Thursday, June 5, 2014

Self-Watering Container Garden Update

Veggies are looking good in the container garden...take a look.

Originally posted 10-09-09

 Pure Black Castings            VermaPlex             VermaMax

The fall planting season is well underway here in North Central Florida and boy are were ready for it.  We've been busy (rather, Bill has been busy) building our self-watering containers.  Here are some progress pictures of the results to date:
Pole Beans in Self-watering container garden
Pole Beans

Tomatoes in self-watering container garden

Okra in self-watering container garden
Okra and Beans

Watermelon in self-watering container garden

We've had to move the pots around trying to escape the late summer heat.  Intermittent sun through tree leaves seems to do the trick.  October has remained hot, although we had a slight cool down of a very short duration a couple of weeks ago.

The tomatoes and peppers suffered from the late afternoon sun the most. The tomatoes were a little leggy from leaving them in too much shade at the beginning, but they filled in nicely once we found the perfect location.

Our plans are to build a ramada for the containers on the south side of the house, install shade cloth to roll out in the hottest times and frost cloth for the early and late freezes.  This arrangement should help extend our growing season while eliminating  the need to constantly move the containers. 

How this all self-watering container gardening stuff got started

For those of you who may have just found this blog,  let me outline our reasons for going to all the trouble of building  these self-watering containers for our vegetable garden.

Since moving here to North Central Florida four years ago, we have been battling the weather and very sandy soil indicative of this area.  While two growing seasons are a plus, our gardens have been damaged almost every season by early or late freezes and excessive heat at the beginning, middle or the end of each season. 

For instance, this October we are still in the mid 90's, while last October we had a hard freeze on the 15th.  It's entirely possible for us to go from the present heat wave to a frost in the span of a week.

In spring, if you try to get your crop in early enough to miss the almost certain summer heat, you can get wiped out from an unexpected cold front.  Wait too late and your crop will wilt from the brutally strong sun. 

The fall crop can also be a challenge if the summer hangs on too long.  Wait for cooler weather and guess what?  Jack Frost makes a visit.

Topping it all off -  our property has very sandy soil.  Watering is a daily chore, usually twice a day, even with mulch.    Houston, we have a problem - or two.

After doing some research into "self-watering" container gardening, we are hopeful we have found the answer to our dilemma.  The containers are mobile - you can put them wherever you want, moving them easily if conditions aren't perfect.

The water reservoir insures the plants will have a constant supply of the correct amount of moisture.  It holds enough water for several days and you can add liquid fertilizer (we use VermaPlex™ in with the water.  So, we went about building a few homemade ones to get it a try.)

Self-Watering Container Pots Parts

Here's a look at the parts before assembly:

Building self-watering container gardening pots

....and, once it's put together;

Click for an excellent site with plans for these homemade self-watering containers.
If you don't mind spending the bucks, Earth Box has some ready made ones that are even used by commercial farmers.

Soil-less Potting Soil Mix

Our soil-less mix for filling the containers is as follows:
We mixed this all up in the a wheel barrel and dampened it before placing it in the container.  The small cup in the center of the reservoir gets filled with the mix and acts as a wick to bring up the water into rest of the container.

Once the container was filled, we planted our seeds per the instructions from the websites mentioned above, then cut a piece of plastic to cover the top of the soil to prevent evaporation and excess rain from flooding the container.

The lid from the original tote, with the middle cut out, was put over the top of this plastic to hold it in place.  The bamboo to one side serves as a watering pipe for refilling the reservoir.  There are drain holes on the sides of the container down to where the reservoir begins.  These holes will let any excess water drain out.

We added a floater with a flag on top inside the pipe that will tell us when the container needs watering without having to go to each pot and check the reservoir.  We can just scan the pots to see which flags have dropped. You can see the red flag in the watermelon picture.

One thing we discovered: we need to use white plastic (garbage bags) for out "mulch" because of our strong sun.  More northern climates can use black.  It gets too hot here, but I can see how it would help heat up the soil in colder conditions.

When we add water to the reservoir, we mix in a small amount of VermaPlex™ as our only fertilizer, other than the original castings in the soil-less mix.  This soil inoculant is teeming with microbes, which will feed on the organic content of our vermicompost and Pure Black Castings™, providing our plants with constant slow-release organic fertilizer.

Growing Corn In Self-watering Container Garden

Corn in self-watering container garden
As you can see, our corn is a deep green and  the tomatoes are full of blooms and fruit.   As a matter of fact, we've had absolutely no bloom drop in this planting.  Every bloom on the peppers and tomatoes have formed a fruit.  The watermelon blossoms are all producing fruit, as are the squash. Hallelujah!

This self-watering container gardening principle so far is working out just fine and dandy.  I''ll keep you posted on the progress with pictures and any changes or adjustments we may make.  Meantime, where is that fall weather, anyway?

Certified Organic Container Garden Fertilizer Resources:

Organic Vermamax (chicken litter and castings) for corn
VermaMax for corn


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