Last year was our first year working our vegetable garden (our first time gardening ever in fact). We tried a series of different methods to see what worked well: raised beds, pallet planters, wattling bed and making a hanging vertical garden wall. All were made using recycled materials and are being continued into this year. We made almost no changes, except for a relocation of some of the pallet planters and a some amendments to the vertical garden as a result of lessons learned.
What works, What doesn’t
To recap – we tried 3 variations of recycling plastic milk bottles into a vertical garden last year. Some of our bottles were hung sideways, with a hole cut out of the side for the plant. A few were stacked like a tower, with water running through like a drain pipe. Half hung vertically, top end down, with the opening cut from the bottom.
The horizontal bottles, although looking more aesthetically pleasing, were an unmitigated disaster. They dry out quicker and they also have less root development area.
The tower of bottles was an even worse disaster. Water pouring through, particularly in a heavy rain, simply drowned the plants.
The singular vertical bottles were much more successful, giving more room for root growth. We even planted tomatoes in them. We did have some issues with a few of the bottles draining badly. This was dealt with by checking the drainage holes were not blocked, increasing the number of holes or even removing the cap to let water drain if necessary. (Remember to put the cap back on so soil doesn’t fall away!)
Going Blue in our Green Garden
Depending on the type of bottle being recycled, you may have to replace some or all the following year. Some plastics become brittle after prolonged time in sunlight, which was the case with out plastic milk bottles.
This year we are trying blue plastic bottles. Why? Mainly because we had a spate of trying magnesium water (very popular in France). Also, we were curious to see if the darker plastic made any difference to the growing of the plants.
I transplanted our strawberries, previously in the pallets, into the vertical bottles. With a shorter, wider root system, we thought they might grow better with more depth. In addition, and possibly more importantly, it would get them out of reach of the chickens. They love strawberries!
Collect washed and rinsed plastic bottles. Using a sharp knife, with care, cut the end off the bottom of the bottle (which can then be saved and used for other projects). You can try cutting the bottle with scissors, it is more difficult, but safer.
Drill or punch (you can use sharp scissors or large needle) 2 ‘hole punch’ size holes, on opposite sides of the bottle. Do this at both top and bottom ends of the bottle. Be careful of slipping with the drill bit or whatever you are using.
Your vertical garden
You will want to hang the bottles on something. I did this by stringing a wire between 2 old metal bars that had already been attached to the wall. Depending on your vertical space, you need to figure out how and where you string your wire. Just make sure it is very solid, and has reasonable tension. There will be quite a lot of weight put on it.
Cut 2 pieces of garden twine, or any left over strong string, the same length. With the cap pointing down, thread a piece of string through each of the holes at the top. Tie these over the top of the wire you have strung up. Hang as many or as few bottles as your wall wire allows.
Fill your container part way up with soil, if you are adding an already existing plant. Fill it to the top if you are planting seeds. Give it a watering to help it along. Et voilà, there you go, your hanging vertical garden.
Various Other Ways
You could do this inside or out, but if inside, be aware of how much light your garden will receive. I have seen people use poles in the window, giving the plants lots of natural light. This way looks particularly lovely.
There are lots of ideas and suggestions out there of ways to build a vertical garden, here’s just a few: Real Simple, Popular Mechanics and Rodales Organic Life. You can also buy various planter pockets, though they are obviously more expensive than recycling bottles. Florafelt and Wallygro make some interesting pocket systems. There is a range of choice on Amazon* too.
No, we are not sponsored or affiliated with Florafelt or Wallygro, both USA based. We are affiliated with Amazon UK and in writing and researching this post I discovered they offer some good choices, too. So, I am taking the opportunity to link them here should you be interested, and we will get a few pennies. Santé.
(If you would like to read more about our Affiliates, visit our Nourishing Pumpjack & Piddlewick page.)