Improve Soil Drainage Using A Common Sponge (Agriculture-Guide)

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How To Improve The Drainage Of Plants and Trees In A Surprisingly Cheap and Easy Way

Actually there are many ways to improve drainage using several soils that are readily available for purchase, but if you want to improve drainage in a cheaper and easier way (at least I think so), use a sponge . Yes… you read right — a sponge!

The Agriculture Guide’s Foolproof Way To Improve Soil Drainage Using A Common Sponge:

Buy several sponges or collect them throughout your home.
Locate a pair of scissors.
Begin cutting your sponges into pieces that are the size of a walnut or hazelnut.
Mix these small sponge pieces into the soil around trees or plants that need better drainage.




MY COMMENT (Willem Van Cotthem)

Very useful idea, indeed. Instead of using the rather expensive expanded, baked clay pellets (Hydroton, hydrokorrels) as a reusable growing medium, pieces of sponge can play a similar role in the soil (water retention, aeration, …).

I use a rather considerable layer of sponge pieces in the bottom of containers (pots, bottles, trays, …) to create this double function of water stockage and aeration.

When positioning a vertical cilinder of sponge pieces along one or two sides of the container wall, one can also enhance the water retention capacity in containers, thus avoiding irrigation water standing too long at the bottom of a container.

Strawberry Jars for Easy Watering (Dave’s Garden)

Read at : Dave’s Garden Weekly Newsletter

How to Plant in Strawberry Jars for Easy Watering

By Cathy M Wallace (cathy4)
April 15, 2008

Something about the shape of strawberry jars has always appealed to me, I’ve admired well-planted pots and tried for years to make mine look as good. Every year it was something; the top plants didn’t grow, the plants at the bottom rotted or dried out. The owner of a local garden center took pity on me and gave me a few tricks that have made all the difference. Today, I’ll share them with each of you.

Make sure your pot is clean and sanitary before you start. Brush out any old dirt, wash and then rinse the pot in a dilution of bleach and water, about 1 cup of bleach to 2 gallons of water, then rinse again with clear water. Don’t let a clay pot soak in the bleach water, just rinse it.

Since the pots with flowers will sit on the patio, I like to put a coffee filter in the bottom to keep dirt from leaking.As you will see later, this also helps with one of the watering tricks. Cut a piece of wicking, such as a piece of old pantyhose, and poke it through the coffee filter. Have the panty hose hang part way out of the pot (about an inch). This helps keep the bottom plants from sitting in soil that is too wet if you’ve had a stretch of rain. It will actually wick water out of the pot. I know this doesn’t make sense, but it works. A detailed discussion of this process is found in the Container Gardening Forum.
Continue reading Strawberry Jars for Easy Watering (Dave’s Garden)

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.

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.



“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.

Mint roots in a transparent plastic bottle (Willem)

Yesterday, I posted a short message on mint growing easily in a plastic bottle on a windowsill.

Today, I am taking you back to the “problem” of root development in a transparent bottle. Joseph TOLLEDOT, Charles ASH and others confirmed my observation that light penetrating in the bottle would not harm the root development. Indeed, I have never seen negative effects of that kind.

Here are a couple of photos showing the excellent root development in the mint bottle :

Young mint in bottle Mint roots in a bottle Mint roots and polymers in a bottle

Fine mint plants in a transparent bottle / Vigorous root system / Dark spots are swollen polymers, stocking water in the bottle and thus saving water that is not running through the drainage hole. (Click on the photos to enlarge them).

Water your Container Plants Correctly (Gardening.ygoy)

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Gardening.ygoy (see my Blogroll)

Water your Container Plants Correctly

Watering your container plants correctly is very important. Often Houseplants tend to die from improper watering over all other factors. Here are some tips that may come handy to you while you water your potted houseplants. Continue reading Water your Container Plants Correctly (Gardening.ygoy)

How to make easy and beautiful container gardens ? (In the Garden Online)

 I discovered today this wonderful website and an excellent article on container gardening !

