Addressing World Hunger...One EarthTainer at a Time
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Is It Time For Water-Saving “Hybrid” Gardening?

..if it can be applied in cars, why not to grow vegetables.

Not too many years ago there was abundant space and unlimited water available for gardening.  Today, with our postage-stamp size yards and increasingly scarce, rationed water resources, a new paradigm for water management by the home gardener has come to the forefront.

Traditional in-ground planting with “broadcast” watering is highly inefficient, along with creating an unintended weed bed to cope with.  Result: higher water bills coupled with back-breaking labor in pulling weeds and constant cultivation.  Then consider a Hybrid alternative.  The demand for multi-use energy sources such as solar and wind, plus the huge growth of dual fuel automobiles has sparked innovation in combining the best of hybrid technologies.  The same opportunity for improved efficiency and plant yield exists in new growing environments for the home garden. 

Enter Ray Newstead, a home gardener of heirloom tomatoes in Campbell, California.  Newstead, a long time Silicon Valley resident and Executive with semiconductor company SMSC, has focused his spare time efforts in designing a “Green” self-contained vegetable growing eco-system dubbed the “EarthTainerTM”.  This container-based system combines the traditional soil-based growing cycle with elements of hydroponic moisture delivery to the plants for sustainable, organic gardening.

Unlike manual or drip irrigation top watering, the EarthTainer employs a bottom up, automated watering approach based on the principle of capillary action.  Water stored in the lower reservoir is wicked up into the soil much like the wick in a candle draws the liquefied wax upward to the flame. Moisture meets the roots of the plant where the plant “drinks” just as much water as it needs.  This water consumption will vary significantly throughout the growing season as the plant produces fruit, and by providing a constant supply of water from the reservoir, the plant can achieve optimal growth and productivity. 

Newstead estimates that EarthTainer-grown tomato plants consume 75% less water than is used in conventional in-ground planting, as the “closed-loop” EarthTainer design concentrates 100% of the available water exclusively to the plant, not leaking any to encourage weed growth, nor wasted runoff.  Additionally, the moisture barrier top cover reduces a significant moisture loss due to evaporation experienced with traditional in-ground gardening.  With the June 4, 2008 Declaration of a statewide drought by the Governor of California, water conservation and efficient use of available water is crucial as uncertainty of future supply grows in magnitude.

EarthTainer gardening can make use of marginal growing space where concrete patios or deck areas may be the only sunny locations available to apartment or condo owners. The portable nature of the EarthTainer allows it to be moved or rotated during the growing season to balance plant growth, which is not possible with in-ground gardening.  The container walls make it difficult for ground rodents to “stop in for a snack” and the isolation of the growing compartment inhibits soil-borne insect and disease transmission.

Newstead has found that the soil in the EarthTainer warms up to suitable planting temperature in Springtime one month earlier than his in-ground soil bed,  permitting him to plant out in early April.  This year his harvest of ripe tomatoes began on May 25. 

“If there were an Energy-Star rating for garden devices, this design would top the charts”, said Gary Ibsen, Founder of the Carmel TomatoFest.  “The water saving advantage alone is extremely compelling.  With the EarthTainer system, urban gardeners have a new alternative in growing their own, quality vegetables.”

While you can’t buy an EarthTainer at Home Depot or Lowes, Newstead is teaming up with Ibsen’s TomatoFest organization (  to create a self-construction video and .pdf building guide to download for those with basic tools skills to make their own.  These instructions are provided as “Freeware”.  As Newstead puts it, “With the global food crisis escalating, I believe that spreading knowledge worldwide of how to build EarthTainer growing systems could help feed hungry people in impoverished areas around the world.  Not just heirloom tomatoes, but corn, soybeans, and other high-nutrient crops can be grown.”

All he requests if you do use his design plans to build your own EarthTainer, is to make a voluntary contribution to the Feeding America Organization(  Cost of purchasing components at Lowes or Home Depot to assemble the base unit runs approximately $25.00 and $20.00 for the optional self-supporting tomato cage system, when building multiple units at a time.


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