The EarthTainer™ FAQ
Here are some common questions and answers regarding the EarthTainer.
What happens when the tomato plants die? Do you destroy the plastic moisture barrier when you pull them out? In New York we wouldn't be able to grow year round, so do you empty the water, leave the soil in?
I have added a Landscape Fabric step which makes Fall cleanout much easier. The fabric prevents the roots from growing down into the wicking basket and water reservoir.
Regarding what to do at the end of the season, you can stop filling the water reservoir when the plant starts to die-off. A few weeks later, lift up the cover and moisture barrier (clothespin the moisture barrier to the first hoopset as when filling the EarthTainer). Clip of all of the plant but 8" above the root and discard. Then with a trowel dig in all around the plant about 4" from the stem. Grab the remaining stem and lift out. Add in replacement Mix at the start of the new Season and work it in thoroughly.
Are there any vegetables that would not do well with the EarthTainer?
While my focus in creating the EarthTainer was for growing tomatoes, frankly corn, snow peas, celery, and eggplant have done extremely well too. The warmer potting mix seems to make the plants really take off earlier in the Season as the Sun warms up the sides and top of the EarthTainer.
I built an EarthTainer and followed all the instructions to the letter. I added the Dolomite Lime and Dr. Earth tomato food To my EarthTainer, but my first tomato has blossom end rot. Any thing I can do so the other tomatoes don't get it also?
Even after adding in the Dolomite Lime, I still get a few tomatoes with BER every year. Seems to vary by plant variety, and also on the growth pattern. My experience is that first setting tomatoes are most vulnerable to get BER, yet once the season is in full swing, younger fruits are less likely to have it develop. Also, it takes several weeks for the Dolomite Lime to stabilize in the container, and be fully absorbed into the potting mix. Some people claim it takes up to 6 months. I would just toss the ones with BER, and wait a bit for normal tomatoes to appear. routinely take a pocket mirror and hold it under the fruits to observe whether or not BER is developing on the tomatoes. Where I see it, I immediately remove that particular fruit, so that the fertilizer etc. can be directed to the other tomatoes.
It cost me around $95 to build the EarthTainer. The the EarthBox system sells for $49. I notice that the EarthTainer is bigger than the EarthBox. Is there a big difference in the value between the 2 systems?
Your observation about the comparative sizes is correct. The EarthTainer design holds 3.3 cubic feet of potting mix where the EarthBox holds about 1.6 cu. ft. In addition another key benefit of the EarthTainer is the integrated tomato cage system. In general, the more volume of potting mix that the plant's root system has access to, the bigger the plant will develop. Size matters! Also, if you build multiple EarthTainers, the per unit cost is in the vicinity of $30.00 (not including the cage). A fully loaded EarthTainer weights about 130 pounds, so it is quite stable in the wind, etc.
I am having problems finding the size aquatic basket you state we should use here in Canada. Could I use a small square strawberry basket that is made of the green plastic?
Go to any Hydroponics Shop and ask for a 5 inch "Net Pot". All Hydro Shops carry them for about $2.00 each. Yes, you can use a substitute basket of approximately the same size as recommended. Make sure to use two support PVC pieces 4-1/4" long, located adjacent to the basket, as you want the weight of the potting mix to rest on these two supports, and not on the (fragile) basket itself. Also, make sure the mesh opening of the sides of the strawberry basket is small enough so that the potting mix you compress in there will not wash out into the main water reservoir. You can also use a Deli container cut down (and perforated with holes) as a substitute.
I do not really get this capillary action and the wicking basket (even though I am a physician!!). Would you please explain?
Regarding Capillary Action, think of partially dipping a sponge in a bucket of water - - after a minute or so, the portion of the sponge out of the water actually wicks up moisture. The soiless potting mix in the EarthTainer does exactly the same thing. The wicking basket size and ratio of potting mix to Perlite as described in the EarthTainer Guide on the TomatoFest website should give you good moisture balance for growing tomatoes, peppers, etc.
How do you over-winter your EarthTainers? Do you have to take them all apart or do you just pull the plants and drain the water?
No need to disassemble the EarthTainers at the end of the Season. Just drain them and cover to protect from the Sun's UV rays.
Can I use the same soil for the next year? If I can reuse, what do I need to do to amend?
Regarding reuse of the Potting Mix, it should go about 4 Seasons, or so. After the initial composition of 3 parts Potting Mix, 2 parts Microbark (Decorative Barkcover at Home Depot), and one part Perlite, to recharge the EarthTainer for the second and subsequent Seasons, refill the area that you took out with an adjusted mix of 2 parts Potting Mix, 3 parts Microbark, and one part Perlite. This will compensate for the decay of the Bark Fines over the year. Stir the mix completely to distribute it throughout the EarthTainer. Add in the Starter fertilizer and 2 cups Lime as per the Guide. Then add in the 2 cups new tomato fertilizer in the strip . You should be "good to go"
What is the real advantage of using the EarthTainer system in areas with challenging growing conditions such as desert regions or urban areas?
The EarthTainer wicks up moisture from the water reservoir so that the plants drink just what is needed by them. The real benefit for drought areas is that all of the water is used only be the plants themselves, and none escapes as runoff as in traditional gardens. This reduces water usage by up to 75%. In urban areas many people live in Apartments and Condos where they cannot grow their own vegetables. The EarthTainer is ideal for balcony growing and this permits for the first time, the opportunity for residents to have access to organically grown fresh produce.
How many seasons would the EarthTainer last if you grow only summer veggies? Any suggestions on how to make them last longer. I want it to last for many seasons.
The EarthTainer III uses a Lowes Rugged-tote which the Manufacturer claims a "Lifetime Guaranty". Realistically, exposed to the outside Sun and year around temperature variations, I would anticipate a 5 to 7 year life of the outer shell. Keep in mind that with the new EarthTainer III design, the outer shell can be easily replaced if it cracks over time and needs replacement. All of the other components inside the EarthTainer (and the external cage system) should last 15+ years. Also, you can extend the useful life of the EarthTainer's outer shell by wrapping a 2 foot width of bamboo curtain or similar covering to act as a sunblock.