Tag Archives: SIP

Self-irrigated Planters and City of Chicago Gardening Rebates

I’m just about to head out to buy potting mix and then get the last of my seeds in. Aside from the inevitable wind & hail that spring will bring, the weather is looking great for the garden. In fact, just harvested my first batch of dwarf bok choy (pak choi) today. This variety from Kitazawa grew so quickly it was ready to harvest in just a few weeks:

Dwarf bok choi grown in an EarthBox. From seed to table in just a few weeks.

Last night at Home Depot I found a slightly cheaper alternative to EarthBoxes. The self-irrigated planter called “City Pickers” is made in the U.S. by Emsco Group. It was $29.95 which is a few bucks less than the online price of EarthBoxes, plus you save on shipping. Also, they claim the plastic is recycled & recyclable. The box measures 24″ x 20″ and holds 1.5 cubic ft. of potting media. Like EarthBox, Emsco suggests adding granular fertilizer and dolomite (lime). City Pickers comes with a mulch cover, aeration screen, fill tube, and, unlike EarthBox, the casters are included at no extra cost. Looking forward to comparing the two. The only other immediate difference I see is that the Emsco box has a shallower but wider surface area for root systems.

Since I’m sending in my rebate forms for Chicago’s “Sustainable Backyards” program this week, I thought it would be a good reminder for city residents to look into this program if you haven’t already.  The city will reimburse you up to 50% of the cost of certain landscaping plants, rain barrels, and composters that are purchased locally. After the rebate, my double chamber composter will only cost $50! The program runs until the end of the year.

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Early Rooftop Harvest of 2011

Portland, OR was beautiful as always. My intention was to post some panoramic pictures of the International Rose Test Garden, but their roses did not bloom in time for the Rose Festival. They’ve had strange weather this year, just like Chicago.

And just when I thought all hope was lost on my rooftop, I came back from Portland to find edible vegetables. Despite the wind, despite the 60 degree change in temperature over a 48-hour period, everything survived and without my attention. Is that like “a watched pot never boils”?

The micro-irrigation drip system I bought from Green Thumb Garden Center worked perfectly. I was plenty nervous to leave a faucet running on the rooftop for a week unattended, but between the anti-siphon attachment and the automatic watering timer, it all seemed to run smoothly. Simple set up too- approximately 45 minutes to run the entire system throughout my planters.

There were about 6 green beans ready for harvest. Hey, I didn’t say A LOT of edible vegetables… I had only planted a few beans as an afterthought. The real beauties were the Pai-Tsai, otherwise known as white-stemmed Chinese cabbage or “choy”. The original seeds were not organic but they were grown organically in an EarthBox. I’m letting one plant go to seed and here is what I harvested on 6/12/11:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s What’s Growing 6/2/11

I haven’t been posting much about the rooftop situation out of pure shame and embarrassment. I was mislead by a few nice days in mid-May to think I could plan my SIPs. Then the weather got weird; warm season veggies got too cold and otherwise hardy veggies were shredded by high winds.

Three tomatoes survived and now have stems that could survive a hurricane. Most of the pak choi survived (pictured below). Peas did great.  The rest of the vacancies were replaced this week by heirlooms I bought at Gethsemene Gardens or leftover seedlings I kept indoors. Tomorrow I’m heading to Portland, OR for a week so these babies better learn to get along without me.

Here’s a look at what’s up:

 

 

 

pak choi

 

 

 

 

 

SIPs well-staked and bamboo-d

 

 

 

Micro-irrigation kit in place for my upcoming week out-of-town

 

 

 

 

Very hardy and prolific Dwarf Gray peas

 

 

 

 

First meal of indoor-grown baby Asian greens

 

 

I have a couple hundred amaranth seedlings I’m not quite sure what to do with. Lots of pho’ I guess.

 

 

 

Not bad for an $8 rose bush from English Gardens in Royal Oak, MI, eh?

Sunday April 10, 2011 – in like a lamb out like a lion?

An amazing treat for us today in Chicagoland – 80+ degrees by noon and a nice breeze (bordering on strong wind). Problem is, that breeze is predicated to turn into severe weather later today with potential for tornadoes and hail.

Got all the Earthboxes set up today and planted one box of Dwarf Gray Peas. They like to start in cooler weather but this will have to do for now. Here’s a look at my seed starts inside that were planted on 4/4 – 6 days ago. The clam shell is sprouting asian baby greens and the trays are showing cukes, pak choi, beans, amaranth, tomato, watermelon, yellow squash and basil… so far

Seed Starts after 6 days

Filled the Earthboxes with mix of peat/perlite/dolomite and using FoxFarm’s Peace of Mind Tomato and Vegetable granular fertilizer.

