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Jul 19, 2012 05:48 PM

Grow Boxes

Has anyone else in Chow land tried growing vegetables in a Grow Box ( )? This is my second year using them and I'm so disappointed. I have 3 of them. Last year I think where I put them was too hot. They were on the driveway and maybe the sun reflecting off the blacktop got to them. The tomato plants were scraggly and the tomatoes all had blossom end rot. The squash plants had lots of flowers, at first, but only a few turned into squash and those rotted on the vine before they were more than 2 inches long. I did get some good peppers and eggplants, though. This year I put them in a different place with mainly morning and early afternoon sun. And this year I put lime in the soil for the tomatoes and have been putting lime in the water once or twice per week. The tomato plants are tall and lush, but I've already pulled off 30 tomatoes with blossom end rot. There are maybe 10 that don't have it. The white eggplant looks good but the Italian eggplant has sick looking leaves. And the cubanelle pepper plant is dying. I keep the bottom full of water and have followed all of the instructions that came with them. The customer support at the company is pretty useless, only repeating what's already on their website. Can anyone who has had a good experience with these Grow Boxes tell me what I'm doing wrong?

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  1. IMO, containers are good for lettuces, herbs, onions, garlic etc. If it were my only option I would probably try to grow tomatoes, peppers, squash, in them but otherwise not.

    With all the rotting on the vine you are experiencing I wonder if your plants are not being over watered.

    2 Replies
    1. re: kengk

      Thanks for your reply. But it's not overwatering, especially in the drought we're having. Grow boxes have water troughs below so you keep them filled but you can't overwater. The plants are so big I have to fill it once per day. Blossom end rot is caused by lack of calcium. I've been adding fast-acting lime (38% calcium) to the water each week but I'm still having the problem. That's why I was hoping someone had experience with them could tell me what else I should do.

      1. re: AmyH

        I've been using this type box with the bottom watering feature for 6-7 years at least. Regardless of what the advertising material says you can over water, with deep rooted plants like tomatoes and peppers the roots have grown into the water reservoir. By filling it with water every day you are essentially trying to grow vegetables in a swamp.

    2. I used to get blossom end rot, raised beds with commercial mix and existing soil. I added: shells to the compost: egg, crab, clam, mussel, shrimp shells. Clam and mussel shells don't seem to "break down" No more BER.

      1. Remember that BER doesn't only occur because of a lack of calcium. It can occur with overwatering or irregular watering cycles. In addition, there could be plenty of calcium available in your soil, but a lack of magnesium would hinder the plants ability to uptake the needed calcium.

        Maybe a couple tablespoons of epsom salts watered in could help correct the BER problem.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Novelli

          I'm not so sure about the overwatering. Vegetable MD online from Cornell university says this:

          The occurrence of the disease is dependent upon a number of environmental conditions, especially those that affect the supply of water and calcium in the developing fruits. Factors that influence the uptake of water and calcium by the plant have an effect on the incidence and severity of blossom end rot. The disease is especially prevalent when rapidly growing, succulent plants are exposed suddenly to a period of drought. When the roots fail to obtain sufficient water and calcium to be transported up to the rapidly developing fruits, the latter become rotted on their basal ends. Another common predisposing factor is cultivation too close to the plant; this practice destroys valuable roots, which take up water and minerals. Tomatoes planted in cold, heavy soils often have poorly developed root systems. Since they are unable to supply adequate amounts of water and nutrients to plants during times of stress, blossom end rot may result. Soils that contain excessive amounts of soluble salts may predispose tomatoes to the disease, for the availability of calcium to the plants decreases rapidly as total salts in the soil increase.

          I think you could be right about the magnesium, though. I think next year I might not use the Grow Box fertilizer and instead use a fertilizer specifically for tomatoes. I've asked them why they don't sell one for tomatoes but they never answer that question.

          1. re: AmyH

            Are containers your only option for tomatoes? I planted cherry tomatoes in an Earthbox the first year I had them thinking it would be nice to have salad tomatoes right on my deck. Was very disappointed in how they did.

