Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tomatoes in an EarthBox

So I finally planted the yellow Azoychka tomatoes in their EarthBox.

If you're new to it, the EarthBox is a self-watering container that has gained a near-rabid following. In essence, it's a two-level box, with a potting medium suspended over a water reservoir. The soil wicks water up as needed, and the top of the box is covered, so less water can evaporate. You add nutrients and dolomite at planting time, and never feed them again.

To maintain the EarthBox, you simply keep the reservoir full and let the box handle the rest. It's very easy to set up, with simple provided instructions. The biggest downside to the EarthBox is the cost: a full set-up, including the company's staking system, costs over $100. But it's a one-time expense: the box is reusable, year after year, and you can grow pretty much anything in the box. In addition to tomatoes, I'm also planning cabbages, romaine lettuce and broccoli. If you want more information, click on EarthBox.

I don't know about you, but the last week has been pretty hard on my little transplants—yet it's also been instructive. With temperatures of 92º to 94º every afternoon, we're at the very limit of what tomatoes can stand. And it's been interesting to watch the different varieties react to it. I'm growing one heat-tolerant variety (Homestead 24) that has absolutely loved the heat. I mean it ... these plants have shot up and are already more than a foot tall. On the other hand, my beefsteak variety (Belgian Giant) is just about ready to cry uncle and head for the great compost heap in the sky. I've had to water them twice a day for the past few days to prevent a total collapse. I'm curious if this will affect the harvest. I'm also growing an heirloom variety—Marvel Stripe—and they have been somewhere between the other two. Not thriving, but not wilting every afternoon either.

Thankfully, it's supposed to cool down by the end of this week.

My last thought for the day: it's almost time to start fertilizing, so this weekend I'll begin the regular feeding program. I'm going to be using Espoma's Tomato Tone organic granular fertilizer, a synthetic granular fertilizer, and a liquid tomato fertilizer and see how they work. I know it's not exactly scientific—these are different varieties, after all—but I'll still be curious.

Up Next: Watering Tomatoes


  1. JON,
    All is good in the garden. I have been following your blog and doing pretty much the same as you. I have been gardening for years and experimenting with different setups all along. Because of you, I built 3 earth boxes to add to the mix. I also do hydroponics...mostly for lettuce. This is my 2nd year for the hydro's. Just wanted to seedlings are ready to be transplanted to 4" cups. Hope the weather cools down. I'll keep you posted as to how things are going down in the Falls. Jeff

  2. Jeff,

    I am deeply interested in hydroponics, but I haven't made the jump yet. Any good references?


  3. Hi Jon, I see you're having the same issue I'm having with the plants..Half of my tomatoes are just not thriving at all due to the heat and the others I planted with them are growing, they are still suffering, but they're growing anyway...Now that the suffocating heat has broken somewhat, I'm planning on replacing two of my "Failure to Thrive" plants, I just don't think they'll recover enough to produce. Meanwhile, my Basil is once again being attacked by Leaf Minors...I've tried several things and none seem to work, have you had any luck? Parsley, Sage and Cayenee Pepper all are doing quite well despite the heat!! Debby

  4. Debby,

    Thanks for stopping by! Like you said, now that the heat has cooled off somewhat, everything is doing well and growing fast. I was watering a lot there for a while, and it was touch and go with the beefsteaks, but all seems better now.

    I've had problems with leaf miners on basil myself (I don't really care about leaf miners on tomatoes unless it's a bad infestation). The problem, of course, is that leaf miners are exceptionally hard to control, and I hate using chemicals on herbs I'm going to eat. So ... the end result is that I typically trim leaves at the first sign of leaf miner damage and hope the plant outgrows the little buggers. If you want to read a little, the University of Florida has published a helpful guide to leaf miners and the methods used to control them. Go here:


  5. I planted my first tomato garden this year hoping to make home made sauce. So far I am doing pretty good with the home made earth box. I have a roma tomato that is about a foot tall and already producing pretty good tomatoes. I have also had a few battles with leaf miners. I normaly just pinch the leaf they are on and squish them. I also had a huge surprise last week. I found a Tomato Horn Worm about the size of my thumb. Check out the picture.

  6. Thanks Jon for the link on leaf minors, I'm definitely checking that out...I just got back from a weeks vacation and thanks to the Earthboxes, none of my herbs or veggies even seemed to miss me...they could have wilted a tad just to make me feel needed...snifff...


  7. Debby,

    That's funny ... but I get it. No gardener wants to be unnecessary. Heck, if that's the case, I can just buy tomatoes from Publix!

    My Earthbox is doing really well so far, too. Besides tomatoes, I'm doing broccoli in an Earthbox (and cabbage in big containers), and you should see these broccoli plants. They're just huge.

  8. I just found out about Earth Boxes, and am thinking of giving it a try. I live in Central Florida, and it's heading into summer. What can I grow successfully this time of year? I'm no gardener, but love to cook and appreciate good tomatoes and fresh herbs.

    Thanks so much,

  9. Diane,

    I'm not really familiar with the season in central Florida. I'd have to double-check, but I think you're shoulder-season growers, so your season is early spring or late fall/early winter. I think it gets too hot in most of Central Florida for most tomatoes. However, you can surely grow basil and other summer herbs, and you can grow heat-tolerant tomatoes like Solar Fire or Homestead varieties. Check out Florida Tomato Growers and their selection of heat-resistant tomatoes. As for Earth Boxes, they really work wonders, especially if you're new to the gardening thing. Just follow the directions precisely.