 

Earthbox Prep

Mia trying to escape the heat amongst planters:

Shade is hard to come by on the rooftop.

 

EarthBoxes Arrived!

Ten EarthBoxes arrived today, 5 per box. Each shipping box weighed about 30 lbs. and came via FedEx. I ordered them on 3/2 so that’s just under 2 weeks. I spoke with the EarthBox folks last week who said they have been inundated with orders and barely have enough people to handle the packing volume. I guess that’s a good sign for them, but for the rest of us it means we better hurry up and order if we want Boxes for spring planting.

EarthBoxes are self-irrigated planters or SIPs. Here is their about us blurb on their website:

“Since 1994, EarthBox® has been the pioneer in container gardening systems. The patented EarthBox® was developed by commercial farmers and proven in the lab and on the farm. Our maintenance-free, award-winning, high-tech growing system controls soil conditions, eliminates guesswork and more than doubles the yield of a conventional garden…with less fertilizer, less water and virtually no effort!”

For the record, I’m not affiliated with EarthBox in any way nor am I endorsing them (not yet, anyway). They are my planter choice for this year’s rooftop garden; and at $28 a box, hopefully a wise one!

Why I chose EarthBox.

Wood decking over composite roof liner. EarthBoxes haven't arrived yet.

In the past I’ve gardened ground-direct, in raised beds, or in standard planters. This year, because of the unique challenges of growing on a Chicago roof top, I chose self-irrigated planters (SIPs). Specifically, EarthBox brand.

EarthBoxes are popular in Chicago for many practical reasons, but also because they have received a lot of attention from local celeb chef and roof top gardener Rick Bayless. The Inside Urban Green blog posted an article several years ago about Rick’s rooftop.

Here are some other reason’s they seem practical and popular:

  • Ideal size 29″L x 14″W x 11″H
  • Easy to use, all-in-one, “just add water” kind of setup
  • Aesthetically pleasing: basic rectangle in 3 color choices
  • Good choice for hot spots due to self-contained irrigation
  • Can be brought indoors for year round gardening
  • Made of recyclable food-grade plastic
  • Have a strong resale value on eBay or Craig’sList
  • Affordable

That last point can be argued but even after reading a lot of ingenious garden blogs, I still found EarthBoxes to be a solid choice. Even DIYers end up spending money on plastic buckets and fittings and tubing and trellises. And I’m not so sure the hardware buckets and tubing are made out of safe plastic. I’m all for DIY projects, so if nothing else they may save a few bucks and are a fun project. But I’m also all for supporting small businesses doing big things like EarthBox.

I started out by purchasing 10 EarthBoxes so I got a bulk discount of $27/box. After pricing planters in local garden centers and other SIPs online, that’s still a pretty good price. Also, it’s pretty clear they are popular enough that I could easily resell them if I wanted to.

The visual appeal, I have to admit, was a big factor for us. I grew up in the woods of Northern Michigan on a small hobby farm so the concept of aesthetics and gardening requires some swallowing of that rugged pride. But we want our roof to be an entertainment and relaxation area, so the uniform look of the boxes seems clean and unobtrusive (unless you’re into that blaze-orange Home Depot bucket look!) We want the focus to be on the beautiful plants not on the planters. Ok, the truth is, if I make our rooftop look sloppy I probably wouldn’t be allowed to garden next year. *smile*

The EarthBox website explains that each box holds approx. 2 cu. ft. of potting media. I spoke with a salesperson at Downtown Home & Garden Center in Ann Arbor, MI who highly endorses EarthBoxes and claims they only take 1.5 cu. feet. So that’s less than 80 pounds of wet weight per box. The Garden Center sold 2.0 cu. ft. bags of Sunrise organic potting mix in the media ratio that EarthBox suggests so that’s what I chose. I’ll be amending with dolomite and organic fertilizer.

I also spoke with the guys at Green Thumb Garden Center in Ferndale, MI who suggest I supplement my plant feeding with silica. They believe it’s a natural way for plants to add their own extra structure to their stems for situations like rooftops in Chicago where wind is a huge factor. EarthBox sells a trellis system but that would have made my purchase substantially more expensive. For support I’ll do DIY trellis and wind breaks this year and try the silica. Clearly this year will be a big experiment, but I suppose with gardening every year is.

Rooftop view looking East towards the city.