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 ?
—————-
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.
—————–
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.”

Gardening for Nutritional Foods (Gardening.ygoy)

Fine survey !

Read at :

Gardening.ygoy

http://gardening.ygoy.com/gardening-for-nutritional-foods/ 

Gardening for Nutritional Foods

Super foods seem to be under the spotlight for their special characteristics. These are food items oozing with nutrition. According to nutritionists, they are a rich source of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals and play a major role in prevention of diseases, and enhancing longevity and good health. Examples of such nutrient-rich foods are:

  • Green Tea
  • Carrots
  • Oats
  • Beans
  • Salmon
  • Spinach
  • Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes
  • Fruits such as Apricots, Bananas, Strawberries, Pineapple, Citrus fruits, Mango, Papaya
  • Garlic
  • Broccoli
  • Chili peppers

The best method is to grow your own fruits and vegetables, in your own garden. Gardening is one of the best ways to get really close to Mother Nature and it is a sure recipe for health, fun, profit, and also exercise, both mental and physical. As we all know, fruits and vegetables begin to depreciate in nutrient value as soon as they are severed from the plant. So, nothing but gardening gives us the healthiest food. This is because the picked-to-table time is the lowest, thus ensuring minimum loss of nutrition.
Vegetable gardens are back in style in today’s health-conscious society. Approximately, 50 percent of American families own vegetable gardens. You don’t have to look around for land to make a garden. An unused plot in your backyard or side yard can very well be turned into a garden. If you don’t have enough space, don’t worry. There are many alternatives available. A container vegetable garden, a vertical vegetable garden, a window box garden, a raised bed garden, or vines running up trellises can serve as gardens too. You can also mix vegetable plants with your already present landscape.
Even if you are a greenhorn when it comes to plant a vegetable garden, you will not face too many hassles. Free information on the Internet is overflowing and most of it is explained in layman’s terms. So, you should have no problem learning how to garden.

(continued)

Food production in transparent plastic bottles and cups (C. ASH, J. TOLLEDOT, Willem)

Here is nice additional comment of Charles ASH on :

Recycling plastic bottles and pots (Charlesash / Willem) August 3, 2007

“You don’t really need to cover the transparent plastic because there appears to be no harm or set back to the plant if you don’t. It’s mainly cosmetic. Not only that, seeing the roots creates more interest. When we used them we got many youngsters interested because we could explain easier and show “what grows underground” of a plant. It created huge interest and some of those youngsters went on to a career in horticulture. So my suggestion is, don’t permanently cover them. Enjoy a sight you do not normally see.

We don’t have any problems removing plants, even well established or large plants, from plastic plant pots. They always come out with the root ball intact and unharmed. They may need a gentle tap once or twice but they always come out ok. And we get to use the pot again!

Charlesash”

Thanks, Charles !  It encourages me to continue my efforts introducing plastic bottle gardening in schools of developing countries.  I strongly believe that every kid in developing countries should set up its own vegetable garden in plastic bottles and shopping bags, not only at school, but also at home.

At school, they can be helped by the teachers, at home, by their mothers.

The result would be :

1. A remarkable enhancement of fresh food production, particularly in desertified areas.

2. An interesting improvement in the situation of food security, malnutrition or famine.

3. A very profitable improvement in public health (less deficiencies, less diseases.

4. Better environmental  conservation and protection (less littering of plastic).

5. Enormous educational value.

———————————–

Will this appeal on all stakeholders (decision makers, authorities, donors, NGOs, local people, …) one day be heard ?  I hope it will happen before the end of my days, with all my heart !

