Tim Foolery

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Self-Watering Planters for Urban Gardens

Since I will be traveling quite a bit this summer (read about it here, here, here, here, and here) I decided to outfit my balconies with self watering planters. I hate asking people to come over and water my plants when I am way. I don’t mind asking someone to feed/water Lilly, but plants (interestingly enough) take much more work than Lilly.

I did quite a bit of research before I finally pulled the trigger on self watering planters. I ended up choosing the Tomato Success Kit from Gardeners Supply Company — actually I ended up choosing two of these. A quick Google search netted me a 15% off coupon and voila, my planters are on their way.

Three business days later these two large boxes arrive. They were surprisingly heavy – 27 pounds in each box. Since the planters are plastic, I couldn’t understand how these things were so freakin’ heavy.

Lilly inspecting the boxes

Ah yes — this Success Kit comes complete with the planter, the tomato cage, potting mix, self watering soil and organic tomato fertilizer. I was shocked. I assumed I’d have to go get special dirt on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy I didn’t have to track down special dirt and schlep it home on he bus, but this doesn’t seem all that efficient, does it?

I unpack all the items and read the directions – how strange, I know!  The reviews on the website had quite a few complaints about the directions. Specifically the reviews bitched about little detail on the fill spout and the cage assemblies. I must admit, both of these items were pretty straight forward — and I’m not at all handy. Those complaints are completely unfounded. I think Lilly, my cat – pictured above, could put this thing together and she doesn’t have thumbs or the ability to read.

Potting mix: pre-soaking

Potting mix: post-soaking

You start by adding the potting mix to a bucket of water and allow the mix to absorb all the water.  It is quite surprising how much this mix expanded with water.  You then mix the waterlogged mix into the soil and the tomato fertilizer and dump it into the big terracotta colored plastic pot.  The directions suggest putting one or two tomatoes in this large pot — being the reckless man that I am, put two tomatoes and a basil plant in one and in the other three tomatoes. Wild and crazy I know!

The directions suggest you water the traditional way (pour water on top of the dirt) for the first 3-4 weeks until the plants take full root. After that you can water the way the planter was designed to be used. You see in the photos above there is a little plastic pull out spigot where you will the reservoir at the bottom. There is an overflow mechanism in case you overfill or in case it rains heavily — don’t want your tomatoes flooded out do you?
So far these have been working well. I’ve been watering the recommended way since I received them and the tomatoes are doing pretty well, but the basil is really thriving.  I’ll be sure to provide updates throughout the summer and will compare my yield this year versus last year (last summer I got about 110 cherry tomatoes per plant), I sure hope I do better this year.
The one thing that annoys me about this item is the number of flies that are attracted to the soil/potting mix.  When sitting outside  the flies are pretty annoying, but only initially — they fly away and stay away pretty quickly.
How do you handle your veggie watering while you are away from home?  Does the thought of using a plastic planter cause concern (the chemicals leaching into the soil from the heat of the sun)?  What else do you plant in your above ground urban planters?
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