I live in an apartment. I have some tillsandias growing indoors, but have yearned to use my meagre outdoor space to grow flowers, herbs and even vegetables. Last year a friend turned me on the “EarthBoxes.” He said they worked great for his patio down in Campbell. I gave it a try, following directions and planting an EarthBox on my roof–my largest sunny outdoor space. Tomatoes and some over warmth-craving plants didn’t make it to maturity.
But I discovered something. The boxes themselves worked! It wasn’t hard to keep things watered properly (they have a nifty built-in way to avoid under- and over- watering. The several crops I planted that thrive in my Noe Valley summer micro-climate of bright sun, and a cool wind, did extremely well. I got tired on eating a heritage yellow zucchini from Sicily and shelling fava beans after a few months. I then tried some flowers for cutting. Yarrow “Paprika” worked quite well – with a long bool season and long stalks holding up the bright red fading to pink umbrels. I got them from my local nursery, Independent Nature, on Church Street.
To help spread the word and help other urban gardener wannabes, here are Ten Steps to your first EartBox container garden system. For details, go to http://www.earthbox.org, or for your own instructions in case you are very handy, go to http://www.earthtainer.org.
The EarthBox container garden system is a reliable way for city-dwellers to grow vegetables, herbs or flowers in any accessible outdoor space, such as a small balcony or even a rooftop. EarthBoxes (and similar systems which you can build yourself) are well suited to urban gardens because they maximize use of small outdoor spaces and simplify watering and fertilization. They even look tidy—an important consideration for compact urban settings.
- Think about what you want to get out of your container garden. Herbs, vegetables, and flowers can all be grown. Herbs can produce useful bounty for your kitchen in the least space; if you want an abundance of flowers for your apartment, they can require a little more space; and vegetables will need the most.
- Take stock of the area you will use. Is it sunny all day, just the morning or afternoon, or is it mostly shady? How hot does it get during the day, and how cold does it become overnight? These factors will determine the types of plants you can grow. Many herbs and vegetables will grow well in sunny or partly sunny spots. Your choices for a shady spot are going to be fewer, but don’t lose heart—your local garden center staff can help select varieties that will thrive.
- Make sure that a water source is close by. EarthBoxes reduce watering frequency by storing several gallons of water, which is too heavy to lug in a watering can from inside.
- EarthBox containers are 29″ L x 13.5″ D x 11″ H. Figure how many you need based on space available as well as how many plants you wish to grow. A good rule of thumb is no more than four or five plants per box. For tomatoes, which grow quite large, restrict it to two.
- It’s likely you local garden center carries the EarthBox, but you can order online if need be.
Planting and maintaining your garden:
- Kits come with detailed instructions and pictures illustrating assembly. The easiest to begin with are kits that come with growing media (a special lightweight soil) and fertilizer so you just need to add your starter plants and your urban farm is in business.
- It will look like you can fit more plants than the instructions recommend. Avoid the temptation. Plants grow fast in the EarthBox. You don’t want them to become crowded.
- Now comes the easy part. The fertilizer will last the entire growing season. The soil shield will inhibit any weeds. You just need to water your EarthBoxes. The containers hold three gallons of water; you won’t need to water every day unless the weather is very hot. And drainage holes prevent over-watering.
- One of the many benefits of city gardening is that plants are often pest-free because they are more isolated than their suburban cousins. But that doesn’t mean hungry bugs won’t ever find your prize tomato up on the roof, so monitor your plants and check for safe control methods at your local garden center.
- At the end of the season when your harvest dwindles or the weather changes, congratulate yourself on your harvest, then clean out and save your EarthBoxes, as they can be reused many times, with the addition of new soil and fertilizer.