Another Ez Cheap Earth-filled Box (without PVC!)




Introduction: Another Ez Cheap Earth-filled Box (without PVC!)

This is a self-watering container for growing most plants. Just fill the reservoir with water and it will be wicked up through soil-filled columns to your plants' roots. In theory, it should maintain the optimum moisture in the soil, save water, and make container gardening (indoors and out) really low-maintainance. I haven't done any fancy layered fertilizer stuff, but supposedly if you put a layer of fertilizer down first, before the dirt, the water will bring up a constant flow of nutrients to the plants and so no more fertilizer worries.

This project is inspired by another:
But mine has no PVC!

You'll need:

-a storage bin of any size (if it's clear like mine you can see water level, but the light might encourage algae!)

-cheap potting mix (don't use anything fancy or water might not wick well!)

-hose or tube (but PVC leaches toxins into soil!)

-Sturdy plastic cups, and some less sturdy soda bottles

-Wire ties

-Duct tape

-Heavy black garbage bag (watch out for added rat-deterrent chemicals and stuff)

Step 1: Make the Shelf and Main Support/wicking Columns

First, cut around the container's lid to make a "shelf" for the dirt. Try to get it so it will be close against the sides of the container once it's in there. See picture. Then drill holes in it to drain the water.

Then take 2 of your sturdy plastic cups and cut the bottoms off, making tubes. You can use any non-toxic tube-shaped object for this.

Next, drill two holes like so in shelf. Make sure they're a little smaller than the cups, so that the cups can hold up the shelf.

Then drill a hole for the hose or tube where you will pour water for the reservoir. I could have made this hole under the shelf on the side of the container, but it doesn't really matter.

Step 2: Completing the Shelf and Supports

Drill several holes in the 2 sturdy cups to allow water in. Make two of these holes close to the top, then attach the cups to the shelf with wire ties.

Now cut some soda bottles to the height of the shelf. Keep in mind that weight may warp the bottom of the container, and you'll have to compensate for that. The soda bottles will support the corners and center of the shelf. Actually, you can use sturdy plastic cups for this too, which will make the thing more robust, but I couldn't spare any more cups. Attach them to the shelf as you did the sturdy cups, and drill holes in them to allow water to move through. In my version, these bottles don't actually have anything to do with wicking, they just hold up the shelf.

When everything is in place and seems sturdy, duct tape around the edge of the shelf so that dirt won't fall through the gap between the shelf and the wall of the container.

Make sure to drill an overflow hole about an inch below the shelf. You might want to drill several to promote air circulation.

Step 3: Fill With Dirt, Water, and Plants!

Remember, use a cheap potting mix. You can try using a layer of fertilizer put down first right on the shelf, tell me if it works out! Get it really packed into the rigid cups, and get that soil soaking wet to make sure there are no air bubbles there.

Make sure to have the container where you want it to sit before filling the water reservoir, or it will be crazy heavy.

I planted coffee plants, and tea, stevia, and jalapeno seeds in here, I'll post the results in a few weeks.

Make sure to put a black garbage bag over the top once your plants are big enough to peek over the surface of it. Cut X's in it for the plants to poke through, and use what's left of the lid to secure the bag. This will conserve water, keep the soil more moist, and maybe keep things a little warmer.

You can be cool like me and add a grow light. I'm going to experiment with LEDs in the future, and you should too, since they're awesome.

Good luck, and I hope you've enjoyed my first instructable!

-Does anyone think an aquarium airstone and pump in the reservoir would make a difference?
-Also, if a hydroponic medium if used in place of dirt, do you think this setup would make a good wicking system? What mediums would wick enough to do this? I've heard that using a rope wick leads to clogging and crystallization and suspect that this wouldn't be as much as an issue if the wick was two 3-inch columns of the medium itself.

Comments welcome!



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    24 Discussions

    I've used hydroponic medium, unglazed clay balls, with a layer of screen or weed fabric and soil on top. It wicks really well, but the medium can be a bit pricey. Using an airstone will keep the water from getting stagnant and keep nutrients mixed in.

    one more thing using Vermiculite & Perlite you might want to do some research on its toxicity also... asbestos causes cancer... alot of hydroponic nutrients and soil based like miracle grow are high in arsenic also... among may other things that does a body bad..

    1 reply

    Asbestos is only a problem if you breath it in, so once it's wet it isn't going to cause any problems. But handling the vermiculite outside with a dust mask is probably a reasonable precaution.

