Friday, February 24, 2012

Welcome to Bob's Garden Box Blog.

We live in Idaho Falls, Idaho where the growing season is relatively short.  I will show you how to produce bushels of tomatoes from plants like those shown on the left, that exceed six foot in height and other super sized garden vegetables.  These are not just boxes full of expensive soil.  The secret to how things grow like your in Jurassic Park lies in understanding how the box works.

Each box is self watering and cannot be over watered.  There is a reservoir of approximately five gallons of water in the bottom. So depending upon what is growing in the box and the temperature outside, these boxes can potentially go days without adding water.  I usually fill mine three times a week.  Because you lay a two inch wide strip of fertilizer across the top of the soil, only once at the beginning of the summer, each box is also self fertilized.  The screen that lies between the soil and the water supply allows a constant flow of oxygen to the roots.  This constant, perfectly even flow of moisture, oxygen, and nutrients is the secret to growing flowers and vegetables like you never have before.  Another factor contributing to a successful growing season, each box is covered with black plastic which keeps your plants warm and toasty, increasing the growing season, and best of all, no weeding!

Lets begin with a list of materials and tools you will need.

Tools required:

A chop saw to cut the PVC drain pipe.
A power drill and 1/4" and 1/2" bits.
A saber saw.
A sharpie permanent marker.

Materials to purchase:

  • I purchased the Rubbermaid brand, Ruffneck, 18 gallon storage box.  They are made of a soft flexible material that will endure extreme temperature changes from season to season, unlike Sterilite boxes or any other box made of a similar hard material.
  • Four inch diameter PVC drain pipe that comes in 10' lengths, must be cut into 6" long pieces. Each box needs five of the six inch pipes, so one ten foot pipe will make four boxes.
  • Inch and a quarter diameter PVC pipe is used to fill the water reservoir.  This also comes in ten foot lengths and I cut them into two foot pieces.  One of these pipes will build five boxes.  These filler pipes must have a notch cut in the end for the water to flow into the box.
  • Non-biodegradable landscape fabric to separate the soil from the water reservoir.
  • Queen sized nylon knee highs, 1 pair per box to cover the wicking chambers.
  • Twist ties to fasten the 6" drain pipes to the screen.  Each box uses 20 twist ties.

Building the Garden Box

STEP 1 :

Trace around one of the 4" diameter PVC pipes on the lid as shown at the right.  Five of the 6" long pipes will eventually be fastened underneath these circles to support the soil on top.  Trace around one of the 1 1/4" filler tubes as shown in the lower left hand corner of the lid.  Notice the "X" on two of the circles.  Only these two circles will be cut out and will be the wicking chambers which  will be explained later on.


Using your 1/4" drill bit, drill the holes that will be used to fasten the 6" long pipes to the lid with twist ties. Corresponding holes must also be drilled in the top of each of the 6" pipes. Also notice that starter holes for the saber saw are drilled for the filler pipe in the corner and in each of the two wicking chambers.  The holes for the wicking chambers will be cut out a little inside the circle to allow for the support pipes to provide support for the soil that will be on top.


Now using your 1/4" drill bit, drill a pattern of holes similar to that shown at the right.  This will become the screen that will allow air to flow to the roots.


Using your saber saw, first cut out the two holes for the wicking chambers. Remember to cut the holes about half an inch smaller than the circle.

Next, cut out the entire lid as shown in the picture at the right.  Save the rim of the lid, it will be used to secure the black plastic to the top of the finished box.


Next, stand one of the 6" long pipes next to the side of the box and draw a line marking the top.  You can do this on all four sides if you wish.  You can now drill a 1/2" hole at the point of each of these marks.  The purpose of this hole is so that when you fill the box from the top using the filler tube, you will know when the box is full of water.  It is impossible to over water your plants!


You should have five of the 6" tubes ready to fasten to the screen you created from the lid.  Notice that the first two tubes in the picture have more holes than the other three. These will be used as the wicking chambers.  I have chosen two of the pipes that had a few more holes than the other three and drilled more holes. There is no magic number of holes, but I like to have at least 18 holes to insure good wicking action.  These two tubes will be filled with soil and will constantly absorb enough water to keep the entire box moist.  Also notice that I have drilled four holes at the very top of each tube so that they can be attached to the screen with twist ties.


