Those of you that have tried them for tomatoes, are they worth the cost? Sacrificing two rubbermaid containers is close to 40 dollars, plus the basket, cage and an hour of assembly What's the real different in results vs in-ground or in-square planting? Jleiwig: I'm not trying to be argumentative or obtuse, but your statements above confuse me.
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Those of you that have tried them for tomatoes, are they worth the cost? Sacrificing two rubbermaid containers is close to 40 dollars, plus the basket, cage and an hour of assembly What's the real different in results vs in-ground or in-square planting?
Jleiwig: I'm not trying to be argumentative or obtuse, but your statements above confuse me. It most definitely is not. As for air, course vermiculite provides plenty according to Mel's book. Does your SQFT bed have isolation on all sides from the elements? Your SQFT bed has an open top, and more than likely an open bottom as well. Microbes, bacteria, worms, and other soil critters can come through the air or from the soil below. Whereas a SWC has an impenetrable bottom and a plastic top cover with only a tiny hole for the plant to come through.
As I said before SWCs don't give enough access to the critters for them to do all the work needed. The nutrition comes from the fertilizer strip, and the reason it can be so small is because it is not affected by environmental concerns. It's not washed away by the rain, or spread out to the soil surrounding it, it's concentrated right in that perfect little microworld you've created inside the box. Water comes to the top through wicking, hits the fertilzer strip and distributes it down to the roots.
As for Vermiculite, it is actually very hydrophilic water loving instead of hydrophobic water hating. So naturally water is drawn to it. Remember anywhere there is water, there is not air.
From all my reading over the winter I'd go so far to say that neither perlite or vermiculite are very good long term solutions. I'd look for a high-fired calcined clay product like truface or axis. Makes sense to me. That's why so many people are jumping onto the pro-mix bandwagon, cause it's comprised of exactly what you stated earlier. I checked on pro-mix, and it was expensive! I'll be making my own mix for mine.
I've already got some vermiculite ordered. I think this has turned into one of the most informative threads in this forum in months. Pro-mix is very expensive, but the components themselves aren't as expensive in bulk. Pro-mix BX is the standard bearer that everyone uses in professional nursery production. I was worried that some would be put off by this thread being that it is in the SQFT gardening message board instead of the container gardening board, but when thinking about it, they are both very similar in that they are using unusual methods to beat mother nature at her own game.
I think you've just about talked me out of trying SWCs. Raybo of "earthtainer" fame uses Miracle Grow Potting mix in his and has fantastic results. Anything that has a high concentration of peat, and not a lot of other stuff will work out fantastically. This is probably the most simple growing method you will ever use.
Fill the box with potting mix, add some seedlings, add the fertilizer strip, cover the top with either black or white plastic, and make sure it's got water. Nothing else needs to be done unless you want to fuss with it. The discussions here are just for deeper understanding of the reasons why they work so well.
I know I've been fairly technical, but if you really want your head to spin go over to the container forum and look at posts by Tapla about soils, water retention, and other things. You'll learn words that you have to look up in the dictionary! Did I ever think I would be using hydrophobic or hydrophillic in a sentence?
I even read a tissue study analysis from the the University of Florida that spells out exactly what percentages of nutrients tomatoes need during each stage of their life! I do this because I want to grow the best possible tomatoes that I can, and hopefully one day could start my own production greenhouse. I love the technical side of everything associated with vegetable production like you couldn't tell!
Researching and building the stuff is way more fun than any other part for me, because if I've done my homework, I'll know the outcome, so lots of ripe juicy delicious tomatoes is kind of the expected norm. Any other outcome just leads to more research and more changes for next time! If I had a bunch of peat moss laying around, I'd try it your way, but since I've got over a dozen 40 pound bags of Mel's Mix instead, that's what's going into my SWCs. Sorry to say I'm more on the Granny side of the debate.
I hope never to use either of those two words in a sentance, hehe. Thanks Jlewig. I understand what you're saying now. No problem Gardening is just one big experimental competition anyway. It's almost like making a witch's brew trying to figure out a way to beat mother nature because she's never consistant year to year, let alone day to day. The Purdue horticultural department did a study on different heirloom varieties, and Opalka produced 65 fruits per plant and roma produced 99 fruits per plant.
