Five blogs on desertification, container gardening and seed collection (Willem)

This message to let you know that I subdivided my website into five blogs :

(1) English : On desertification, drought, poverty, agriculture and horticulture

http://www.desertification.wordpress.com

(2) French : On desertification, drought, poverty, agriculture and horticulture

http://www.secheresse.wordpress.com

(3) English : On container gardening (this blog)

http://www.containergardening.wordpress.com

(4) French : On container gardening

http://www.jardinagecontainer.wordpress.com

(5) Dutch : On collection of seeds for humanitarian projects

http://www.zadenvoorleven.wordpress.com
——————-

Make your choice and click on these links.

Thanks for visiting my blogs,

Willem

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

Young maple trees growing in a plastic bottle (Willem)

I am really happy with the good results of my experiments with growing young trees in plastic bottles.

Here are a couple of images of young maple trees (Acer pseudoplatanus L.), grown for a couple of months in my garden. I want to take it to S.W. Algeria as a present for my friends the foresters of Tindouf, who are building up an arboretum.

Have a look at the nice development of this young tree :

p1010329-crop.jpg Young mapple in abottle

(Click on the photos to enlarge them)

Young maple tree growing with a minimum of water and fertilizer in a plastic bottle, ready to be transfered to the arboretum of Tindouf (S.W. Algeria).

Mahonia seedlings in selfwatering containers (Willem)

The mahogany shrub (Mahonia aquifolium) in my garden has been flowering and fruiting.  Its dark blue berries are normally eaten by the blackbirds, but this year I collected them in time, kept them drying for a couple of weeks and then planted the dry berries in a tray.  Other berries were opened and their little 2-3 kernel were taken out and washed.

Last week some of the berries in the tray germinated (the kernels did not yet).  I have planted some mahogany seedlings in a small coca-cola bottle, transformed into a self-watering container (see my photo below).  I expect that these seedlings will grow well, so that I can take the young trees to S.W. Algeria, where I want to introduce them as thorny shrubs to form a strong living hedge around the small family gardens in the refugee camps.

Mahonia seedlings in selfwatering container
(Click on the photo to enlarge it)

My self-watering containers with the mahogany seedlings :

(1) In front, a leaf of my mahogany shrub.

(2) Two yoghurt pots in which I can easily pour some water (serving as a mini water reservoir or tank).

(3) In each pot, an inverted coca-cola bottle of which I cut the bottom, filled with potting mix and TerraCottem soil conditioner, with a mahogany seedling planted on top.

(4) I left the lid (stop) on the bottles, but perforated the neck, close to the lid, at two opposite sites.

(5) The bottles are sucking up water from the yoghurt pots through the holes in the bottleneck.

(6) Water is stocked in the TerraCottem soil conditioner.

(7) Mahogany roots are growing towards the gel lumps of the swollen polymers.

(8) With a minimum of water and fertilizer the seedlings will be growing into nice young trees.

(9) The bottles will be cut vertically in two halves and buried in the plant hole at the moment of tree plantation (avoiding pollution of the environment with plastic).

Tree seedlings in a plastic bottle (Betula alba)

Since some months, I am experimenting growth of tree seedlings in transparent plastic (PET) bottles.  It’s a real success for a number of reasons:

(1) The potting mix, to which I have added a very small amount of water stocking soil conditioner TerraCottem (5 g per liter of soil), is kept continuously moistened (less evaporation, less heating effect than in the classical black plastic grow bags, used in nurseries)

(2) Individual watering of the bottles has a beneficial effect on plant growth.

(3) I can keep my seedlings in daily sight by having the bottles on the terrace.

(4) When the young trees are tall enough for plantation on site, I will dig a plant hole, cut the bottle vertically in two halves, tear the two halves apart and leave them on the bottom of the plant hole when filling the pit with local soil (to which I will add again some TerraCottem).

(5) This way I will take care of the environment by reusing the plastic bottles and finally burying them.

Here are a couple of photos of a young birch tree (Betula alba) growing in a plastic bottle :

Young birch tree in bottle   Birch tree and succulent in bottle

Young birch tree (Betula alba) and a succulent plant growing together in a plastic bottle. (Click on the photos to enlarge them).

