Self Watering Containers

Self watering containers, commercially known as Earthboxes, are  very easy to make with a few simple tools and materials.  Following the excellent instructions offered at, we put together a few for our tomato plants.  Growing full size tomato varieties in containers can be difficult because they require so much water and root depth, but so far it seems that these simple planters proffer very successful results.

Basically, water is held in a reservoir below the growing medium, separated by an air pocket which oxygenates the roots.  A small container, called a wicking chamber, drops down into the water allowing the roots and the growing medium itself to draw water up to the plant.

SWC beginning
an unfilled self-watering container. note the wicking chamber!
SWC side view

side view of the 5gallon double-bucket method

Dry (organic) fertilizer is placed in a band on top and then sealed in with a plastic trash bag.  All that’s required are a few rubbermaid containers or five gallon buckets, some pvc pipe, plastic cups or yogurt containers, a drill, hacksaw, utility blade, and some cable ties. You will also need soilless potting mix, which is of the right density to wick water up via osmosis, similar in my mind to the way water spreads on a paper towel

SWC with fertilizer and potting mix

here is the tomato plant nestled in the soil-less potting mix with a band of fertilizer for future consumption

The advantages to using this design, especially in a small space, are many:

  • They are easy and inexpensive to make ($4-7 per container)
  • They water plants for several days at a time from below, mimicking a more natural environment. Yields are abundant and plants grow vigorously.
  • They are entirely self contained, closed systems.  Fertilizer is added in a band on top and then the whole thing is sealed off  from the top.  All the gardener has to do is keep water in the system and everything else takes care of itself.
  • This is a great way to grow your own food even if you have no access to a plot of land!


  • Heavy as hell when fully set up and cumbersome to move.
SWC with huge tomato plant

4 weeks after planting--we won't be able to move this big guy for a long time!

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Status Update! from M.B.


It is hot and sunny these days, and though we did have a stint of rain and work, Noah and I are back in the garden!

A lot has happened since last we wrote so I will briefly recap.


Swiss Chard in a Box

Blue Signed on as Assistant Gardener

Still Got a Bunch of Little Ones to Transplant

Like this Beautiful Basil


The Irises came up early this year

The peas are quickly climbing!

We've been munching on some delicious little radishes

Noah Made a Worm Composting Bin for Our Neighbor


Tasty Lettuce for all your Salad Needs

Progress so Far

And coming up next week we will show the gardens at Thetford and how we are transforming a simple suburban lawn into a labyrinthine food garden!

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Microgreen Salad and Newspaper Pots

It’s April 15th, the days are getting warmer but the nights are still cold.  Still, the last frost could very well be behind us here in zone 7 as its shaping up to be quite a warm spring.  In the back garden, I’ve interplanted carrots with radishes and dill and put peas to one side and beans to the other.  The idea is that the radishes will leaf out, hold down the weeds and keep in the moisture while the slower seeds get their starts.  So far it seems to be working.

This morning I thinned out the container lettuce:

By sowing loose leaf seed super densely,  you can thin out and eat the early plants, which are not only the most tender but also the most expensive to buy.  Before you know it you have the first (and possibly the most delicious) salad of the season, all because you made sure to eat some babies:

We’ve moved many of the seedlings from cells to newspaper pots.  These are cheap, they decompose like peat pots, and you can read them.   Micky B is a real expert pot maker.

Highly skilled newspaper manipulator!

Many seedlings migrate to new homes

Stem of tomato reading old news

In the coming weeks, we will hopefully transfer many of these to permanent homes, as well as be constructing some self watering containers for balcony growing.

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What Can Conscientious Gardening Teach?

Well of course many things on many levels, body mind and spirit.  But here is one that takes some intention to notice and commitment to realize:

Designing closed energy loops.

What does everyone mean by sustainable?  Well ultimately, I think, that patterns of resource use have no externalized costs, and that all outputs feed into inputs.  These are cyclical flows of energy.

Natural ecosystems are always cyclical in this regard; and I believe it is generally accurate to say that only sunlight is the continuous input which is external to the system itself.  A healthy ecosystem, by virtue of  its myriad interconnections and multifunctional relationships, recycles all its products and is, as David Holmgren notes, operating by definition at maximum power and efficiency.  Everything is food (or some other life support) for someone or something and there is no possibility of waste.  Death is life’s sustenance, the central process of energy redistribution by which all things inter-are (to borrow the term from Tich Nat Han).

