Picture of Earth Box from a Plastic Barrel
What can you do with empty 55 gallon plastic barrels? Why not recycle them into an attractive low maintenance container garden. Earth boxes are self watering containers which take the work out of gardening while providing healthier plants and more vegetables. While there are other earth box designs, my goal was to remake plastic barrels into attractive pots which could be placed anywhere around your house. Here's how you do it.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
A 55 gallon plastic barrel and a plastic tube are the main components of the earth barrel. I used an empty barrel we get soap in at work and the tube is a recycled plastic leg from a storage shelf. Both were free and looking for a new job. My cost per earth barrel was about $4 because I painted them and already had the tools. One can of spray paint will put 2 coats on 2 planters.

List of things you'll need:

55 gal barrel
1 1/2" PVC pipe 20" long
4 zip ties
10 long aluminum rivets
3/4" PVC plug
Spray paint for plastic (optional)
Plastic epoxy to fill punctures if necessary
Old towels -- it's impossible to get these barrels completely empty so you will make a small mess when cutting your barrel

Tools: drill and bits, jigsaw, hole saw, riveter, crescent wrench, Sharpy, pliers

so is there a drainage hole in the bottom of the barrel? Im thinking this might be a great solution for my balcony garden from preventing stains and water dripping on my neighbors patio.

kentdvm (author)  christinarule1 year ago
No hole in the bottom of the barrel. These would work very well on a balcony. The only time it might run out is when you fill it then you'll see some run out the side hole. But you can tell when it's getting full and stop before it actually runs out. Good luck!
This is a great 'idble. I've used the barrels in the past. But, Iopted to cut them lengthwise for more surface area.
Next year I'll just use your idea along with the lattice vine support. Great job!
dana-dxb3 years ago
woooooooooooooow thats just wht i did !!!!
great maids thinkalaike looool
i had some mats so
this is the castle of my dreams hehehe
CeaseFire4 years ago
Lattice plant support added.
kentdvm (author)  CeaseFire4 years ago
Absolutely fabulous. Will look great when your vines are crawling down the sides of the lattice. Going to try your method of putting the fertilizer in a stocking. Great idea. Thanks!
Pizzapie5004 years ago
Where'd you get the 55 Gallon Drum? I tried my local carwash but they were out, so they said come next week; out. Come again next week; out. Last time I went; out. So yeah, I really don't know where to get them. Do they have them at resturants?
Beverage companies have them, flavoring companies (snow cone flavor providers) have them. Look in local papers and they're often offered at $10 each.

I also found some that laundry mats owners were selling.
kentdvm (author)  Pizzapie5004 years ago
I got mine where I work. We get floor cleaner in them. I've seen people selling them on Craig's List. They were the craze during our recent drought for making rain barrels.
CeaseFire4 years ago
My newest version of the 55-gallon self-watering planters. I used plastic lattice, held together with plastic zip-ties for safety and for more plant support to cover the wires I string from drum to drum. I've grown watermelon, cantaloupe, tomatoes and this year a giant, bushel gourd.

The soil mixture I like most is 5 cups lime and 5 cups 8-8-8 fertilizer per container. I put the fertilizer inside old stockings so that I can easily remove it at the end of the season (removing salts). Next spring, I use the same 5 cups lime/5 cups 8-8-8 fertilizer. Works great.
RixyFisk4 years ago
one thing we use that works well is a skill saw attached to some two-by-fours at the right length adn angle that rotates around the barrel. its kinda hard to describe but it works fast and effectively. you can seem some pics of our earthbarrels on our site: http://barrelsupply.ucoz.com/index/0-2
Ronyon4 years ago
I've built the 5 gallon version, but instead of a container for a soil wick, I used plastic screen, poked through a hole in the bottom of the top bucket and stapled in place.
Worked great, so I'm wondering if a fabric "bag" of some kind affixed to the top rim of a single barrel, and filled with soil,would work?

kentdvm (author)  Ronyon4 years ago
Good question. I probably don't know enough about it to give an educated answer, but my initial thought would be whether the soil would get consistent water. I think you'd need some way of having the bag go to the bottom so it always has contact with water without it simply sitting in water. The center column gives constant assess to water and yet most of the soil isn't sitting in water.
jman41175 years ago
Excellent! I used this but had to modify it slightly to work with my barrels. Mine have the lip top and bottom, so I had to cut one of them off. Also, have you tried using a table saw with this? I've made two, and the one a jigsaw, and the second with my table saw. I got much more accurate cuts on it, and it went much faster.
kentdvm (author)  jman41175 years ago
I haven't used a table saw, but will give it a try on my next bunch. Great idea. Glad you were able to use this instructable. We've had a ton of tomatoes this summer and it's been so easy.
flove1015 years ago
Incredible! Awesome! Now to source 55 gal drum.
Awesome instruct able.  I also use a variation of Earth Boxes.  Mine cost more though, they are made from large Rubber Made type containers.

I use a about 4-5 inches of river rock below the dirt (on top of the separator) to allow heavy rain water to drain down easily and also roots can navigate quite easily downward to get to the water. Someone told me this actually makes for a quicker growing and longer root system - not sure if it does or not.