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In the Garden Online

Creating Easy, Beautiful Container Gardens

Somehow, a porch or patio just doesn’t seem complete without some potted plants. And why not? Container gardens can highlight these areas of your home, as well as allow you to grow a variety of plants in a small area. You can play with color combinations, try out plants that you’re considering for your permanent landscape, or just pick what looks pretty and enjoy it. While you can buy pre-planted containers at almost every garden center, it is satisfying (and fun!) to select plants and put them together into a container garden all by yourself. Think it’s too complicated, that you don’t have the “eye” for it? No way! I’ll show you how to create beautiful container gardens, and I’ll point you to some of my favorite resources on container gardening. Continue reading How to make easy and beautiful container gardens ? (In the Garden Online)

Raised beds combined with containers for inside gardening (Willem)

Today, I received an interesting comment from Anne WALKER on my former posting :

Different aspects of rooftop gardening (Google Alert / Salt Lake Tribune) July 13, 2007

If a garden can be grown on a roof top, how about on the parking lot of an old abandoned strip mall. It is late in the season to start a garden, but we just received funding. We also have donated space in a building located in a strip mall. There is a fenced in area that I’d like to create a few raised beds and perhaps apply lasagne gardening in the beds. What do we do about drainage? How do we keep the soil and water from running out under the beds. Do we line with plastic? Help!!! This is a late summer youth project, funded in part from Community Block Grant and State arts funds.”

Here is my reply to her :

Dear Anne,

Thanks for contacting me and congratulations for your nice ideas.

Raised bed gardening offers a lot of opportunities to embellish our environment or to grow plants in any “difficult” place.

Let us first consider the outside parking lot (or is it inside ?). I see no problem to install raised beds there. Would a bit of water running out be a problem ? Then, I recommend to make the beds a bit higher (1-2 feet), to line the bottom up with a strong plastic sheet forming a shallow reservoir, to fill the bottom part of that reservoir (2-4 inches) with granules of expanded clay (also used in hydroponics) and to cover these granules with a good potting mix to which I would add some water stocking polymers or, even better, a soil conditioner like TerraCottem (see <;).

About the raised beds inside the building : see above, as I cannot foresee any problems with water.

Let me now make another suggestion !

Why don’t you construct a raised bed and fill it up with containers (each of them perforated at its bottom for drainage). I am thinking at the classical plastic flower pots, but also at PET bottles or even big plastic party cups (use your imagination).

The raised bed should be constructed like the one described above : with plastic lining at the bottom, but without clay granules. The containers (pots, bottles or cups) can be put directly on the plastic sheet (in the so-called reservoir) and filled with a good potting mix (mixed with water stocking soil conditioner), then seeded or planted. Now all the containers are covered (mulched) with a thin layer of potting mix, so that one cannot see the containers anymore (only a nice layer of soil under which the containers are hidden). When watering such a raised bed, most of the water will be running into the containers and stocked in the polymers. A surplus of water, running through the containers or through the open spaces between the containers, will run into the plastic sheet reservoir and only a minimum will be kept for a short time on that plastic sheet (from where it will be gradually absorbed by the potting mix in the perforated containers).

I can imagine that after a while one would have to add a thin supplementary mulching layer of potting soil, for the soil will slide partly down into the open spaces between the individual containers.

I never did this before, but I can imagine that this would be quite successful. Worth trying, I think !

Please keep me informed and possibly send me some photos of your realization. I will gladly publish them on my blog.


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?).

Gardening in containers is just blossoming (Google Alert / Ottumwa)

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Google Alert for Gardening


Gardening in containers is just blossoming

BY HELEN HANNAN, Courier correspondent

BLAKESBURG — Container gardening has moved outdoors, becoming an important segment of the gardening industry and along the way evolving into unique landscape designs. It’s “easy, fun, anybody can do it,” said Patty Rowland, a master gardener from Blakesburg. She “loves gardening; has always loved gardening.” As a little girl, she “potted weeds in pork and bean cans.” “Choose the right light for the plant and don’t over water,” she said. Plants like differing amounts of light. Holes in the bottom or sides of the container to assure adequate drainage are a must. Continue reading Gardening in containers is just blossoming (Google Alert / Ottumwa)

Get hooked to container gardening (Google Alert / WTNH)

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Google Alert for gardening


Container gardening from Lifestyle Guru Mar Jennings

Containing gardening, it’s a simple thing to do, but it can add color, variety and texture to areas of your garden and yard. It’s something Lifestyle Guru, Mar Jennings learned at an early age from his grandmother. And Mar joined Good Morning Connecticut Weekend to talk about the joys of container gardening. Continue reading Get hooked to container gardening (Google Alert / WTNH)