Author Topic: New to Earthbox? Start Here  (Read 5615 times)

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New to Earthbox? Start Here
« on: June 14, 2017, 10:04:53 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Hero Member, alwayslearning. This user is located in SF Bay Area near SJ Zone 8b. This was originally posted on March 19, 2009.

I started this thread in hopes that experienced users would post their current advice for new users - a point in time, read-me resource to help people get started quickly & efficiently and have a great initial growing season.  There is a lot of wisdom on this forum, but it does take a while to read and some of the ideas have evolved over time, as Mickie noted in a recent post. 

My earthboxes came from a retailer.  They came with dolomite and fertilizer, but not potting mix.  Best advice I got:
--Earthbox is an integrated system that works fantastically if used as designed.
--It is different from in-ground growing or regular containers or even self-watering containers; some of those ideas don't "translate" well to an earthbox. 
--Garden center staff vary in their knowledge of earthbox growing, just as they do with plants and horticulture.  Sometimes we (gently) educate them.
--The first year, do follow the Earthbox directions as to set-up, plant layout, and the cover (aka "shower cap"). 
--Use peat based, soil-less potting mix.  Avoid compost or partially composted forest products as they will make it too wet.
--Don't try to mix plants the first year.
--After the initial growing season, experiment if you want but change just one thing at a time so you can determine its impact. (Thanks, Donald1800)
--Keep the water reservoir full.  There's an overflow hole so you cannot over-water. 

For starters, I asked Kathy to share the list of recommended potting mixes from the February Newsletter and related comments from subsequent posts (such as moisture crystals), and for Mickie to re-post the Introduction information and how to put your location and growing zone into your profile.  In the meantime here is a USDA zone look-up by zip code.  http://www.garden.org/zipzone/index.php   This one does not reflect global warming. 

Experienced users - will you please post or re-post your key set-up advice for new users, including: moistening the potting mix, fertilizer in pantyhose, avoiding "critter" challenges (especially with organic fertilizer), bush vs vining tomatoes (or cucumbers) in a first-year earthbox, etc. 

Donald, will you post a short note describing the Automatic Watering System (AWS) and why you like it?  Retailers do not carry it (at least not in my area) and most of us have never seen it in action.

Thanks, all.
Dorian

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Re: New to Earthbox? Start Here
« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2017, 10:11:19 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Guest, cushman350. This was originally posted on March 19, 2009.

This visual puts AWS in perspective.

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Re: New to Earthbox? Start Here
« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2017, 10:14:58 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Hero Member, mjb8743. This user is located in Zone 7, South NJ, Garden State. This was originally posted on March 19, 2009.

Hi, and welcome!

This is a fairly standard request of new members... it makes it easier for folks in your neck of the woods to help and offer localized advice:

Please put your location and zone, if known, in your profile. That way, it will show up in all your future posts... it helps when diagnosing problems, answering questions and we wont have to keep asking you where you are. Click on PROFILE at top of this page, then under MODIFY PROFILE, click on FORUM PROFILE INFORMATION then enter your text in PERSONAL TEXT.

A good source for zones, updated for global warming:
http://arborday.org/treeinfo/zonelookup.cfm

The EarthBox is really a simple yet effective system when allowed to Do its thing.  From experience, please read and reread ALL of the information shipped with the Earthbox until you understand what you are supposed to do. Do not carry over ANY of your previous gardening experience/practices during the first year of EarthBox usage. Just do what the instructions state.

My advice is to get on the internet and do a little reading as to the requirements and growing habits for the plants you want to grow. Then visit a nursery/garden center and buy seedlings all ready for transplanting. Keep things simple the first time. Go to the Earthbox instructions and follow them to the letter. Read the FAQs and Tips and Tricks in this forum also. Use the search tool for posts about any issues that concern you (click on the magnifying glass for the broadest search).

Potting MIX or potting SOIL?? The point is, depending on where you live, you'll be looking at bags of potting media with different names or references. The most important thing is the ingredients it contains, not what its called. Potting mix without fertilizer is becoming harder and harder to find. Potting mixes with 3-months fertilizer are ok to use, just ignore it... just add the normal amount of fertilizer as in the EB instructions. The only fertilizer your plants need is the strip. Don't go adding anything else, such as liquid fertilizers.

