Climate change and vertical gardening

Photo credit: JPRATT27


Salt columnist Stephanie Johnston this week looks at vertical farming company ‘AeroFarms’, another circular economy success story.

Farming has a lot to answer for. So much so that the WWF believes unsustainable agricultural practices present the greatest immediate threat to species and ecosystems around the world.
Perhaps the most alarming of statistics about farming centre around water wastage and contamination. According to the World Resources Institute, agriculture accounted for 70 per cent of all freshwater withdrawn from rivers, lakes and aquifers globally in 2013. Meanwhile a recent global study from the University of Koblenz-Landau found that over 40 per cent of water tested globally exceeded legally-accepted regulatory threshold levels (RTLs) for insecticide and pesticide contamination.

With the UN predicting that two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed countries by 2025, and with many big food producing countries like the US, China, India, Pakistan, Australia and Spain close to reaching their renewable water resource limits, can we really afford for the farming industry to carry on regardless?
Significant contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and arable land depletion are some of the other criticisms levied against an industry that on the one hand is on mother nature’s blacklist, but on the other hand is the only thing capable of helping us to feed our growing (and increasingly urbanising) global population.

Light at the end of the tunnel

But in the midst of all the doom and gloom, there is (LED) light at the end of the tunnel, and things are looking up. Literally !

Read the full article: JPRATT27

Drought-hit hungry households could easily grow food in containers

Photo credit : WVC P1070394 – 2011-09

Vegetables and herbs grown in 8 weeks time on bottle towers

A simple solution for the global hunger problem

by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (University of Ghent, Belgium)

Container gardening has become a universal success.  Nowadays people are growing their own fresh food in all sorts of containers (bottles, buckets, pots, bags, sacks, drums, gutters, …).

More and more people are aware of the fact that families do not need a big garden anymore to produce a sufficient quantity of food.  Today, all over the world people are gardening in small spaces, often applying vertical growing systems, e.g. on towers or on pallets.

Growing food in containers on pallets (a vertical garden in a small space) - Photo WVC  P1110546 - 2014-10
Growing food in containers on pallets (a vertical garden in a small space) – Photo WVC P1110546 – 2014-10

In 2010 I have developed my first “bottle towers”, using superposed soda bottles and food grade pots to grow lots of vegetables and herbs.

The success of this simple and cheap technique to help hungry or malnourished people to fresh food and herbs can easily be measured on the basis of numbers of views of my videos, showing how to build the towers (in English and Spanish).

Should you want to convince yourself about the global applicability of this low-tech method and the affordability for all the drought-hit families, please check out my videos:

(1) Building a bottle tower for container gardening  (332,281 views):

(2) HOW TO BUILD A BOTTLE TOWER (142,712 views):


(4) Cómo cultivar plantas en botellas (258,111 views):

(5) BOTTLE TOWER GARDENS  (1,427,421 views):

(6) HOW TO GROW PLANTS IN BOTTLES (196,989 views):

(7) Growing food in containers at home (321,100 views):

(8) Growing plants in a barrel  (268,663 views):

Vertical gardening, successes on saline soils

Photo credit: Scientific American

Gardening on towers and sacks. Photo: Amy Yee

Vertical Gardens Beat Soil Made Salty by Climate Change

Saltwater is shrinking Bangladesh’s arable land, but a simple approach of planting crops in containers shows surprising success

By Amy Yee


The soil in Chandipur village in southwest Bangladesh has become increasingly salty because of incursions of seawater. The situation became particularly acute in the aftermath of Cyclone Aila in 2009, which brought storm surges that broke embankments and flooded farmland. After 2009 vegetable crops planted in the ground there yielded only meager returns—if they didn’t fail completely.

Sack gardening in Uganda - eggplants - Photo Vermicomposters - African_Gardens_Uganda_bag_garden_Douglas copy.jpg
Sack gardening in Uganda – eggplants – Photo Vermicomposters – African_Gardens_Uganda_bag_garden_Douglas copy.jpg

But for the past three years hundreds of villagers have enjoyed the bounty of so-called vertical gardens—essentially crops grown in a variety of containers in backyards and on the rooftops of their humble homes. Despite their modest size, these gardens produce quite a bit.

