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My EarthTainer Project - Mistakes Made / Lessons Learned

rnewste
13 years ago

Just a quick update after finishing 12 of my planned 25 EarthTainers. As an overview, the EarthBox Company's product is simply too small for my needs to grow large Beefsteak tomatoes, so my quest to build something 150% larger out of off-the-shelf components from Home Depot.

I am quite happy with Rubbermaid's 31 gallon "Roughneck" container. Much stronger and excellent dimensions for my application than Walmart types. My goal is to employ an internal staking system for two tomato plants per container. I am also incorporating the "stock" Automated Watering System (AWS) from the EarthBox Company, and modifying the fill tube length to adapt to my deeper container.

Some of the recent design changes are a result of actual empirical test data. The key "mistake" I made in the original design was to cut out the wicking orifice exactly to match the 9"x9" water basket I purchased from Home Depot. As this was the only model they carried, I was stuck with using this product. The error I made was by simply cutting the opening to exactly fit the basket, I wound up with an overly large 76 sq. inches of wicking area into the potting soil.

{{gwi:1309390}}

In actual use, I am experiencing far too high moisture levels in the growing mix. The darn Miracle Grow with Moisture Control is simply TOO efficient at wicking the water from the reservoir!!.

{{gwi:6253}}

So what I am experimenting with today is throttling back the capillary action by reducing the orifice opening with two trial size openings (45 sq. inches, and an even more constrained 26 sq. inches). My goal is to find the right opening to yield a "moist" result on the meter throughout the container.

{{gwi:1309391}}

Regarding the staking system, in order to give the outer leg better rigidity, I have moved the AWS fill tube to the center edge of the Aeration Bench, see below:

{{gwi:1309392}}

So for those who are also in their DYI Earthbox construction process, learn from my experiences to avoid making my mistakes.

Raybo

Comments (151)

  • rnewste
    Original Author
    12 years ago

    bdobs,

    I would give them a call first to make sure their supply is in stock - - still kind of early in N. California for a lot of vegetable related items like tomato cages. Not so where Big Alan lives...

    Raybo

  • bdobs
    12 years ago

    Good call Raybo, I need to make a treak out there for the Totes too.

    I noticed that Target has 25 gallon Roughnecks for $10.99. Whats your thought on those being 6 galls smaller?

    I figure they are plenty big for two plants, but I'm worried the wicking basket may be a tad too large for those

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  • rnewste
    Original Author
    12 years ago

    bdobs,

    Just make sure they are genuine Rubbermaid totes with thick walls. I found the 31 gallon 'Tainers were quite crowded with 2 plants, so I would be a bit concerned with the 25 gallon models. You may want to select smaller plants like Paul Robeson to use in the smaller containers.

    I think the 5" diameter wicking basket should still be OK in a 25 gallon container.

    Raybo

  • bdobs
    12 years ago

    Yes they are the Rubbermaid Roughnecks, I still think I will be going with the 31g ones. I still have 5 weeks to finish my gathering and building for my Early April planted planting date

  • geeboss
    12 years ago

    If anyone in the N VA area is looking for the tomato cages the Burke Wal-Mart just got in a shipment of the heavy duty cage upc 024114710792 at $5.22 each. Thanks again Ray for that scan of the UPC code. Made ordering them much easier than expected.

    George

  • big_alan
    12 years ago

    Raybo; when get a chance email me with your number.
    thanks

    big al

  • bdobs
    12 years ago

    George

    How did you get them to order the cages?
    The kid at my Walmart said there was nothing in their system relating to the posted UPC

  • geeboss
    12 years ago

    Found an Asst. Mgr. Explained the situation requiring a heavy duty tomato cage. Showed him the print out of the UPC code and he check his system for it. Upon not finding it he said he would check with his supplier for access and call me. Process to about 4 days and another 6 days for the order to arrive.

    I've taken the time to write to the GM at that store about the great service provided and cc their corporate office. Nice when individuals seek to provide great customre service. The item number shown on the sales receipt is 002411471079. where as the product UPC is 024114710792.

