Book review and discussion: Self-Watering Containers for Edible Plants

Book Review: 'Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers', and some discussion of Self-Watering Containers (SWCs).

Details (from Amazon):

Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers: Using Ed's Amazing POTS System, by Edward C. Smith
Paperback: 272 pages, (There is also a hard-cover edition.)
Publisher: Storey Publishing, LLC (January 1, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN: 1580175562
Product Dimensions: 10.8 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches

What is a self-watering container? It is a container with a water reservoir (lower chamber) and potting mix (upper chamber). You fill the reservoir, and the plants water themselves by drawing up the water from the reservoir via a process of osmosis. SWCs are often called 'Earthboxes' (TM), but this is a trademarked name and shouldn't be used for other SWCs.

My experience-level: I have one season of growing in SWCs. We grew a variety of vegetables in 22 homemade SWCs. We used 18-gallon Rubbermaid-style storage tubs for the SWCs. We had spectacularly good results using them, especially compared to growing vegetables in traditional containers.

Why SWCs?

* First and foremost, the plants grow better when they have access to water and fertilizer at all times, as is true when using SWCs.

* Second, you don't need to water as often, although you may need to water as often as daily in really hot weather, depending on the size of the plants and of the reservoir. But regular containers can need watering several times a day in really hot weather.

* Third, it's economical of both water and fertilizer, and organic fertilizer can easily be used. Organic fertilizer can be problematic with regular containers; they need watering so often that that (slow-acting) organic fertilizer tends to be washed right out of the soil before the plants can grab enough nourishment from it. You could use organic fertilizer with every watering, but that's really wasteful of the fertilizer, and a nuisance besides.

* Fourth, SWCs keep the ground (or the deck or the patio - wherever the plants are) dry. This is a plus too.

On to the book....

This is a large, glossy, paperback (the edition I bought) with many, many beautiful pictures of plants growing in SWCs. The photos are great, and I really enjoyed them all.

The book's major flaw, in my opinion, is that it does not tell you how to construct a variety of SWCs or, indeed, how to build any SWCs. (Purchased SWCs are very expensive.) You can find clear directions for building your own SWCs here:

A detailed manual demonstrating how to build a variety of SWCs is here:

(I very strongly recommend that you save both these sets of directions on your own PC if you are interested in making SWCs. URLs for both sets of directions have changed recently and could both change again, or be taken down altogether. Both URLs are current as of the date I'm revising this page, February 5, 2008. )

And for an SWC with a slightly different twist:
(Scroll down to pages 6 and 7.)

Back to the book....

I like this book very much. I'm glad I bought it, and it gave me a much better idea of what to expect from SWCs. It also made the whole concept more clear in my mind. I also learned a few useful tips, which alone are more than worth the price of the book. One is how to modify a watering hose so that it is more suited to SWCs, and another is a way of supporting a trellis used with an SWC; how to use floating row cover with an SWC, and other tips, some of which we used.

The author recommends organic fertilizer, and I like this too. He gives instructions for making and using the fertilizer. (You could use many other ingredients instead of the ones he lists, however.)

Very brief instructions for starting seeds are included; and a good general discussion of SWCs too.

But the main part of the book is a directory of vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers, giving growing tips (in SWCs) for each one. Some herbs and flowers don't like the constant moisture plants experience in an SWC, and Smith tell you which ones not to grow in an SWC. This is very useful information.

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in container gardening, whether or not you are considering SWCs. It very nicely complements the other excellent edible container gardening book, 'Bountiful Container' by McGee and Stuckey. Information on 'Bountiful Container' is here:
(or can be obtained by entering the title in the search box at Amazon). These are the only two edible container gardening books that I recommend.

For anyone interested in growing food in containers, I have a mailing list on the subject. It's here:

My other recommendations for gardening books are on my blog, specifically in the August 19, 2006, post entitled 'My Recommendations for Gardening Books'.

I really recommend that you use SWCs if you want to grow vegetables in containers! They are fantastic.

05 February 2008

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