This spring, I planted nine tomato plants. I have eight survivors so far. I’m not quite sure what the ninth plant succumbed to, but it just wasn’t looking good, so I took it out of the ground. Early blight maybe? The leaves were just shriveling up.
When I planted this spring, we decided to conduct a bit of an experiment and plant three of the tomato seedlings in Earth Boxes, and the remaining six in a raised garden bed. The Earth Boxes are moveable, so I figured we could get a better feel for how much sun is ideal in this climate before we decide on a location for a second raised bed.
Three months later, the tomatoes (and peppers) in the Earth Boxes are flourishing, while those in the garden bed are doing only okay. While the actual sun exposure of each has been similar up until this point, the main differences I’ve identified are: (1) watering method, (2) ground covering, and (3) fertilizer.
You fill a tray at the bottom of the Earth Box with water so that the plant soaks it up from beneath. This is meant to prevent over-watering, and it seems to work really well as long as we refill the tray every day. Since the soil in our garden bed is very well-draining (which, of course, is a good thing), we spend a good 15 to 20 minutes hand-watering the plants each evening to make sure they get enough. I’m not sure watering method has made a difference in how the plants are growing, but it is definitely having an impact on how much water we’re using to get the same (or in this case, superior) results.
Results like this. Ka-POW!
As for ground covering, the Earth Boxes come with a reversible covering — black for cooler weather, and white for hotter weather. I chose white (duh), and I do think the heat-reflection has made a difference in how well the plants are doing. I mulched with a couple of inches of cedar in the bed, and while I’m sure that helps retain moisture, I don’t think it does the bang-up job that the Earth Box’s covering does on keeping the soil cooler.
Fertilizer, I think, is the real difference, though. I made a rookie when I planted the raised bed: I used garden soil mixed with compost and trusted that it would be enough to feed my babies. If I could go back and do it again, I’d fertilize at planting with something like liquid seaweed, and keep feeding the plants until they got a good start. The Earth Boxes, on the other hand, are planted with a strip of fertilizer in the soil that supposedly continuously feeds the plants — easy-peasy.
As it was, the plants in the box took a little while to really get growing, and I’m afraid the weather is just getting too hot for them to produce many more tomatoes. I tried to remedy the situation by starting to fertilize weekly, alternating between liquid seaweed and blood meal,* which did help their growth a lot, and I am starting to see more flowers on them, but I’m worried that overnight temperatures just won’t drop low enough to allow those flowers to turn into tomatoes.
* Is it okay for a vegetarian gardener to use animal by-products in the interest of organic gardening? Discuss.
As it is, I have already witnessed some “blossom drop” on several of my plants, which is a new phenomenon for me.
That’s what this is… right?
The only problem the Earth Box tomatoes seem to have had are caterpillars. I caught a big brown-and-black dude eating one of my tomatoes, and some of the leaves appear to have been munched, too. I picked him off and threw him in the compost file along with the tomato he was eating, and I’ve been carefully inspecting the plants ever since, but I haven’t located any of his friends yet. If I do, I have a bottle of Bt at the ready, which I understand will kill the caterpillars eating my plants without killing everything else, too. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but if it does, I am ready to wage war.
The overall verdict, though, may be that the Earth Boxes are just the best way to grow tomatoes around here. We have three of them, which will support six tomato plants, so I may just stick with that plan for next spring and plant hardier crops in the beds.
For next year, a friend of mine turned me on to an enzyme she makes for her plants that I am absolutely going to attempt. It’s supposed to ferment for a few months, and it works gradually over time, so it’s too late for this year, but next winter I’ll get cookin’. It’s fruit peels, water, and black sugar (3:1:10 ratio), and it both works as an organic fertilizer and produces O3 as it works, which repels caterpillars and suffocates their eggs. Sweet. Apparently soapy water sprayed on the leaves will suffocate any eggs laid there, too. So I have a plan of action!
And, of course, thanks to my Earth Boxes, I’ll also have plenty of tomatoes this year, too. I’m still holding out hope for my garden box tomato babies, too!