Combating desertification and food insecurity with container gardening (N. ROTH / Willem)

Today, I received an interesting comment of Nancy ROTH on my former posting :

Great ideas for container gardening (Willem) August 14, 2007

I’m having a hard time imagining how this containerized approach, nifty as is appears, could be helpful at the scale needed to reverse desertification or to feed a major population. Isn’t it rather labor-intensive to create a separate container for each plant? Don’t the seedlings rather rapidly outgrow their containers? Then where do you plant them in the desert, which cannot sustain them?

Combating desertification and food insecurity with container gardening

Let us try to link different aspects of container gardening, desertification, desert gardening, food production, education and ecology.

Knowing that millions of plastic bottles and plastic shopping bags are littered every year all over the world, in particular in the desertified areas, it seems indicated to find incentives to get the local people aware these pollution problems.  Learning people, especially children, how these bottles and bags can be used to produce vegetables and young tree, seems to be a valuable (and acceptable) way to motivate the population to take care of the environment.  Less littering means less pollution, a form of desertification.

Motivating children to grow vegetables and young fruit trees in self-watering containers at school contributes directly to solve two major problems : pollution of the environment (less plastic flying around) and malnutrition (daily fresh food at school).  Moreover, the young fruits trees can be taken home at the end of the school year, planted around the house and thus contribute to reforestation (or afforestation) and provision of healthy fruits, not to forget the fact that the plastic bottles or bags should be buried at plantation time.

Considering desert gardening : it is quite difficult to improve the soil qualities in the desert, in particular its water holding and nutrients retaining capacities (too much leaching).  Let us imagine that in  small family garden a series of self-watering containers, e.g. plastic bottles and bags, are buried in the garden soil.  These containers can be filled with “improved soil” (for instance treated with manure).  As more water will be retained in the containers (less infiltration), more biomass can be produced with a smaller quantity of water and less fertilizer (less leaching).  This higher water use efficiency leads to higher food production and less influence of drought on crops (more food security).

Around the gardens, living hedges can also be grown in containers buried in the soil.  There is a significant enhancement in survival rate of the shrubs and trees in the hedges an those plants are growing quicker with less water.

From the educational point of view, container gardening is a fantastic tool for the teachers at school.  Less difficulties for the pupils to keep the school garden in good shape, closer contact with the growing plants in or around the classroom, opportunities to teach the kids a lot of things about differences in plant development from seed to vegetable or tree, are but a few benefits of this container gardening method.

You are most certainly right that it is hard  “imagining how this containerized approach, nifty as is appears, could be helpful at the scale needed to reverse desertification or to feed a major population”.

We are not claiming that container gardening itself can reverse desertification or feed  major population.  However, should every family apply container gardening, should every child at school take care of its own containers, it would create a new attitude, more awareness, less fatalism and neglect, more hope for a better future.

Of course, one needs a lot of support to introduce these ideas.  It will take a lot of time to convince people.  But the fact is quite clear : where container gardening is accepted people eat more fresh food and the environment is gradually cleaner.

It’s a simple as putting our shoes on !

Willem

Containers are thirsty : here is a solution (Vegetable Grower / Willem)

Read at :

The Vegetable Grower

http://www.vegetable-garden-guide.com/The_Vegetable_Grower-the-vegetable-grower-july07.html

Containers are Thirsty

Even though I have a number of raised beds I still like to grow veg in containers. Why? Because there is always some little area somewhere in the garden that I can slip a container or two into and capitalise on the `wasted` space. But this time of year be careful to check on your containers often as they can dry out very, very quickly – those plants are very thirsty in sunny weather.  It may be that you need to water a couple of times a day in hot weather. I had a largish container with four climbing French Beans in last year and boy were they thirsty and watering twice a day was the norm in hot weather – they have masses of fine rots which filled the container in no time. If you see the compost shrinking away from the sides then it is becoming too dry and you may need to soak the container in a bucket (or some such water holding container) for a couple of hours to re-soak the drying compost. If it is too dry it becomes `waterproof` and any water being poured on will mostly run down the gap between the compost and container side. 

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MY COMMENT

Containers drying quickly is one of the common problems for container gardeners. I am happy to tell you that I have excellent results when mixing the potting soil with a soil conditioner like TerraCottem (see http://www.terracottem.com).  It is mixture of some 20 different substances, on the basis of water absorbing polymers.

We all know the problems with dried “organic” potting soil or compost, becoming even waterproof.  Well, I am using all kinds of containers, preferably PET bottles and plastic shopping bags (as grow bags).  I am filling them with a classical “universal” potting soil, containing a lot of organic matter, to which I add 5 g of TerraCottem per liter of soil.  At the start, I am watering to saturation, in order to get the water stocking polymers swollen to  maximum.

There is less evaporation in the bottles and bags.  The rootlets are sticking themselves to the swollen hydrogels and are even penetrating them (all kinds of nutrients are also absorbed by these gels).  The potting soil is shrinking less.  Of course, there is always the transpiration of the plants, so that I have to water from time to time, but certainly not every day, even in the hottest periods.

