Thursday, July 01, 2010

Three New Sub-i Tomato Planters: $0, 15 minutes

(in case you’re new here, sub-i = sub-irrigated = what’s usually known as self-watering, which is a misnomer I won’t get into because it’s too tedious to believe)

If you want to read more about sub-irrigation, what it’s good for, why I love it, and how I’ve made inexpensive sub-irrigated planters in the past, just click on the “Sub-I” label beneath this post or at left (or, okay, just click here).  If you live anywhere that watering is not always possible, sub-i planters let you keep on growing by wasting almost no water; it ALL goes to the roots, not in the air, on the leaves, or anywhere else.

So I had these two planters sitting around.  I forget where I got them – free or cheap or at the curb somewhere, no doubt.  There are no holes in the bottom of them, which suits this project just fine.  I also had two large pots sitting around (from a similarly unremembered source), with holes in the bottom, that fit inside pretty unobtrusively.  Okay, kind of funny-looking, but I guess that’s okay with me.

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Then, I also had a round planter, quite a bit smaller, but still spacious with no holes in the bottom.  To fit inside that, I found a round hanging planter with the hanger removed.  Nice and snug.

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Here’s how I turned these six basically FREE pots into three sub-irrigated planters, in about 15 minutes or less.

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Step 1:  Cut, then tear strips of a raggy old towel to make wicks.

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Step 2:  Feed the wicks through the holes in the inner pot bottoms, leaving a lot wadded up inside.  I used two wicks per pot.

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Step 3:  Place cheap dollar-store plant pots around the bottom of the outer planter.  These will be the support for the inner planter.  In the case of the round planter, I wasn’t sure I needed a support, but I used one anyway.

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Step 4:  Add a drain hole (or two) around or just below the level of the supports.  You don’t want to try it without a drain hole, even if you think you won’t overwater.  I made two in each of the square planters, and only one in the round.  You can drill the hole, but for me, the easiest way is with a hot knife from the stove, just burning a hole in the plastic from the inside.

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Step 5:  Set the inner planters, with towel wicks, into the outer planters, resting on the supports.

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Step 6:  Fill with soil, but remember to position your new sub-i planters in a sunny location BEFORE adding water – they get heavy when you do that!

Step 7:  Add plant.  But you knew that, right?

Purple plum tomatoes, hopefully happy in their new homes:

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And then I planted the small one with a pickling cucumber and zucchini.  It’s a bit much for a smallish pot, but if they seem crowded later on, I’ll take one out. 

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With this small one, there’s not really a good way to tell how much water is in the reservoir.  The advantage, however, is ZERO water loss to evaporation.  The square planters have a large exposed area of water (all 4 corners), meaning more evaporation and also a potential “standing water” invitation to mosquito larvae.  Hey, maybe I should buy a few goldfish to drop into my sub-i planter water for the season to eat the mosquito larvae!

Happy sub-irrigated growing!!!