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Originally published Friday, July 30, 2010 at 7:01 PM

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Turn a plastic tote into self-watering container garden

A gardener shares how he created low-cost self-watering containers. Plus, a Web link to step-by-step guide for the project.

Daily Press (Newport News, Va

Years ago, Dennis Wool gardened in commercially made, self-watering containers because his soil was so poor.

When his need for more boxes out priced his pocketbook, he looked around for a cheaper way to get the containers he wanted.

"I headed out to Walmart and found 18-gallon plastic storage containers for less than $5 and I have been using them every since," he says.

He introduced friends and family to his homemade self-watering containers for herbs and vegetables. Eventually the project grew into a Backyard Barrels and Bins program for Dennis and his fellow master gardeners in Williamsburg, Va.

"The boxes are particularly good for folks who subdivisions prohibit backyard vegetable gardens or who have limited space and sunlight," he says.

"One of our master gardeners last year grew gourds in his self-watering container that required 20-foot bamboo poles to support the vine."

Here's how to create one of containers:

Using an 18-gallon plastic tote, place a plastic throwaway tray, the kind you bring plants home in, at the bottom of the tote. Invert the tray to create space for the water reservoir.

Place weed block cloth over the tray to keep potting mix from filling the reservoir.

Drill a hole on the side of the container, about 2.5 inches from the bottom — it creates a weep, or drainage hole.

Place a 2-foot-long piece of 2-inch PVC, or plastic pipe, along the side of the container, and fill the container with good quality potting soil. Bamboo can be used in place of the PVC.

"The PVC pipe allows you to stick the hose right in to water the plant," says Dennis.

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"When you see water shoot out the weep hole, turn off the hose! You are done."

A step-by-step guide can be found at the James City County/Williamsburg master gardeners website at http://jccwmg.org/helpdesk/SWC/how_to_make_a_swc_handout.pdf.

Helpful hint: Once the container is filled with potting soil and water, it becomes quite heavy. If you place the container on top of the lid that comes with the tote, you'll find the container is easier to slide around, whether you place it on the ground, patio, deck or porch.

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