I am simultaneously a lover and hater of gimmicky garden tools, especially items that purport to make gardening easier. Gardening is already easy, so a lot of garden products get a big eye roll from me. Whenever I heard gardeners talk about sub-irrigation planters like the Grow Box I had to roll my eyes. I mean, just how bad of a gardener do you have to be that a traditional container, or even a repurposed one, doesn't suffice? For a while I wondered just how easy this products made container gardening and growing vegetables. How much different were they from the DIY sub-irrigation planters I've seen gardeners make. When I was planning my porch garden my curiosity got the better of me and I contacted two companies who sold Grow Boxes and asked if they would provide a sample for me to test.
Gardening in a Grow Box
Expecting neither to agree I was surprised when both agreed and sent me the Grow Box they sold. The first was the Deluxe Grow Box from Clean Air Gardening, a company that sells eco-gardening tools. The second came from a Garden Patch who only sell a Grow Box. While both of them did the same job there were differences in the size, design and price of the Grow Box they both carried. Clean Air Gardening's Grow Box is larger and one piece, movable and a little more expensive, while the Garden Patch Grow Box was smaller and has the water reservoir at the bottom. As "self-watering" containers go there isn't much of a difference on how they're suppose to work.
In the beginning I was like a kid with a new toy, excited and very careful with the plants planted in them. As the gardening season wore on I began to loose interest on checking them everyday to make sure the water levels were just right. My waning interest soon turned to downright neglect, and the most amazing thing happened. Nothing. That's right, nothing. The vegetables and herbs I planted in them didn't die, they didn't even whimper. The tomatoes, herbs and cucumbers grew happily and produced to my satisfaction. Since we had such a wet spring and summer I watered when I remembered, but pretty much just left the Grow Boxes alone. I was only paying them attention when I wanted to harvest something.
Then last month I had to leave on a trip and forgot to place someone in charge of watering the plants in the porch garden. As I expected there were a lot of plants that died, what I didn't expect was that the plants planted in the two Grow Boxes would still be alive and producing after a week of only getting rain water.
After using these two Grow Boxes I'm firmly in the pro-Grow Box camp. The rectangular shapes of the Grow Box took up less space than traditional round containers. The sub-irrigation feature I believe saved me time and money. The tomatoes grew great, the splitting tomatoes I did encounter were grown in standard pots. The rectangular shape makes the Grow Box ideal for urbanites who may only have a balcony to satisfy their desire to garden. In my planters I grew vegetables and herbs. Online I've seen school gardens and urban farmers adopt growing in sub-irrigation planters like this to avoid planting in contaminated soil. After a season of experience I know what I'll do different next year. I'll forgo growing herbs in them and just use them to grow vegetables that are heavy producers like tomatoes and cucurbits. Sure a Grow Box will cost more than a standard container, but I believe in the long run they're worth it because you save time, money and most importantly plants, if you happen to leave for a week and don't water. The plastic they're made from is durable and after a season of growing in full-sun they haven't faded or cracked, like so many plastic pots I've purchased.
If you're interested see this post on assembling the Deluxe Grow Box and this post for information on assembling the Garden Patch Grow Box.