Making a Vertical Garden – recycling the previous year

Last year was our first year working our vegetable garden (our first time gardening ever in fact) and we tried a series of different methods; raised beds, wattling bed, pallet planters and vertical hanging wall, to see what worked well. All were made using recycled materials and are being continued into this year, with 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.

We tried 2 variations of vertical gardening last year, re-using plastic milk bottles for both. Half of our bottles were hung sideways, with a hole cut out of the side for the plant, and 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. Now, some blame must rest on myself as containers need more water than planting beds, and I wasn’t the most diligent at watering the plants as I could have been. Essentially we found two faults with the horizontal bottles. They dry out quicker and have less root development area.

The vertical bottles were much more successful, giving more room for root growth – we even planted tomatoes in them – and retained water better. We did have some issues with a few of the bottles draining badly, but this could be 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 (though one had to remember to put it back on so soil didn’t fall away).

Also, depending on the type of bottle being recycled, you may have to replace some or all the following year as some plastics become brittle after prolonged time in sunlight, as we discovered.

This year we are trying blue plastic bottles. Why? Mainly because we had a spate of trying magnesium water (very popular in France) but 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, again a shorter, wider root system so we thought they might grow better with more depth, but also, more importantly, to get them out of reach of the chickens ~ who we discovered loved them.  Of note, we can see that the strawberries are already enjoying their vertical home much than their previous.

How To?

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, at both top and bottom end of the bottle. Be careful of the drill bit or whatever you are using slippage.

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. So depending on your vertical space, will depend on how and where you string your wire. Just make sure it is very solid, and has reasonable tension, as 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 one of the pieces of string through each of the holes, now at the top. Ties these over the top of the wire you have strung up. Hang as many or as few bottles as your wall wire allows.  You can also do this inside.

Fill your container part way up with soil, if you are adding an already existing plant, or to the top if you are planting seeds. Give it a watering to help it along. Et voilà, there you go, your hanging garden.

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