Garden boxes

A while back, a neighbor purchased some special plastic boxes for container gardening. We looked at what she had, and the great vegetables that she was able to produce in them, and thought that it was an idea that could work for us. However, the boxes she had were large enough to be unwieldy, and expensive.
We figured out a cheaper alternative that looks like it is going to work great. Rubbermaid 18 gallon storage totes are a size that can be easily moved (they even have handles) and have been on sale at Lo--s for about $6 each.
To convert them to container gardening, I drill a 1/2" hole in one end, about 4" up from the bottom. This acts as a weep hole for over-watering and heavy rain. The bottom four inches contain nothing but water and some 5" tall supports I made out of 3" PVC piping.
The supports hold up a hardware cloth grid, which is in turn covered with a layer of newspaper and about 4" to 6" of soil and potting mix. The grid is the hardest part of the construction. I used a bandsaw (a hand jigsaw will do) to cut a section of plywood to fit at the 5" level from the bottom of the tub (at the top of the 3" PVC pipe supports). This plywood was then used as a bending and forming pattern to make the hardware cloth grids.
Using a heavy pair of gloves and tin snips to cut the hardware cloth, I cut a section of hardware cloth about 1/2 the width of a roll of the cloth, and about 18" wide. I then fold that around the pattern and remove the pattern. The folding of the edges gives support for the wire mesh, which would otherwise flop down under the weight of the soil. Two opposing corners get folded again at 45 degree angles. One of them makes space for a 2" pvc pipe used to add water to the water in the bottom (or to siphon water off before moving the box), and one makes space for a tightly rolled newspaper, which acts as a wick.
The top of the box can be covered with screening to keep out insects, or hardware cloth to keep out squirrels, or by the original tote covers for more protection. Ideally, the boxes would sit in a screen room.
The concept is that the roots can penetrate the soil and newspaper to get to drink out of the well of water in the bottom, while the soil remains moist but never wet, because it sits above the water. A heavy rain just flushes through and out the weep hole. In dry periods, the water in the well keeps the plants growing without getting their leaves wet and susceptible to fungus and rusts.
The 2" pipe also allows the water in the bottom to evaporate more freely on hot days, which helps prevent cooking the plants in the containers. We selected a silver colored container for the same reason, although black containers might work further north.
Since the boxes are small enough for a single person to move, they can be moved for different light, or indoors if a hurricane (or frost in colder climates) threatens.
Another reason that we use the boxes is that Florida soil contains nematodes which will stunt the growth of plants placed directly in the ground. We've had some spectacular starts that suddenly failed due to pests in the ground.
I mention these boxes now, because they can also be great for getting an early start gardening lettuce, spinach and other cold weather crops. Plop an aquarium heater in the bottom well, use the cover or some polyethylene on cold nights, and people in the north can start growing some fresh greens now. The sides of the boxes are high enough to break the cold winds and offer protection.
I had the piping and hardware cloth on hand, and made a half dozen boxes for the price of one of the fancy boxes our neighbor has. DW will be harvesting mescaline mix for salad today. :-)
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That sounds like a good idea. I have several old Rubbermaid totes that are about 10 years old, and after years of garage use, some have become a bit brittle. They can still hold a lot of soil, but one or two have developed small cracks in the bottom (pre-made, tiny weep holes). I'll use the old ones in the garden and replace them with new ones for storage. That agrees with my recycling habits.
Who says that Usenet newsgroups are no longer useful?
Old Salt
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On 2/26/06 7:11 AM, in article ee16f$4401c4c6$40cb9de3$ snipped-for-privacy@NAXS.COM, "Salt

I have some containers I go from General Hydroponics that seem to be UV resistant, but come at a significant premium.
Bill -- Ferme le Bush
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That is definitely true for the old Rubbermaid tubs that I have. I've seen fading on the ones that were positioned near a window. Fortunately, the way I intend to build the frame for my container garden, only the top rim of the tubs will be exposed to sunlight. They should hold up for quite a while.
Old Salt
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years old that has been sitting outside the entire time. It has a hole from where I hit it with a weedwhacker last year. A new one would resist that damage. Maybe I'll get a cheap can of spray paint and paint the outside of the new totes. Five years is still a decent lifespan for this purpose. Wood would decay or be eaten by bugs in a shorter period.
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Salt of the Earth wrote:

if theyre going to be filled with dirt and plants and left outside, dont be surprised if they start splitting open. the sun can be harsh on some kinds of plastics.
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