    Just ask and they'll find the inforation is their suppliers guide book.

    George

  • big_alan
    12 years ago

    Raybo; I got your e mail look forward to talking to you.

    Ok for those that may be interested, in building earthtainers with removable cages and those who would like to retro fit the permanent cages to removable style.

    It will depend on the number of tainers that you have to do some of this and tools you may or may not have.

    In the above photo from left to right

    Jig for drilling height of toggle bolt hole and drain hole using large square basket (with round smaller basket will be the same)

    Jig for cutting off legs of cages 4 inch block of wood (I use bolt cutters approx with18 Inch long handles to cut the legs off) less than 20 bucks at LoweÂs.

    Jigs eliminate the need for constant measuring and reduce chance of errors.

    Far right is a tool I had to make on my lathe. This holds a 3/16x1 inch round die and allows me to thread my legs using a ½ inch variable speed reversible drill. This I estimate would cost about 75 to 100 dollars for a machine shop to make for you.

    The lower die is a 3/16 hex die you do not want this if you chose to have a machine fabricate a holder but is fine for a hand handle.

    One further note on threading use oil and as you thread back it off counter clock wise to clear chips from the die. If you donÂt rod will shear off in the die.(chips jam it)

    Happy Gardening

    Happy Machining

  • big_alan
    12 years ago

    If any here want the AWS offered by earthbox which is great by the way.VERY accurate water levels.

    http://shop2.mailordercentral.com/EarthBox/products.asp?dept=16

    Do yourself a favor and only order the 12 box unit, I wanted to expand my system by 4 boxes but S+H was going to be $24.00 and on the complete 12 box unit it is only 5.95 S+H.

    Play what if with (the above site) and you will see the best bang for the dollar is the 12 box system.

  • rnewste
    Original Author
    12 years ago

    Yep, The 12 unit system works out to be $12.50 per 'Tainer, or $6.25 per plant. Best money I've ever spent for a garden automation device!!!

    Raybo

  • bdobs
    12 years ago

    Thanks George, I will try again!

  • big_alan
    12 years ago

    Raybo this is what I am using to supply heat to the boxes I have planted outside.

    http://www.heaterzone.com/Plug_In_Heaters_s/37.htm

  • big_alan
    12 years ago

    Found this on the earth box forum. If anyone says you can not grow in a box just send them this site. This woman has 1404 "earthboxes" and the pictures to prove it.

    http://www2.snapfish.com/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=272037390/a=129524536/t_=129524536

  • bdobs
    12 years ago

    It seems my second trip to Walmart was a success!
    Got ahold of an Asst Mgr. He said it shoulnt be a problem to order them and he will call me by weeks end!

  • geeboss
    12 years ago

    bdobs,

    Glad that the left coast Wal-Mart works like the right coast Wal-Mart. Others will benefit from you request, ours ordered a pallet of 125.

    George

  • big_alan
    12 years ago

    Bdobs;

    Glad you found your cages, you may or may not decide to make your cages removable as I did mine. If so the how to do so on this thread. good luck!! For me it is cheaper to cut the legs and then thread them but others may opt for the threaded rod.

  • siamack
    12 years ago

    bdobs, I too live in the SF bay area. Can you please tell me which Walmart ordered the tomato cages for you?

    I wasn't going to post this until when I might know more, but now that I see you have gotten through at Walmart, I'll mention what I learned.

    After calling several Walmarts (and even finding a friendly manager that spent a lot of time on this) it seemed that Walmart has deleted the UPC code (thank you geeboss)for the cages from their system.

    So I called the manufacturer Glamos Wire Co for another source. Since it was after hours, the general manager answered the phone. While he was not 100% sure, he said this year Walmart has decided to go with a cheaper tomato cage. As I said he was not totally sure, but plans on calling me tomorrow with an update.

    Hopefully his recollection is wrong and Walmart will be a hassle free source for all of us. But in case it's true, Glamos folks might be able to ship us a case.

    Anyway, this is my first time building an EarthTainer. I'm inspired and want to follow raybo's instruction verbatim. Raybo has done a lot of thoughtful work and is graciously sharing it with us. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel.

