Kitchen Greenhouse : all about containers (Earth and Tree)

Read at : Earth and Tree

http://earth-and-tree.blogspot.com/2008/03/kitchen-greenhouse.html

Monday, 31 March 2008

Kitchen Greenhouse

This is going back a few weeks, now, New Moon at the beginning of March to be exact.

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I spent a happy afternoon at the kitchen table with the radio for company, surrounded by newspaper, compost (not always ON the newspaper, sadly!), milk cartons, seed packets, tin foil cat food trays, cardboard tubes and miscellaneous other extremely handy bits and bobs… attempting to construct little comfy homes for my seedlings. There was something very cathartic and Blue Peter about it all, I haven’t had so much fun in ages.

Elsie the cat was very helpful in attempting to eat, biff or sit upon my carefully organised chaos and has since been most displeased that the sunniest spot in front of the kitchen window (where she sun-worships and watches for passing pigeons to make the Ack-Ack noise at) is now occupied by a number of recycled DIY incubators of dubious construction.

Nevertheless, I got some herb seeds planted in my ‘proper’ propagator (try saying that quickly!), potted on the February seedlings and generally got very very grubby. Brilliant!

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Continue reading Kitchen Greenhouse : all about containers (Earth and Tree)

Plastic bottles and bags: precious jewels for container gardening (Willem)

On September 12th, 2007 Riziki SHEMDOE sent the following message :

“I have been reading on the container gardening experiments that you have been doing. This has encouraged me to put up a proposal on introducing this technology to the rural semiarid areas of Tanzania where normally crop production is very poor due to drought and poor soil fertility. I am requesting to know whether there are some best practices from the third world countries that you have come across regarding the use of this technology in improving rural food security and poverty alleviation? I will be grateful if you share with me some of the best practices so that I may use them to strengthen my proposal. I look forward to reading from you.
Kindest regards,
Riziki. “

Riziki Silas Shemdoe (MSc)
Institute of Human Settlements Studies,
University College of Lands and Architectural Studies
P.O.Box 35124 Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Here is my reply :

The easiest and most practical way for people in developing countries to practice container gardening is to collect a large number of plastic (PET) bottles and plastic shopping bags. It’s clean and cheap. Moreover, it helps to take care of our environment !

The plastic bottles should be cut in two : a shorter bottom part (the cup, used as a water tank) and a longer top part (with the stop still on), to be filled with potting soil. In order to cut the bottle in two optimal parts, define the length of the two parts approximately so that, turning over the top part (that will contain potting soil later on) and sliding it into the bottom part, the stop is touching or almost touching the bottom of the cup. If this is not the case the bottle will be rather unstable. Then, a small slit should be cut at the edge at two opposite sides of the bottom cup so that the top part of the bottle can be pushed into the cup until the stop reaches the bottom (short slits will open a bit). It is better to have the bottom cup a bit too long than too short (stability). One can always cut the two slits !

The bottleneck should be perforated at two opposite sides, close to the stop, to create drainage possibilities if too much water is poured in the bottle and to create water absorption possibilities from the bottom cup. Holes of 5 mm diameter are sufficient.

When filling up the inverted top part with potting soil, the soil should be well compressed in order to avoid larger air cavities in the bottle. I recommend to mix a water stocking soil conditioner with the potting soil, but if this is not possible for financial constraints, don’t hesitate to do it without.

During the first days, watering should be abundant to eliminate too much air in the potting soil. As the infiltrating surplus of water will run through the two openings in the bottleneck into the bottom cup (water tank), and as evaporation will be limited (only through the top opening of the bottle), one can save a lot of irrigation water and produce significantly more biomass with less water (less leaching of nutrients from the potting soil, and less evaporation).

Isn’t this a nice solution for some of our main environmental problems in the drylands ?
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The same advantages are offered when growing vegetables or young trees in the classical plastic shopping bags.

Fill up a plastic bag with potting soil for 2/3, and keep the two handles of the bag upright, simply by pushing them up and sustaining them with two pieces of a small branch or another support (one at each side of the bag). Thus, a shallow cavity is created above the potting soil in which water can be poured from time to time.

Don’t forget to perforate the lower part of the plastic bag a couple of times at the two opposite sides of the bag, e.g. 2-3 little holes (not slits !) at both sides approximately 1-3 cm ( 0.5 – 1 inch) above the bottom (and not in the bottom itself, so that a bit of water can be kept temporarily in the bag). Vegetables can be seeded or planted in the potting soil. Young tree seedlings can also be grown in such a simple plastic bag.
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FOR BOTH BOTTLES AND BAGS :

Considerable advantages :

(1) more biomass with less water (because of less leaching and less evaporation).