How to plant container trees ? (Google Alert / Gardening.ygoy)

Read at :

Google Alert for Gardening

Gardening.ygoy

http://gardening.ygoy.com/2007/07/27/how-to-plant-container-trees/

How to plant container trees

You can’t keep your plants in containers forever. Just like you can’t keep your children in kindergarten forever. You have to shift plant your container trees out in the garden to help them grow better. If you have planned to plant your container trees, how will you go about the process? It’s very simple. You will need:

  • Garden fork
  • Tree ties
  • Spade or Shovel
  • Two wooden stakes
  • Mulch

Procedure

  • Choose the site where you want to plant your container tree.
  • Put your container right at the centre.
  • Mark out a planting hole with your shovel that it about three times the width of the container.
  • Start digging the hole. Make sure it is about 1-1/2 times the height of your container.
  • Once you have dug your hole. Loosen the sides of the hole with your garden fork so that it gets easier for the roots to penetrate the surrounding soil.
  • Plant 2 wooden stakes at outward facing angles such that it has enough space to accommodate the root ball in between. The stakes support the tree while it grows up.
  • Take the container and water the tree thoroughly before removing it from the pot.
  • You would notice that the roots are bent and sticking on to the sides of the root ball. You will have to ease them up with your hands.
  • Fill in some soil into your hole before placing your tree in the center of the hole. This would ensure that the tree grows at the same level as in the container.
  • Position the tree well in the hole and start filling in the rest of the soil and seal the plant with the soil well.
  • Its time to water your plant.
  • Spread the mulch over the soil so that it helps retain moisture while the tree is establishing itself.

There you go… your tree is all settled at its new place.

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MY COMMENT (Willem)

It’s recommendable to create a funnel-shape or cup-shape cavity around the tree, so that rain or irrigation water can easily be collected in that cavity.  Such a cavity can be created with local soil before the mulching.  Mulch is then spread over the bottom of the cavity.

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.

My comment to Paul Duxbury’s “Potager” (Willem)

Already published on my desertification weblog on May 4, 2007

My comment to Paul Duxbury’s “Potager”

May 4, 2007

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

I like Paul’s contribution very much (see the former message on this blog). Although it contains mainly some general views on the matter, it may invite some people to start “potagering” at home. Well done, Paul !

Let me just make a comment on one sentence : “Most potagers are grown in raised beds that allow better control over the drainage and reduce the chance of the vegetables from becoming waterlogged.“. Alright, but !

I am very much in favor of setting up a vegetable garden in containers instead of in full garden soil, and this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, many people do not have the pleasure of disposing of an open gardening space. When Paul says : “Potagers are particularly good for people who live on smaller lots of land or only have room for a small garden“, I am adding : “and for all those living in apartments, and having some space for a number of containers“. Continue reading My comment to Paul Duxbury’s “Potager” (Willem)

Kids gardening at school or at home (Willem)

Already published on my desertification blog on March 17, 2007

Nice comment Hans STROCK (Great Big Plants) March 17, 2007

Posted by willem van cotthem in success stories – best practices, horticulture/gardening, food / food security, hunger / famine, capacity building, desertification, water, forestry, rural development, ecology – environment, poverty. trackback , edit post

I received this nice comment from Hans STROCK:

http://greatbigplantsblog.com/

greatbigplants@buzzoodle.com

Thanks Willem! I’m glad you had a chance to check out the site! Sorry about the delay in response, things have been hectic lately. It’s good to see other people who agree with keeping kids involved with gardening. It’s always important to give children some culture and experience they can take with them when they get older. I think all children should have something fun and creative they can do. It helps them feel good about themselves. Keep up the good work!”

Well said, Hans ! In the western countries, so many people are complaining about the fact that young people are only interested in TV-programs. Why don’t we offer them a chance to do something useful and fun, instead of leaving them hanging (or laying) around in front of the TV-set? Impossible to change their attitude ? Yes, if you start early enough (e.g. with pubers). And what if you start even earlier, let’s say in primary school? I am sure kids love to do practical gardening in a very simple way. As a biology teacher I always got fantastic reactions when my pupils (12-18 years old) got an individual project to grow different plant species from seeds. They did it in plastic bottles at the window sills in my classroom ! They learned how to grow things with a strict minimum of water ! And they loved to write their personal report with observations and drawings. That is: EDUCATION WITH A PRACTICAL SENSE.

I am currently working out a similar project for the kids in the refugee camps in Algeria. Those children will most certainly be happy to have a “useful task” to grow vegetables in plastic bottles. There is not only the educational aspect of learning something about gardening, but one can also imagine how proud the kids will be to bring from time to time some vegetable (lettuce, parsley, onion, garlic, herbs, tomatoes, etc.) home. An later on they can always use these new skills (capacity building) to start gardening for their families. Wherever they are or will be! Continue reading Kids gardening at school or at home (Willem)