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General discussion regarding the techniques and methods used to successfully grow tomato plants in containers.

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Old February 29, 2012   #1
willyb
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Default My new idea (I think) for a self watering/wicking container

I operate on the "KISS" Principal, also into "Low tech" Need to be away from my tomatoes at times.

Conditions:

I garden in zone 3a
I get spent mushroom compost for $15 a heaping pickup load close by. It is steaming when I get it.
I have a small greenhouse

What I think I want to do after reading much on self-watering/wicking container tomatoes:

Use a rubber-made type container or build one from plywood lined with poly. Most online systems I see are too busy, impractical or unnecessarily complex. Simple, low cost and practical are the key elements here.
Install a water intake pipe c/w wine cork level float. (I have a few wine corksJ)
Fill water to the brim with de-chlorinated water c/w calcium, hydrogen peroxide, and some seaweed/fish emulsion.
Place top on container that has 2” hole (or more holes for more plants) bored in it.
Make 2” diameter wick from rolled burlap or cotton towel
Wife, being the quilter and seamstress she is, will sew me 5 gallon containers from filter fabric (Good for root aeration and cheap)
Set containers over top of holes
Thread wick from water reservoir to hole in plant container.
Cut wick with scissors into segments and spread high into plant strata
Fill plant container with tomato amended Mushroom compost (adjust PH as needed)
Plant tomato in pocket of potting soil in mushroom compost so as to not burn roots, let roots ease into compost.
Add a mulch or plastic to top of soil
Place containers in greenhouse on ground, north side, will also function as thermal mass
Let indeterminate tomatoes vine up trusses
Go prospecting for a week and not lose sleep over tomatoes drying out.

Am I wrong?
Will the wick wick enough to meet the plants water needs?

Thanks for your input/feedback/ideas.

Brad
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Old February 29, 2012   #2
rnewste
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Brad,

To be sure, you will ultimately adjust your dimensions, wicking material, etc. as you gain experience with your design. Best bet is to make up a few, then document how they perform with photos and a grow log recording what happens.

As a datapoint, have you read through the EarthTainer Construction Guide? This would give you a perspective on some of the issues I tried to address in SWC design.

http://earthtainer.tomatofest.com/pd...tion-Guide.pdf

Raybo
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Old February 29, 2012   #3
willyb
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Hi Raybo,

Thanks for your suggestions. I agree, documentation is a good thing and will take your advice. I hope to hit the ground running and work out as many issues as I can in the planning stage.

I breezed through the Earth Trainer site and see the following:

They use soil for wicking material as many do. The question is, is soil better than burlap or cotton or other for wicking? It would be easy for me to use soil if it was better.

I also see that they promote commercial products, no thought of local or "on hand" or cost effective. Any one of us are capable of mixing up a soil/soiless medium better than a bag from the store for a fraction of the cost.

Thier system seems to be a complex build and labour intensive for someone like myself who thinks "less is more" and low tech may be better. I could spend a $1000 on a hydro system and not flinch. Would'nt be nice to develop a system for those who could'nt.

Again, thanks for you feedback, it added to my knowlege

Last edited by willyb; February 29, 2012 at 10:37 PM. Reason: corrected some of the spelling
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Old February 29, 2012   #4
rnewste
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Brad,

The use of potting mix (not soil) was based on the capillary action which peat based mixes facilitate. The goal was to find a soiless mix combination which would provide the requisite water wicking, but also provide the necessary aeration of the root system. After about 35 trials of different combinations of Potting Mix, Cactus Mix, Redwood Mulch, Turface, Microbark, and Perlite, I found that a 3:2:1 ratio of Peat based Potting Mix, Microbark, and Perlite provided the best compromise solution to all of the variables.

The vast majority of EarthTainer home builders won't make their own home-mixed ingredients, so that is why I needed to reference commercially available ingredients.

The EarthTainer design has evolved over the past 3 years and has become far simpler to construct and use than the earlier editions. The EarthTainer is a relatively low cost solution as compared with commercial hydro systems costing far more.

I would encourage you to experiment with a variety of wicking and Grow Media containment approaches to develop a robust, easy to build and use SWC system.

Raybo
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Old February 29, 2012   #5
willyb
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Raybo,

I like the way you think. I wll try a variety of wicking mediums. Got nothing, got nothing to lose I have 150 plants or so started to play with.

3:2:1 ratio of Peat based Potting Mix, Microbark, and Perlite? I have peat and perlite, I don't know what Microbark is and don't want to buy it, I will look for a substitue and try a pot ot two.

Thanks and Cheers,

Brad
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Old February 29, 2012   #6
rnewste
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Brad,

The MicroBark I use is small pieces of cedar or redwood bark.



This is what it looks like for reference:



This provides a good deal of aeration in the Grow Media.

Raybo
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Old February 29, 2012   #7
willyb
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Raybo,

Thanks for the info and photos. I am inland and don't have access to cedar/redwood bark. I do have lots of bark from hard and softwoods when I cut my firewood and have ways to get the texture right. Will try that with your mix.

Brad
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Old February 29, 2012   #8
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Brad,

Don't use any hardwoods in your Mix. Use only coniferous bark such as Pine. The saps in hardwoods will kill the tomato plants.

Raybo
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Old March 1, 2012   #9
willyb
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Ok! Thanks for that
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Old March 3, 2012   #10
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Brad,
You can find the GROUNDCOVER BARK at your local Home Depot, that is where I purchased mine.
Jeff
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Old March 6, 2012   #11
willyb
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Hi Jeff,

If you don't mind, what have you found for a soil blend that works best for you in containers and is local to Alberta?

Thanks,

Brad
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Old March 7, 2012   #12
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Hi Brad,
I use Pro-Mix BX (with mycorrhizal) mixed with perilite and the ground cover bark.

Jeff
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Old March 8, 2012   #13
willyb
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Thanks Jeff,

I have some of the same Pro-mix and think it's a good product. Do you add the bark for more air and drainage or as an "extender/filler"?

Brad
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Old March 8, 2012   #14
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If you have the time for some variations, here's a site that uses 2 5 gal buckets. You may get some ideas if you don't actually use their method.

http://www.globalbuckets.org/

Carol
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Old March 8, 2012   #15
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Thank you. What a great link. The wheels are now turning.. little rusty but turning lmao
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