Read the label carefully, and look for a mix containing large amounts of organic matter such as peat moss, bark fines, or coir (coconut fiber), along with either vermiculite or perlite. Avoid any medium that contains soil, sand, rock or clay, or any products described as "partially composted," or a "byproduct."

In general, any growing medium that's labeled for container gardens, hanging baskets or seed starting is well suited for EarthBox gardening. You'll find that an appropriate EarthBox growing medium has a much lighter weight than soil.

Many garden centers and chain stores will have their own mixes, and in some cases their own brands (i.e. Lowes Professional Potting Mix). Below are some national and regional brands of potting mixes that are okay to use. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a general guide.

    * Miracle-gro Potting Soil
    * Miracle gro Moisture Control Potting Mix
    * Miracle-gro Organic Mix
    * Pro-mix BX
    * Pro-mix numerous other formulas
    * Jungle-Growth
    * Fertilome
    * ASB Potting Mix
    * Eko Potting Mix
    * Sun-Grow Metro Mix 360
    * Sun-Grow, numerous other formulas
    * Baccto Professional Potting Mix
    * Baccto Lite Premium Potting Soil
    * EB Stone Ednas Potting Soil (west coast)
    * EB Stone Flower & Vegetable Planting mix
    * Kelloggs Gardener & Bloom Blue Ribbon Blend Potting Soil (west coast)
    * Kelloggs Champions Blend Potting Soil (west coast)

Note: the quantity needed for each EarthBox is about 2 cubic feet, or 60 dry quarts, maybe a little more with proper mounding.
Its very important to mound up the mix over the box so it resembles a loaf of bread. The cover should stretch tightly over the mound. It will settle with time, but should still enable water to run off with no puddling.

the EB instructions say to wet the potting mix in the box but that some have found it easier and neater to moisten it separately in another container and then put it into the earthbox. I find it easier to pack the wicking corners BEFORE FILLING the reservoir.

How damp/wet is the mix supposed to be under the cap? Wet to touch? Damp?

A box that has been wicking properly should have a dark brown color - somewhere between dry coffee grounds on the dark side to damp/wet earth/ground on the light side.  And when you grab a handful, it definitely feels damp like a wrung wash cloth uniformly across the whole surface.  Drier or a lighter color and not a uniform color (aside from the surface fungus/salts/etc.) are signs of faulty wicking.


Custom Potting Mix
Somewhere about 80% Peat, 10% Vermiculite, 5% Perlite, 5% Activated/Acid Washed Coconut Carbon is the ideal.  In general the Vermiculite:Perlite should be 2:1

Actually, There is a wide variation in the proportions of these ingredients between commercial producers and growers that make their own.  It has a lot to do with personal preferences.  They all work fine.  A workable formula without the hard to find carbon can range between 70% Peat, 20% Vermiculite, 10% Perlite to 85% Peat, 10% Vermiculite and 5% Perlite.

The mix I would recommend is:
     70% Peat
     20% Vermiculite (optional, can be omitted)
     10% Perlite
     2 Cups Dolomite (agricultural limestone w/ magnesium) for all tomatoes and vegetables.
     2 Cups Granulated Fertilizer (on top, in a strip)

Dolomite is actually dolomitic lime, also called GARDEN or AGRICULTURAL lime. As long as its finely pulverized (not pelleted) and the label ingredient list says CALCIUM and MAGNESIUM, its ok. It will come in large bags, very inexpensive (dirt cheap), and is available in just about any nursery or farm supply. In smaller quantities there is Garden Lime by Espoma, pelleted, but supposedly is ok as is. Other than ESpoma, if pelleted is all that's available, then you must grind it yourself. A sacrificial coffee grinder or blender works well. Pelleted lime just dissolves too slowly to be of much benefit. Powdered will be more readily available to your plants. Hydrated lime is quick acting, but does not contain magnesium. Its also caustic and must be handled with care. Avoid using it except as described for treating Blossom End Rot.