(2) eliminate plastic from the environment by burying the used plastic bottles and bags at the end of the growing season, e.g. when planting the tree seedlings in a planting hole (ecological cleaning).

Caution : avoid heating in the bottles or bags by keeping them in half-shade or in places where the number of hours of sunshine is limited (not a full day).

Please set up some experiments and discover the real advantages of gardening in plastic bottles and bags, not in the least the provision of food security and the alleviation of poverty. That’s what I call a success story or best practice for sustainable rural development. I hope that once my preaching in the desert will be heard.

PS. Have a look at my former postings to discover pictures and drawings.

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RIZIKI’s IMMEDIATE REPLY

“Thank you so much, Prof., for the explanations and the methodological approaches. I will try something in this area. This will really relieve our poor people in the dryland-areas to improve their nutrition. Similarly this will assist in improving the environmental sanitation by giving use values to the plastic bottles that are being thrown everywhere in our cities. Thank you.
Riziki.”

Maple seedling in a plastic bottle (Willem)

Looking for opportunities to grow tree seedlings in plastic (PET) bottles, I transplanted a maple seedling (Acer pseudoplatanus) from my garden in a bottle and studied its ethology.

Growth was rather slow, but steady. It shows that young tree seedlings can easily be grown in plastic bottles. This would certainly help to reuse the bottles and thus contribute to combat environmental pollution.

Maple seedling in a bottle
Maple seedling in an inverted plastic bottle standing in a yoghurt pot. I keep the lid (stop) on the bottle and perforate the bottleneck just above the stop at two opposite sites. This is a sort of cheap self-watering system. One can also put one or two wicks through the perforations in the bottleneck to facilitate the uptake of water.  (Click on the photo to enlarge it).

Argania and palm seedlings in a bottle (Willem)

Some weeks ago, I got some seedlings of Argania spinosa and a palm tree growing in my garden. I transplanted them in a plastic bottle to study the possibilities to grow them with a minimum of water.

The potting mix in the plastic bottle was treated with 5 g of the soil conditioner TerraCottem per liter of soil. The water stocking polymers of the TerraCottem reduce the irrigation needs by 50 %.

Seemingly the 3 seedlings are doing very well.

Argania seedlings and palm seedling in bottle
Two Argania seedlings and one palm seedling growing together in a plastic bottle. (Click on the photo to enlarge it).

Experimenting with wild strawberries in container (Willem)

Some weeks ago, I was setting up some experiments with wild species of strawberries, e.g. Fragaria vesca, in plastic bottles.  I obtained excellent results, very promising for application in the drylands. Here are a couple of photos :

Wild strawberries in bottle

Wild strawberry plant in a plastic bottle, flowering and fruiting after a couple of weeks (Click on the photo to enlarge it).

 

Fragaria vesca in bottle

Here is a  young Fragaria vesca, developing well in a plastic bottle.

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

Great ideas for container gardening (Willem)

1. A VEGETABLE GARDEN IN PLASTIC BOTTLES

My experiments on growing vegetables in plastic bottles have been very convincing up to now. Not only all the species showed a good development (except for the cauliflower which was infected), but I am more and more convinced that this gardening method can be a significant contribution to the combat of desertification, hunger and pollution of the environment (less plastic in the household waste). It can efficiently be used for “desert gardening“. Continue reading Great ideas for container gardening (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).

Bamboo nursery with plastic bottles (Willem)

We intend to grow many young bamboo plants in a nursery in S.W. Algeria.  These plants will then go to the Sahrawis refugee camps, where they will be used to produce a dense living hedge around the small family gardens.  Thorny mahogany shrubs will also be used in the hedges.

I did some experiments with tiny little bamboo plants (pieces of rhizome of only 1-2 inches/2-5 cm), which I planted in plastic bottles (see different former messages on this blog to see how we prepare these bottles).

 Bamboo in a bottle  bamboos grow well in bottles  p1010327-crop.jpg

(Click on the photos to enlarge them)

This method to launch a nursery with plastic bottles has given already some remarkable results.  I am getting convinced that this will lead to a series of opportunities to grow young bamboo plants in bottles, that are very easy to transport to the plantation site (anyway, much easier than the classical black grow bags used in nurseries).

Moreover,  it is much easier to cut the bottle vertically without breaking up the rootball (one of the current problems for people in forestry).  We recommend to bury the two bottle halves in the plant pit to get rid of the plastic.  So, we will create living hedges and meanwhile take care of the environment by eliminating plastic from the surface.

Grow your own herbs on a plastic bottle (Willem)

In one of my former postings, I showed tasty mint growing in a plastic bottle. Here is another example of fantastic possibilities to grow herbs on your windowsill or a table outside (wherever):

Lemon time on a bottle Lemon thyme

Lemon thyme doing well in a plastic bottle. (Click on the photos to enlarge them).