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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Grow Boxes and the Herb Garden

About 18 or so  years ago I was driving by a construction storage yard and saw these orange colored fiberglass boxes that were about 3' x 3' x 2' deep. Stacks and stacks of them sitting there in the yard and they were just screaming out to be re-purposed as container gardens. I asked the owner of the yard what they had been and he said they were the concrete forms for water storage tanks and a honeycombed arch at a local bank. I couldn't quite imagine how they worked but it didn't matter, they were perfect for my needs. He sold them to me for $5.00 each and delivered 20 of them on his backhoe bucket. I grew vegetables in them at our home in Cedar and then when we moved to New Harmony I emptied them and brought them down here.

Yesterday I started cleaning out the bins near the area I'm reserving for a future greenhouse. The grass had gotten so thick in the bins from blown in seeds that the roots were packed tight. It was easier to just dig down about three inches and toss the clumps, roots and all than to try to pull out individual sections. I'll wait till the grass dries out and dies and the soil can be shaken loose and re-used but for now the bins are clean and ready for planting. I put in about 6" of fairly well composted soil with a few loose sticks and debris to help break up the solid soil and then put a little steer manure in and worked it all together.

Grow boxes with squash and pumpkins five years ago.
 I've got herbs in all my front bins and strawberries in some of the side bins but when they're done bearing fruit this month I'll dig those out and re-work the soil. The herbs are doing well and spreading nicely since re-planting them last year.

The nice thing with deep bins is that I can flood water them once every two weeks and the water keeps the roots moist and healthy, even in the heat of the summer. There's no waste or runoff and the herbs like mint and chives don't spread into the lawn. They're also at a comfortable height for harvesting, weeding, etc.. The only thing I don't like about the fiberglass is that it breaks down in the sun and is very itchy when I make contact with the flat edges. I started painting them with a good quality paint but then got distracted with other chores and never finished. I think this year I'll finally get back to it and keep the fiberglass from deteriorating.

I'm going to plant my squash and zucchini in the re-freshed bins this year and try to keep as many squash beetles out as possible. The bins are somewhat accessible to the deer but so far they've not been that interested in squash.

Container gardening is a great way to conserve water and make comfortable planting areas that don't require getting down on ones knees or ground tilling. It's important to amend the soil so that it stays loose because plants and soil can get quite compacted in the hard sides of the containers. They're great for the desert because you can give them deep water less often and they do better than ground crops. I love my grow boxes.

The black boxes were the shells of air conditioning units from a motel remodel. They're open on the bottom but hold the soil and moisture well and work great for mint and other herbs that tend to spread in the lawn. I plan to paint them someday but I may never get to it.

I arranged these boxes in a sweeping crescent with the taller boxes in back as a retaining wall for the next two tiers as my yard slopes up. Our septic tank and leach field is below so I didn't want ground crops that might absorb anything from the septic leach field in that area. The first tier level will be my corn and bean field and the second tier is the level for my future greenhouse. Most of the bins started off level but have become rather wonky and shifted over the years. Yet another project to someday get to.

The arched arbor over the sidewalk was a salvaged piece that someone was tossing out after using it as a wedding backdrop. It was well made and a friend helped me install it in the front of my herb garden. It needs some repair and a little work but with the Honeysuckle growing nicely over the one side (the other bush isn't doing as well on the west side) and the Virginia creeper taking over it's got a nice bit of history and form and makes a welcoming entry to this part of the yard. Someday I plan to make a gazebo in the center of the garden using an old fiberglass satellite dish as the roof of the gazebo.

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