Many are coming to realize that the linear resource paths we create and live through now are profoundly destructive and imperil our future.  That we consider the byproducts of our consumption waste, to be discarded, taken out of the energy use stream, and made toxic in concentration, is in conflict with the physical and spiritual reality of  life’s process.

So I try to imagine a world where there is no concept of garbage, where our patterns of resource use are not linear but completely cyclical.  Where there are no externalities in our vision and every process interacts with others in beneficial and self-renewing ways.  This may sound idealistic, and it is hard to imagine in specifics given the deeply entrenched energy flows built into our culture, though many provocative ideas do exist.   But it is our responsibility and imperative to teach ourselves how we might begin to design these resource patterns.  Doing so requires a radical shift in the way we identify ourselves in relation to our environments (both natural and created).  Use must not be seen as consumption and exhaustion of a given resource, but instead merely a change in form, which when completed may proffer a benefit to another interlinked process.   One place where we can begin to  practice these design concepts and learn from them is in our gardens.

Ecological gardens, gardens designed to mimic the interconnected patterns of natural ecosystems while serving specifically human needs (food access, community creation, beauty etc), are obvious places in which we can begin to teach ourselves and practice employing truly sustainable (self-renewing) design strategies.   To me gardening conscientiously offers a fascinating way to learn about closing energy loops and creating sustainable resource flows in a manner that is inherently accessible, deeply connected to human culture, and understandable.

The garden has many uses as a teaching tool, but this most important one is not a given; it requires a rigorous and intentioned practice of design in order to create self-sustaining garden ecosystems.  And doing so involves letting go of many long standing cultural and intellectual biases (for example, those favoring euclidean geometric patters, categorical organization and separation, “cleanliness” etc).  It is one thing to learn by observing the emergent design patterns of nature, and quite another and deeper step to attempt to design similar patterns into our environment in ways that care for our communities (people and earth) while meeting our needs.

I tiptoed into this here, on a more consciousness oriented site, and I intend to explore this more in the coming weeks.   I sense that inherent to design as a practice of thinking are important and often unnoticed beliefs, prejudices, psychological dispositions and spiritual questions, all of which need to be examined in order to manifest structural changes in our environments.

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Thetford Progress! – M.B.

Today we rallied at the break of dawn (well, maybe not) to get our hands dirty in the lovely, eager-to-start garden at Thetford, Emily’s assisted-living home. The residents were wonderful and this was my first time visiting the spot and I was enchanted. It is a nice sunny piece of suburbia that is eager to grow into something deeper and more plentiful.

Horseshoe bed at Thetford

Here is one bed that Noah had already cultivated and now there are some radishes and other goodies peeking out. We are using soaker hoses, which crop up a whole host of other questions to figure out answers to!

So today we finished digging up the ground of the next bed and gee what a difference. The soil is so tough, dry, and unyielding that we had to bring in some yummy “Bumper Crop” super soil. You can how drastic the change was:



Then we ran a soaker hose along this bed and sowed some carrot, marigold, snapdragon, and green bean seeds. When we ran the water for a bit, though, we noticed some “irrigation challenges” that need to be addressed. So for next time we are going to research different types of short plants that looove water, and try to figure out a plan for what to put in the spots that get flooded.

A fruitful day had by all!

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Radishes and New Spaces


Noah is off scaling a cliff face this weekend so this is Mickey B here to update you on our progress!

First off, Amy got some dirt in her garden-space!

Pretty soon we’ll be planting little veggies and such. There’s also some talk of new and exciting places to grow lettuce……… Can’t wait to collaborate more with such a wonderful and creative woman! It’s exciting to be able to help cultivate her environment the way she’s envisioning.

Next up, the radishes are in the ground!

And so cute, too. They are right out by the pond and soaking up some sun.

The seedlings on the balcony need some lovin, and maybe a little less direct sun right away. But we’re still new to this so you gotta break some eggs I guess.

So now that it’s getting sunny and warm out I’ve been looking at every singly little piece of land I see and trying to think of what I could put there. Perhaps other people are doing the same…

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A Foray Into Vermicompost

Yesterday I received about 1000 red wiggler compost worms and put them in their new pink home.  A vermicompost bin is basically a mix of bedding (shredded damp paper, leaves, straw, etc) and kitchen scraps.   Every few days I’ll add more scraps, and over a few months the worms will turn it all into a delicious castings, high in nitrogen and a great fertilizer and soil builder.

Here is their house.  Its got plenty of air holes to keep the compost aerobic.


Worms settling in

More details to come

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