Grow salad greens on your balcony

Photo credit: * Balcony – Bottles – Sweet potato – Photo Edna Palomares – 574655_3430734820619_1361214987_n.jpg

Balcony Gardening – Grow A Salad Bowl

Now is a good time to plant baby lettuce, spinach and micro-greens for early Fall harvest.  You do not need a deep container to grow salad greens and you can grow the greens from seed.  Covering the potted seeds with loose plastic wrap holds the moisture and heat and encourages sprouting.

Growing Container Salad Greens:  “You will be able to harvest your first crop in just a few short weeks, using the small tender leaves that are often not available to buy. These micro-greens are the mix of choice for gourmet salads. Leafy greens also make a flavorful addition to sandwiches or wraps.”

Radishes also mature quickly.  Use radish greens instead of basil in your pesto recipe.

Read the full story: Denvergardeners

A simple question about hunger, a difficult answer (Willem Van Cotthem)

WITH ALL MY HEART / Met mijn hele hart :

A simple question about hunger, a difficult answer

Today, all over the developed world, important parts of the population are combating the economic crisis and in particular the food crisis by switching to production of fresh food. Produced at home, even in the smallest quantities, this “own fresh food” plays a considerable  role in the well-being of families, in particular of children.  Container gardening, vertical gardening, bottle towers, gardening on risers, balconies or windowsills, hydroponics, aquaponics, gardening in self-watering buckets, bags, sacks, crates, boxes, pots, guerilla gardening, edible forests, …, it are all different initiatives taken to alleviate  hunger and malnutrition problems.


A few weeks later the bottle towers produce a mass of fresh vegetables and herbs (Photo WVC)
In a small space, bottle towers produce a mass of fresh vegetables and herbs (Photo WVC)

Jardin vertical à base de bouteilles (French)/ Vertical garden with bottle towers (L’Avenir / Martine DAUBREME)

Lu au :

Un jardin vertical à base de bouteilles


  • l’avenir
  • Michel DEMEESTER

LOUVAIN-LA-NEUVE – Martine Daubremé a créé un concept original de jardin vertical à base de bouteilles, qu’elle a présenté à la Maison du développement durable.

Dans le cadre de la Semaine sans pesticides, la Maison du développement durable de Louvain-la-Neuve organisait une série d’activités samedi dernier. Parmi celles-ci la découverte du jardin vertical à base de bouteilles, présenté par Martine Daubremé, comptable en entreprise depuis vingt-cinq ans mais aussi présidente d’Actions Vivres : «Nous développons des solutions alternatives face aux crises du climat. Nous travaillons également sur la sécurité alimentaire dans le monde», explique Martine Daubremé.

Depuis sa rencontre il y a cinq ans, avec Willem Van Cotthem, professeur en sciences botaniques de l’Université de Gand, Martine Daubremé travaille avec celui-ci : «Il est spécialisé en désertification. Il a travaillé dans le désert. Il a mis en place des solutions pour la culture dans des régions arides. Ces systèmes, nous les importons aujourd’hui chez nous pour permettre aux personnes de cultiver.»

Le jardin vertical, à base de bouteilles, permet de cultiver sur un balcon ou un appui de fenêtre, par exemple : «Les bouteilles sont empilées à l’envers les unes dans les autres. Elles sont remplies de terreau. Les bouchons sont enlevés, sauf sur la bouteille du haut et sur celle du bas. Deux trous sont réalisés dans le bouchon de la bouteille du haut. Cela permet un arrosage goutte à goutte de la terre située dans les bouteilles en dessous. Le bouchon de la bouteille du bas est maintenu mais les côtés évasés de la bouteille sont troués pour éviter que l’eau stagne dans le bas de la colonne. Un bac récolte l’éventuel excès d’eau sous la colonne. L’eau est ainsi récupérée», explique Martine Daubremé.

Les graines sont déposées dans la terre par les encoches réalisées sur les bords des bouteilles. C’est par ce biais que vont pousser les légumes : «Je récupère les graines des aliments. On peut tout faire pousser dans les bouteilles en plastique : des plantes aromatiques, de la salade, du céleri, des poireaux, des oignons, ou même des carottes.» Les feuilles impropres à la consommation sont replacées dans la terre pour en faire du compost.

