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Tips for the urban gardener: Self watering containers do well in tight spaces


October 28, 2008
By By Dean Fosdick The Associated Press

Oct. 28, 2008 – With a
tray for soil up here and a reservoir for water down there, a
"self-watering" container can be made to produce a sizable crop of
vegetables, fruit or flowers – without a spacious garden site. Any
concrete pad, balcony, rooftop or classroom will do.

All hail this humble container.

With a tray for soil up here and a reservoir for water down there, a
"self-watering" container can be made to produce a sizable crop of
vegetables, fruit or flowers – without a spacious garden site. Any
concrete pad, balcony, rooftop or classroom will do.

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"If you have the luxury of gardening in the ground in a small plot,
that's fine,'' said Greg Stack, an extension educator with the
University of Illinois, who teaches horticulture in the Chicago area.

"But many of the people I work with are doing container gardening on
patios and porches. While they won't grow tonnes of produce, their
containers will fill most of their family's needs during the season."

You can fashion your own self-watering container from sturdy discards,
or buy one ready-made. All operate basically the same way, with water
reservoirs on the bottom that are filled via pipes or openings at the
top or side. Another tray fits over the reservoir, supporting the soil
and the plants. Water wicks upward to the plant roots where and when
it's most needed.

The containers "are great options for people no matter where they live
or what conditions they have, as long as they can find some sun," said
Frank DiPaolo, general manager of EarthBox, a line of self-watering
containers.

Standard commercial containers run 75 centimetres long, 30 centimetres
wide and 30 centimetres deep. They weigh about 30 kilograms when filled
with soil and water, DiPaolo said.

"We make ours so they can put casters on them and wheel them around," he said.

The EarthBox line was developed in the mid-1990s when a commercial
tomato farmer wanted a more efficient way to grow produce than was
being done on a factory farm.

"We went looking for a better method of controlling the environment,"
DiPaolo said. "By using a box, we're able to control the amount of
water and food needed to feed the plant. Whatever we put in the box
stays in the box or is used up by the plant.

"We need only about 20 to 25 per cent of the water that farmers use in the field and about half the fertilizer."

Many of these containers need water refills only about once a week if
the plants are young. The frequency of watering depends on whether the
containers are sitting in full sun or partial shade, and on peak
daytime temperatures and plant size.

"As plants ripen, I recommend watering once a day when it's hot,"
DiPaolo said. "The EarthBox holds just under three gallons (13.5
litres) of water. Two full-size tomato plants can drink that down in a
day."

Self-watering containers take a lot of the guesswork out of gardening, making it easier for beginners, DiPaolo said.

"People who live in urban environments aren't usually inclined to garden," he said. "We get them over that fear with ease of
use."


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