to find some gardening classes to figure this stuff out.

My first class was a container gardening course at my local community garden. This shed light on numerous things I wasn’t aware of (soil composition, the need to add nutrients, etc.), and the instructor also mentioned that platic pots would do a better job of holding in water and nutrients in the hot summer heat. She also recommended the 5-gallon plastic pots that were $8 at Big Lots, so off to the store I went to purchase two pots to test out.

When I got home I transplanted all of the plants I started in Tera Cotta pots into the new plastic pots. All of the plants recovered from the transplant shock, though some of the plants weren’t growing nearly as well as they should be. Eventually two of my plants started to die off, and after a bunch of research it turned out that one was infested with spider mites and the other didn’t have enough nutrients to thrive. The plants were beyond repair so I trashed them and decided to try starting a few plants from seed.

While researching seed starting I came across a number of references to the Earthbox. Earthboxes use sub irrigation (the water is below the soil) and nutrient strips to ensure that your plants have everything you need. Water goes into the box through a fill pipe and wicks up through the soil to a location your plants can reach. The nutrient strip sits in a location of the box that the plants can also access, so everything the plant needs to thrive is readily accessible. I was hooked so I ordered two Earthboxes from Amazon.

I followed the Earthbox directions that came with the kit and started two Tomatoes in one box. One was a Bush Goliath tomato, and the other was a Patio Tomato. Each plant was purchased at the local nursery and planted according to the instructions I received with my Earthbox kit. After two weeks I noticed that my plants were doing much much better than the plants I started in pots. After 2-months both plants were bushy and kicking out Tomatoes like no ones business! The Earthboxes really lived up to their name, and they require next to no maintenance. All I needed to do to keep my plants happy was add water to the reservoir every other day. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

My first year into gardening has been a blast, and even though I’ve spent more money than I originally intended to (these are some pricey tomatoes!) I came out with a slew of knowledge that I wouldn’t otherwise had. This fall I’m planning to re-use my Earthboxes to grow lots of lettuce, and in the spring I will hopefully have a couple of raised beds to use side-by-side with my Earthboxes. I’ll start posting some pictures shortly.