Vertical gardening for food production

Photo credit : WVC P1080789 copy.JPG


November 2015

This quarterly electronic newsletter is intended to inform the scientific community about dryland‐relevant research matters. The deadline for receipt of material for the next issue is 20.01.2016. Please send your contributions (1000 characters max, including spaces) to and

3. Researchers’ Updates

Information provided by:

Willem Van Cotthem ‐ University of Ghent, Belgium

Growing food vertically in the drylands

Vegetables and herbs can easily be grown in towers of recycled bottles, pots or buckets. Container gardening is an efficient tool for combatting hunger and malnutrition.

In the battle against desertification and hunger, soil and water are difficult to manage. Soils are often sandy or stony, poor to infertile. Water is mostly a limiting factor for plant growth. These tightly linked factors limit the production potential for food crops and fodder, afforestation or reforestation. Speaking about agriculture in the drylands, these factors are
associated with improving soil conditions with either the use of fertilizers, manure, compost and with the use of wells, drip irrigation, tubes, canals,
sprinklers. Farming and gardening are normally an activity performed at the horizontal level in the field. Exceptionally, farmers are thinking of growing crops in a vertical garden. And yet, there are important benefits in vertical farming: less dependency on soil qualities, saving of irrigation water and nutrients, optimized growing conditions, maximal plant production on the smallest surface, easier resource management, and less labour. Vertical farming or gardening techniques could easily be promoted by development organizations as a low investment method with a high return‐on‐investment.


Photo WVC P1080463.jpg – Bottle towers on a pallet.  Planting seedlings.  Yogurt pot underneath each tower to collect drainage water loaded with mineral elements.

Vertical Farming or Gardening in Soda Bottles or Pots

As the majority of dryland populations cannot afford PVC tubes, we decided to utilize food grade plastic bottles and pots. Most developing countries are experiencing environmental pollution from littering. By creatively recycling discarded containers, we were able to grow a number of different crops and saplings in individual containers, e.g. yogurt pots. On the basis of these successes we developed the method of stacking individual containers to form towers. This simple solution ‐ growing vegetables and herbs in window‐like openings in the sidewall of recycled bottles, pots and buckets – has the potential of becoming a cheap, but effective tool for dryland people. The method is basic, uncomplicated and easily understood. The footprint is compact with important resource conservation benefits. Watering the entire tube‐like tower through a single water‐tank on top of each tower offers impressive water savings and nutrient conservation. It offers anyone on Earth the possibility of growing fresh food on an extremely limited surface.


(1) Building a bottle tower for container gardening :‐uDbjZ9roEQ




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Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.