    I use synthetic (gasp!) fabric to wick the water into my African violet plants- it will last for years and the roots grow right into and through it. An old blanket (recycle!), as long as it is a synthetic fiber, works well. (natural fiber rots) You can drape it from the soil area into the water and it works as a wick-this would also keep soil in place along the edges . The plastic bases from spring garden potted plant sales works with the pots holding them above the water area.

    By the way, I would use some weed block fabric on top of the shelf and up the side of the box. This would hold the potting mix. Cut holes where the wicking holes are.

    I have used EB's for ten years. The fertilizer is to be put in the top of the potting mix by running your finger back and forth to make a trough. It needs to be equally distant from the plants. Put in the fertilizer and cover with the mix. The plants roots will seek out the nutrients. The airstone won't hurt or be necessary since the oxygenation is accomplished by the overflow hole and the gap between the potting mix and the top of the water. The black plastic is used for two things. The first is to keep the potting mix moist. The second is to keep the fertilizer from being washed down into the water if the unit is exposed to the rain. The potting mix is mounded a bit so that the rain would run off the plastic, not a problem if it is used inside. I've built very large versions for outside use. I like this one for inside use!

    I think that you did a great job. I'd just like to point out that the pvc that you didn't use and made such a big deal about using is made from most of the same things as the plastic bottles, cups, hose, (DUCT TAPE!) and of course, the tub that you used. That hose is probably mostly made from a vcm base (pre-pvc) and I would venture a guess that the packaging that your soil came in was plastic. None of your materials are safe to use if you consider pvc unsafe or "toxic". The only way it would be is if you set it on fire. If that happened I doubt that you'd be harvesting anything anyway. But, I do commend you on coming up with you own way to make something very useful on the cheap. You probably wouldn't be able to do it without plastics. Not looking for an argument. I've said my pro-plastics piece. Thanks.

    I like the idea might build one myself, BUT I am concerned about algae growing , in my opinion the box should be light proofed or buy a dark coloured box

    Elegant comment: If the plant bed was actually another container within, this would afford ability to disassemble the bed and reservoir without uprooting the plants Aeration comment: could use a solar powered pump to recirculate the water. One I bought online a while back runs if enough light available. Twist: water feature. take the pump to trickle water about a statuary type element. this also provides a place to dump water in to replenish the water. automated rewater: using a float system, connect a hose to a hose bib always on. if the water drops enough, more water is added. some are made already for animal water tanks. but size of those would be too much for this example

    "PVC leaches [sic] toxins into soil!" Can you direct me towards a source for this info? Personally I'd be more concerned with the duct tape. That's full of nasty gunk that breaks down right in front of your eyes. Not that I'm anti- duct tape, don't get me wrong. It's the nasty gunk that makes it so great!

    1 reply

    Navigate to the section on phthalates:

    Also, "leaches" actually is the correct word. "Leech" refers to the bloodsucking animal and, as a verb, its parasitic behavior. The verb "to leach" means "To purge a soluble matter out of something by the action of a percolating fluid."

    As for the duct tape substitute, it's mentioned on another page, but aquarium sealant should work nicely, although you will sacrifice the ability to dismantle the thing in the future.

    so... you put pearlite in the cups that go down to the water and then fertalizer then soil right?

    I'm going to try and build this tomorrow, hope it works!

    I would like to know where you get your information that pvc leaks out toxins into the water? white pvc is used in most homes here in the states for sinks etc... as for the black pvc which isnt pvc it has another name but looks the same is used for sewage etc and it does leak.. I've had alot of fish tanks over the years and white has not caused any problems whatsoever.. in fact it is recommended in the aquarium industry to use, instead of the black, and if its safe for my fish then its safe enough for me. but as your garden hose there starts collecting alot of bacteria and germs into the soul and releasing its toxins I have to ask again where did you get your information on pvc? I don't know i was always taught not to drink from the hose... ;)

    Ever try silicone instead of duct tape?

    Adding an airstone and airpump wouldn't be a bad idea. It would add oxygen to the water and the root zone. Everything I've read about hydroponics talks about getting ozygen to the roots.

    Thanks for the great instructions. These are the most simple and (I think) closest to the original EB. I have one made. Big Lots and Dollar Gen.were a help with low cost parts. I did put a wicking basket in the center instead of cups. My local nursery has potting mix in 50LB bags for 13.00. I got Perlite for the wicking basket. I will add lime to the potting mix and add a row of fertalizer on top. I can taste the maters now!

    Any specific reason why u put the cups upside down and cut the bottom instead of just putting them right side up and not cutting anything? (i'm about to make one of those!)

    1 reply

    I think it gives more water flow and a little structural stability, but as long as you drill a bunch of holes it probably doesn't matter.