If you are using an organic fertilizer that has animal by-products, such as that supplied by Earthbox, you need to cover it with 2-4" of potting mix to prevent critters and flies getting to it. If you want to use a regular fertilizer, look for something around 5-10-10. Earthbox supplies 7-7-7 with their standard kits. Avoid anything that you dilute with water... it must be granular. 10-10-10 is kind of heavy on the nitrogen, which is fine for leafy type crops (spinach, lettuce, kale etc). For fruiting veggies I prefer a lower first number (nitrogen), thus my recommendation of 5-10-10. All these should be stocked by most nurseries and farm suppliers.

The shower cap cover:  Black or white side up??  Black absorbs heat, so is best when planting in extreme northern regions, in early spring or in the fall. Conversely, white reflects heat, so is best in hot climates or during summer when it can get hot. The goal is to reflect heat away from the box and not cook your plants. Additionally, aluminum foil wrapped around the box helps in extreme heat.

The roots don't suck up water from the reservoir"... the science of the EB is that the mix sucks up the water, draws the fertilizer down, feeding the roots and the cover keeps it from evaporating, so there is always a supply available for whatever size plant you have. Seeds and seedlings only need a little moistening when you plant them. Don't be tempted to leave the cover off or do your watering from the top.

This is the EB link to what you can plant.
http://www.earthbox.com/consumer/grow.html

To mix plants, cut the quantities in half. Example....
Instead of the (2) tomatoes or (6) peppers, putting them together you would have (1) tomato and (3) peppers. Experiment with what sounds right to you, but stick close to the guide in the beginning. Consider also the growth habits of the plants your mixing. Cukes are a vine and may well choke out peppers unless trained away from them. Ideally, you want to mix plants with similar habits and requirements. For that, search the web and read up on your plants. It will save you grief later on.

All melons are heavy feeders, and EB folks recommend 4 plants, and this is their revised listing. Don't let the size of the fruit deceive you.... its the plant that counts, and they're all similar (squash/melons/cukes).

Go to this link to see a planting calendar for Florida. This guide is for all areas of Florida, south, central, and north.
http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/VH/VH02100.pdf

Nearly all your questions can be answered by contacting your county extension agency... that's what its there for. See this link for help in locating it:
http://forum.earthbox.com/index.php?board=3.0

If you are in an area that gets hot and humid: That invites a host of fungus-type diseases. Just read the posts from other folks in a similar climate... You must take some measures to protect or rescue your plants. There are many products that are organic and can be used right up to harvest with no ill effects.

Gardens Alive has several suitable products such as Soap Shield fungicide and Pyola insecticide to name a couple. For worms or leaf-eating caterpillars, use a product containing BT (Bacillus thuringiensis). Its totally harmless to anything except worms/caterpillars. Products containing Spinosad also work.

http://www.gardensalive.com/

Id suggest keeping all of those on hand, no matter where you live.

What if something goes wrong??
Since this is your first time using EBs, you need to tell us exactly what went into your box: what products you used, how they were placed, and how you set it up, step-by-step. Its important, because many ills of first-time EBers stem from something they did or didn't do at setup. You would be surprised how many folks go astray from the very beginning. The EB is a unique creation that requires very exact assembly in order to function properly. Once we get past that part, we can start analyzing what else could be wrong with your box or plants. Remember, if you're unsure about anything, don't guess or listen to wrong advice from well-meaning people. Come here, and ask your questions. There are lots of folks eager to help. Its so much easier to ask BEFORE you make a bad mistake, than to live with poor results or have to redo from the start.

