Building Your Own Earth-filled Box





Introduction: Building Your Own Earth-filled Box

An earth-filled box  is a closed system growing container. Its advantages are little evaporation of the water, an even flow of moisture to the plants in the box. Other advantages are that you can grown many more plants in a smaller space. If you're an apartment dweller, you can have 4 tomato plants growing on your deck in the space of a 3 ft. area , for instance. The reservoir only needs to be filled once a week usually, I , as an example , live out in the woods, and have limited sunlight tho plenty of land. I also have deer and other lovely forest creatures, so these boxes are a big boon to me. But the yield is so great in these earth-filled boxes, that I have friends who used to have a big garden area and now grow only their potatoes and squash out there. Plus there are NO weeds, no cut worms to worry about, etc. The system is just yet another idea that is like hydroponics or the upsidedown tomato ideas.

Supplies include 2 Rubber maid or Sterlite 18-22 gallon tubs with lids, 1 pond basket, and 1 pvc tube at least 1 1/2 inch diameter and 4 inches taller than the tub you buy.

Step 1: Cutting the Water Reservoir

Cut a hole in bottom of one of the tubs to fit the pond basket and the water tube (the pvc pipe)

Step 2: Cutting and Fitting the Reservoir Into the Primary Tub

Mark 1/3 up from the bottom of the cut tub all the way around and, using a sabre saw, cut it apart.

Place the cut apart tub bottom upside down into the whole tub. Force it in if you have to. Add the strainer into the hole you cut.

Step 3: Making the Drain Holes

Drill a water leak hole, 1/2 inch diameter, in the each side of the other tub, up 1/3 up the side of the tub.

Step 4: Placing the Water Tube Through the Lid

Take the lid and cut a hole to fit the pvc pipe.

Step 5: What Do You Want to Grow

Decide what you want to grow and cut appropriate holes in the lid. It works good for 4 tomatoes, or 8 pepper plants, or 2 tomato plants and 4 basil plants.

Now fill the tub with purchased growing soil mixed with a little aged manure and some vermiculite right to the top.(Everybody has their own mixture they like. )?Put a time release fertilizer like Osmokote down the middle of the soil top.

Add the lid and fill the reservoir with water, through the pvc pipe until water comes out the leak holes. Plant the plants in the lid holes. Don't use big plants. The smaller plants will just fit into the hole. You'll have to maneuver them into the holes carefully. They will recover.
If you're doing cukes or pole beans, just plant seeds.

The plants will not need to be watered more than once a week until late in the season, when the leaves evaporate the water, when 2 or 3 times a week water is needed.
Stake the tomatoes on the porch railing, or other trellis. I have pole beans growing up strings onto a pole.
Have fun!

Step 6: Enjoy and Enjoy!

Here are some of my tubs last year by the end of July in northern Michigan. I had more pepper and tomatoes that ever before. The cukes were just about the right production level, and this year I'm trying pole beans too. The first year I also grew 6 eggplants and they were wildly successful too.



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    I noticed in other designs there's a shelf separating the water from the soil where the only soil in contact with the water is what is in the basket. In your design, will the soil just be put into this area without a shelf to prevent the soil from going into the water around the edges? Just wondering if I'm missing a step. Thank you and great design. //rick//

    1 reply

    If you notice, one of the tubs is cut 1/3 of the way up. then a square is cut out of the bottom of that. It is then inserted upside down in the other tub. Then a pond basket is inserted in that hole so that it is into the water reservoir. The soil is in the upper 2/3 of the tub and into the pond basket which wicks up into the rest of the soil.

    I like this but I've been using another similar design that I think is better.
    it's called the EartTainer. Here is the link, It has some pretty detailed instructions.

    5 replies

    thanks for publishing the link. It looks pretty similar, but I wonder what the purpose of the airspace is.  Do you know?  I've been adapting all sorts of containers around the farm as it's definitely just the concept of wicking up the water that counts.

    The airspace is for aerating the water and thereby the roots (some air would infiltrate the potting mix through the drilled holes as well). In hydroponics they have the same problem of aeration; with oxygen to the roots the plants are more vigorous in their growth. You get some aeration when you fill the water reservoir, but not enough.

    That's interesting and i may try it.  However,  in anecdotal cases for me , you couldn't get more vigorous than what I'm already getting which is 6 and 7 ft. sturdy vines with more tomatoes than I can even use, 4 plants to a box. 

    I'm not 100% certain but It looks to that he only wanted to moisture to come up from the basket. and not have the plastic container sitting in water.

    if you place the leak holes slightly below the roof of the reservoir, you would get the same effect with a lot less work.  That is what I've been doing.