Who can resist the beauty of vegetables and fruits growing close to or even in our house or school ?  Look at this beautiful picture of Joseph TOLLEDOT :

Party cup Pepper

Black manaqualana Pepper growing well in a recycled party cup (J. TOLLEDOT, July 25, 2007)

Vegetables and Health (Vegetable Grower)

Read at :

The Vegetable Grower

http://www.vegetable-garden-guide.com/The_Vegetable_Grower-the-vegetable-grower-may07.html

Vegetables and Health

Gardeners who grow their own fruit and vegetables could be the healthiest people. That’s the conclusion of Dr Laurence J Trueman, a molecular biologist and biochemist currently working as a consultant to the horticulture industry specialising in the effect of eating fruit and vegetables on human health. Dr Trueman says the following about fruit & veg: Continue reading Vegetables and Health (Vegetable Grower)

“Gardening kids are truly inspired, food providers for their families” (Kids Gardening)

Read at :

Kids Gardening

http://www.kidsgardening.com/grants/2006-evaluation-summary.asp

 Evaluation Summary ~ 2006 NGA Grant Winners

The National Gardening Association has been providing material assistance to youth and community gardens through grants since 1983, and in 2005 we started collecting data to track the impact of our grants programs via a year-end evaluation summary completed by grant recipients. Here are results for the 2006 grant cycle, based on 487 evaluations (74% response rate):

Grant Program

# responses

% response

Youth Garden Grants

116

77%

Mantis Awards

20

80%

Remember Me Rose

14

70%

Kids Growing with Dutch Bulbs

305

72%

Hooked on Hydroponics

12

86%

Healthy Sprouts

20

80%

These grants are awarded based on merit. Winners were chosen through evaluation of written applications; winning applicants indicated well-planned, comprehensive, community-supported, and sustainable youth garden programs. Because the pool of applicants and types of programs vary each year, the statistics noted here are dynamic.

Evaluation Highlights (continued with several statistics)

Here are a few comments gathered during year-end evaluations: Continue reading “Gardening kids are truly inspired, food providers for their families” (Kids Gardening)

Cheap grow bags (Willem)

More and more advertisements on grow bags are found on the internet. These are plastic bags, used as containers, filled with a quality substrate (potting soil with a good mineral and organic content). One recommends to purchase these grow bags in a green center or nursery. Of course, there is always a price tag on each of these grow bags.

However, we all know that numerous simple plastic bags (white, blue, black, etc.), used everywhere on all continents as shopping bags, constitute a heavy burden on the environment. Generally, these bags are thrown in the garbage bins, but in many developing countries they are simply littered and fly around in the streets. You will find many of them hanging in the trees as if it were huge blue, white and black flowers.

Here is my idea : why don’t we use them as cheap grow bags? We can easily fill them up with soil (possibly improved with some animal manure), close them tightly and cut some small holes (slits) for drainage in the bottom part. Seedlings or seeds can be put in small holes on top of the bag (number to be decided in function of the adult plant’s dimensions).

For climbing plants (like tomatoes, peas or beans) a cage or deepee can be put over the bag.

All kinds of vegetables, or even young trees can be grown on such cheap plastic bags. One can even imagine that school children use this system in the school yard, creating a school garden even on a concrete surface, thus helping to get rid of all that plastic in the streets or the environment. The kids would thus help to keep the environment cleaner, growing vegetables at school to supplement their lunches with vitamins and mineral elements.

Therefore, cheap plastic grow bags can be used as a simple didactic tool to create a sort of school garden in the school yard or along the wall of the classrooms. Millions of plastic bags all over the world would not be littered anymore, but taken to school to create productive gardens. Vegetables and young trees can thus be grown with a minimum of water, because the soil in the grow bags will be kept moistened for a longer time (less evaporation).

Young fruit trees, grown by the kids at school in those cheap grow bags, could be taken home at the end of the school year and planted close to their house. It suffices to dig a plant pit, put the plastic grow bag with the young tree in the pit, cut the bag open at 4 sides, bend the plastic completely open and fold the plastic under the rootball, fill up the plant pit with local soil, water the plant pit thoroughly and let the roots grow out.

The young fruit tree will continue its growth and we get rid of the buried plastic. Isn’t that nice ?

