Tag Archives: Urban gardening

Pop-up gardening in Christchurch

Christchurch, the third-biggest city in New Zealand, has had a terrible time the last years. They got hit with a huge earthquake in 2010, an even more traumatic one in 2011, and then the quakes and uncertainty just kept coming. The city centre has long been razed but the go-ahead for new building hasn’t really come until recently.

Meanwhile, life goes on. A tough call, but it does.

We were in Christchurch recently visiting our colleagues at EMNZ and ZingBokashi, they’re doing a great work and have been for many years. (And when the earthquake damage was at it’s worst they were out there with truckloads of EM, spraying against smell and potential disease).

They tipped us about the great Agropolis community garden right in the heart of town. It’s a true pop-up affair, the signs are up for the current property to be sold, then I assume they’ll move on to a new spot yet again.

It’s a great little garden. Truly inspiring to see the spirit behind it, hanging in even when it’s tough, and creating a little spot of beauty and good health in the midst of what is, honestly, a traumatized city centre with a lot of building ahead of it.

The garden is sponsored in part by our EM colleagues. Bokashi and EM are used in the garden beds. Everything is very pragmatic here, they’ve made a great soil factory out of an old pallet-based water tank. (I’m sure these things have a name, just not sure what it is!)

There’s a productive greenhouse (plastic tunnel style) on site, information about when the next work session is, a practical watering system round the boxes and a great design on the garden beds. Lots of wooden shipping pallets here!

Anyhow, enjoy the pictures! Hope you’ll be inspired to pass them on to a community garden you know of.

You don’t need an earthquake to get this to happen!



Fresh and healthy herbs and veggies. You quickly forget what once was…


…until you look up at the backdrop.


Smart use of shipping pallets.


Yep. It works!


Coffee sacks. Not an idea I’d ever thought of. But then again, there’s a coffee roasters across the street…


Giant size bokashi bin.


Which is mixed with soil in this highly-pragmatic soil factory.


Fresh and healthy all right.


Smart use of stacked plastic crates with bokashi soil.


The for sale sign is up. The nature of the best for pop-up community gardens.


Just a practical detail from the watering system.




Bokashi in the greenhouse.

Did a big clean out in the greenhouse in the weekend and cleared out everything. Felt so wonderful to get rid of all the bits and pieces and do a restart. I’ve been growing tomatoes and cucumbers in big black buckets for years (the greenhouse itself has no soil) and that’s always been ok but it felt like time for a new approach.

So. Now it’s like this. I brought home 10 big bricklayers tubs from the local hardware store and lined them up in the greenhouse. Four on one side, six on the other (side-by-side rather than end-to-end). Then the fun started…

The tubs are 90 liters each (there are small ones available here too, 65 liters). Cost was some 13 euro each for the big, 8-9 for the small. And they’re really sturdy and nice! 900 liters in total to fill…

First up I put in a layer of drainage, the small clay balls that are called lecakulor in Swedish. Some 5 to 10 cm worth. So far I haven’t drilled any drainage holes, I’m thinking of not having any and using the drainage layer as a water reservoir if I’m careful and don’t overwater. But if I do go for holes I’ll drill them on the sides, at the same height as the drainage material. In a perfect world that means none of the valuable nutrients would be lost.

Next step was a layer of soil, just the cheap potting mix you buy at the supermarket this time of year. I thought a bit about putting a felt layer between the drainage and the soil but decided not to, if the roots want to make their way down into the reservoir it’s all theirs!

Then came the Bokashi! Some 20-30 liters ready fermented food waste from the kitchen. I happened to have a lot of biobags on hand so I used those, but obviously you take whatever you’ve got. But I did hack them open and spread out the goo reasonably evenly.

Then I added a couple of buckets of “real soil” from my soil factory in the garden, normal topsoil drenched in nutrients from last summer’s Bokashi. And the most ridiculous amount of worms! If they like it in their new home it’ll be just great to have them in on the operation.

Then topped up the tubs with more “sack soil”, the cheapest of potting mixes. I cut up the bags and tucked one over each tub to prevent evaporation until it’s time to plant. But now I’m even thinking I might plant my tomatoes and cucumbers in a hole in the plastic to reduce watering. What do you think?

Needless to say I deserved a beer at the end of all this! Just now the whole project looks like a workplace but I’m really excited about it. In my mind it’s already green and luscious with endless perfect tomatoes and cucumbers, maybe even kiwifruit, passionfruit or even a whole vineyard… Anyhow, I think it will be great and I’m dead curious to see how it works out.