     The purpose of the air gap above the reservoir is to allow full aeration of the root system. Substantial oxygen intake takes place below ground, and since you are using an enclosed system, oxygen intake from the sides and above is minimized.
    The various designs presented here do not address this issue.
    They also waste a considerable amount of plastic and money, by forcing you to use two bins, and leaving a substantial amount of these bins as refuse.
    I used to employ a similar system, using nested 5 gallon buckets, and still do, since I can get those free from delis and restaurants. However, bins are expensive, and when I make them out of bins, I do not use the nested approach, as it is VERY wasteful. Instead I construct a platform using the center of the lid, cut slightly larger than the bottom of the bin and cut large hole in the top, essentially removing all the plastic except a support lattice. I then get 10 packs of embroidery plastic mesh and place it across the lid. I place supports inside the bottom of the bin (inverted plastic flower pots, or any number of other things) to support the platform I made from the lid, and place the lid into the bin, resting on the supports. I leave two to four gaps in the platform, and place pots (or cut PVC) right side up in those holes. When I fill with box, these gaps allow the soil to drop below the water level in the reservoir. I use the inverted pots as a marker for where to place the drain hole.
    After the bin is full of soil, I take a sheet of plastic, stretch it over the top, and hold in place with the remaining ring from the lid.
    In this way I am able to use a single bin for each planter.
    I also have a gravity fed, self watering design, fed from a central water reservoir, but that is just way too complicated to describe.

    1 reply

    Never fear that most of us waste the rest of the 2nd bin!  I use mine as barriers for traveling herbs like mint and thyme by placing the bin into the group and planting the herbs in those to keep them from invading the rest of the garden.  Also I've taken to using 5 gal tubes and "rube goldberging"  (is that a word) the "guts" in such a manner as you have.  I also am trying this year to use a couple of cloth rags into the water well as the wicking system.  You can also get an airspace in my design by just making sure you put the leak holes a couple of inches below the shelf.    I also use tin cans, punched out for baskets and as shelf props.Thanks for your ideas too!  

    This is a great concept and one that everyone should consider using.

    A larger scale version is referred to as a wicking box.  You can find a link to a very thorough article here.

    I just looked over his instructions and no where does it give a reason for the gap. He does mention that the bolts he uses to hold the 2 parts together is placed higher so its not in the water, besides that I don't know.

    How many tomato plants have you guys planted in one box using the above material? Can you grow 4 tomato plants healthly?

    I am currently building one of this on a cart with wheels. I need more than 1 container thus also looking at the 5gallon double buckets "dearthbox " version.

    I am planning to use window screen mesh to cover up the aeration holes, to prevent the potting mix dropping into the reservior.

    The time / steps  it takes to build various DIY self water container versions is about same. If material cost is not a concern (i have a few spare rubbermaid bins),  I wish to find the version that can hold the max amount of plants.

    Your advice is welcome.

    1 reply

    I put 4 tomato plants in one of those tubs.  Be sure to have some soil down into the reservoir for the wick.  And I have adapted 5 gal. buckets with reservoirs and I'm thinking of trying to use some kind of cloth as the wick into the water.  let me know how your tomatoes go.

    These are my DIY EarthBoxes from last summer.  I followed this Instructable and it worked great.  As you can see, I had good results on my peppers in about 30 days.

    3 replies

    I couldn't get your link to work. I'd love to see them  Getting time for us up north to be thinking about our boxes.

    was missing a letter ;)

    beautiful.  I can hardly wait !

    I found a container that is just about the same size as the actual earthbox, but unfortunately it's clear. I imagine that light getting to the roots and water reservoir area might be bad. Any thoughts?

    1 reply

    You could use the clear bin for the inside part that forms the reservoir. But you would have to get a larger opaque box for the outside shell.

    Another option.  I had a clear plastic bin that had a crack along the outside.  Since i couldn't use it for this project directly  i decided to use it as a greenhouse during the early spring/summer until the plants got too tall or the temp got too warm. I drillled some holes in the bottom of the bin to allow for rain in and air circulation. I then inverted it and set it on top of the earth box. (I duct taped the crack), I think it helped my seedling since our last frost was a little later than expected

    This greenhouse could be used for in the ground plants too. It's easily moveable and reusable and i can store it under one of my earthboxes during the winter. . After I didn't neeed it any longer as a green house I used it to carry my veggies in from the garden and I could rinse them off in the container cause the dirt/water would run out the bottom