    Will post again when I know more.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Glamos Wire Products

  • big_alan
    12 years ago

    Found a source for die holder to fit in drill it's only $29.00.

    http://www.republicdrill.com/part/?p=82016

    this does not include the 3/16 10-24 die but you may be able to order both from the to save on shipping

  • bdobs
    12 years ago

    George
    Thanks again!

    Big Alan
    I'm not compelety sure on the removable cages(probably) but I'm pretty sure I will be threading the legs to mount in the lower legs to save the $ for all the wire clamps. A few of my buddies have tap & die sets

    Siamack
    I'm in Martinez. I will post when I hear back from the manager regarding how many he orders.
    I too found the Glamos website but wanted to get try Walmart first as I'm sure the shipping directly from Glamos would kill

  • siamack
    12 years ago

    Update on Glamos Wire Cages & Walmart

    This post is about the availability of heavy duty wire cages from Walmart and possible options for the folks in Northern California.

    The representative from Glamos called back (like me, she forgot about the time difference!) According to Glamos representative, as of right now, Walmart will not carrying their heavy duty cages this year. Of course Glamos is trying to get Walmart back as an account and all of this may be some fancy negotiation tactics. So lets keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.

    Alternative sources are Ace Hardware and True Value.

    For large quantities, the California distributor is L&L Nursery Supply (909-591-0461) IÂll contact them when the sun comes up and check into local sources.

    http://www.llnurserysupply.com/

    If we have to order the cages directly from Glamos, the landed cost in N. Ca will be $5.76. The minimum order is 125 cages which means a few of us have to pool our orders together. I will take 60 cages.

    bdobs
    Thanks for the prompt reply. Martinez is great. I can easily get there. Also you are right about the freight. ItÂs almost half the total cost.

  • bdobs
    12 years ago

    If the Walmart thing falls apart, I'd be in, but only for 10 or 12

  • siamack
    12 years ago

    I'm still hopeful for Walmart to work out. However I called Walmart headquarters and explain the whole situation to a very nice customer rep. It took him a while but he finally talked to the merchandising people and was told that they don't carry that product anymore. Bummmmer

    As you know these big companies work in mysterious ways and may be your local store manager can make it through. Let's wait and see.

  • geeboss
    12 years ago

    siamack n bdobs

    While it may be that currently Glasmos Wire isn't dealing directly with Wal-Mart ....Wal-Mart does have a supplier for hardware and can order the Glamos Tomato Cages through this supplier. They just need the Glamos UPC code and description i.e. heavy duty 18" x 54" . The price at our Wal-Mart $5.22 which is more than fair.

    George

  • bdobs
    12 years ago

    Ok, that makes sense George, when the guy at the store looked up the UPC, it came up and he said something about being able to get them from a company I cant remember, but he definetely didnt say Glamos.

    Brian

  • siamack
    12 years ago

    Thanks George and bdobs. You are more experienced at this than I am. This is my first time ordering something through Walmart. I'll wait to see what happens with dbobs order.

  • bdobs
    12 years ago

    Me too, thats why I am waiting to hear back with my fingers crosssed :)

  • geeboss
    12 years ago

    If your going the Ace Hardware route be sure to see which Ace store within driving distance has free pickup at the store. You'd be shocked to see what the shipping cost is on 25 of those cages to your home.

    George

  • rnewste
    Original Author
    12 years ago

    Great find, Alan!!!

    Raybo

    I wasn't able to get shipping charge when I entered my ZIP. Has anyone else been able to find shipping charges? At 100 pounds for the batch of 25 cages, I am sure it won't be cheap, but getting the 3/16" ones may be well worth it.

  • geeboss
    12 years ago

    Ray,
    When I go to the provided link and key in my zip in Fairfax, VA the shipping cost is $87.82 added to the $146.03 for a total $233.85 or $9.35 a cage delivered.