Let me recommend container gardeners to give it a try.  And even if you don’t have the TerraCottem soil conditioner in your area, set up an experiment with water stocking polymers to be mixed with your potting soil.  Success !

Weed Free Garden Blanket (Google Alert / Enquirer)

Read at :

Google Alert for gardening

The Enquirer

http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070728/LIFE0803/707280316/1035/LIFE

System makes organic gardening a snap

A special container form : the grow tower (Willem)

Years ago, I visited a colleague in Beijing (Prof. Dr. WANG Tao), who showed me a peculiar way of growing garlic plants on vertical “poles”. In fact, the poles were PVC pipes, about 10-12 cm (4-5 inches) in diameter, in which a series of 4-5 cm (1 ½ to 2 inches) holes were drilled. The holes were spaced randomly around the pipe, about 4-5 cm (1 ½ to 2 inches) apart.

An impressive series of pipes were standing as “grow towers” in a greenhouse, so that in a relatively small space a maximum of plants were kept growing from floor to ceiling. Each pipe was filled with potting soil and the pipes were watered with a sort of drip irrigation system. In every hole of each grow tower a garlic bulb was growing splendidly (flowering towers !).

This brought me to the idea that a smaller number of plants could also be grown on PET bottles. It suffices to cut a number of holes in the wall of the bottle, filled with potting soil, to create a small grow tower (see my first experimental designs) :

Vertical grow tower

Bottle with 3 holes at one side. The same number can be cut at the opposite side. (Click on the picture to enlarge it).

Bottle grow tower

Mini grow tower : holes cut in the bottle wall fashioned with scotch tape.

 

I intend to set up some experiments with similar grow towers next week and I will post the results as soon as possible.

 

Today, I was reading an interesting description of other types of grow tower, made in wood. Here is the text that I found in The Tucson Gardener (2004) :

http://www.tucsongardener.com/Year04/strawberryadventures.htm

The Homemade Strawberry Tower
Y
ou would think by now that I’d be out of new strawberry plants but I wasn’t. I still had about 50 young, healthy plants that needed to find a place in the garden or were destined for the compost bin. I happened to read where someone suggested drilling holes in a whiskey barrel filling the barrel with potting soil and the holes with strawberry plants. That’s when I decided I’d build a grow tower from inexpensive wood just to see what would happen.

Using cedar fence boards and lots of screws I made a four foot tall by about 15 – inch square container. Then I drilled a bunch of evenly spaced inch and a half diameter holes.

I then treated the outside of the wood with a water sealer and moved the whole thing to a place in the vegetable garden where I placed it on four concrete stepping stones to keep it from sitting on the ground. I ran a loop of soaker hose down to the bottom of the four foot tower and hooked it up to the watering system.

Then came the hard part – planting the strawberry plants. I filled the container with a good potting mix and some slow release fertilizer putting plants in the holes as I filled the tower. At the top I added a few more plants. Eventually I had to replace three plants that didn’t make it because I may have planted them too deeply covering the crown.

I had plans to make a removable cage that I could slip over the tower with the beginning of fruit production to fend of birds and rodents but production wasn’t so great that I needed to build the cage. I did construct a simple frame to support shade cloth to help the plants make it through the hot summer.

I must admit I like the looks of my tower but it hasn’t been a big strawberry producer. My biggest fear is it may fall apart sooner than I’d like. I’m hoping it will last for three years. The verdict isn’t yet in. Until then the strawberry tower makes and interesting addition to the vegetable garden.(2004)”

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Looking at all these possibilities to construct “grow towers” from pipes, bottles, barrels, wood etc., I am wondering if some of you would come up with more interesting ideas. I am looking forward to your descriptions and preferably with photos.

What a wonderful world, this container gardening, in particular for people living in the drylands, who can grow vegetables and fruits without needing to install gardens in desertlike soils, saving a lot of water and getting fresh food with minimal efforts !

 

Brazilian rhapsody in PET blue (J.C. Guimaraes)

Today, I received a very interesting comment from Brazil.  Thanks to Joao Carlos GUIMARAES we can now set up some experiments with PET bottles to limit irrigation.  Should this system work well, a lot of water can be saved.  Please read his suggestion to keep the rootball of young trees moistened :

Dear Sir

Since 2 months ago, I  have experimented to use 2 liters PET bottles to make irrigation of baby trees. Where we live, in Brazilian Amazonia, it is now summer season, meaning 6 months dry with high temperatures, until next December.         

It is very simple:

* Just perforate a little hole –  2 mm – at bottom of the bottle.

* Excavate a hole in the soil with the diameter of the bottle,  more or less 20 cm deep, near the roots.

* Put bottle in the hole. Cover side with soil.

* Fill bottle with water before putting it in the hole.

* Close well the  bottle cap. (If you keep bottle open or badly closed, water will infiltrate quickly in the soil).

* When soil is dry, it pulls water from the bottle (via capilarity,  or percolation, or vacuum,  I don’t know  very well).

* When soil is humid, the level of water in the bottle stays almost intact.

