For this reason, living in an apartment with no place for a garden for the last four years has suited me well. And, yet, every now and then I would feel the siren call of vegetation taunting me to try one more time. However weak in will I grew at the beckoning of the sirens of the vegetable kingdom, I had the escape hatch of my urban apartment lifestyle. I simply have no room for a garden.
And then I became aware of a plans for a nifty little DIY project circulating on the Intarwebs. Banking on the popularity of a certain fifty dollar plastic box, many sites had put up plans for DIY self watering planters made from plastic tubs. I figured that living in a 7th floor apartment with a balcony facing east, such a thing may make limited gardening feasible. Moreover, the self-watering part of it might manage to reduce my B-TOD tendencies.
An thus it was that my project began. I already had a number of large plastic tubs with lids, so I picked one out and wandered around the local hardware store to pick up a few things that I did not to finish out the plans. My purchases for the project came in under ten bucks, namely one five foot piece of pipe and some plastic baskets.
Bill of Materials
- 1 30 gallon tub (any size will do)
- 3 plastic baskets from the hardware store (see picture for approximate size, the size you need will vary according to the size of the tub being used
- a five foot section of 1 and 3/4 inch pipe
- 1 old, well used, and hole ridden pair of cotton socks (optional)
- a few bits of an old cotton sheet (or netting, perhaps optional)
- some twine (perhaps optional)
- cloth tape (or caulk)
I also found the following tools helpful in the project
- hack saw for cutting the pipe into sections
- drill and 3/4 inch bit for putting holes into the pipe
- utility knife for cutting of plastic
- magic marker for marking out where to cut
- scissors for cutting the cloth
- measuring tape
If you've not followed the links above, the basic plan is to put a second floor in a tub to separate it into two spaces, one for dirt and one for water. The baskets serve as supports for this second floor so my first step one was to lay out the baskets inside the tub to see if they fit. When I did this, I discovered that the baskets, side to side, were too wide. So I cut one in half and used twine to tie it together to make it about half its original width. This was then lined with one part of the old sheet, my intent being to have something to keep the wet dirt inside the basket. Then I cut a hole in the bottom of second basket for the fill pipe.
With the supports in place, the next step was to cut a piece of plastic out of the lid of the tub to use for a floor for the dirt. To do this, I measured the width and length of the tub at the height of the baskets, drew a rough rectangle of that size on the lid of the tub and then cut it out with the utility knife. Then I measured where the middle basket would go and the hole for the drain pipe and cut corresponding holes in the new floor.
Then it was time to cut the pipe. One piece was to be used for a fill pipe and two additional pieces were to be used to aerate the dirt chamber. For the fill pipe simply measured the height of the tub, added a few inches, cut the pipe and then cut a nock out of one end so that water would flow out better. As my intention was to use the remaining pipe for aeration, I drilled full of holes roughly two to three inches apart all along its length before measuring the width of the tub and cutting the hole filled pipe to fit.
Lastly, I took the aeration pipes out, cut the toes off of the old cotton socks, slid the socks over the pipes and put them back in. The purpose of this was to minimize the amount of dirt that would fall into the aeration pipe. I also took the utility knife and made a small hole in the side of the tub just below the floor for the dirt so that when filling the water reservoir, it will start to overflow through that hole before it reaches the top of the water chamber. This will help prevent overfilling. Then I sealed the edges of the floor with cloth tape, filled the tub with dirt and planted tomatoes. Altogether, my planter holds about four cubic feet of dirt and sits three tomato plants comfortably.
So far as I can tell, the water chamber holds somewhere between 6 and 10 gallons of water. I had intended to count but I lost track of the number of trips I made back and forth from the sink to the porch.
Once I was finished, I realized why so many people might spring the fifty bucks for a pre-built planter. Mine was kind of ugly. So the next project for the drawing board will be to create an outer shell out of either wood or fabric to make it more aesthetically appealing. The more I think about it, I'm tempted to try a wire frame against which I call pull fabric taught. But I may go with some wood to give the appearance that my planter is made of wood.
And, lastly, I think that I will mount some wheels on the planter to make it easier to move around. With my balcony facing almost due east, I suspect that my plants will all grow crooked if I never rotate the planter. Putting it on wheels will make such rotation a piece of cake.
Now all I have to do is to sit back and see how long it takes my tomato plants to die off.
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