    George

    See link below for delivery to store pickup Pancea heavy duty 18 x 54 tomato cage

    www.acehardware.com/sm-panacea-plant-support-25-pack-panacea-plant-support-25-pack--pi-2776114.html

  • rnewste
    Original Author
    12 years ago

    George,

    Bad news!! the link you posted for the free shipping to your local store is for the 3 leg cage. Can you find a similar free shipping link for the 4 leg model that Alan found???

    Raybo

  • big_alan
    12 years ago

    Here is a copy of a receipt from Lowe's it is the same company that Ace hardware cages are, maybe you can print a copy take to your local Lowes and have the get it.

    this is the 3/16 diamater wire 4 ring 4 leg that you need

    Good Luck

    Big alan

  • big_alan
    12 years ago

    Raybo:

    A while back I posted that I would try to get some containers from the cityÂs garbage pick up service that where no longer serviceable.

    I obtained two for an experiment.

    I am going to cut these down and plant 1 key lime tree in each one, using the scrap to make the aeration bench, but am going to try a different approach to the wicking basket,
    What I am going to try is a large style commercial mop head with ½ of it submerged below and ½ above the bench, then as I lay the soil in I will layer the mop threads at different levels in the soil. (To provide the capillary action).

    Others may have access to these types of containers from their city contractors and the price is right FREE. And these are almost a ¼ inch thick.

    happy gardening

    big alan

  • yrdling
    12 years ago

    The 5 inch diameter wicking basket is hard to find. Amazon is sold out right now. Can I just use a four inch long piece of 4 inch diameter schedule 40 PVC or the cheaper drain pipe, and drill a bunch of holes in it? It would be sturdier than the aquatic plant basket and easier to source.

  • yrdling
    12 years ago

    The earthtainer requires two 31 gallon Rubbermaid totes per finished container. It seems like the only reason for using two totes is to make the aeration bench.

    How about just cutting a piece of corrugated polycarbonate or fiberglass roof sheeting such as is often used to cover patios and greenhouses? It could be supported with drain pipe, just as with the aeration bench that is cut from the second tote. It would be stronger and cheaper than consuming two totes per earthtainer.

  • jleiwig
    12 years ago

    Posted by yrdling (My Page) on Thu, Feb 26, 09 at 3:04

    The 5 inch diameter wicking basket is hard to find. Amazon is sold out right now. Can I just use a four inch long piece of 4 inch diameter schedule 40 PVC or the cheaper drain pipe, and drill a bunch of holes in it? It would be sturdier than the aquatic plant basket and easier to source.

    Try a hydroponics shop. There are 10 million of them on the internet. Your looking for a 5" net pot. Same thing as the pond basket. Probably a lot cheaper too. I think I paid 97 cents for mine at the local hydro shop.

    Posted by yrdling (My Page) on Thu, Feb 26, 09 at 3:22

    The earthtainer requires two 31 gallon Rubbermaid totes per finished container. It seems like the only reason for using two totes is to make the aeration bench.
    How about just cutting a piece of corrugated polycarbonate or fiberglass roof sheeting such as is often used to cover patios and greenhouses? It could be supported with drain pipe, just as with the aeration bench that is cut from the second tote. It would be stronger and cheaper than consuming two totes per earthtainer.

    Cheaper yes, stronger no. If you read the earthtainer instructions Raybo has, you will find that his aeration bench is easier to construct, and much stronger. He bolts his bench to the side of his tote.

    There are other versions out there that use an 18 gallon tote and a 14 gallon tote that slips inside the 18 gallon tote. No cutting the tub in half or anything of that nature. Just drill the aeration holes and put in the wick and your done.

    On my 18 gallon SWCs, I used 1 tub, used the cutout from the lid as my aeration bench, drilled holes and covered with landscape fabric. This was supported by 5 pieces of the 4" black corrugated drain pipe that is $5 for 10 ft. Worked very well, but was much more difficult to construct than the design that Raybo has come up with.

    So basically if you want well thought out and simple stupid to construct, go with Raybo's design. If you want cheap and more work, go with one of the other designs on the net.

