Saturday, 11 February 2012

A Zero-budget & Low-carbon Vegetable Garden

Organically grown Turnip   Photo: Zahra Ali

What if I tell you that you can grow your very own vegetable garden without spending a penny but still earn profits of thousands of rupees per month with the added bonus of reducing your carbon footprint to almost zero? No kidding, it’s true!
Reduce carbon: produce more

We all know that uncontrollable CO2 emissions have ruined our natural environment beyond our imagination and knowledge. Sadly, no matter how much we appreciate and value this planet and the life on it, we have had a major part in gravely harming it.

It is time to put things in order.
Home grown Carrots by Siam Rizwan

Even little things, such as consuming farm-grown food, contribute additional CO2 to the environment, and that means we often spend our hard-earned money on things that are detrimental to our planet and our lives. By saying this, I do not aim to discourage the consumption of all farm produce, but I do strongly discourage buying from inorganic farms.
Unfortunately, most of the vegetables available to us come from inorganic farms with high carbon footprints because they use lots of dirty, carbon-based energy to run farm machinery as well as heavy pesticides and chemical fertilizers with known perilous effects on not only human health but also on the Earth’s environment. Once this produce is harvested, vans, trucks, trains, ships or planes, which all release high amounts of carbon into environment, distribute the food to our markets. And let’s not forget the energy used in packaging and by our cars that carry us back and forth from grocery stores.
But there is good news. You can reduce your carbon emission by 1lb per square foot of a vegetable garden over an entire growing season!
Islamabad: Eggplants growing in a sack at Nadeem Iqbal's organic garden   Photo: Zahra Ali

A zero-budget vegetable garden

Starting a vegetable garden is easy. Organic compost, seeds, planters and a sufficient supply of water are the main items needed. Normally, you would have to spend money on these things to get your garden going. But here are some ideas to grow a vegetable garden without spending a penny:
  1. Prepare your own compost by reusing newspapers, wood shavings, used tea bags, vegetable and fruit peelings, eggshells, plant cuttings, etc.
  2. Save seeds from your homegrown heirloom vegetables and herbs to use the next growing season.
  3. Reuse empty sacks, bags, plastic bottles, tires and buckets, and just about anything else that can hold 6-12 inches (15-30cm) of soil and has a drainage hole, as planters in which to grow vegetables and herbs.
  4. Reuse water used for washing dishes and vegetables to irrigate your garden.
Plastic Bottle Towers by Willem Van Cotthem

If you do not have a plot to start a vegetable garden, consider designing a container garden on your rooftop, balcony, terrace or windowsill. Vertical farming is a growing practice across the world that allows individuals with limited space to create bigger gardens and thus achieve larger yields.

Most of us will not be able to grow enough vegetables to fulfill our daily consumption, but we can definitely reduce our bills and CO2 emissions greatly.
For every 10 lb (4.5 kg) of tomatoes grown at home, you save 20 lb of carbon emitted into the environment and hundreds that you spend in buying it. 

So why not start a vegetable garden before World Environment Day on 5 June 2012? It’s easy and rewarding, and you’ll join the many other people around the world who have made small changes to their lifestyles in order to make a big difference to the planet. 

for more reading:

Reuse, Recycle and Produce: Bottle Gardening in Karachi

How, where and when to plant seeds

Green Economy  Initiative

World Environment Day 

Carbon Footprint Calculator

Tree Hugger

Special thanks to Talib Qizilbash.



Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Reuse, Recycle and Produce: Bottle Gardening in Karachi

A new generation of green thumbs: Students pose with their base pots and a plastic bottle filled with potting mix (left). Photo: Yasir Husain

In December, I came across Willem Van Cotthem’s video tutorial on how to construct a bottle-tower garden to grow herbs and vegetables. It is a simple and effective tool in the global fight against hunger and malnutrition.

Willem Van Cotthem is a botany professor at the University of Ghent in Belgium and has brilliant ideas on how to use plastic bottles to create gardens. By recycling large plastic bottles to create vertical “tower gardens,” professor Van Cotthem has provided an inexpensive method to grow vegetables and herbs using a minimal amount of space, water and fertilizer.