If anybody wants a look at a much more complex raised bed garden utilizing these principals, check out the "wicking bed" here:

daisyrock15 years ago
I think even I can do this with such nice instructions!  Great ible, fav'd and am definitely going to try next month (a little closer to spring).  Thanks for sharing :)  
CeaseFire6 years ago
I used your idea to make a "full-size version" I used a 5 gallon barrel for the soil wick and used the barrel top for the soil platform. Works great1 Thanks for the idea!
kentdvm (author)  CeaseFire6 years ago
Excellent! Good Job.
The barrels of water/soil are so heavy, I figured thy would support a lot of weight. I drilled holes in the edges and strung wire from barrel to barrel. I plan on the 3 cantaloupe plants going all the way to the gas tank! So far, so good.
kentdvm (author)  CeaseFire6 years ago
Good idea. I wished I had spaced my planters out a bit so I could do this. My cucumber vines are going everywhere! Next year.
shoppe6 years ago
This is a terrific idea! I'm looking forward to making these. But I was wondering, rather than ensuring that the barrel top is leak free with plugs and patches, and then using the barrel bottom as the separator screen, could you use the barrel top instead as the separator screen and take advantage of the already leak-free molded barrel bottom for the main container?
kentdvm (author)  shoppe6 years ago
Thanks. I had the same idea originally but opted to use the top as the base because the edge of the barrel was a little more detailed and decorative. The problem with using the top is it is wider than the bottom. The bottom tapers in slightly which makes it a perfect fit inside the top. I don't think you could get the top inside the bottom. So far, no leaks and I'm also happy with the look.
shoppe kentdvm6 years ago
That's great! Once again you've worked everything out for me. I suspected that the top might not fit within the bottom. And I agree with you that using the top as a base is more aesthetically pleasing. Another thought just occurred to me: How about if I laid in cloth landscaping fabric before adding the soil to prevent the soil from falling through the holes in the separator screen? Would the fabric impede the way the water wicks up or would it stop the roots ability to get to the water? Thanks again.
kentdvm (author)  shoppe6 years ago
Honestly, I'm not convinced you need holes in the seperator screen at all, but here's what I've read. The idea is to allow the roots to get air from the bottom. The drain hole in the side is positioned so there is a layer of air between the water and the bottom of the seperator screen. The way I built these pots with the drain hole about a 1/2" below the seperator screen, there should be approximately a 1/2" of space/air on top of the water and below the screen. Water does not wick up through the holes in the seperator screen. The water moves through the dirt in the central column. Since I haven't emptied any of my pots yet, I can't say how much soil went through the holes but I don't think it was much. I filled them with potting soil which was pretty moist out of the bag. From what I could tell, very little passed through the holes in the screen. So personally, I don't think fabric is needed but also won't hurt anything as long as it doesn't cover the central column of dirt. The water surrounding the central column in the bottom has to be able to move up into the soil above.
Holes in the separator screen are for aeration, but mostly to allow excess water to drain from the soil (in case it rains for ages and lots of water gets into the soil from the openings around the plants).
TnT1016 years ago
I LOVE this idea. Sure beats the standard planter that requires drainage holes on the bottom. No stains on my deck! You can even install tubing to direct overflow off deck or between floorboards.
CeaseFire6 years ago
Wondereful idea. I want to make some, but will put them on casters so they can move around. Also, the ring holding the plastic on is a good afterthought. If you wrapped the plastic over the ring and temporarily held it with tape, you could lower the ring (ring on inside of plastic and black plastic showing only) to make a neater edge -- harder to explain than to do.
kentdvm (author)  CeaseFire6 years ago
Thanks! The pots are working great this summer. We are already eating broccoli and lettuce. Beans, squash and cucumbers are growing like crazy. I really like your idea about rolling the plastic on the ring. Definitely going to do that next time. Casters are an excellent idea too. Mine are in full sun and potentially may need to be moved to shade at some point. Good luck.
el_wombato6 years ago
Very ingenious. After seeing the earthbox/earthtainer I was wondering if a barrel would make a good candidate. Looks like I have my answer (and I already use 2 as rain barrels). Does the separator screen really support all that weight? It seems like it would be too much. Granted, a barrel is much thicker than the plastic bins these are usually made out of.
kentdvm (author)  el_wombato6 years ago
Thanks. It does support the weight quite well. These barrels are about 1/4" thick so very strong. Also the sides add a lot of rigidity to the screen. Sitting on the central column it's a little "tipsy" until you get it full of dirt. I had thought about adding more support laterally but doesn't seem to need it since it's just the weight of the dirt and plants.
iPodGuy6 years ago
Speechless... Awesome..... Fav'd.
kentdvm (author)  iPodGuy6 years ago
Thanks. My next project is making a couple of your composting barrels. Great instructable also.
dolabil666 years ago
Nice Job !! Great Instructable ! I was planning on making a bucket planter , I`m going to follow your plans when I do
kentdvm (author)  dolabil666 years ago
Thanks! I've made 6 pots now and may keep going. Fun to make and the results are very professional. Can't wait to eat the veggies;-)