  • yrdling
    12 years ago

    Thank you for the comments jleiwig. I guess I have been living under a rock, as I did not know there was such a thing as a hydroponics shop. But sure enough, there are some in Dallas. So that most likely solves my sourcing problem for a net pot. But I'm still wondering if it wouldn't be just as effective to use Sch 40 PVC pipe drilled full of holes for the wicking basket. I have some 4 inch diameter pipe already, so it would be essentially free.

    It doesn't seem like the bottom of foreshortened tote would be stronger than using corrugated polycarbonate greenhouse roof sheeting, or any easier to build. What you describe for your own version of the container sounds like it would actually be simpler to build than Raybo's version, and would be less expensive, and would consume less material (half as many totes). Are the ones you made doing the trick for you? Are you satisfied with them?

  • rnewste
    Original Author
    12 years ago

    yrdling,

    The problem with using a piece of pipe for the wicking basket is there is no end cap to keep the potting mix from running out, and into the water reservoir. If you can't find the net pots, then use an empty coffee can that is about 5" diameter, and cut it to 4" high. Then drill a bunch of holes to let the water in.

    Have you studied the EarthTainer construction guide? You will see why I use the second container, and how the toggle bolts hold it all together, and keep the potting mix from leaking down the sides. A few bucks more, but a better constructed solution.

    Raybo

    Here is a link that might be useful: EarthTainer II WaterMizer Edition Guide

  • yrdling
    12 years ago

    Raybo, I just got finished reading your whole PDF. I see the advantages you pointed out and it makes sense to me. I'll probably stick pretty close to your design after all.

    The reason I'm really interested in your EarthTainer is that the tomatoes I planted in my SFG last year took up too much space yet still seemed crowded, and they didn't produce well. The poor results I obtained could have been due to my inexperience as it was my first time to grow a garden, but all my peppers and okra produced abundantly. I want to try my tomato plants this year in a growing environment that is adapted specifically to their needs. Your earthtainer fits the bill.

    I'm going to build ten of these this weekend or next depending on how long it takes me to get all the parts gathered up. That's going to end up costing a bit, so I was looking for ways to reduce my expense.

    I probably shouldn't mess with a proven design.

  • rnewste
    Original Author
    12 years ago

    Be sure to study the cage attach system that Big Alan developed (several posts above). If you have the mechanical tools and ability to thread 3/16" shafts, his approach makes planting and cleaning out the 'Tainers really easy.

    Raybo

  • big_alan
    12 years ago

    Raybo;

    Ok here is another Crazy Idea which I am going to try. (Building my last 6 for a total of 18)

    At the other end of the aeration bench I am going to attach ¾ in PVC pipe extending above the soil level. I will then using a small aquarium air pump, air stone and tubing connect to these last six I am building.

    Possible benefits.

    1. May improve air movement to root zone.
    2. May be enough agitation of water to deter mosquitoÂs (I donÂt see much posted about this but any standing water will breed them.)

    Others building earthtainers now may wish to as the cost is minimal install (the ¾ PVC and wait to here from others who like me are going to do the air pump experiment). Because once the earthtainer is filled with soil it will have to wait till clean out time to retro fit.

    Big Alan

  • rnewste
    Original Author
    12 years ago

    Hey Big Alan,

    How are you doing tonight?

    You air "injection" has some interesting possibilities. It would be interesting to grow the same variety in one 'Tainer with, and one without the air injection, as a comparison. Air to the roots is quite important.

    Raybo

  • siamack
    12 years ago

    This is a follow up post for those looking for tomato cages in N. California.

    I trust with the help from Big Alan, Geboss and bdobs you have figured out a satisfactory source for heavy duty cages. If you haven't, the folks at L&L Nursery Supply have provided me with a list of every nursery in N. Ca who has bough Glamos cages from them. Instead of posting a big list here, I will keep the list for a couple of months and send it to anyone who wants it.

  • leearnold
    12 years ago

    Big Alan, wouldn't it just be easier to put some barley straw into the water reservoir to control mosquitoes?

  • jleiwig
    12 years ago

    Posted by rnewste 8b NorCal (My Page) on Fri, Feb 27, 09 at 0:49

    Hey Big Alan,
    How are you doing tonight?

