Experiments with Mini Vertical Container Gardening

by Ragtimelil

I have moved into a space that doesn't allow for a garden. I was determined to find some ways to at least have some salad greens. Here's some of my experiments in mini gardening.

There are many ways to make use of a sunny window, balcony or porch to grow vegetables. Unfortunately, I have only a few small windows. That leaves me with the outdoors. I can grow anything I want here, as long as it's in a container. Over the past few years I have experimented with container gardening and found that things grow amazingly well. This year I will be experimenting with gardening vertically in containers.

Another part to this experiment is to use as much recycled materials as possible. Pots can be expensive and take up a lot of room. See my seed starter pots and soda bottle towers below.

I've also made a drastic change from gardening in the short growing season of New England to the baking heat of Texas. This year will be a learning curve. I did start a few seeds on the counter using my cardboard tube seed starter pots.
I'll be posting updates as things happen. I've been waiting for a few seedlings to start so I could take pictures.

Updated March 19, 2013
Updated April 7, 2013

Make Free Seed Starter Pots from Cardboard Tubes

In New England, starting seeds indoors is an annual ritual. I had read about using cardboard tubes to make seed starter pots. I experimented with several directions for making them and finally came up with a system that is the easiest and makes as many free pots as you would need. 
I use toilet paper and paper towel cardboard rolls. Cut the smaller ones in half and the paper towel tubes in thirds or quarters. Then gently push the sides together. Cut a slit about 1/3 of the way up in the middle. Fold the tube the other way and then cut another slit in the middle of that fold. 
The step that most instructions skip is to fold each of the tabs outwards so that the fold is even all the way around. This makes it easier to get a good edge. Then go back and fold all the tabs back toward the inside of the tube. Overlap each tab over the one before it. When you get to the last one, slip the last corner under the last tab on the other side. If you've ever folded a box top so that it locks, you'll see that it's the same thing. 
Fill with potting soil and plant your seeds. The roots will grow right through the cardboard as it breaks down.
First a Tube
First a Tube
Cut Tubes
Cut Tubes
Second Cut
Second Cut
How to fold a tube Part 1 and 2

Free Mini Greenhouses

In the spring, I save  those plastic containers that some vegetables and prepared foods come in. I set my seed starter pots in them, water so that the pots wick the water up and cover. It's a great mini greenhouse for starting seeds. I open them daily so that they can get some fresh air if it gets too hot.
Mini Greenhouse
Mini Greenhouse
Seed Starter Pots
Seed Starter Pots

The Ideal Tower Garden

I have made my first attempt at making a hanging tower garden. The technique goes like this.
First, drill a hole in the bottom of a soda bottle just large enough for the neck of another bottle to fit through.  A flap is cut in the first bottle just large enough to add some potting soil and  for the plant to grow out of it. (See photos.) Before adding the soil drill a few holes in both of the caps of the bottles. Put the neck of the second bottle through the hole in the bottom of the first bottle.
The video showed using a bit of sponge shoved into the neck of the bottle to act as a filter and keep soil from packing down and preventing water from getting through. I didn't have a sponge so I used some raw wool, which I happen to have a lot of. I've seen another one that didn't use the cap at all but that's another story.
Put the cap through the flap of the first bottle and screw it onto the neck of the second bottle so that the bottle is locked in place. Continue adding bottles until you have as many as you want. The last bottle will have the end cut off and will serve as a funnel for water. The first bottle can have another cap glued to the end so that the first bottle is cap end to cap end to a bottle used for drainage. It can be  glued and secured with a small bolt. This bottle can be unscrewed and the water poured through the top bottle to recycle the water. Add potting soil to the plant bottles and add seeds, seedlings or plants. It can be hung by poking 3 or 4 holds in the top funnel and using wire or string to hang your tower.
Cut Bottle
Cut Bottle
Drilled Cap
Drilled Cap
Soil and Flaps
Soil and Flaps

My Version of the Tower Garden

Temporary Towergarden towerWell this sounded great. But I didn't have a drill that would penetrate that very hard plastic at the bottom of soda bottles. I tried another method that involves cutting the end off of each bottle and just shoving the neck into the end of the lower bottle. I thought that sounded easier, so I tried that. It looks like these photos. Now I need something to attach it to so that it doesn't fall over. In a typical yard or porch, I would just attach it to a fence or railing, but I have neither. I'm going to experiment with making my own portable frame to support my bottles.
Another issue down here in Texas is that ants love to move into plant pots. I can either suspend the first bottle in another bottle of water, or crochet some hangers. We'll see what develops.