This is my "McGyver" gardening toolbox:

* UV-stable plastic wire ties (automotive dept)
* Bamboo skewers
* Velcro plant tie material (comes on a roll 1/2"x 45 or 75 ft long)
* 1 gallon pump sprayer
* NYLON twine Large roll
* Long claw-type pick-up tool (great for grabbing roots n stuff in the watering tube)
* siphon (inexpensive tube & bulb type from automotive dept.)
* Scissors
* Pruning clippers
* Exterior duct tape, by 3M 2"wide, found in heating dept Home Depot
* Mineral oil
* Eye dropper
* Q-Tips
* Hydrated Lime small bag
* Fungicide (spray squash/cukes/melons weekly as preventative)
* Pesticide
* Worm/Caterpillar spray or powder (BT)
* Hand truck/dolly (If you have a lot of boxes to move around, its worthwhile to invest the $40-$60.)
* Yellow sticky traps (captures whiteflies, aphids, leaf miners, etc)
* Mosquito Dunks and/or Mosquito Kill Bits

Happy gardening,
Mickie

Edit:  added items to McGyver list

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Re: New to Earthbox? Start Here
« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2017, 10:17:27 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Hero Member, Donald1800. This user is located in Fontana, CA Zone 8. This was originally posted on March 20, 2009.

Its a shame that EarthBox does not have a site page dedicated to the AWS promoting its design, advantages and setup.  As far as I'm concerned, it is a REAL 50% of the EarthBoxs functionality, and should be promoted as such.  Shame on you, Marketing.

As a retired electronics engineer and long time organic gardener, I have spent many years and dollars trying to develop an electronic or mechanical true demand water delivery system that was consistent/dependable with water delivery/soil moisture level with high reliability, and cost effective.  All resulted in at least one of the key requirements not being met.

Even with the EBs functional advantages, I held off ordering any until the current AWS design was released.  Only after receiving a small quantity for test and evaluation did I order my first batch of 10 EBs, and I have never regretted the total cost of my 34 EB garden.  I still think that it is the most cost effective combined system with the least work and highest productivity on the market today, and will most likely be handed down to my grand kids when I'm gone.  I consider the AWS valve design an elegant design/solution for a demand water delivery system.

Here are the unmistakable advantages of combining the AWS with your EBs from day one:

1.  The highest reliability.  Only one moving part combined with a consistent reservoir water level sensor.

2.   No plant stress from inconsistent mix moisture - a true Demand water delivery.  Mix moisture stays constant as the reservoir water level never gets low - the AWS always maintains a full reservoir level regardless of the transpiration rate (wind, heat, humidity, plant size).  User never has to worry about the reservoir water level.  User can take a vacation without needing a garden baby-sitter for daily multiple watering periods.

3.  Minimum user work load - no weeding, no periodic fertilizing, no watering - the only work remaining is pest control, harvesting, food processing, box rejuvenation at season end and replanting/seeding.

4.  Low individual box water flow requirements - empty 2.5 gal. reservoir fills in ~30 mins. -0.085 gal/min.  A large number of EBs will not noticeably reduce household water pressure - i.e. my 34 EB garden will need only ~2.8 gals./min. worst case if all boxes were empty needing to be filled at the same time (this condition never occurs).

Donald1800

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Re: New to Earthbox? Start Here
« Reply #4 on: June 14, 2017, 10:18:19 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Hero Member, alwayslearning. This user is located in SF Bay Area near SJ Zone 8b. This was originally posted on March 22, 2009.

A word about the label on the earthbox grid:
If the label does not come off easily, users suggest heating it with a hair dryer or hot air gun to soften the adhesive.  Other users have used Goo Gone or a similar NON water-soluble solvent.   

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Re: New to Earthbox? Start Here
« Reply #5 on: June 14, 2017, 10:19:43 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Newbie, sgomez. This was originally posted on March 26, 2009.

Hello, I'm new to the earthbox community.  Just bought 5 boxes and would like to know if someone can post what vegetables require staking.  I know tomato's do, but what else?

Tks so much!

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Re: New to Earthbox? Start Here
« Reply #6 on: June 14, 2017, 10:20:36 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Hero Member, alwayslearning. This user is located in SF Bay Area near SJ Zone 8b. This was originally posted on March 27, 2009.

There is so much information in this forum and people may not know how to find find it efficiently. 

Foundational is reading the background, set-up, and plant layout instructions to learn how the Earthbox works.  That way you can interpret what you know from conventional gardening (or what you read in GardenWeb or similar forums) in light of this new ecosystem.  Then read the "sticky" topics at the top of each section - Introductions, Q&A, Tips.   

