Gardening has always been a challenge for me in this hot Sacramento, California weather. Our ground has always been hard as a rock in the heat of the summer no matter what I happened to add to it. I discovered the EarthBox and wanted to investigate this for our family. What I really wanted to know was, "Do these really work the way they say they will work? Are these things for real? Can we grow our own food?" The answer to these questions was absolutely yes.
The EarthBox Ready to Grow Kit is a scientific system of food production that starts with a solidly built container. The container itself is completely recyclable, UV protected, as well as reusable for many years. This was an important factor in choosing this product for our area as our summer sun is destructive and has ruined other containers we have used for gardening. Our boxes have withstood the hottest days with no change whatsoever. Potting mix, fertilizer, an aeration screen, watering tube, dolomite, and plastic mulch covers complete the Kit. (The EarthBox is also available for purchase without the soil, fertilizer, and dolomite. You can purchase these things locally if you wish and it may reduce the cost.) Each aspect of the Kit has its own function and works in tandem with each other.
You begin with the container and add the aeration screen. This creates the water reservoir below the screen for a continual source of water. This will be refilled by the next addition to the container, the watering tube. After the tube is in place, you will add the damp potting mix. The mix is first placed in the two open corners of the aeration screen to wick up the water. This step is the key to keeping your plants hydrated throughout the growing season. It is important to remember that you must use potting mix and not potting soil because the mix is light and airy and will allow the water to be drawn up into it. Potting soil will not work as well. They send along dolomite to sweeten the potting mix for tomato growers. I did not add this to my non-tomato boxes. Once the mix is in place you will then add a strip of fertilizer in a trench dug out of the soil, the length of the container and cover it over with at least two inches of damp mix. This will be placed in different places depending upon what and where you are planting in the box. Detailed planting and fertilizer placement instructions come with the container upon purchase and can also be viewed on their website.
The next step is to place the plastic mulch cover over the whole thing and plant your plants! This is the fun part! There are almost endless choices here and we tried a bunch of them with various boxes. While we will not be doing a box of corn next year as they did not produce as much as we wanted, the ones that did wildly well were tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew melon, and pole beans. Next year we will be doing herbs, bush beans, and trying our hand at lettuce and snap peas. We also plan to put in a fall/winter garden this year too as we can reuse the potting mix for up to 5-7 years if we change the fertilizer!
Author and Editor, Molly Quinn Philbin and Contributing Editor, Steven E. Lott have created something that is likely to be of interest to many homeschooling families. They have made gardening curriculum to go along with the experience of using an EarthBox. The Youth Garden Guide begins by explaining the science behind the box. As mentioned above, the EarthBox is a scientific system and each component works together to make the plants grow. The aeration screen serves to keep the potting mix from descending into the water, but also allows air to flow between the screen and the overflow hole found above the water reservoir. This overflow hole prevents over-watering and shows the person watering that the reservoir is full. The fertilizer serves as a constant source of food for your growing plants and the potting mix provides an easy growing medium for your plants. The plastic mulch cover keeps external bugs, animals, rain and weeds away from your plants while also serving other purposes. It reduces evaporation of the water out of the box and enables condensation of water that drips back into the soil. This conserves energy which saves on water use as well as conserves plant energy. The mulch cover is probably the most significant part of enabling the boxes to produce so well in the heat of the summer here. The soil does not dry out.
Interestingly we did a side by side comparison of other container gardening solutions and the EarthBox has so far outpaced the other containers that we will likely never use them again.
The Youth Garden Guide offers many avenues of learning that focus on four different areas: Horticulture, Technology, Health, and Workforce Development. Examples of the Horticulture area are to: "Understand
the science used by the EarthBox system; Learn how the EarthBox nurtures plants; Learn the sustainable characteristics of the EarthBox; Learn about the factors that affect seed germination rates; Estimate when seeds will germinate and when plants grown from seed will begin to produce a harvestable crop based on historical data."
Examples of Technology study are: using the internet to determine individual daily requirements for vegetables and fruits, the ability to recognize crop pest damage and disease, and solutions for the same, as well as building a vocabulary of knowledge in these areas.
Examples of Heath study are: leaning about vitamins and minerals and their benefit to our bodies as well as what crops correlate with these needs; how the lack of these vitamins and minerals contribute to sickness, and how to select nutritionally balanced plants to grow and eat.
Examples of Workforce Development are: understanding of target markets for the sale of your excess goods (should this be of interest to any growing entrepreneurs out there!), creating a logo and brand along with flyers to promote your products, how to be competitive and advertise, and market day set-up.
There are student handouts and worksheets and instructions for the teacher. This is a very thorough curriculum and covers a great many subjects. I have only mentioned a few of the lessons to give you an idea of the scope of the program.
The Elementary School Edition is wonderful and I can see its use in co-ops very effectively. Not only does it come with age-appropriate materials, it comes with full-color transparencies for use with the class. Just some of the subjects covered are: water cycle, how water moves through the EarthBox, experiments on how seeds grow in the light and dark as well as light requirements for seed growth, water power, phototropism, root growth, understanding health, vitamins, and minerals, what part of the plant is edible, the importance of flowers, homegrown versus store-bought and much much more. This is an excellent curriculum! This too comes with student pages and is loaded with hands-on experiments.
To be fair to our readers, I have to mention that I did have some trouble with the receipt of my order. They were very helpful and one woman in particular was exceptionally friendly, but I did not receive all I ordered and had to follow up several times in order to get the right parts for the last of the six EarthBoxes we now own. Will this stop me from buying more EarthBoxes next year? No, it will not because they are so exceptional, but it is a very frustrating thing to deal with and I share it because I think it is easily remedied on the company's part. A more careful examination and perhaps a double checking of each order would likely save a great deal of hassle for all involved--including the company!
The EarthBox is a completely unique approach to gardening and opens up the world of horticulture to all who can insert a hose into a tube. It is a delightfully exciting way to garden with the children and my twelve year-old is already planning what we will plant in our next EarthBoxes. God's word speaks to the joy of successful gardening much better than I can so I will end with it: "When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands, you will be happy and it will be well with you." (Psalm 128:2) Amen!