La bouteille offre aussi l’avantage de maintenir la chaleur : «On placera préférentiellement la colonne à l’abri des caprices du climat, bien souvent au soleil.»

Seeds to Gozo (Malta) – (Jacques GUEUNING / Willem VAN COTTHEM)

Today, Belgian Jacques GUEUNING received a lot of seeds of vegetables and fruits.  They will soon be taken to the Island of Gozo (Malta), where these new species and varieties will be welcome to enhance the biodiversity on the island and to enrich the food production for local families.

This action was taken within the framework of the “SEEDS FOR FOOD”-initiative.

Seeds collected for the “SEEDS FOR FOOD”-action are free for humanitarian projects. An important load is now taken to Gozo (Malta) – (Photo Jacques GUEUNING)

Jacques GUEUNING will also introduce Prof. VAN COTTHEM’s “container gardening”-method to the smallholder farmers at Gozo.  He will particularly recommend the “bottle tower”-technique to reduce the volume of irrigation water and to promote vertical gardening on poor soils (see :

2011 – Prof. Willem VAN COTTHEM showing his bottle tower-research work (Photo WVC)

2011 – Almost every species of vegetable can be grown with a minimum of water in these towers of bottles or pots (Photo WVC)

Seeds for The Gambia 2011 (Willem VAN COTTHEM / Ellen MEULENVELD)

Please see my newest video :

Seeds for The Gambia 2011

Seeds of vegetables and fruits are collected for the “Seeds for Food”-action in Belgium. Those seeds are offered to development projects all over the world. The Gamrupa Foundation (The Netherlands) took seeds to The Gambia in 2011, where they where used in two school gardens. Thus, children have fresh food at a daily base, a nice initiative to alleviate malnutrition.

Vegetables and fruit trees in containers, a simple way to produce food in arid areas (Willem Van Cotthem)

Container gardening is a gardening type that can be applied at any spot on this world, in all climatic zones, in humid and arid regions, in rural and in urban areas, outside and inside the house.

It can be used for embellishment of the home with ornamental plants or for food production (vegetable and fruit trees), e.g. in the drylands where soil and irrigation cause huge problems.

My friend Geert VAN DAELE has taken some photos of container gardening examples in my house, showing that anybody can grow very diverse plant species in different kinds of containers: bottles, pots, trays, bags etc.

I strongly believe that massive application of container gardening would offer an impressive number of possibilities to grow food in the most adverse conditions in arid or semi-arid regions, thus helping to combat desertification, hunger and child malnutrition.

Please enjoy Geert VAN DAELE’s pictures:

Container gardening on saline soils (Willem VAN COTTHEM)

All over the world people are looking for good solutions when trying to grow plants (trees, vegetables) on saline soils.  It certainly isn’t the easiest thing to do.

This week I received the query below :

Dear Prof. van Cotthem,

My apologies for a completely unexpected mail query, but I feel you are the only desertification/ veg gardening expert who could perhaps help me out.

I’m wondering how to use a strip of beach here in Mumbai (India) for vegetable production: a lot of fibrous coconut material is available on the spot. There are a number of well established shrubs and trees around, but still the soil is pretty sandy and saline. My idea is to introduce Inositol in the equation in some naturally available form, and try out beets or spinach. This land belongs to a charitable trust enabling orphanages from Mumbai to bring there wards there for a holiday. The idea is to grow this vegetables, make them available for the kids, and may be get the kids interested in growing things on seemingly hopeless substrates.

Now that I’ve explained my position, may I hope for some advice from you??


Rca Godbole”


Dear Rca Godbole,

Sincere thanks for this message and your appreciation.  Although I am not an expert on saline soils, I hope to be able to help you with some practical suggestions.

