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I started up a test on my homemade Earth Box today.

It is a Catnip plant in a 2 gallon DIY Earth Box bucket. I thought i would share how i made it. Just in case anyone is interested.
You don't have to watch the videos. But, you will probably understand 'why' i did things better if you do watch the videos. Just in case you want to see them.

First i watched this videos on UTube
The old fellow is Blake Whisenant the Earth Box inventor.

The next video shows how to plant in an Earth box, it's first in a 3 part series.

For the two bucket home made system i watched this video,
There is a whole series of these DIY videos, that was the clearest one i found.

My setup is a little different. Most of the directions call for two buckets to make one container. I thought that was way too wasteful so i looked until found a video on UTube for using one bucket and its lid. I would point you to the video but i cant seem to find it again. It had no sound and i thought i would find a better one when i was bookmarking videos... Ah well. So here is how i made my one bucket setup.

You will need one bucket, its lid, a 1" PVC pipe 3 to 4 inches taller than the bucket, a piece of plastic (dark for the northern regions or white for tropics and sub tropics) and an old container to put in the bottom of the bucket.

Before you start find the inner container you are going to use. You will need to drill holes into the bucket at 1/2 inch below the inner false bottom so you will need to have the height of the container on hand first. Get something shaped like a flower pot wide enough to keep the false bottom from tipping over but not fill the whole reservoir space and strong enough to hold up the potting soil. For this small 2 gallon bucket the cottage cheese container should work well.

The inner part of the lid is used for the false bottom (screen) inside the bucket. The outer ring is used for holding the plastic cover in place on top of the bucket. The small holes are aeration holes, allowing air to reach the plant roots.

Cut or drill out the small holes first. They are supposed to be 1/4 inch holes. With mine i did all the cutting with a Dremel and nothing is real strait, i don't think it will matter.
Then cut out the two holes marked with X's. The filling tube (PVC pipe) will go in the small hole. I used the end of the pipe to draw the hole.
And the wicking pot (cottage cheese container) will go under the larger hole, holding up the false bottom, so the hole needs to be smaller than the wicking pot.
Next cut out the outer lid line. I had to cut up near the top edge to get a fairly snug fit inside the bucket. The snug fit helps to keep the false bottom from tipping over. In a five gallon bucket i may have to cut the lid somewhere else.

Here is the inner part of the lid showing the aeration holes. The outer ring (it's under everything). The bottom part of the PVC filling tube with a notch that will have to be cut out, to allow water to easily enter the reservoir.

The setup will look like this inside the bucket. Note the holes cut into the cottage cheese container. This allows water into the "wicking pot".

And a shot showing the inner pot sitting in the bucket and the holes drilled in the bucket. Ok, so two of them didn't show in the photo and i photo shopped them in. The holes in the bucket has two functions. They prevent over watering and allow air to the roots. The system isn't supposed to work well without them.

The home made Earth Box without the soil.

When planting you need a very light mix of soil.
You can find some planting mix recipes from In addition to the potting mix you will need agricultural lime and fertilizer (in my test case vermicompost). They must be added at the top part of the bucket.

To pot up plants:

Add the potting mix and push the soil down in the middle above the wicking cup. Making sure that the soil is pushed firmly down inside the wicking cup and all the way up to just below the plants roots. Allow all the rest of the potting mix to stay fluffy. Fill almost to the top then mix agricultural lime into the top 2-3 inches. Then add more potting mix to over fill the bucket (1 inch or so, should be mounded) and plant your plant in the center. Then make a grove around the outside edge of the soil and fill the grove with fertilizer or in my case vermicompost. Cover grove with another layer of potting mix ( 1/2-1 inch ). The potting mix should form a mound higher than the top of the bucket when done planting. (When planting seeds plant them after the cover is in place.)

Then add the plastic cover. I used an old black shopping bag. I cut holes for the plant and the watering tube. And covered the top. Securing the cover in place with the ring made when cutting up the lid. You do need the plastic cover for the system to work right. You will water the plant from the top once just a little bit, to make sure there is liquid running from top to bottom then there after water through the PVC tube. All the water will wick up from the bottom. The plastic cover prevents rain water from entering the "pot" and washing away all the "fertilizer" in the soil and allows the plant to grow with less water (prevents evaporation).