One of the big benefits (I think) will be that come autumn I can dig down a new batch of Bokashi in all the tubs and renovate the soil ready for the spring. Maybe replace some of it if needed. It would be such a luxury to come out to the greenhouse in the spring and just wash it down and plant — having let the microbes and worms do all the hard stuff in the meanwhile.

Dreams are free! But I’ll let you know how the tomatoes work out!

…and in the old tomato buckets I’ve planted potatoes, all going well we’ll get a nice early batch in time for midsummer (and anyone who’s been to Sweden will know how important that is!). Fingers crossed.

Gardening guru Alys Fowler on Bokashi.

I guess everyone has heard about Alys Fowler except me.

I came across this article she wrote for the Guardian a few weeks ago and it seemed to me a pretty good endorsement by someone who really knows what they’re talking about when it comes to gardening. She has quite an interesting life story — urban gardening in Manhattan, tv gardener for the BBC and into all sorts of projects and books on sustainable gardening and self-sufficient living.

Here’s the article:

And here’s the Wikipedia link with the back story:

Wouldn’t mind a couple of her books! Although that would probably just start me off on more projects than I need right at the moment 🙂

Growing veggies when the economy goes to hell

This morning I read an article in our national paper on Greece. Yes, they’re throwing firebombs at one another and protesting up and down in Athens but — one woman’s quiet voice made itself heard. From her balcony. Where she’s started growing veggies outside her parents apartment to feed the family.

Her plan is to expand her patch of lettuce, carrots, onions, coriander and spinach from the balcony to the roof in due course. The way things are heading in Greece many more will have to do something similar to make ends meet.

And Greece is just one country. Admittedly it’s well and truly in the news but it’s far from being alone when it comes to people having to face facts. That food is expensive. That money is short. And that growing your own food is the only rational way of helping to make ends meet when the housekeeping budget goes the way of the national budget.

The article (sorry it’s in Swedish) also describes how a local organization called something like “Gardens in the City” is involved in helping people get started. As we all know, there’s usually a ton of trial and error before your first carrots look like the ones on the seed packet, but once you get the hang of it it’s all astonishingly easy.

Which is where we have to help one another out. Gardeners who “can” help gardeners who want to learn. Generation to generation, neighbor to neighbor. I know I’m an optimist but this is hardly rocket science. And we all, deep down, want things to be good. At least that’s what I believe.

Now this article doesn’t say a word about Bokashi. Chances are they don’t even know about it yet. But it’s the obvious missing link and in due course things will fall into place.

Meanwhile the most important thing is to get the first little salad patch going on every balcony and every rooftop. In Greece and everywhere else. And then give your neighbor a hand with theirs…

Urban gardening in bread crates.

First. A confession. I don’t live anywhere near a city.

But we have a patch of gravel outside the house so that, for the time being, is my urban backyard.

My idea was to test if you could grow a “garden” in a pile of bread crates on a wooden pallet. Then use them during the winter for storage of Bokashi. Conclusion: works brilliantly.

I started in the winter (the original blog is here) and now that summer is just about done here there’s no doubt it works really well. Actually I’m quite excited because I think this could be a really nice way for people with real urban backyards to get a small garden going AND recycle more or less all their food waste on a patch of asphalt no bigger than one square metre.

This is the summer bit. (The winter bit involves storing cured Bokashi in bio-bags or plastic bags in the empty crates.)

First step, you’ll need a pallet and up to ten plastic crates. Not too deep or you’ll never be able to lift them. Get hold of some plastic potting mix bags and cut them to size. Poke in a few drainage holes. (In the original experiment I used newspaper for lining. Forget it, it gets too dry. Plastic is better.)

Then a first layer of potting mix, just the cheap stuff from the garden shop.

Empty a bucket of cured Bokashi and spread it around nicely.

Then top up the crate with soil.

Lift on the crate you’re going to plant in. This one I’d done a couple of weeks earlier. You can have up to five crates in a stack, makes a nice working height. (No snails! No weeds!)

If you plant in a couple of worms before you know it you’ll have a whole colony doing their bit for your garden!

Time to plant! Herbs, lettuce, whatever will do ok in the shallow soil. But it seems to me you can plant quite intensively as the soil is so good.

Ready! Just to let them grow and enjoy the results.

The good thing with growing in a stack like this is that run-off nutrients from the top crate will filter down through the others and not be wasted. In peak season you could spread out the trays and grown in all of them, or hand them out to friends and neighbours ready-planted.