It is now time to fasten the five tubes to the screen with the twist ties.  Be sure to attach the two with the most holes to the screen where you cut out the center of the circle.  These are the wicking chambers and will be filled with soil to absorb moisture that will continuously and evenly water the plants in the box.
After fastening all five tubes to the screen, you can now cover the two wicking chambers with the knee high stockings to prevent the soil from leaking out into the water reservoir.


You can now place the completed screen in the bottom of the box.  Also, place the filler tube in the corner as shown, with the notch on the bottom.

Mixing the Soil

STEP 9 :

Using soil with the correct composition of ingredients is essential to the success of your garden.  The first year we mixed our own soil by using one third soil, one third peat moss, and one third compost.  Then we added vermiculite, hydrogenated lime, and micro-nutrients.  When mixed, the soil should be light and fluffy when dry, and spongy when wet.

This year we visited our local nursery, Sunnyside Gardens in Idaho Falls, and found a premixed soil that has all the right ingredients.  A picture of the bag is shown at the right.  An enlargement of the ingredients indicates it "contains a unique blend of forest humus, compost, sphagnum peat moss, reed sedge peat, and perlite, and also contains natural plant food and micro nutrients".  The first year you need to mix into the soil approximately one cup of  hydrogenated lime.  Each year thereafter, mix in about half a cup of hydrogenated lime and approximately 2 cups of vermiculite.  Our nursery also suggested adding chicken compost each year starting the second year.

Fill the two wicking chambers with soil.  Packing it down lightly and adding a little moisture will help it to settle into the tube.

After filling the wicking chambers with soil, you are then ready to place the landscape fabric on top of the screen. The fabric needs to be wider than the box, so that when soil is added to the box, it will not spill around the edges and into the water reservoir.  Cut a small hole over the two wicking chambers.

Now fill the rest of the box with soil.  At this point, before you add fertilizer, plants, or seeds, the soil should be moistened until it is wet and spongy.

Applying the Fertilizer

STEP 10 :

(If you are planting from seed, skip this step for now, and follow the instructions below entitled "Planting from Seed", otherwise continue below.)

After filling your box with soil, it is time to add fertilizer.  It is recommended that you pour 2 to 3 cups of dry, granular fertilizer in a 2 inch strip directly on top of the soil.  Do not mix the fertilizer into the soil or spread it around.

Do not use fertilizer that requires mixing with water, such as Miracle-Gro. We have had great success using the Morcrop Tomato & Vegetable Food, 5-10-10 formula by Lilly Miller, pictured at the right.

After the fertilizer is in place, you can now spread a piece of black plastic over the top of the box, black garbage bags work just great.  Snap the rim of the lid over the plastic to hold it in place for the rest of the summer.  Simply cut an "X" in the plastic to plant your plants.

Planning your Garden

STEP 11 :

Now that your garden box is built, filled with soil and fertilizer,  and covered with black plastic, you are ready to start planning what you are going to grow.  To assist you,  here is a helpful planting guide.  The solid line in each box indicates the placement of the fertilizer for different types of plants.

Building and Using Trellises

Materials to purchase:

  • Each trellis requires 16 feet of one half inch diameter PVC pipe.  PVC pipe is sold in 10' lengths.
  • Six "T" joints.
  • Two 90 degree elbow joints for the top corners.


With a couple bushels of tomatoes hanging on the vines, you need some sturdy trellises for support!  To build one trellis you will need 4 pieces of PVC pipe 2 feet long, and 8 pieces each 1 foot long.  Assemble the trellis using the joints listed above in the materials list.  When finished it should look like the one pictured at the right.  These are sturdy enough to support tomatoes and any other vegetables that need support. 


We plant two tomato plants per garden box.  Then we place one regular size wire tomato cage over one of the plants, and one large wire cage over the other plant.


We place a pair of trellises over every two garden boxes, sandwiching the wire cages in between the trellises.  Each pair of trellises are then tied together with cotton string to hold them together.

Planting from Seed


Prepare the box and the soil in the usual manner as described in the instructions above.  Except, do not apply the fertilizer or black plastic.  Simply sow the seeds according to directions on the seed package.   Fill the reservoir in the bottom of the box with water like your other boxes, but you will need to keep the surface wet until the seeds germinate.


When the plants have grown to 2 or 3 inches in height, you can apply the fertilizer like you have done in the other boxes, as shown in the picture at the right.


Now cover the box with black plastic.  Simply cut holes in the plastic for the plants as shown in the picture.  Continue watering through the filler tube like the other boxes with mature plants.

Photo Gallery of Bob's Garden Boxes

Enjoy the "fruits of my labors" through pictures!