Consider doing a search; for example "staking" or "trellis".  Here is a post by Linda in December 2008, edited for clarity:

Mickie stepped in and helped me search what I was looking for.  When you are in a topic and you type in the "search" box , you are only researching that topic.  If you will look to the left of the search box, you will see the magnifying glass.  Double click this symbol and it allows you more flexibility to type in search criteria.  For example, I chose to search for Strawberries   Florida and then specify other options -- try it and I think you will get more of what you are looking for when researching.

If you decide to post a question in an existing topic or start a new topic, please do make sure your location and growing zone are in your profile: 
That way, it will show up in all your future posts... it helps when diagnosing problems, answering questions and we wont have to keep asking you where you are. Click on PROFILE at top of this page, then under MODIFY PROFILE, click on FORUM PROFILE INFORMATION then enter your text in PERSONAL TEXT.

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Re: New to Earthbox? Start Here
« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2017, 10:22:32 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Hero Member, alwayslearning. This user is located in SF Bay Area near SJ Zone 8b. This was originally posted on March 27, 2009.

JD posted this on March 11th.

Some of the most frequent questions we get at EarthBox have to do with growing media. There have been many conversations on the Forum about potting mix vs. potting soil, and we thought wed take this opportunity to specify the growing medium required for best results.
 
We've found that the best potting media can have different names, depending on the geographic region of the country. We call it potting mix, which is the term most often used in the Northeast. In the West its often known as potting soil, even though it doesn't contain any soil at all. Potting mix in the western half of the country is a product that you mix into the soil when planting trees or landscape plants, which makes it unsuitable for EarthBox gardening.
 
The point is, depending on where you live, you'll be looking at bags of potting media with different names or references. The most important thing is the ingredients it contains, not what its called.

Read the label carefully, and look for a mix containing large amounts of organic matter such as peat moss, bark fines, or coir (coconut fiber), along with either vermiculite or perlite. Avoid any medium that contains soil, rock or clay, or any products described as "partially composted," or a "byproduct."
 
After extensive testing, we recently determined that a growing medium that boasts "moisture control" or "water grabbing crystals" is okay to use. Try to avoid a potting mix that contains fertilizer for a full years feeding; but fertilizers rated for a season or a three-month time release are acceptable, especially if they're water-soluble. We found the amount of fertilizer to be minimal.

In general, any growing medium that's labeled for container gardens, hanging baskets or seed starting is well suited for EarthBox gardening. You'll find that an appropriate EarthBox growing medium has a much lighter weight than soil.
 
Many garden centers and chain stores will have their own mixes, and in some cases their own brands (i.e. Lowes Professional Potting Mix). Below are some national and regional brands of potting mixes that are okay to use. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a general guide. 

    * Miracle-gro Potting Soil
    * Miracle gro Moisture Control Potting Mix
    * Miracle-gro Organic Mix
    * Pro-mix BX
    * Pro-mix numerous other formulas
    * Jungle-Growth
    * Fertilome
    * ASB Potting Mix
    * Eko Potting Mix
    * Sun-Grow Metro Mix 360
    * Sun-Grow, numerous other formulas
    * Baccto Professional Potting Mix
    * Baccto Lite Premium Potting Soil
    * EB Stone Ednas Potting Soil (west coast)
    * EB Stone Flower & Vegetable Planting mix
    * Kelloggs Gardener & Bloom Blue Ribbon Blend Potting Soil (west coast)
    * Kelloggs Champions Blend Potting Soil (west coast)

Note: the quantity needed for each EarthBox is about 2 cubic feet, or 60 dry quarts.

We hope you've found this information helpful!

Frank DiPaolo
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Re: New to Earthbox? Start Here
« Reply #8 on: June 14, 2017, 10:33:09 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Guest, cushman350. This was originally posted on March 27, 2009.

To those who are new to the Earthbox, please, for the first season, do not add to the basic instructions. This seems to be a common problem with those new to the EB world would even with the best intentions. You read the posts and do your homework but somewhere the biggest majority get over inspired with the success stories and caught up with Newbie Earthbox Fever. This infection can be treated but not cured. Once a user, always a user. "Hello my name is Cushman and I'm an EarthBox addict.
The treatment is to resist the overwhelming urge to do something extra for an least one season. An example: There are techniques to properly fill your EarthBox as in the packing of wicking chambers but also the rest of the box. If proper wicking is not happening, you will be asking, "What happened?"

