Self watering containers super charge my garden. Which works better, however, store bought or DIY?
Self watering containers are great. They help plants grow in so many ways I'm sure I'll miss a few: SWCs are forgiving about remembering to add water, they help heat and hold the soil a few degrees warmer than ambient, they reduce the risk of weeds and make pest management easier and they reduce the need to feed or fertilize your plants.
Basically, a self watering container is just a pot on top of a large water reservoir with a wick in-between them. The most respected/loved commercial variant is as an EarthBox. I use several of them. They are GREAT. The plastic is all molded to fit the box exactly, it does exactly what it is designed for. EarthBox is made out of UV resistant, food-safe plastic and I can not compliment it enough. EarthBoxes cost, around $40-60 depending on the kit it comes with. I've linked to their complete, organic, starter kit.
A popular alternative to spending $40 on a base kit is to build your own with a Rubbermaid Roughneck tote. Making my own cost around $20. People on internet forums, however, complain that Roughneck made SWCs don't work as well as Earthboxes! This totally confuses me, things should grow just as well in either! I've never noticed a difference, but I was curious and so I decided to face them off.
If you want to build your own SWC, there are dozens of DIY instruction guides on the internet for making them. My method is pretty close to this one. I used some empty gatorade bottles, remnant garden irrigation pipe and other left over materials to help keep costs low.
For the experiment, this year, I set up an EarthBox and a Rubbermaid with identical soil (Jason's own 50/50 peat/coir mix) and plant food, E.B. Stone's Organic Sure Start, and plants. I took strawberries from 2 identical 6 packs and mixed them up. I also added 2 wild alpine strawberry plants my daughter and I came across hiking, I abducted two runners.
The two planters are right next to each other, the innards are as identical as I can manage, and my Great Pyrenees has posted himself up to guard all the plants. We'll see how it goes!