When the season is over the soil will still be quite good in the trays, so empty them somewhere valuable and stack up the trays nice and neat ready to be used as winter storage. You may even want to lift the whole thing into the cellar to make life easier in the winter.

Growing up the wall in Jerusalem

Cool idea isn’t it? Tomatoes growing up the wall. Veggies growing in pyramids.

This high-school in Hod-Ha’Sharon makes research on agriculture which can be done by people in their apartments, balconies, walls or roofs.
They also study how to re-use and recycle water.

They test whether tomatoes can grow in bags on the wall or whether it is possible to cultivate plants in triangle-shaped pyramids, made from soil in plastic foils.
This method advantage is that the ground area can multiply in 3 times the number of plants growing comparing to conventional flat bed.

Given that most people in the world live in dense urban environments this is the way to go. How can we feed a growing world population? My guess is that the first thing is to learn how to “produce” soil and then find a whole lot of creative new ways of using it so we can grow on whatever spaces we have available.

Here we’re testing the idea of producing soil and growing in bread crates. It’s looking promising at this stage! 10 bread crates stacked on a wooden pallet (2 stacks of five shallow crates). Make soil in the lower crates (Bokashi and potting mix) and grow herbs and salad in the top ones. You maybe don’t grow so incredibly much food but it’s looking like a small family could take care of all their own food waste on a space no bigger than a pallet. On asphalt or a sunny corner at the back of an apartment building.

Love to hear your ideas! There are probably many crazy ideas worth testing — who knows, some of them may be what our children’s children end up using to grow their own food. It would be nice to think we’ve helped make it happen.

Read the article here>>

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Urban gardening. In bread crates!

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A couple of months ago I wrote about a project in Berlin that really inspired me. Right there in the middle of an incredibly grey, incredibly urban jungle, cars rushing by on all sides, these guys have created a community garden.

And the thing is they’re doing it all in bread crates. Stacked on timber pallets.

Nice and easy to move if someone decides they should put up a high-rise there instead. And the only real option when the land beneath their feet is a lovely mix of asphalt and god-knows-what.

So we’ve decided to run some experiments here on the same theme, but using Bokashi to make the soil. Urban gardening in bread crates. Even though it’s mid-winter. Even though we live about as un-urban as you can get with, say, 3 cars passing by per year. Our plan is to set up the crates on the veranda now during the winter and see how they can be used for winter storage. Veranda = asphalt, right?

Then, come spring, we’ll try whatever we can think of to assimilate urban gardening. I’m dead sure we’ll be able to make soil directly in the crates — the idea would be to grow in the top one on the stack and make soil in the lower ones. And if we put out a couple of the trays on the grass for a while I imagine some worms will move in, enough to start a little colony. If they like it, perhaps they’ll stay. Even when the stack gets moved back onto the gravel. With any luck they’ll work their way up and do their worm-thing tray by tray.

You’re right — this is all very theoretical at this stage. Probably a near-case of cabin-fever after several months of snow…

So maybe you could help us? Wherever you live you must surely have an earlier start to your spring than we have and perhaps you’d like to give it a go. Test everything! Let us know what you find out!

It would be really, seriously, cool if we could find a simple way of getting urban gardening and Bokashi working together. Hard to imagine anything more elegant than old food becoming new food right under the nose of the urban planners!


You can see pretty much what we’ve done in the pictures above. The crates have a grid of holes bottom and sides, we’re lining them with newspaper to prevent soil escaping down the track. They stack nice and neat on the veranda, we’ve put various plastic and bio-bags (biodegradable bags) filled with Bokashi into each crate. Seems to work fine for winter storage, the whole lot will just sit there and freeze until spring.

When things start to thaw we plan to cover the bags in each tray with soil and/or autumn leaves. The important thing is that the Bokashi is not exposed to air at any stage. Probably we’ll slit open the bio-bags or at least punch holes in them as they will take forever to break down otherwise. The more soil-contact the better — that’s what gets the soil-making process going. Oh, and a cover on the top crate is probably a good idea so your soil doesn’t get rained away if you’re not under cover.

Of course, you could just use this as a handy winter storage. In the spring you could just carry the trays out into the garden and dig down the bags/empty them or whatever. Same if you had an allotment somewhere, or a community project going. A few trays of ready Bokashi would be a godsend come spring.

That’s the plan so far. I’ll get back to you when spring comes. If it ever comes…