One of the Neighbors Project ideas is to "Plant your windows, porch/stoop/balcony or other publicly viewable space with plants and flowers." I've taken that advice by setting up a mini garden on my balcony, including this Earthbox that my mother gave me last year.
The instructions in the box for setting it up are idiot proof, but there are a few other things I wanted to add to them to help people make the most out of the project.
Step 1: Assemble the Materials
1. An earthbox - My mother gave me one as a gift, but you can order one online at www.earthbox.com/.
2. Plants - Look for your local nursery and spends some time wandering around looking for things you'll either want to see and smell or eat frequently. I had plants forced on to me last summer and ended up really enjoying growing my own herbs and vegetables in particular so I looked for edibles at one of the many independent plant stores in my neighborhood. I bought lemon verbana, sweet basil, purple basil, tomatilla, arugula and tarragon from a nursery a few blocks from my home. I believe that you can plant up to eight items in the box, and you're encouraged to plant edible items. I have a large basket on my bike so I biked all of the seedling plants home, which I have to admit greatly added to the fun of the project.
As I discovered in the process, you'll probably also need:
3. Measuring cup
5. Scissors or knife
6. Plastic bags
7. A big tub or bucket
8. A small plastic dish with walls
9. A tea kettle or watering can
Step 2: Put the Tube Into the Round Opening in the Box
Set up your box in a place that will get as much sun as possible.
What you don't get in the instructions, though, is a reminder to look around to see if you're likely to drip mud, water and mud-water onto your neighbor's property. My balcony, which is just a bunch of wooden slats, is right above my neighbor's balcony. So I dripped potting soil water all over the table and chairs she has on her balcony. I recommend avoiding having to apologize for this by laying out some plastic bags beneath your whole set up.
Step 3: Pack the Holes With Potting Soil and Fill the Water Reservoire
Then pour water through the tube until it runs out of the hole at the bottom of the box. (Note: this is another reason to have a plastic bag or some other device for catching water from the box on the ground before you start.) It takes a lot of water to fill the reservoire, so be prepared to make lots of trips to the sink. I used my tea kettle since I don't have a proper watering can, and it's really more or less the same thing.
Step 4: Fill the Box With Potting Soil and Fertilizer
1. Add moist potting soil on top of the screen until the box is half full. Sprinkle that layer with water and pat it down, especially above the areas with the holes (which you filled in a previous step).
2. Then fill the rest of the box -- completely to the top -- with dry potting soil. Sprinkle well with water and smooth out the soil.
3. If you're growing tomatoes, mix in two cups of the dolomite that comes with the box into the top 3-4 inches of the box and re-smooth the dirt.
4. The box also comes with fertilizer, which you should use to create a two-inch wide strip in the location that you want to put the fertilizer. The instructions have a handy diagram for where to put the fertilizer and seedlings based on how many and what types of plants you want to grow.
Here are my notes on how to make sure this section doesn't take forever:
This was the part that took the longest by far, mostly because I didn't have a big tub in which to mix water and the dry potting soil to make the moist soil the directions call for. I ended up using this dinky little pot with built in plastic to hand mix the water and soil. I recommend getting a big bucket or tub to do this in one big batch.
Step 5: Plant Your Seedlings
You should have already chosen a plant placement pattern in the last step; cut 3-inch Xs where you want to put your seedlings and plant them in the holes. Make sure you firm up the dirt around the seedling once it's in the ground.
They don't tell you in the instructions, but it's not surprising that you will need scissors or a knife and a ruler or tape measure for this step.
Step 6: Water Your Box
One time and one time only, pull back the black plastic around the seedlings and water the plants directly. Then put the flaps back and don't ever do that again.
Going forward, you will always water your box through the tube. You water until the water starts coming out of the hole at the bottom of the box. If you live somewhere where it wouldn't be a good idea to have this liquid draining onto someone else's property, I strongly recommend that you find a little plastic container to put below the hole to catch the run off. I took the cheap plastic bottom of a planting pot and reassigned it to the Earthbox.
I only water it once a day and so far that seems to be enough in the Chicago climate.
I can't wait to eat some of these herbs. Earthbox sells stakes for you to use to prop up any plants that need vertical support. I think I've reached that point with my tomatilla plant, but I'll probably create my own structure.