This was in ground with no compost or fertilization added to the field. If I can make that number or beat it really hope to beat it! I have this crazy plan in my head to do a lot of sun dried tomatoes this year by making up a simple solar dryer out of scrap wood.
That is of course if I can stop making salsa to eat fresh every night! Damn the mexicans for introducing me to fresh salsa! I do use a lot of peat, even in my raised beds, as our E. WA soil is so sandy and alkaline. So I suffer the wrath of the "no peat, it's not a renewable resource and you're killing our planet if you use it" people and just do my own thing. Don't be put off by my geeky questions to jleiwig, as we are just talking technical stuff dang ag school won't leave me alone!
Bottom line is that you will need to add your favorite fertilizer to the mix, make sure it gets aerated and not too waterlogged, so that means you will likely purchase, say, SuperSoil and add peat. I recommend against purchasing the most expensive thing there. Just buy the cheapest one, add peat and fert and enjoy.
Believe me I've read all of tapla's threads, and they are amazing. Only a master bonsai grower taught in Japan which Al is could have that much knowledge about growing mediums. I can't wait to get this summer growing season going! I couldn't agree more! Just today I went out and could actually feel the sun! That got me so stoked for spring, although we're supposed to get snow tonight!
I keep looking at my pathetic garden plot and can't wait to make it beautiful. I just came across this forum that describes a problem with too much moisture in some SWCs as being the result of a too-large wicking container.
So I'm thinking that a solution for the moisture problem above might be to restrict the size of the wicking chamber presuming the commenter above doesn't want to spend too much time on growing medium.
The only problem with restricting the wicking chamber is that when it's 90 degrees out and your tomatoes are drinking 2 gallons plus a day, you can really get some BER and other side effects of the plants not getting the water they need. I had two 4" diameter wicking chambers in my 18 gallon SWCs and during the heat of the summer in full growth, not only did they drain the containers, but the top inch of soil was dry. This wasn't a big deal because by that time the roots had grown down to the bottom of the growth area.
This year I'm seriously considering forgoing the fertilizer strip, and using hydroponic nutrients in the resevoirs.
I am also thinking about putting bubblers in each one to make sure that the water remains highly oxygenated. I may do a test and do one the old way and one the new way, so I'll have side by side comparision.
Again, here we are with different approaches to same issues. In my mind there is too much water in the SWC, and what do you do to reduce it? This is fascinating and I'm interested in the outcome of the fertigation approach.
Me, I'm making soil structure and ensuring there is gas exchange. Maybe I'll figger out a way to get some time to post to Flickr or Photobucket to compare to j, altho I'll just have cherries and small determinates.
I've done containers for over a decade and I'm always looking for better ways to do it, as IME containers are better for some toms wherever you are, and esp if you have a small yard. I have 6 earthtainers that were constructed last fall, and this spring will be their first activity. I have already bought the large wicking baskets first used, and considered restricting their surface area with something. Afterall, Raybo went to a smaller basket, because he said that the soil was too wet.
By reducing the basket size, he reduced the moisture level from "wet" to "moist". But, here's the thing If you look at his plants last year, they looked amazing, with the larger baskets in operation. I think it all comes down to how frequently a person wants to add water to it.
Any thoughts? I read that Raybo reduced his wick size to reduce the moisture retention in the media, because as Al preaches, oxygen aeration to the root system is not possible in water logged soils - and for this reason, AL never uses compost in his containers because it will compact I think. At least that's what I got out of them big words, LOL! I have already bought the large wicking baskets We'll find out how well this works - I may have to purchase something that works better
Earthtainers? (Or SWC's)
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My EarthTainer Project - Mistakes Made / Lessons Learned
Just a quick update after finishing 12 of my planned 25 EarthTainers. I am quite happy with Rubbermaid's 31 gallon "Roughneck" container. Much stronger and excellent dimensions for my application than Walmart types. My goal is to employ an internal staking system for two tomato plants per container. Some of the recent design changes are a result of actual empirical test data.