Ww here can give our opinions when there is a baseline to start from. When you are new and change up the basics, we can't really give god help when you ask "what happened". The less variables in a problem the easier to solve the unknowns or something like that.

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Re: New to Earthbox? Start Here
« Reply #9 on: June 14, 2017, 10:36:11 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Newbie, vintage60. This was originally posted on March 28, 2009.

Has anyone ever mixed different types of peppers in a single box. I just purchased my first earth boxes and want to combine sweet and hot peppers in the same box. Will this work. I live in Placer County in Ca;California

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Re: New to Earthbox? Start Here
« Reply #10 on: June 14, 2017, 10:37:47 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Hero Member, alwayslearning. This user is located in SF Bay Area near SJ Zone 8b. This was originally posted on March 28, 2009.

Look through the sticky topic "Mixing Plants" near the topic of the Q&A section; I encourage you also to browse that section to find posts on that subject, or use the search function.  You'll find lots of discussion about mixing various plants and suggested layouts if you choose to, plus comments by those who don't encourage it - especially your first growing season.  If you don't find what you specifically want to know, feel free to start a topic. 

Also, farther down this particular thread tells how to put your location and growing zone into your profile header so it shows whenever you post - then people can respond taking into account your growing conditions.   
Dorian

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Re: New to Earthbox? Start Here
« Reply #11 on: June 14, 2017, 10:40:01 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Hero Member, Deb. This user is located in The Pacific NorthWET - Sunset - W. Climate Zone 6. This was originally posted on March 30, 2009.

I grew both hot & sweet peppers in the same box.  I don't think that is what is meant by mixing plants, since they are all peppers.

Do read the Mixing Plants posts for other ideas and suggestions.

Deb

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Re: New to Earthbox? Start Here
« Reply #12 on: June 14, 2017, 10:41:52 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Hero Member, JB. This user is located in Springfield, VA. This was originally posted on April 6, 2009.

Hi--

One tip I read last year (Blake/Mickie) that I'm going to try this year was putting the fertilizer in an old nylon stocking/pantyhose.  That way its easy to move if you need to make an adjustment, and it supposedly makes removal for replanting much easier.  (I had to guess this past time).

I love Mickies McGyver list.  Last summer, my first, I was always in a reactive mode.  I'm in one of those humid areas, and now have my fungus protection products ready to go.  I might add to that list the yellow sticky paper for flies.  My beans seemed to attract a lot of those once they got going.  Also the mosquito dunks.  Ours were vicious around the EBs!!!!!

Oh, and one more thing.  Staking systems!  Again, behind the ball at first, so I bought 5 foot bamboo stakes thinking they would be fine for my tomatoes. Not so!  They outgrew the stakes before I could blink, and putting a cage/support system in place after the fact is much harder.  Get a nice tall system and put it in place right at the beginning so the stems/stalks grow nice and tall and straight.  My cherry tomatoes were over 10 feet!

JB

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Re: New to Earthbox? Start Here
« Reply #13 on: June 14, 2017, 10:43:25 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Hero Member, mjb8743. This user is located in Zone 7, South NJ, Garden State. This was originally posted on April 6, 2009.

Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Hero Member, JB. This user is located in Springfield, VA. This was originally posted on April 6, 2009.

I might add to that list the yellow sticky paper for flies.  My beans seemed to attract a lot of those once they got going.  Also the mosquito dunks.  Ours were vicious around the EBs!!!!!

Thanks! I forgot to mention those (I have both). I will add them to my list in the master post.

Mickie

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Re: New to Earthbox? Start Here
« Reply #14 on: June 14, 2017, 10:44:30 am »
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted by Hero Member, JB. This user is located in Springfield, VA. This was originally posted on April 6, 2009.

Ha, yes! You were the one who put me on to the yellow paper to begin with!!!