Let me tell you first that I am not aware of any use of Inositol to improve plant growth on saline soils.  I know that research work on salt tolerance in plants showed that :

leaf chiro-inositol level increased dramatically as salinity increased, which can contribute significantly to alleviation of salt stress impact. The enhanced accumulation of chiro-inositol by salt stress appears an important physiological process for L. plants to adapt to salt stress. This work also provides new information for gene target search in transformation via biotechnology for enhanced crop slat tolerance.” (see

I understand that chiro-inositol is produced inside the leaves of some plants growing on saline soils, but that this chemical is not used as a soil amendment.  I will check literature on that.

The same article mentions :

Interpretive Summary: High soil salinity or salt stress is a worldwide environmental factor seriously limiting crop growth and yield. The salt-affected land amounts to more than 900 million hectares. Because irrigating water is rarely salt-free, irrigation adds salts into soil and keeps turning more acreage into saline land. However, about half of the world’s land surface is dryland, which can only be made more productive by irrigation. Furthermore, most crops are salt sensitive but global human population continues to increase and maybe will increase by 50% by 2050. Obviously, salinity is a threat to agricultural productivity. Thus, reducing the impact of salinity and improving crop production through increasing crop salt tolerance are important global goals. Floral crops, they exhibit great diversity in their salt tolerance but little is known on their most growth-related physiological processes in response to salinity.”

I fully agree with the description above.  Reducing the impact of salinity and improving crop production through increasing salt tolerance are indeed important global goals. Unfortunately, science did not yet progress far enough to provide us with salt tolerant varieties of all our food crops.  So, we have to come up, for the time being, with other feasible practices to achieve our primary goal : “to grow these vegetables, make them available for the kids, and maybe get the kids interested in growing things on seemingly hopeless substrates” (like you described it so well).

I am convinced that it will be extremely difficult to improve the soil qualities of that sandy and saline beach in Mumbai (and every other beach) significantly enough to make plant growth on such a hostile substrate possible (except for halophytic or “salt-liking” species).  Most of our food crops are not halophytic.  Therefore, I am not in favour of growing food crops (vegetables, fruit trees etc.) on the beaches.  Nevertheless, I have the pleasure of suggesting you to try it with “container gardening” (see a lot of practical suggestions on this blog).

The basic idea is that any container (pot, plastic bottle, barrel, drum, small or big plastic bags, etc.) can easily be transformed into a substrate on which vegetables and fruiting plants can be grown.  This enormous variety of containers offers us a thousand chances to position these containers on every single open space (even on vertical racks).

Filling up the containers we will use for growing food crops with a non-saline substrate, means automatically that we do not have to take into account the nature of the local soil anymore.  Any container garden can be installed on a concrete soil, e.g. a roof garden, on a barren peace of land in the cities and, thus, also on a beach.  The reason is very simple : the roots are not growing in the local soil anymore, but in the substrate inside the containers.

There is a second extremely positive aspect of container gardening : the quantity of irrigation water needed is significantly smaller than in normal gardening : infiltration of irrigation water in the local soil is limited to a strict minimum, evaporation is only possible at the top of the container (not laterally through the wall of the container, except for clay pots) and, last but not least, if numerous containers are placed close to one another there will be a more humid microclimate created around the growing plants.

Let me ask you to consider the installation of a container garden on that piece of beach you have in view.  Studying the opportunities of involving all the kids in growing their own vegetables in their own containers, you will discover the tremendous advantages of producing food crops “above” the saline sands of the beach, without having to cure the incurable : salinity and drought.

I remain yours for more exchanges of ideas on food production in the most hostile environments.

Let’s do it for the kids !


Winter sowing : seeding in bottles (Little cabin / Little garden)

Read  at :

Winter sowing

I winter sowed my seeds the end of December and have been waiting ever since then to get a picture of them with snow on them. It started snowing yesterday and finished with a half inch of ice today and here are my containers waiting for warm weather to start sprouting. I have peach, pear, apple, redbud, hazelnut, gingko and many others planted in the bottles. The bottles are sitting in under bed storage boxes. The bottles and boxes both have holes in the bottoms for drainage. Each box holds 24 bottles. The top part of the bottle is cut most of the way through and has tape to hold it shut. The lids are off the bottles.


GardenWeb has a good winter sowing forum and there is a Yahoo group as well.