Aquaponics vs EarthBox, which is better?

If you are like me and are always looking for the easiest and fastest way to grow vegetables, you are probably familiar with aquaponics and self watering container gardening. There are many other ways to grow plants but these two constantly pop up as some of the easiest and most productive systems with the least amount of work. For new gardeners, it can be frustrating trying to get the first harvest due to poor soil conditions, weeds, pests, and poor watering practices. These two help solve a majority of those problems. Or do they?

Just to be clear, I use EarthBoxes but do not receive compensation from the manufacturer in any manner. A few years ago, I was on the fence about trying an EarthBox or GrowBox (their main competitor), while looking around at a local nursery I saw they had EarthBoxes in stock so I picked one up. I was leaning towards the EarthBox due to the watering tube difference but this just made the decision easier since it was right in front of me. I was talking with an old timer who worked at the nursery and he said he had been gardening for 40 years and switched to EarthBoxes 5 years prior and that’s all he uses now.

Since my last few posts went over the aquaponics system setup I thought I’d run through an EarthBox setup in this post. Next week will be the third week they have been planted and I’ll show results to date, and again at the six week and three month point.

For this competition I’ll use three brand new EarthBoxes, three different types of plants, and two of each type of plant in each system (EarthBox, aquaponics media bed, aquaponics raft) for a total of 18 plants. Here’s the EarthBoxes ready to be set up:

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First step is to put the aeration screen and watering tube in place. The water reservoir is right below this aeration screen.

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Next, pack the corners with moist potting mix. This is where the water will be drawn up or wicked up from. Potting mix is used instead of soil, it is sterile and does not contain any fungi or weed seeds to cause problems.

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Add more potting mix to just a few inches below the top edge. I put the bag in the picture so you can see the brand used for this competition. In a future competition I’ll try comparing a few different brands but I’ve had good success with this one.

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Add dolomite (lime). This helps counter the acidic nature of the potting mix.

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Mix in thoroughly then add more potting mix. When complete the box uses two cubic feet of mix. Next will be a strip of fertilizer, how that is laid out depends on how many plants will be in the box and what orientation they are. For my purposes it’s just 2 plants so I’ll put it down the middle.

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Add fertilizer, in my case I used 6-6-6.

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And top off with potting mix to form a mound.

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Next, place a cover over the box. They come with two elastic covers, once those are used up I just use black plastic sheeting. The cover keeps weeds away and moisture in.

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Here’s the three boxes covered and ready to go. It may seem like a lot of steps at first but once you do it a few times it is actually pretty fast and easy. Also, for replanting you don’t have to go through all these steps, just add dolomite, add fertilizer, top off with potting mix to replace any lost, then cover again.

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In trying to keep the competition fair I wanted to have all plants to have the same sun exposure. The backside of the aquaponics system faces south so I put the EarthBoxes on this side and low enough that they wouldn’t shade the aquaponics system.

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When putting plants in the EarthBoxes you cut a hole in the top covers, I use an empty soup can mounted on a bolt (I’ll post a picture next time). I heat the can up with a propane torch then burn a hole in the plastic. This makes a nice round hole that is less likely to rip.

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Here’s the EarthBoxes planted:

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Aquaponics media beds planted. There is also some other plants already there, I left them as a way to monitor the system (they are growing and healthy).

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Aquaponics raft bed planted:

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The plants selected were Swiss Chard (started by seed), Chinese Cabbage, and Lacinato Kale (both bought). All of these were selected since they are leafy greens and should do well in the aquaponics system, both the media beds and raft bed. All seedlings were about the same size and healthy.

The EarthBoxes are set up with automatic watering, I do this with all of them that I have set up and it is simply a drip water system on a timer that tops off the reservoir every morning. There’s no worry about over watering as any excess just overflows out. The aquaponics system has an automatic fish feeder set up to feed the tilapia twice daily. I also tested the aquaponics water to be sure all levels are good (pH, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates). I add nutrients to the aquaponics system on a regular basis to ensure the plants are getting required minerals.

That’s it for now, next week I’ll post the first round of results and my thoughts on the two types of systems. Until then, happy planting!

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