I was recently invited by Shaunalynn of sprout & co to speak at the Food in the City Spaghetti Dinner about my experience with subirrigated gardening. Subirrigated gardening is a way of growing plants that conserves water, preserves fertilizer, and simplifies watering. I regularly consult the Inside Urban Green blog for information on subirrigation which is authored by Bob Hyland, founder of the Center for Urban Greenscaping and the definitive subirrigation guru. Other topics for the evening included raising chickens, Sam Katz-Christy on his Somerville yogurt co-op, Tai Dinnan from Groundwork Somerville on maple tree tapping and syrup making, and Mike Nagle on window farming in urban areas. Live illustrations were created by Isaac Bell during the talks which reflected the topics at hand.
I’ve been interested in making my own yogurt for some time now and learned a lot about the process as Sam fielded an array of questions from the crowd. The co-op operates from the industrial kitchen of the Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church and sources milk regionally from Crescent Ridge Dairy. Crescent Ridge Dairy delivers in glass containers which helps reduce plastic waste when making yogurt in large batches; Sam’s simultaneous consideration for the environment and community was inspiring.
My talk reviewed the principles of subirrigation including 2-liter soda bottle designs and larger planter designs based on corrugated drain pipe which are more suitable for growing vegetables. The planter below was built from a 3-liter bottle and housed a couple of happy basil plants. Herbs do very well in these 2 and 3 liter designs.
For growing tomatoes and peppers, the corrugated pipe planter designs are the easiest and most reliable to build. Below is a section of the corrugated and perforated pipe cut to fit in the bottom of the clear container shown to the right of me. I would use this planter to grow one tomato plant or two pepper plants. Clear containers allow you to observe water levels without detriment to the plant.
There was a great turnout for the talks. The picture below by Chris Connors shows a small fragment of the assembled crowd; I really enjoy hanging out after talks at hackerspaces to meet new people with similar interests.
I am working on finishing a Make Project page which will include details on fertilizer, pesticide, and other concerns. For more information on subirrigation I highly recommend the Inside Urban Green Blog as well as the EarthBox Forum. Now is the time to order and start your tomato seeds for the upcoming season!
If you’d like to stay in touch with sub-irrigators in Somerville, MA and Boston, join the Sub-irrigate Sprout google group.