Friday, October 20, 2006

Book review and discussion: self-watering containers for edible plants

Book Review: 'Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers', and some discussion of Self-Watering Containers (SWCs).

Details (from Amazon):

Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers: Using Ed's Amazing
POTS System
by Edward C. Smith
# Paperback: 272 pages
# Publisher: Storey Publishing, LLC (January 1, 2006)
# Language: English
# ISBN: 1580175562
# Product Dimensions: 10.8 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches

(There is also a hard-cover edition.)

What is a self-watering container?

A container with a water reservoir (lower chamber) and potting mix (upper chamber). You fill the reservoir, and the plants water themselves from the reservoir (by wicking). SWCs are often called 'Earthboxes' (TM), but this is a trademarked name and shouldn't be used for other SWCs.

My experience-level: I have considerable experience growing vegetables in containers, but no experience with the (so-called) self-watering containers (SWCs). I want to switch over, though, for several reasons.

Why SWCs?

* First and foremost, I'm convinced that the plants grow better when they have access to water, and fertilizer, at all times, as is true when using SWCs.

* Second, you don't need to water as often, although you may need to water as often as daily in really hot weather, depending on the size of the plants and of the reservoir. But regular containers can need watering several times a day in really hot weather.

* Third, it's economical of both water and fertilizer, and organic fertilizer can easily be used. Organic fertilizer can be problematic with regular containers; they need watering so often that that (slow-acting) organic fertilizer tends to be washed right out of the soil before the plants can grab enough nourishment from it. You could use organic fertilizer with
every watering, but that's really wasteful of the fertilizer, and a nuisance besides.

* Fourth, SWCs keep the ground (or the deck or the patio - wherever the plants are) dry. This is a plus too.

On to the book....

This is a large, glossy, paperback (the edition I bought) with many, many beautiful pictures of plants growing in SWCs. The photos are great, and I really enjoyed them all.

The book's major flaw, in my opinion, is that it does not tell you how to construct a variety of SWCs or, indeed, how to build any SWCs. (Purchased SWCs are very expensive.)

You can find clear directions for building your own SWCs here:

A detailed manual demonstrating how to build a variety of SWCs is here:

And for an SWC with a slightly different twist:
(Scroll down to pages 6 and 7.)

Back to the book....

I like this book very much. I'm glad I bought it, and it gives me, I think, a much better idea of what to expect from SWCs. It also makes the whole concept more clear in my mind.

I also learned a few useful tips, which alone are more than worth the price of the book. One is how to modify a watering hose so that it is more suited to SWCs, and another is a way of supporting a trellis used with an SWC. I would not have thought of these myself; and we'll use both of them.

The author recommends organic fertilizer, and I like this too. He gives instructions for making and using the fertilizer. (You could use many other ingredients instead of the ones he lists, however.)

Very brief instructions for starting seeds are included; and a good general discussion of SWCs too.

But the main part of the book is a directory of vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers, giving growing tips (in SWCs) for each one. Some herbs and flowers don't like the constant moisture plants experience in an SWC, and Smith tell you which ones not to grow in an SWC. This is very useful information.

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in container gardening, whether or not you are considering SWCs. It very nicely complements the other excellent edible container gardening book, 'Bountiful Container' by McGee and Stuckey. Information on 'Bountiful Container' is here: (or can be obtained by entering the title in the search box at Amazon). These are the only two edible container gardening books that I recommend.

For anyone interested in growing food in containers, I have a mailing list on the subject. It's here:

My other recommendations for gardening books are on my blog, specifically in the August 19, 2006, post entitled 'My Recommendations for Gardening Books'.


At Tuesday, 27 February, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a new gardener. I found the information in the book to be very helpful in my understanding of how growing plants "work", what they need and why, sun water, air, fertalizer, etc. It was very useful as a "Primer" of perspective! I was disappointed about the lack of DIY plans but, you have solved this problem for me! Thanks a million!

Happy New Gardener

At Wednesday, 19 March, 2008, Blogger Albina said...

there is a much easier, quicker and cheaper way to make yogurt at



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