    You air "injection" has some interesting possibilities. It would be interesting to grow the same variety in one 'Tainer with, and one without the air injection, as a comparison. Air to the roots is quite important.

    Raybo

    Ray,

    I will be doing just this. I don't really have any way for mosquitoes to get into the containers other than the tiny overflow hole. Since going with the float valves for the autowatering setup, I was planning on trying an air stone in one of the containers to see what kind of difference it made. I also will be just using water soluble ferts in the resevior instead of a fertilizer strip. I'll still adjust the mix with epsom salts and lime as needed, but I want to see what I can do with the water soluble ferts.

    My generic plan is to have a 35 gallon trash can that I will fill with the soluble ferts, and have it feed the containers via 1/2" line to the float valves.

    I figure I'll have to fill it once every two weeks in the summer when the tomatoes are really drinking the water down. I will be trying it on my three already made containers. If it works I will add it to the four containers I plan on making this spring. I'll have 2 cherry, 2 slicing, and the other 2 Opalka plants in the three test containers. The other 4 containers will just have either Opalka or romas in them.

  • siamack
    12 years ago

    Raybo,

    Thanks to your work and detailed instructions, I set-up two EarthTainers. It was an easy process even for the uninitiated. This weekend I have access to a truck and plan to get all the supplies I need for the rest of my project.

    Question#1 - How many bags of Miracle Grow Mix will I need per ET? I can calculate the volume but don't know the rate of compaction or anything else that effects the amount of material needed.

    Question#2 - I have several half-barrels that I intend to modify using your design. The half-barrels will be planted with small vegetables or annuals/perennials. I know you are not a soil engineer (neither am I) but based on your experience what are some of the factors that I should consider in making this modification? I'm specifically concerned with moisture level of the soil. What are the factors that change the wicking action of a SWC? It seems the size of the orifice in the aeration bench is not critical. Does the volume of submerged soil matter? Is it a ratio between what's submerged and the soil above?

  • Dan _Staley (5b Sunset 2B AHS 7)
    12 years ago

    jleiwig:

    I tried using one layer of a lid for an aeration bench (Sterilite) and found unacceptable flimsiness, so ziptied 3 together and still needed extra support for the bench (6 - 1 1/4" PVC). I'm interested in hearing how your bench holds up.

    Anyone:

    How common is it for a mosquito to fly all the way down a narrow pipe to lay eggs? Aren't there thousands of safer places to lay eggs?

    Dan

  • jleiwig
    12 years ago

    Posted by dan_staley USDA 5/S 2b (My Page) on Fri, Feb 27, 09 at 14:48

    jleiwig:
    I tried using one layer of a lid for an aeration bench (Sterilite) and found unacceptable flimsiness, so ziptied 3 together and still needed extra support for the bench (6 - 1 1/4" PVC). I'm interested in hearing how your bench holds up.

    Going on their second season, no problems last year at all. I had 5 pieces of 4" corrugated drain pipe for support, of which only 2 were wicking chambers. I covered that with landscape fabric and planted. Worked out amazingly well, and I'm hoping for the same or better results this year with my above mentioned enhancements.

    If you thought it was way too flimsy, you had too much other junk in your mix, or too much water I'd guess. I could easily lift my containers with 1 finger on each end after I filled it with moistened potting mix/perlite/vermiculite mix.

    I would hazard a guess that even moistened, my aeration bench never saw more than 10 lbs of weight from the potting mix.

    As far as mosquitoes, I'd guess if they are despirate, they would travel down into the SWC, but I haven't seen it. There are much easier places to lay eggs.

  • jdbee01_gmail_com
    10 years ago

    I used these for my cages,( http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/1997-02-01/The-Recycled-Indestructible-Tomato-Cage.aspx) seemed more sturdy and I have had no problem x 2 years.
    I use the 31 gal containers, and the smaller wicking basket, a 2 inch PVC water pipe.
    I have not tried corn in them, but everything else.
    I use a 10 gallon tote for vining crops, and my corn.
    jaei