            Just followed your link in the OP to your grow boxes and they appear to be essentially the same as my Earthboxes.

            1. re: kengk

              No, I have a small garden patch with 3 tomato plants in it. They are doing very well. But one of my co-workers raved about the Grow Boxes so I got 3. Now it's sort of become a quest for me to figure out why I'm having these problems. Last year they were terrible but I decided it was probably because I had them on my driveway and the reflective heat off of the black surface was too much. So this year I put them right behind the house where they only get about 6-7 hours of direct sun and have grass right near them. They are doing much better but except for the blossom end rot. Even the bad looking eggplant and pepper plants bore vegetables. My co-worker has also had problems with blossom end rot but said that this year she only lost 2 tomatoes to it, whereas I've lost at least 30 and it looks like more will follow. Meanwhile, I went out and stuck my finger in the soil. It was moist but definitely not soggy. But I laid off the watering for tonight to see what that would do. But we're expecting storms tonight so it may not make a difference.

        2. I am late to the party, but had to responds, because while I have used Gardeners Supply self watering containers for habanero peppers for years, I NEVER thought a planter would make sense for tomatoes and larger peppers in my climate. I am having AMAZING results,with gypsy, corno di Toro, and poblano peppers, Roma tomatoes, scotch bonnets, a determinate tomato; I think celebrity in earth boxes this year. I will try to add pictures.

          It is often 105 here, and NEVER rains in the summer, I do give them dappled shade in the afternoon, and I do have to fill the reservoir almost every day. I have grown tomatoes and peppers for at least 15 years in the grown, and I never would have believd it. Almost gave up because of root competition from redwoods in my raised beds. I DID give up on indeterminate heirlooms. In the ground.....except for just three plants.....and a sungold.

          1. Many people have success with a wide variety of veggies in self-watering containers (Growboxes, Earthboxes, etc).

            I have grown tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and eggplant in Earthboxes (both the original and homemade) for the last 5 years, with good results. My soil is so rocky and sandy it is easier to use the containers than to improve the soil.

            Tomatoes: unless you want to erect a complicated support system around the container (I've made them from PVC pipe) go for determinate or dwarf varieties. EB's can take two of these per box, but recommend only one indeterminate type.

            Peppers: Both bell and hot peppers do well in SWC. 6 per EB is the most I recommend. They grow so well that I have to support the plants so the fruit doesn't bend them over.

            Broccoli: Average results, about same as in ground.

            Eggplant: If you go for the larger varieties, make sure you have a support system to trellis the plant.

            Lettuce, arugula, radicchio and chinese greens like mizuna and pak choi also do well in SWC, but then they grow well for me in the ground as well.

            The containers can also provide some protection against hungry critters.

            16 Replies
            1. re: DonShirer

              Have you ever had problems with blossom end rot in your container tomatoes?

              1. re: AmyH

                Sure, but it usually only happens with the first two or three fruits on the vine. I just cut off the ends. After the earliest tomatoes, there is usually no more BER. (This is no different than the tomatoes I have in the ground.)

                1. re: DonShirer

                  I've never had BER with my in ground tomatoes, and I lost about 40 of the grow box tomatoes to it. I got about 10 good tomatoes from the grow box plants, although they were big and delicious.

                  1. re: AmyH

                    I would offer that it might be the variety of tomato. Our plants are in the ground, not grow boxes, but of the 8 or so varieties we have, only the Speckled Roman has developed BER on some, not all, of the fruits. We watered deeply and regularly, then got deluged with rain after which the problem started. We fertilize regularly with chicken manure and the rest of the plants are doing very, very well. Just a thought.

                    1. re: gourmanda

                      That's a good point. I did have 2 different varieties of tomato in the box. I don't remember what they were, but both were heirloom. Both did have BER, but the 10 tomatoes I got were from one of the plants. The other plant didn't give me any edible tomatoes. The plants did grow huge and gorgeous, and both did have lots of tomatoes, it's just that I lost so many to the BER. Also, as an update, the Italian Eggplant that I wrote about in my original post seems to be making a comeback. It has healthier looking leaves and some flowers. But I doubt any fruits will get big before it freezes here. The peppers didn't do much at all this year, though. One plant completely died and the others are just crappy looking. I did get some puny jalapeno and red bell peppers, though.

