Frugal Gardner: The eBucket Is a Winner!

Lianne Meilhac

When the idea of the 5 gallon eBucket began to be developed July 2009, Lianne was one of those who quietly began using the design, on faith–it was new, a lot of people felt it would not  work.    When she posted about her success last fall I was thrilled; when I learned she  had talked her husband into helping build several more this spring I could hardly wait to hear the results.  I asked her to share her impressions after using it; this article is the result of my request.



In early 2009, I decided to grow some tomatoes; I was tired of spending a fortune for store-bought tomatoes that tasted like nothing. 

I had no idea I would become obsessed with this new hobby; I think that a lot of “hobby” tomato gardeners would say the same thing!

Because I became obsessed, I got somewhat stressed  when my four plants developed issues over the course of the growing season.  All of them caught some sort of unknown foliage disease; I was never able to determine exactly what it was; I was worried  they would all succumb to it before I could harvest any edible fruit.

I decided to root some cuttings from three of my plants to see if I could manage to salvage the season and make all the work worthwhile.

Fortunately,about the time I was ready to start planting the rooted cuttings, some posts started appearing on the  one of my favorite websites about a new design for self-watering containers.

I was familiar with the commercial SWCs like Earthbox and Tomato Success Kit– they work wonderfully but are costly– at  least $30 or so apiece.

I was  also familiar with a homemade design called an EarthTainer, but for me (and apparently some other people) the cutting and assembling of all of the components seemed a bit daunting.

Some of the “regulars” were speculating as to what materials could be used, someone spoke up, asking about the possibility of using a plastic colander to  create the water reservoir in the bottom of the container.  In response, another poster nicknamed “Gessieviolet ” spoke up to say he would see if he could make it work.

I was looking forward to hearing how his efforts worked out, because if the colander worked it would eliminate  having to fabricate a wicking-chamber, which is usually packed with potting mix and sits in the water, wicking it up into the rest of the mix;   giving the plant a regular, consistent supply of water.

In the proposed design, the colander would sit at the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket with the mix packed tightly around it.  A length of PVC pipe would be placed down through the colander before adding the mix so that the gardener could fill the reservoir from above.

A drinking straw or some plastic tubing would also be placed through a hole drilled in the side of the bucket and into the top of the reservoir area, acting as an overflow conduit and keeping the mix from becoming too saturated and overwatering the plant.

When I learned others had achieved success with his first efforts at this newly designed “EarthBucket” (which would later be shortened to eBucket or EB), I drafted my husband to help me assemble some of them to use for my newly rooted cuttings.

Cuttings in eBucket in 2 months outproduced parent plant growing 5 months

The eBucket went together fairly quickly ; I planted the cuttings into them fairly late in the season;  if I got any fruit  before first frost, I’d be happy.

I was thrilled when those cuttings just “took off” and started setting fruit as soon as they bloomed!

Each of these plants  yielded more tomatoes than each of the parent plants even though they grew  for about two months.  The parents grew and bore for about five months.

None of the fruit from the eBuckets showed  signs of blossom end rot,  a problem with the parent plants.  BER results from several factors, a major one being inconsistent watering.

The fact that none of the plants in the eBuckets showed this was proof to me that the EBs were working exactly as I had hoped they would, providing the plants a consistent and adequate supply of water.

My husband has helped me make several more eBuckets for this season and the plants have done well .

I have learned, however, that they seem to be better long-term for determinate plants, rather than indeterminate

Part of this years crop in eBuckets

ones– the determinate only grow to a certain height (maybe 2 or 3 feet in most cases)

More of this spring's tomatoes in eBuckets

then stop.  The indeterminate ones get much,  much taller over the course of a season;

developing a large root system; I feel  the eBucket  does not have  enough room for those roots.

The eBucket can  be used for other veggies– cucumbers would be good, as would beans, maybe even corn.

Others are  trying other veggies with apparent success,  I eagerly await their  input  so I’ll know what veggies to plant in the eBuckets next year!



8 responses to this post.

  1. For me it’s about making things cheaper and easier,I still use the 5gal bucket with fill pipe but it
    s only because I happen to have the pipe I need, I’m just amazed that I’m actually getting ears of corn when I planted so off season. This year is a learning experience for me and I hope by the fall I will be ready to do some serious container gardening.Can hardly wait to pull some of the buckets apart and see how much soil got in particular buckets, how the different reservoirs held up etc.


    • Jim, I would very much like to have a blog from you on your work with the eBucket. Your variation with the jug rather than the colander is especially interesting.

      What about it?


  2. Frugal Gardner: The eBucket Is a Winner!…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…


  3. Lane, I’ve not been feeling up to par as of late, nothing to be concerned about,”this too shall pass”. I wouldn’t know how to go about doing a blog, but you are more then welcome to cut and past or whatever you need to do to show my jug bucket, as far as I’m concerned it’s all about sharing. Oh, by the way, I’ve now got four heirlooms tomato plants in they’re own buckets and they are doing well. My green bell peppers are fantastic! but the plant it’s self is just so Hugh, also, I’m getting three ears of corn on each stalk, I think the corn is called early solar hybrid. One pack of seeds lasted all summer, each month I plant five more in one E-bucket.


    • Wow! What a testament to what can be done in a little space! 3 ears of corn per plant. People said trying corn was a waste of time. What did they know, huh. Good gardening and good health to you, my friend.


  4. Posted by Jim Annerton on April 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Mr. Cockrell,

    I have a redesign on the eBucket and I would like to see if anyone likes the idea. I have not yet tried it but I have one built and plant to build one more. It does not require the PVC fill pipe or the plastic drain tube. And it does not require holes to be cut in the colander or the side of the bucket. It uses a larger water reservior which should mean less filling sessions, and the water level is also readily visible so you can tell when to fill.

    If you would be interested let me know how I can email you the plan. I tried to email GessieViolet on Dave’s Garden but I am not sure my post made it.




  5. I’d be very interested in seeing Jim’s redesign, are you going to publish it here?


  6. […] I stumbled upon this blog. Well it was linked thru on a few other sites, but it certainly was […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: