Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tomatoes in Earthboxes (A Reader's Perspective)

Early season shot ...

And the harvest comes in!

I got the above photos not too long ago and thought, "Now here's a gardener who knows how to use an Earthbox!" The plants looked beautiful (nice yard, too). So I wrote Steve and asked if he'd be willing to share his experience with Earthboxes—and I was kind of surprised to learn this was his first year with them. If anything, though, it makes his results more impressive. Earthboxes are a great way to get started growing vegetables ... they're easy and they deliver. But enough from me. Here's what Steve has to say about how to get the best results from Earthboxes:

1. How long have you been growing in EarthBoxes? What made you decide to go the EB route instead of in the ground or with big containers?

I started with two EBs on Jan 14, 2011, after reading your article in the Sun Sentinel. At the time, I had four tomato plants in the ground in the only semisunny part of my yard and they were doing OK, but the sprinkler system was spraying them regularly and I knew the situation wasn't ideal. I read your article and actually set out to start building a few Earthtainers but quickly realized it wasn't for me. I'm an engineer, but just reading the instructions had me worn out, and I was concerned with the aesthetics since these were destined for my pool patio, which has the best sun coverage. So I re-read the article and scrapped the DIY plans and bought two EBs from Amazon. Two weeks later I realized that two wasn't enough and added two more. The 'never enough' syndrome is the only EB downside in my opinion.

For me, the consistent supply of water and fertilizer is what makes the EB ideal. There is no guesswork involved in watering or fertilizing. You can't overwater. The casters are also nice in case we get a freeze or really bad weather. We can roll them into a protected area.

2. What's the biggest challenge you've found with EBs? It's been my experience that, with big beefsteak tomatoes, they need watering at least once, sometimes twice, a day near the end of the season. Did you experience this also?

The biggest challenge for me was probably a robust staking method. The EB does have a staking system that adds a decent amount of cost but I also added some Ultomato stakes (more $$) to system because I didn't really want to use the supplied netting. The tomatoes do take an amazing amount of water, but that never was a big problem for me. I watered mine twice a day with a watering can. The four boxes probably used about 6 gallons of water total each day. I've since added the EB automatic watering system which so far has worked great.

3. What varieties have you grown so far? Did you get a decent harvest?

With a relatively late start in January, I was in a big hurry to get the boxes going so I just picked up three varieties from the local stores: Better Bush, Bonnie Select, and Patio. I was overly focused on buying container oriented plants so I ended up with small determinate varieties. The Patio is really too small for this system, but the yield is OK and they taste great. The yields from the others look to be good, though they're still ripening. I have had two cases of TYLCV (tomato yellow leaf-curl virus), which does limit the yield somewhat. Next season I'll be trying indeterminate heirlooms.

One of the four boxes was dedicated to herbs which has worked out great. I'll always have an herb box from now on since fresh herbs in the kitchen can't be beat. After tomatoes are done, I plan on one box with hot peppers. We'll see how they can take the S. Florida summer.

4. Are you going to keep growing in EBs, or try something different?

Absolutely and without reservation. Its a great product. Thanks again for opening my eyes to them.


  1. Awesome...Great Harvest.

  2. How well does it work to put a Jiffy pot directly into one of these Earthboxes? Should just the bottom be cut off or the whole pot removed? It is just now getting to be time to plant up here in zone 5