                      1. re: AmyH

                        It could very well be a lack of good, organic fertilizer. Peppers can be heavy feeders in particular. Every year I find more to learn--last year's lesson was about chicken manure as a good (and cheap!) fertilizer. So far, so great! :) Hope you get some more edibles before your season runs out--good luck!

                        1. re: AmyH

                          Quote "The plants did grow huge and gorgeous"

                          Makes me think too much fertilizer rather than too little.

                          1. re: kengk

                            THey do have a special fertilizer strip that you buy new each year. From the photos on their website it would seem they are supposed to give you giant plants with lots of fruit, not matter what you grow. But then when you get them, in the small print it says for tomatoes you need to add some calcium. I did add lime, lots of lime. To the point where I was scared I'd have concrete. But I still got the BER. If you see what I quoted above, apparently soil with lots of soluble salts leads to BER, and I wonder if their fertilizer is causing that. Anyway, when I emailed them they said to add lime but couldn't answer why the lime I had added didn't work. I don't understand why they don't sell a special fertilizer strip just for tomatoes (and they wouldn't answer the question of why they don't) and why I still got the BER after following their instructions. I think next year I might skip their fertilizer on the tomatoes and use some from the garden store that's specifically for tomatoes.

                            1. re: AmyH

                              Amy, what is your sunset zone? What are your tomato varieties? I am in a central
                              Californian Valley climate, and I am impressed with determinates in an earthbox this year. Plums are prone to BER, but my roma's are doing well in self watering containers this year.

                              1. re: Shrinkrap

                                Sorry, but I don't know what a sunset zone or a determinate is. I'm in northeastern NY. Next year I'll ask the farm store where I buy my tomato plants which varieties are more resistant to BER.

                                1. re: AmyH

                                  A sunset zone is a climate classification that focuses on western climates because they are hot and dry with lots of microclimates. A determinate tomato plant stays relatively small, and sets all its fruit over a relatively short period. Plum tomatoes are narrow and with a tapered end, and seem to be most prone to BER.

                                  1. re: Shrinkrap

                                    Thanks. None of my tomatoes are plums. The one that did relatively well was Azorean Red and the one that did poorly was Black Krim.They should be suited to the climate here since I bought them from a local farmer, not a big box store. I would guess that these are indeterminate because they continually made more tomatoes. I think I prefer that since I like to have a few tomatoes each week. I could see how determinate would be better for people who can or otherwise preserve them.

                              2. re: AmyH

                                I'm not sure that it would be exactly the same in a box but it is usually recommended to lime your garden in the fall or winter. I think It takes a while for the lime to dissolve or otherwise be available to the plants.

                                At any rate, I think it's better to err on the side of too little rather than too much fertilizer. Obviously "just right" would be better. : )

                                1. re: kengk

                                  You would hope that the people selling the boxes and the fertilizer would have figured out what "just right" is. It just seems like what's just right for a tomato is different than what's just right for most other vegetables. After all, you don't see fertilizer specific for cucumbers, but you do see various brands of fertilizer for tomatoes.

                                  1. re: AmyH

                                    Probably because tomatoes are about the most widely grown thing in home gardens. My wife has bought specific fertilizers for roses, azaleas, and probably a few more I can't think of.

                                    Just looked it up and apparently a low nitrogen fertilizer is recommended.

                                    Missouri extension recommends 8-32-16, good luck finding that at a garden store. UGA says 5-10-10 at planting and then 10-10-10 when they set fruit?


                                    1. re: kengk

                                      Thanks. The grow box fertilizer is 09-14-15 wth 0.45% salts. They say typical fertilizer is 11%salts. But there's no calcium in it, which is why they say to add the hydrated lime powder to the plants. I couldn't find hydrated lime powder so I used quick acting lime.