* Depending on soil and sun, I  completed the water level once to 3 times a week.

It’s interesting to see that some bottles get deformated, crushed,  because of the vacuum force of soil suction.

Now I’m going to set up an experiment with 2 or 4 bottles per tree. Then, I don’t need to wait for the rain season to plant more trees.

As I said before, this is a new experiment. Maybe others could share it and upgrade it.  If you want some photos of it, I will be glad to send them to you.

Best regards

João Carlos Guimaraes
Paragominas
State of Pará
Brasil

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Isn’t this a marvelous idea ?  I know that, when planting trees in urban areas, perforated tubes are put in the plant pit close to the stem to facilitate watering.  But this quite simple technique to use PET bottles was unknown to me.  Should you know more about it from literature,could you please send me a comment ?

I intend to set up some experiments with this “system for water use efficiency” for our UNICEF project in the Sahara desert.

Looking forward for your reactions.

Joseph TOLLEDOT’s successes with container gardening

Here is some good news about Joseph TOLLEDOT’s experiments with container gardening (bottles, buckets, etc.) :

I saw your bottle garden and it’s looks like it’s going well. Mine were doing excellently, but we had very strong winds one night and the terrace looked like a tornado had been through!  I patched up the plants as best as I could and they are now doing well again.  Some I have transplanted into large buckets made into self-watering containers – in my opinion, definitely THE way to grow and use up all the water efficiently!  Nearly every weekend I can pick several tomatoes, peppers and radishes to eat. The lettuce has finished now and it’s far too hot to plant more.  I’ll wait till it starts to get cooler. Loads of different hot peppers (I got the seeds from a free offering from GardenWeb) are now starting to produce pods.  I never realised how beautiful and different they can be!

I’ll let you know when I get some new photos up in my Flickr page.

Thanks, Joseph !  This sounds fantastic and very promising for application of bottle (or bucket) gardening in very dry areas, like for instance our UNICEF project in the refugee camps of Algeria (Sahara desert).  Over there, the Sahrawi people only have a very limited amount of drinking water.  Although everyone accepts the importance of local production of fresh vegetables, it still sounds difficult to convince the authorities to provide some more water to irrigate their family gardens and school gardens.

different species
All kinds of bottles can be used for growing all kinds of plants (vegetables, herbs, trees) with a minimum of water (less infiltration in poor sandy soil, less evaporation in desertlike circumstances). (Click on the picture to enlarge it).

Therefore, I believe that container gardening would offer interesting possibilities to limit irrigation water to the strict minimum.

Could you, Joseph, send me a detailed description of your self-watering buckets, for I think it may contribute to food security for these people in the desert ?  Sincere thanks for your humanitarian contribution.

Kids gardening in a bucket (Google Alert / About: Gardening / Willem)

Already published on my desertification weblog on May 31, 2007

Kids gardening in a bucket (Google Alert / About:)

May 31, 2007

Posted by willem van cotthem in gardening kids, desert/desert gardening, women/youth and desertification, container/bottle gardening, horticulture/gardening, success stories – best practices, water, ecology – environment, desertification, drought. trackback , edit post

Particularly interested in all kinds of information on “Gardening with kids“, I find today this article on the use of a container variant: the bucket.

Together with UNICEF Algeria, I am setting up family gardens and school gardens in the Sahara desert. For youngsters at school it should be fun and interesting to grow vegetables with a minimum of water, because drought is of course a major problem in this dryland area of S.W. Algeria. We want to show them how to grow vegetables in plastic bottles and bags (see my former postings on that topic), otherwise polluting their environment, but we will certainly use also “old” buckets, no matter if “there is a hole in the bucket, dear Lisa“, or should I say: dear Marie Iannotti (see below)?

Read at :

Google Alert for Gardening

About: Gardening

http://gardening.about.com/od/kidsgardeningprojects/ht/GardenBucket.htm

How To Garden in a Bucket – A Portable, Private Garden for Your Child

From Marie Iannotti,
Your Guide to Gardening.
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To make gardening fun and accessible to kids, you need to make it personal. This is a gardening project from my local 4H organization that you can easily do with your own little clover buds. ‘Garden in a Bucket’ lets kids create a personal, private garden that they can carry with them, take care of, show off and enjoy. Even the shortest attention spans can create a masterpiece and then these junior gardeners can enjoy their Garden in a Bucket all summer. Continue reading Kids gardening in a bucket (Google Alert / About: Gardening / Willem)

Container gardening for food production, combating desertification and gardening in urban areas (Willem)

 Already published on my desertification weblog on April 21, 2007

Container gardening for food production, combating desertification and gardening in urban areas

April 21, 2007

Posted by willem van cotthem in hunger / famine, soil conditioning, desert/desert gardening, container/bottle gardening, food / food security, horticulture/gardening, drought, water, desertification, technologies. trackback , edit post

Here are some general ideas on CONTAINER GARDENING, more and more successful for food production in the drylands, for combating desertification and for growing plants in urban areas. Continue reading Container gardening for food production, combating desertification and gardening in urban areas (Willem)