I wonder if you will set up an experiment with a couple of plastic grow bags. I am looking forward to read your comments and, hopefully, nice results (with some pictures?).

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.
FREE Newsletter. Sign Up Now!

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: growing edibles (Google Alert / Daily Times)

Already published on my desertification weblog on May 31, 2007

Container gardening: growing edibles (Google Alert / Daily Times)

May 31, 2007

Posted by willem van cotthem in desert/desert gardening, women/youth and desertification, container/bottle gardening, food / food security, success stories – best practices, soil, sustainability, water. trackback , edit post

Read at :

Google Alert for Gardening

The Daily Times

http://www.delmarvanow.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070529/OPI06/705290308/-1/OPI

Container gardening: Fun and simple way to grow edibles


OCEAN PINES — Spring is the time of year when the spirit of Martha Stewart comes out in many gardeners who dream of growing flowers, herbs and enough fresh vegetables to make homemade salads every night. However, many have not grown careers out of planting seeds and may not always have the time to dedicate like Martha does. According to Laura Hunsberger, an agriculture educator in Worcester County, even though time may not allow for constant gardening, there are fun, cheap and easy ways to produce vegetation. Hunsberger spoke at a recent meeting of the Ocean Pines Garden Club about the advantages of container gardens in a presentation called, “Container Vegetable Gardening: Healthy Harvests from Small Spaces.”

Hunsberger said container gardening is a fun and simple way to grow edible gardens, and everyone from novice gardeners to college students, children and people with physical limitations can participate. “In my head I may have a beautiful garden, but time doesn’t allow that,” Hunsberger said. “Instead, container gardening is a great way to grow a vegetable and you can do it with your kids and family.” “By growing a vegetable, people are having a connection with their food source and it is just more fun and rewarding,” she said. Continue reading Container gardening: growing edibles (Google Alert / Daily Times)

Number of bottle gardeners growing (Willem)

Already published on my desertification weblog on May 25, 2007

Number of bottle gardeners growing

May 25, 2007

Posted by willem van cotthem in social dimensions, horticulture/gardening, container/bottle gardening, success stories – best practices, sustainability, soil, ecology – environment, capacity building, water. trackback , edit post

Having seen the excellent results of my experiments with vegetables and young trees growing in plastic bottles (a special type of container gardening), I hope more and more people will give it a try and show other people around that “indoor” or “outdoor” gardening in bottles or bags offers some interesting advantages.

flowering strawberries
Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Very promising growth of strawberries in plastic bottles. Bottles can be re-used for other vegetables, or herbs, or tree seedlings. Eventually, one should bury the “old” bottles or bags. Continue reading Number of bottle gardeners growing (Willem)

Gardening in a bottlerack (Willem)

 Already published on my desertification weblog on May 12, 2007

Gardening in a bottlerack

May 12, 2007

Posted by willem van cotthem in gardening kids, horticulture/gardening, desert/desert gardening, container/bottle gardening, family gardens, school gardens, success stories – best practices, water, soil, desertification, sustainability, technologies. trackback , edit post Being convinced there is a nice future for growing vegetables or other plants in plastic bottles, filled with a mix of potting soil and a soil conditioner like TerraCottem, I am continuously thinking about variants to enlarge application possibilities.

As in the drylands extreme drought, and thus extreme evaporation, is one of the main problems for agriculture and gardening, I suggest to limit this evaporation by using a plastic bottle to obtain a higher water use efficiency. Indeed, water can be stocked in a volume of potting soil, wherein a water absorbing soil conditioner can play its supplementary water stocking role. Please have a look at my former posting on this blog:

Mon potager dans des bouteilles en plastique / My vegetable garden in plastic bottles

May 10, 2007

This message contains info on how to transform a normal plastic bottle into an efficient container for growing all kinds of plants, even young trees (to be transplanted when reaching sufficient height).

Today, I present you an idea on a “bottlerack“, useful under different conditions : Continue reading Gardening in a bottlerack (Willem)