This past weekend of 9/11, we decided that the best way to honor those who had died, those brave souls who saved lives and those who are fighting the war on terrorism was not to sit glued in front of the television watching the remembrance shows or live ceremony, but rather to be outside and create our very first family garden in our new home. We thought there’s no better way to honor humanity than to build a fruitful garden that will feed our family and friends.

It was good to be outdoors, though it was hot! hot! hot!!!! We alternated between the garden and the pool for most of the weekend, jumping in the cool water every hour, though I kept on forgetting to reapply my suncreen every time….so I ended up with a crooked tan line where my boots stooped mid-calf.

At our old house, we always had several EarthBoxes going, it was the easiest way to pretty much a foolproof garden. The soil here in Western Florida sucks. It’s so sandy that all of the good nutrients that you put into the soil just gets washed away or drains quickly down, so many of us create raised beds or grow our garden in containers. We chose EarthBox because the inventor, Blake Whisnant lives in the next town over and his EarthBox Research Center is just minutes away. (btw, I’ll post about the other raised beds that Scott made in another post – we’re experimenting with no-dig lasagna gardening)

Photo from EarthBox Research Center

Blake is in his 90’s and still goes to work at the Research Center every single day. You can either spot him out in the garden area, talking with customers and teaching them the best way to grow their tomatoes or inside the shop on his rocking chair. What makes his EarthBox system so great is that the entire container is enclosed, soil sits ABOVE the water — all which results in using less water, less fertilizer, no erosion and zero weeds. This is certainly NOT a paid post by the way, we’ve been using the EarthBoxes for 7 years now, from the recommendation of good friend, Jan Small who happens to be the Expert Heirloom Gardener for Zone 9 with the Fabulous Beekman Boys’ World’s Largest Community Garden.

All of the potting mix, fertilizer and water is contained and protected. The box is covered with plastic and all you have to do is water every few days – just stick the end of a hose in the black tube. The water goes right to the bottom of the box.

The EarthBox is quite expensive (about $30 each), especially if you calculate shipping costs for them to get to you….but you can build your own very easily, either out of plastic tubs or buckets. What’s important is that the containers utiilize soil wicking system, which allows the soil to act as a “wick” to absorb the water up, taking in only the water that the soil and the plants need.

Here, we’ll show you.

How to Garden in EarthBox

The first step is to get a big ol’ bucket (or you can use a wheelbarrow). Add about half of a 40lb bag of potting mix. Wet the potting mix and mix until the potting mix is fairly wet and stays together when you squeeze it.

Mix well.

Put the screen and the watering tube in and pack handfuls of potting mix in the corners of the Earthbox — these are your “wicks”. The screen sits a few inches above the bottom. The water sits below the screen. See where the potting mix is – the screen is open in those corners and you’ll pack in the potting mix very tightly into these corners. The potting mix acts like a “wick” to draw water in and up to the plant.

Pack down tight.

Then add a 2-inch layer of potting mix down by hand, pack down tightly.

Pour in the rest of the wet potting mix.

Pack down tight.

Pour the other half of the soil in the bucket.

OPTIONAL: Add dolomite or garden lime, which is used to control the pH level in the soil.

Mix well.

You’ll keep this bucket of potting mix dry, no need to add water in the bucket. Just pour in 1/3 of the potting mix in the bucket.

Now pack the potting mix down to make it even and water the soil.

Add the next 1/3 of the bucket.

Pat down again to make even.


Pack down again – you still have more potting mix to add! It will look like you have no room, but keep watering and packing down until you have about 1-inch left to the top.

Add the last of the potting mix.

Water and pack down.

Now we’re ready for the organic fertilizer. Where you put the fertilizer depends on what you plant. Small, leafy greens like lettuce or spinach: you can plant 6-8 to a box and you’ll put the fertiizer in the middle. Large plants like tomatoes and beans, you’ll plant 2 to a box – and you’ll put the fertilizer on one side like below.

Make a ditch with your hand.

Add in the organic fertilizer.

Cover with potting mix.

Put the plastic cover on. The white side up is for warmer weather and the black side up is for winter to absorb as much heat as possible from the sun.

It’s like a hat for the box – keeps the water from evaporating, the soil from eroding, keeps nutrients in the box and weeds out!

Poke a hole through the plastic and snuggle in your plant or seedlings. I’ve got 2 lettuce growing on the left and I’ll be adding in some Chinese broccoli (gai lan) on the right.

Here I’ve got 2 bell peppers and  a cherry tomato. The fertilizer line runs in the middle.

At this point, I’d like to give a round of applause to my husband, who helped me all weekend with the gardening, even though he doesn’t particularly enjoy gardening nor eating vegetables. 🙂