 Tomatoes and other heavier vegetables will be planted in recycled buckets from the deli department of my local grocery store. That will be another installment.

Update March 19, 2013

In Which I Learn a Thing or Two

Lettuce growing in a soda bottle towerI did learn something. I transplanted some basil following the directions on one of the videos.

The gardener filled the soda bottle with dirt, removed the cap, stuck it upside down inside the previous bottle and cut a flap with a utility knife. Then he carefully make a hole in the dirt with his fingers and put in some seeds or the roots of a transplant.

Mini gardenI followed these instructions and as soon as I stopped holding the flap down, it sprung back neatly pinching off my basil stems. From now on, I'm making full holes.

I remembered I had some step-in portable fence posts. They are working great as a support for the bottles.

I used the cut off end of a bottle as a saucer under the first bottle in the tower. I keep a bit of water in it and haven't seen any ants yet.

My bottles tend to list to one side or the other. I've tried sturdy wire and string. Neither hold the bottles really upright but they haven't blown away in some of the pretty heavy winds we had recently.   I do have some floral wire somewhere. I'm trying that next.

The tomato plant is in a 2.5 gallon food bucket. I made a self-watering one but not sure how it's working yet. I wanted to make stackable containers but I don't have enough containers to make that necessary. I've learned that gardening happens a little at a time for me.

Update April 7, 2013

In which I have a sandwich

Swiss Chard

The Swiss chard is growing like crazy. I had to thin it out a bit and just had a delicious sandwich with cheese, Swiss chard and lettuce.

I was a little worried about the big rainstorms that we had lately drowning my garden. I made one water reservoir on the top cut only part of the way through. I can fold back the lid and water but it won't over fill if we have a huge downpour. The others have coffee cans and other bottles to act as lids, but I have to go out and cover them.

I have to give this gardening method a thumbs up.

My tomato plant died of blight. The watering system seemed to be working fine. I pulled up the stalk and checked it for too much or not enough water. It looked fine. I'm trying some strawberry plants in this system now.

Shoebag Planter

I was going to throw out this shoe bag. I have absolutely no space to use it indoors. Then it hit me. It's canvas and similar to the hanging bag shown above only it sits up on the ground. It will probably rot out eventually, but I might as well use it up until then. It looked perfect for carrots!shoe bag plantercarrots

Updated: 04/08/2013, Ragtimelil
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Ragtimelil on 02/21/2015

Great ideas. Thanks!

AnnetteH on 01/05/2015

Some great ideas you have here. I also use toilet rolls for seed germination but leave them whole as I use them mainly for carrot seeds. I also don't fold in the bottoms but stand them in a used takeaway container. If the seed raising mix is wet and you lift them out gently when you are planting them, you'll find that the mix doesn't fall out the bottom. I also use takeaway coffee cups mainly for beetroot seeds. As the seeds I use have a fairly high germination rate I only put one seed in each container and if some don't germinate I can always put in another seed for future planting. Makes for less waste and no need to thin out.

Ragtimelil on 05/17/2014

What a great idea! I've used cloth grocery bags that had holes in them. My plants love them.

frankbeswick on 05/17/2014

My employer sends me materials in rhino bags, envelopes made of a kind of plastic. Rather than thow them away after opening, I sometimes use them as plant pots.

Ragtimelil on 05/17/2014

Thanks. I've seen the shoes and boots. Really neat!

CountrySunshine on 05/16/2014

I've planted in old kitchen pots, shoes & boots, and old tires, but hadn't heard of any of these ideas. Love these!

Ragtimelil on 05/21/2013

Yes, you have to almost garden in the shade down here. I have my mini garden on the north east side so it doesn't get full afternoon sun. Hot climate gardening is a learning curve for me too.

PeggyHazelwood on 05/21/2013

I love these alternative ways of gardening. I too have limited space and weird growing seasons (AZ) than what I'm used to. May have to give some of these a try when it cools down here.

Ragtimelil on 04/08/2013

Great ideas for tucking into spare corners. Good for you.

Sheri_Oz on 04/08/2013

I love all these ideas for recycling. Still finishing up renovations on my house and getting ready to start in on the yard. Will keep these things in mind.

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