Overwhelmed by inspiration, I initially shared a link on the Crops in Pots Facebook page from my home in Karachi. Soon Rubaba Waqar, an urban farmer from Islamabad, linked us with Nighat, a volunteer teacher for a government school in Karachi who was enthusiastic to have gardening classes for her students. So I thought, “Why not combine both ideas together and create something wonderful for this school?”

To test the idea first, I followed the instructions in Van Cotthem’s video and made my first bottle tower for my garden. It hardly took me 15 minutes to have something so beautiful and simple to plant my food in. Soon after, I made an announcement on Crops in Pots, asking for volunteers to come forward and help me make a bottle-tower garden for this Karachi government school.
Top-down approach: Zahra Ali helps a student set up a tower. “I think Pepsi, Fanta and 7up bottles never looked better,” says Zahra. Photo: Yasir Husain
Amazingly, some very talented urban farmers not only showed interest but also contributed material for the project. Nasreen Ashraf from Amateur Gardener’s Club bought some herb and vegetable seedlings, Mansha Noor from Caritas Pakistan contributed seed packs for each student, while talented vegetable grower Yasir Khan brought some herb seeds and canes for the structure. Meanwhile, I gathered some vegetable pots for inspiration and some other basic things we might need. Nighat, from the school, arranged for the sand and bottles.

We met at the Government School for Girls in Clifton right opposite to the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi at 10am on January 24, 2011. In our audience were grade four and grade five students. We took turns talking to them and started to build the first tower. We cut the bottoms off of each bottle, inverted them, filled them with our potting mix and stacked them one on top of another so that water from the top would drip down through each bottle planter. Then we cut little windows into each bottle and started planting.

The girls loved the idea. Most of them live in Neelum Colony, which is right behind the school. It’s so densely populated and overcrowded with houses that finding a place to grow vegetables seems unimaginable. The “bottle tower” was a perfect solution for them. It takes just a few inches of space horizontally but can be made as tall as one likes. The best thing about it is that it works on a drip irrigation system with the help of gravity, and thus one tower requires as little as one glass of water every two days! To make sure every student had the chance to participate, students were asked to get bottles from home, while the seeds were provided to them and a volunteer supplied the soil and manure for anyone interested. We planted salvia, marigold, petunia, mint, tomatoes, coriander, fennel and fenugreek.

I will never forget the glow of their faces. I could see in them the same eagerness to experiment and grow food that I had when I discovered this project, and so I was compelled to ask them each to teach at least three more friends how to make a garden out of a “bottle tower.” I could see the idea spreading in their community. One of the girls said, “Hum aaj ghar jakeh zaroor beej lagain gae” (“We’ll definitely sow seeds today at our homes”), and many more of them repeated this sentiment.

It helps that this gardening method is inexpensive to implement. In total, a bottle tower comprising 25 plastic bottles costs around Rs250. One can easily get a bag of sand and manure mix for under Rs200, which will be enough for 25 bottles. Seeds can be bought for around Rs1/seed. And while some people might need a few canes to support the towers, a tower can also be tied to a grill that you already have. Moreover, you can bring the bill down near to zero by using homemade compost, saved seeds from homegrown tomatoes or other vegetables, herbs or flowers. A bottle tower needs almost a glass of water each day or every other day but even that cost can be reduced to zero by using water from your kitchen. It’s this awesome!

It is amazing to see how a few clicks helped me connect with so many different people who I had never before met, and how a simple video made in Belgium inspired us here in Pakistan. I have become a fan of the virtual world and of its ability to plant ideas across the globe.

It started from Belgium and came to us in Pakistan. We taught 50 young girls here, and now it’s on display for hundreds of more students from the same school. Imagine 50 poor families with a kitchen garden of their own: its astonishing how fast ideas can grow and spread.

Why not do something similar in your neighbourhood, or in a nearby underprivileged area?

This article was published on the Newsline Magazine on 6th Feb, 2012. 
more about bottle towers here 

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Grow food towers

A special video made by the person who inspired us to do this project! ( more details soon )

( the original video that inspired us)

further reading

crops in pots