Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thinking Outside the Walls

We didn't have much space for planters on our balcony. Its so sunny that it would be a waste of precious sun photons to not try and have our plants soak them all up. So we decided to hang our bucket planters 1.5 meters outside our balcony. We planted two varieties of thyme and marjoram in the red bucket and lavender in the yellow bucket.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Modified Upside-Down Planters

First let me explain my minor obsession with upside-down planters: I have limited space and tonnes of pets. These planters potentially offer me nearly 120 sq meters of planting space, that is of course if Sumaya allows me to plant the whole ceiling of our apartment. Another definite upside to these planters is that they consume much less water than traditional indoor planters. Nothing is lost through evaporation. I found myself watering the basil about 3-5 ml every 2-3 days which I think is pretty awesome.  So here's how I converted some latex containers to planters to address some the limitations of the recycled water-bottle planters. These planters were more efficient when it comes to repotting a full grown plant.

Latex putty containers, washed and dried thoroughly

Cut a circular opening in the base

Glue circular piece mesh while watching Hell's Kitchen
Using candle heat nail and puncture holes in lid, make sure the holes are punctured from the top of the lid to the bottom and not the other way round.

Put something heavy on mesh till glue sets
Basil in recycled water bottle upside-down planter

Basil stems adjusting themselves and turning upwards
Mint and Rosemary
Three planters in one room!!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Now for the Red Wrigglers!!

The EZ Roll Deluxe Chateau will be finally ready to receive only the most exclusive of guests in just two weeks (just as soon as all the fumes from the paint go away). Get ready Red Wrigglers you are about to wine and dine on the finest of food scraps in a beautiful breezy mesh-free composter!!

Lid on: This is what the composter looks like on any given day
The lid is resting on two iron rods
The lid resting under the two iron rods and on top of worms and food. The rods secure the lid so when the composter is rolled the rods hold the lid in place. This way the worms, food and compost don't end up mixing, leaving compost at bottom
Rolling: That's why its called the EZ roll composter
This is the base where all the good stuff (compost) is

These hanger bolts are all that stands in way of you and your awesome new soil, just unscrew and retrieve your soil, worm and food FREE!!

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Water-Bottle Upside-Down Planters: The Limitations

We finally started potting our new herbs into the upside-down planters we constructed a few days ago. The planters are extremely sleek and compact and can be made at practically no cost what-so-ever. While construction was fun, repotting wasn't as much fun. The only plants that we could fit into the small opening are the single stemmed ones that don't have much foliage.  I think using this pot design is more appropriate for growing single cuttings, because of the difficulty of passing the stems through the base without damaging the plant.

Upside-Down Planter made from reused water bottles, decorative paper, reused electrical wire and glue
Top part of planter with base of plastic bottle inverted and perforated to act as water receptacle
The base of the water bottle that is inserted into the top of planter to act as water receptacle
With a single cutting, one would first fill the planter with soil and then pass the cutting through the opening. For repotting larger herbs rethinking the design is a must. Following the same repotting technique of the BOSKKE Sky Planter, using discarded paint buckets with tight fitting lids could solve this problem. Instead of trying to repot while the plant is inverted, we can repot while the plant is standing, fit the lid and invert it.  In the next few days I will experiment with some construction ideas and will post about it.
Bottom part of planter, this is where the stem and leaves come out. This is also the top part of water bottle, which was inverted through gentle heating with hair dryer
Fibre mesh to keep soil in when inverted

For now, we've managed to pot our basil plant, but we ran out of compost. The next few days we will be getting more compost and repotting a few more of our herbs into these small planters.
Repotted basil plant in its new planter


Repotting can be traumatic for plant so we will be using a one time dose of a homeopathic mix which includes Arnica, Calendula, Dulcamara, Gelsemium and Nux Vomica to help transition the plant into its new home!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Vermi-Composter: Almost Done!!

Pre-cut pieces for EZ Roll Worm Bin
It is absolutely essential in urban food production to have your own composter. Its a great way to minimize waste, and provide a rich foundation for any growth; all your left-over food, cuttings and fruit that you never got around to eating plus all your daily organic scraps, can all be tossed into the composter to become nutritious plant food. After researching different types of composting techniques, we've decided on two different methods both contributing to the creation of the absolute best compost. The first is a vermi-com-poster, which uses worms to decompose your organic waste. Essentially what you end up with is the worm poo, which is a highly potent soil.  With the Vermi-com-poster you can only add cooked or uncooked Vegetables, fruit, roots, tea, eggs and plant waste . You can never add any kind of meat, dairy, plastic, egg, metal or oils, to your compost. This will firstly not decompose and secondly destroy your soil and the efficacy of your worms, the worms can not handle any type of fermentation. The second method we have decided to use is the Bokashi composting technique. Bokashi is a pretty neat  bacterial culture that you can add to your food waste in an airtight container. The upside with the Bokashi is that you can stick in dairy, oils and meat. The main drawback is you cannot add the final product directly to your plants and would have to stick it into the ground or into a composter. The vermi-composter in addition to the Bokashi in theory should get rid of 100% of our organic waste while creating a super soil, at least that's the idea.  We are still trying to get our hands on Bokashi or will try and culture it at home in the next few weeks.

