Planting an Earth Box




I planted my Earthbox on my balcony with six different herbs and vegetables.

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

To plant an Earthbox, you need:

1. An earthbox - My mother gave me one as a gift, but you can order one online at

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
4. Ruler
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

These steps are very self-explanatory.

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

Open the large bag of potting soil that came in the Earthbox and pack it in the two holes on either end of the box. Note that the potting soil comes dry but you need to pack these holes with moist soil, so be prepared to mix it elsewhere.

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

These are the official steps paraphrased from the instructions:
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

Cover the box with the black plastic thing that looks like a shower cap.

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

This is the fun part.

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.



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    28 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    To make your own 'earth box'

    Take a large tub with no holes in. Add some standard household bricks to the bottom and lay over it a mesh of either plastic (old veg transport boxes from the grocer have a plastic mesh similar to the above!) or metal.

    Cut two holes in the side, add a length of tubing. Follow instructions on this 'ible.

    Drill a hole in the side at the same level of the mesh to drain if you over fill.

    It won't be so pretty, but will still grow the same veg. Probably cheaper too.

    Good 'ible though :)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Miracle grow contains metals which are not good to take into the body, also traces of arsenic and other deadly chemicals..

    2 replies

    OMG - regular dirt and soil also contain metals, salts, arsenic, and other deadly (in large doses) chemicals. Hey, even water is toxic in large doses. Miracle Grow is a fertilizer. Any fertilizer would be toxic if you ate or drank it. Don't worry about it. It is not going to poison you through your plants. I am amazed at some of the off-the-wall completely baseless warnings some people post.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    UK wise we have two different types of miracle grow - one says 'not for vegetable plants' and one for vegetable plants.

    I suspect that's because of the balance of chemicals not because it breeds deadly veg. Though to be honest, I'd probably think that if I picked up the bottle. They're both priced at the same amount.

    However, you can use comfrey bocking 14, nettles, seaweed or even horse manure in water to make a "tea" to water your plants with (this can all be 'free'). Personally, I wouldn't drink any of that either as it essentially involves the leaves/manure rotting down :) But then again I've never considered drinking miracle grow either...

    Miracle grow and other chemical fertilizer have lead people to belive they are poisonous, and that is true in the case that if you are drinking the miracle grow yourself. The idea that it is "bad" to use chemical fertilizers on plants is totally ridiculous. People (including the pro-organic, and other hippies alike) think using primitive anecdotal logic spoon fed to them by the media and start to believe that "if its poisonous to me, and if i feed these chemicals to my plants, then i will be growing poisonous vegetables!" But what they don't know, is that plants are "chemical factories" which convert and metabolize chemicals such as, potassium nitrate, urea, phosphoric acid, and ammoniacal nitrogen into nutrients. The most commonly advertised primary ingredients in these chemical fertilizers are (N) Nitrogen, (P) Phosphorous, and (K) Potassium include some of the nutrients that are derived from the "toxic chemicals" which you "should avoid" applying to your plants. So fertilizers are perfectly safe, and dont let any hippie or Whole Foods/ Trader Joe's tell you otherwise, because they got their information from some unreliable source, such as the news television. As for plants, and as andrew_modder says, "O.D. them on vitamins". Plants don't "need" fertilizers. Plants usually only need fertilizers on the instance that they are malnourished (same for the people variety of vitamins). You can't make an Arnold Schwarzenegger super-plant by pumping it up on Miracle "Juice", but you can sickly deform and kill plants with excess chemicals, and NOT for the reason that they have "concentrated salts" in them as lucianoabcd says, that's total nonsense. The over application of various halides, such as: fluoride (F−), chloride (Cl−), bromide (Br−), iodide (I−) and astatide (At−) is not killing your plants. You would kill them by similar reasons consuming an entire bottle of those tasty candy-like children multivitamins would kill you. There is a balance in plants, they have a specific need and over indulging their need can kill them, same goes for under treating their need (of nutrients). Well I hope that will help you and your questions twords miraclegrows "toxicity"...

    Yeah...that's why Scotts sells like a million tons of it annually and everyone is dropping dead because they are eating "contaminated " vegetables. LOL


    In response to the part on salts.. Potential anions (negatively charged ions) do include nitrogen, phosphate, and sulfates and potential cations (positively charged ions) do include ammonium, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Which are all common in fertilizers to create salts. I was mistaken on the definition of a "salt" and thought they primarily consisted of the halides... Well Sorry on that! You can have overly salty soil (in addition to nutrient over dosing with fertilizers). Seems too much of a good thing is almost always bad...

    Miracle Grow is not toxic. It is however, non-organic. Try better alternatives... I use teabags personally, but I've heard that SMALL amounts of Ash are good for your garden.

    SlezridrA good name

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    A good name and others: For container planting, miracle grow is fine. The concern about commercial, chemical fertilizers is when it is used in garden soil. The chemicals are detrimental to the beneficial organisms, worms that give life to your soil. I'm a small time organic gardener and refuse to use commercial fertilizer in anything other than container plants, even then, I prefer organic as the potting mix will eventually wind up in the soil somewhere. Just my 2c.

    toxic!???????!? whered you here that!!?! no miracle grow is plant vitamins, it makes your plants thrive and grow strong. lol theres nothing bad about it just you can only feed your plants m.grow 1ce a week, or it will O.D. them on vitamins. :-)

    lol, yeah i O.D.'d a bamboo plant cause i didnt read it could kill it and the next day it turned from Green to white-brown. :-( i had to throw it away and it has been alive for 3 years :-(

    I don't know if this comment will arrive to all of you or just to the last person of the comments chain, but let me contribute with this: !Andrew: These "nutrients" consist mainly of salts which are very concentrated, so you should be very careful about the amount you use. Even if your plant is resistant to some of the strange metal ions contained, you may just cause a salting shock! About the strawberries, well, I have strawberry plants and each of them gives 2 or 3 new plants every summer, even if I don't feed them with nutrients. May be your giving them nutrients made them multiply more than usual, but remember, strawberry plants are very prone to asexual reproduction. General: I red a comment above talking about the impact of fertilizers on the environment; well, I agree with dijital101 on this, and I think that, at the level of growing plants at home, there's no need for using fertilizers. Besides, it can really become an issue if you extract the water you drink from underground with a pump. As for eating fruits grown with fertilizers, I don't think there may be problems as the concentration of salts and ions in the fruit are controlled by the plant. Happy gardening!

    fusion girllucianoabcd

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Hello there, i dont know if im doing this the write way but i was wondering if fertilizers cause insects or mite? I have a small garden in my balcony with lettuce, herbs like sage, etc. and ive got these little green flies on them or white spots and it seems to have gotten this way after i used a dead fish!!

    naught101fusion girl

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Have a read ecosystems somewhere. Any biosystem which has a limited diversity, and a large energy, water, and nutrient input will eventually grow weed species (the straw berries in this case), and once those species start to flourish, they will become a great target for pests. This is the monoculture effect. So basically, yes, if your fertilise too much for one plant type, you're gonna get pests. It's not the fertiliser that attracts them, it's the abundance of a single type of pest food. It regards to the fish fertiliser, it might be that it's too concentrated in a specific nutrient - plants, like animals, need a balanced diet, and unhealthy plants (like unhealthy animals) tend to get attacked more by predators. You should also think about the impact of using fish, since about 75% of world fish stocks are over-exploited, and 90% of large-fish stocks have disappeared (New Internationalist).