How to figure out when you need to water your plants

Before I began using my beloved Earthbox, I started a slew of vegetables in ordinary plastic containers. Each container type had a different set of challenges to learn about and deal with, but the biggest one I found was getting the moisture levels correct. There was information scattered around the Internet about how much to water, when to water, and experts opinions of how moist each plant needs to be. I tried several approaches to watering:

– Water once the soil had pretty much dried out
– Water when the plants showed signs of water deprivation (wilting, etc.)
– Water every other day
– Water every day
– Water when your dog howled at the moon

I tried all of the above, and I couldn’t tell much of a difference between them. That is until I yanked my Cherokee Purple Tomato plant because is was dying. After I pulled out the plant and looked at the roots I noticed that there was some type of mold or fungus growing all throughout them. After a bit of research it turned out I had root rot. 🙁 This was most likely caused by over watering and poor draining soil in my containers. This really bummed me out, and I decided to purchase a soil moisture tester for $10 to help me figure out exactly how much water my plants needed.

The soil moisture tester makes it easy to visualize how moist your soil is. Here is a reading from my tester:

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So the only time you need to add water is when the counter shows that the moisture content dropped to an unacceptable level (I usually water when I’m in the yellow area). The Luster Leaf device I am using has a chart for various plants to help with identifying moisture levels, and a bit of research will show what the typical soil moisture levels for a given plant should be. Some people may be asking why I don’t just stick my fingers down in the soil to measure the moisture level. Well, I found it makes a bit of a mess and in some cases the plants bushed out so I couldn’t easily get my fingers into the soil. I could slide the soil reader in though, and the readings were helpful for a new gardener who was trying to keep the plants happy. Also, for $10 you can’t really go wrong.

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.

My first adventure in blogging

I recently got the blogging bug and want to start sharing my life experiences with others in the interwebs. My interests are pretty wide ranging, and include gardening, raising animals, firearms and living your life to the fullest. I am a devoted Christian, and accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior was the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m not one to push my views on others, so you won’t see me doing that here. Blogging should be kinda fun and I can’t wait to share my experience with others. Hopefully I can learn from you as well!