Circular sides with ventilation holes, these are what make the bin roll
All sides with holes for ventilation and lid

Sides with support pillars
After spending a few months researching different composters and trying to find something that would be ideal for a limited space, like the one we have. We settled on the EZ Roll Worm Bin. This worm bin seems ideal, it addresses what may have seemed to be the most annoying feature of vermi-composting: Separating the worms from the soil. Its quite a simple design, where you add food from one end, then "roll-over" the bin and access your soil from the other end worm-free. The blueprint for the bin cost 10$ and they come with a step-by-step video which I found extremely useful. I pre-cut a board of plywood, then assembled it. The plywood I bought was a bit on the expensive side and it cost about 240 L.E, but you can go as low as 60 L.E for a board of plywood. I also bought pressure treated wood beams, which cost anywhere from 15 L.E to 50 L.E for a 2-5 meter column. A great place to buy your wood is Darb El Saada by Bab El Khalq. You can also get your plywood cut there using a computerized woodcutter which is extremely accurate, this costs about 5-10 L.E. Other than the wood, everything else can be brought from any hardware store, except for the hanger bolts with winged nuts, these are quite expensive about 8 L.E a piece and can be found in a shop specialized in all kinds of nails called Shafiq in Al Daher, by Bab Al Sha'aria. In total it probably costs about 200-300 L.E to build one and takes about 2-3 days of shopping, cutting and assembling.
Sides and bases
Leila attaching circular sides

Taking measurements for the lid
Now all that's left for the composter is cutting the lid from the left-over plywood. Then comes painting, we have decided to paint it white to keep it cool, once we are done with all the preparation we will finally get the worms!!! (We will keep you updated as to where you can get these worms, we are still figuring it out!)

Test-run with dogs

Monday, July 9, 2012

Upside-Down Planters: A Work in Progress

For the upside-down planters I followed the instructions I had posted in my previous blog post. I reused Nestle' water bottles. I cut the bases and tops and used a hair dryer to invert the tops inwards. I used a nail to puncture holes in the cut off bases. Sumaya and I then wrapped the bottles with thick Canson paper, securing it using glue and duct tape. Then we wrapped the decorative paper around sticking it with glue. Tomorrow once the glue dries we will be covering the outside with glue so when it dries, it hardens and plasticizes the paper making it hardier and more water-resistant.
Sumaya's Little Helper

Wrapping the Bottle with Canson Paper
Applying the Glue (Can you spot Sumaya's little helper #2?)

Cutting the Decorative Paper

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Thinking about Planters, Space-efficiency and Aesthetics

So we're finally starting our urban food production project. We've decided to start indoors and expand onto the roof. Our apartment is quite small with three dogs and four cats, that like to get their little green paws involved in our gardening, definitely an added challenge. We decided not to start with seeds and to buy and transplant plants, just until we get our composter going (which is all cut and ready to be assembled, but I tend to be on the slow side of things). The Agricultural Research Unit in Mohandiseen, right by the Shooting Club, sells different edible and herbaceous plants at a surprisingly low cost (about 10 L.E a plant), they claim that they are organic and non-GMO, I must say I am slightly skeptical about these claims, but will go ahead and start off with this. We bought: Basil, thyme, marjoram, parsley, lavender, mint, rosemary and garlic.
The basil, marjoram and mint will do alright in partial sunlight and the rest need direct sunlight. So we cannot place all the plants in the same areas in the house. Luckily we have two small balconies and a lot of light in our apartment so the challenge is really about cramming as many plants as we can in the small spaces that we have.
For the kitchen which gets about 2-3 hours of sunlight right before noon, we will place the basil, marjoram, mint, thyme, rosemary and parsley. The kitchen is 2 x 5 m with a lot of shelves and cupboards that are full, leaving very little room for planters. I came across these fantastic sky upside down planters that can be constructed from old plastic bottles, some duct-tape, mesh and decorative paper. Keeping my herbs in the kitchen means I can just reach up and grab them rinse them and put them in my food. The biggest plus to upside down planters is that they not just extremely space efficient but also water efficient, something we always want to keep in consideration when living in a hyper-arid country.

According to my research it seems that basil, mint, thyme, marjoram, rosemary and parsley do quite well upside down. The garlic cannot be planted upside down because its roots are gravitrophic so they will be extremely confused when hung upside down and will grow downwards outside the soil.  
So now I will work on constructing the planters, of course having them match our decor is extremely important to us so it might be a few days before they we are able to repot and hang them up.