Want to grow your own organic greens and many kinds of vegetables all winter regardless of your USDA zone? And have the satisfaction of digging in the soil even as it’s snowing outside? Consider doing what we did and get some EarthBoxes. It’s one of the best ways to chase away the winter blahs. First of all, let it be known that we are just very satisfied customers and have no business connections with the company. Nor do you have to use EarthBoxes at all. You could easily plant directly in pots instead of EarthBoxes, although you may not have the same yield. We have found the EarthBox system pretty foolproof. The plants always receive the proper amount of water as long as you don’t let the reservoir dry out, and the company’s fertilization and mineral packets provide exactly what your vegetables and herbs need to flourish. The patented container system uses a soilless medium; a dry, granular 8-5-3 organic fertilizer; and dolomite (a source of calcium and magnesium). You’ll also need some full-spectrum grow lights, a timer, seeds, and a little space in your basement or a corner of the house with a floor that can get wet when you water. City dwellers and those in homes with poor soils can use this system to grow vegetables and herbs on balconies, terraces, or decks. It also a nice option for the elderly because there’s no digging and the containers can be wheeled around.
At the Spiral House in upstate New York, where winters can dip to 20 below, we usually start planting our EarthBoxes under lights in our sweet but sadly ineffective greenhouse in early October so that by the time our greens are finished in our outdoor garden we have something growing indoors in containers. We cultivate greenhouse tomatoes, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, several varieties of lettuces, escarole, basil, cilantro, parsley, and dill. In past years, we have also successfully grown collards, cucumbers and an assortment of tomatoes but due to space limitations we have settled on what grows best in the area we have. Developed in the early 1990’s by a commercial gardener, the EarthBox system eliminates guesswork, although we do recommend that you sterilize them between uses with a little soapy water and bleach. Each 29-by-13.5-by-11-inch EarthBox is made of food-grade plastic and holds three gallons of water and two cubic feet of growing media. (We buy our organic replant kits from EarthBox each year but purchase organic Espoma or ProMix soilless medium from our local garden center because of shipping costs. When filled with growing mix and water, an EarthBox weighs approximately 80 pounds but optional wheels make each box somewhat portable. We don’t care for the company’s trellises, preferring, instead, to poke our own stakes through the black plastic covers that are part of the system. The gardener cuts a predetermined number of holes into the plastic cover for each plant based on the company’s templates for that crop. EarthBoxes are watered through a tube that refills the reservoir, sending moisture to the roots from the bottom up. The plastic covers keep the water in and weeds out. It’s that simple.
Plants need lights to grow and the light must be adequate or your plants will be leggy and weak. This means you’ll need some grow lights unless you have a bright sunroom with strong sunlight. Metal halide lights that produce a strong output of the blue spectrum are conducive to leafy growth and are considered one of many good sources of artificial light when growing indoors. One bulb should last about 10,000 hours. When it is time for the plants to flower, switch to a high pressure sodium bulb whose reddish-orange light promotes flowering. Be aware that sodium bulbs are not ideal if you are only going to use one bulb, however, because they will not give you the leafy growth you’ll want. The downside of these bulbs and fixtures is they are costly and give off heat. The plants’ leaves will burn if you don’t maintain the right distance. We have several metal halide bulbs and ballasts, but since we had an assortment of florescent shop fixtures when we started we’ve been using those, too, replacing them with the thinner and more efficient T-5 tubes and their fixtures as new bulbs are needed. The T5 bulbs can — and should — be placed closer to the plants because they give off less heat than the metal halide bulbs, a marked advantage. Whatever you choose, hang your fixtures by rope or chains so that you can keep the lights as close to the plants as possible without burning them, raising the lights as the plants grow. Most vegetables and herbs do well with 14-16 hours of light or simulated light. As a general rule of thumb, a 400-watt unit will light a five-by-five-foot area; a 600 watt unit will light a seven-by-seven-foot area; and a 1000-watt bulb will light an eight-by-eight-foot area.
There’s nothing quite like fresh greens and herbs right out of the garden. And we have found this to be especially true in the Northeast in January as we enjoy a spinach salad or sautéed greens fresh from the greenhouse. Enjoy. For more information, contact: https://earthbox.com/