I have never been able to find out anything about people using vermicompost in the Earth Boxes so i guess i am probably one of the
first to test it out. I made another change from the directions, using egg shell instead of agricultural lime. There just isn't any agricultural lime available this early in the year. Planting season will not be starting in these parts until around May or June. So that should allow plenty of time to test out how well the setup will work out.

I plan to plant lettuce and radishes in these small buckets to test out the system. One each with vermicompost and one with organic fertilizer as my control when they become available in the area.

My first test pot. A Catnip plant in the Earth-box setup.

Now if i can just keep the cat from finding and eating the Catnip plant i will be able to see how well it works.

Catnip wasn't my first choice it was the only potted plant i could find this time of year.

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Comment by catherine daly on March 10, 2010 at 5:39am
Hi Eve- That's such a coincidence- I was working on making something like this yesterday- although when I say 'working'- was doign the research- not actually getting my hands dirty!!
The following people use vermicompost in their system -very similar to earth boxes:
Comment by Eve on March 10, 2010 at 6:36am
Catherine thanks for the link. I see there is a lot of great information there.
Comment by Jason on March 11, 2010 at 1:24pm
I'm really keen on finding out how successful you are with this. Seeing as how I may be garden-less relatively soon because of moving to a smaller place, I'm really interested in stuff like this to allow me to grow some things indoors.
Comment by Richard Hossman on March 11, 2010 at 5:12pm
What a neat idea. This got me thinking(always a bad idea with me). What about using a 18 gal tote and instead of a soft top use the lid with holes drilled into it for the plants? Any ideas? You could leave the soil about 2 inches from the top and still be able to mound it.
Comment by Eve on March 12, 2010 at 4:13am
Jason i am hoping that it works well too this all has a steep learning curve but i am reading as much as i can. I have to if i am to have a garden, as the the gophers made my garden a total loss last summer. Now all i have to do is fence out the deer to have a crop.

Richard, i did see people using all kinds of containers some of them just cut holes in the lids instead of using the plastic cover. The mound of soil and the cover is to keep rain water from getting into the pot from above and washing all the fertilizer down into the root zone and burning to roots. The design is a wicking design, all the water should come from the bottom and the fertilizer is added on top. Not mixed into the soil. In the original idea a ring of commercial or dry organic fertilizer is added around the top outside edge, or in a square design pot along one side and the plants are planted on the other side of the pot. A lot of fertilizer is added, a whole cup of fake or two cups organic fertilizer for a five gallons of soil. The top is supposed to stay dry or nearly dry and if the plant wants some fertilizer they run a few roots UP to the fertilizer area.

At the end of the growing season you are supposed to be able to take off the cover and carefully remove the remaining fertilizer off the top and allow the sphagnum moss based growing mix to dry out for reuse year after year.
Comment by catherine daly on March 12, 2010 at 5:19am
I have to say I love the idea where the 'fertilizer' is actually a youghurt carton at the edge of the planter, with holes, scraps and worms. Then no risk of burning roots, and good mixing of potting soil.
Comment by Eve on March 12, 2010 at 5:56am
One of the things i will have to test is if the vermicastings will be enough fertilizer or if i have to additional fertilizer. If i do it will be the organic type. From the recent post about the NPK being a low 3,0,0. I'm a little worried. I am sure that stuff like lettuce and radishes will be very healthy. But the low readings has me a little worried about the heavy feeders like tomatoes.

I would add the worms to the pots but from what i have read the build up of castings in the soil make the potting mix too heavy to be useful in the containers in a couple years. I certainly cant afford to buy such expensive potting mix that often. Especially if i am going to be replacing a couple dozen five gallon buckets of planting mix. Better to just replace the top 3-4 inches with the castings in it every couple years. And use the old casting/moss mix to help grow potatoes in my potato tower.
Comment by Mark from Kansas on March 12, 2010 at 12:24pm
Thank you very much! We talked about that kind of system and I'm going to try it. Your pictures helped explain it as well.
Comment by Jason on March 12, 2010 at 10:01pm
I think catnip is a good proof of concept candidate for this actually. Being in the mint family, it's a pretty good grower. That is, as long as cats don't have anything to say about it.
Comment by Garden Citizen on March 13, 2010 at 1:00am
My cat won't touch catnip - she acts scared of it. LOL It does grow nicely. ;)


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