Working with local nonprofits WorldFish trained about 200 villagers in four districts in saline-affected areas of southwestern Bangladesh to make vertical gardens. Others not in the program have copied their neighbors’ designs after seeing how well they worked. WorldFish plans to expand the program to include 5,000 people over the next two years.

Sack gardening - onion - Photo Ville Farm - 625641_134848003355532_1593377365_n copy.jpg
Sack gardening – onion – Photo Ville Farm – 625641_134848003355532_1593377365_n copy.jpg

Growing the vertical gardens is a relatively straightforward process. Villagers harvest soil after the rains, around November, and use it later during planting season. They put the soil into containers and mix it with fertilizer made of dried water hyacinth, soil, coconut husks and cow manure. The containers range from plastic rice and concrete sacks to large, specially constructed “towers” made of simple plastic sheets encased by bamboo rings.

Gardening on garbage big bags - Photo Crops in pots Treehugger 404459_315544111821294_262706507105055_858274_1606004967_n copy.jpg
Gardening on garbage big bags – Photo Crops in pots Treehugger 404459_315544111821294_262706507105055_858274_1606004967_n copy.jpg

To prevent waterlogging, the containers are raised off the ground on bricks and filled with brick chips that improve water circulation and drainage. Small holes are cut into the sides where short-rooted vegetables such as Indian spinach and tomatoes can grow. Long-rooted vegetables such as gourds grow on top. These sacks can produce up to eight kilograms of vegetables in one season with an investment of 100 to 150 taka (about $1.30 to $2) per bag. The tower variety of container measures more than 1.2 meters across and can produce more than 100 kilograms of vegetables. One tower requires an investment of about 900 to 1,000 taka (around $11.50 to $13.00) to buy materials and seeds. WorldFish provides seeds and some materials to villagers in the first year.

Read the full article: Scientific American


Grow vegetables in vertical gardens and containers on saline soils

Photo credit: VOA News

A woman in Chandipur village in southwest Bangladesh shows seedlings she grows in pots.(Photo: A. Yee for VOA)

Vertical Gardens Help Bangladesh Farmers Overcome Salty Soil

by Amy Yee


In Bangladesh, more land is becoming salty and unfit for growing crops. It’s a pressing problem in this densely-populated country where most people farm for a living. But even on saline land, villagers can grow bountiful “vertical gardens” from soil flushed by monsoon rains.

Vegetables grown in the salty soil fail; however, vegetable crops flourish in vertical gardens. Photo: A. Yee for VOA
Vegetables grown in the salty soil fail; however, vegetable crops flourish in vertical gardens. Photo: A. Yee for VOA

In Chandipur village in southwest Bangladesh, lush vines sprouting pumpkins and gourds cover the tin roofs of small homes. This bounty sprouts from an unlikely source: large plastic sacks on the ground and other containers.

Vertical gardening combating salty soil

But for three years, hundreds of villagers have grown “vertical gardens” – essentially vegetables grown from plastic sacks, giant containers made of plastic sheets and bamboo, as well as other receptacles.

Vegetables such as gourds grow in salty soil flushed by monsoon rains and collected in plastic sacks. (Photo: A. Yee for VOA)
Vegetables such as gourds grow in salty soil flushed by monsoon rains and collected in plastic sacks. (Photo: A. Yee for VOA)

Most of Bangladesh is at or below sea level, so the country is highly vulnerable to climate change. Storm surges in coastal areas add to the problem of increasing salinity.

More than half of coastal areas are affected by salinity, which makes land less productive.

This is a pressing concern for densely populated Bangladesh, which has 156 million people. Vertical gardens are one simple way that people can adapt to climate change and grow food.
WorldFish Center, an international non-profit, introduced vertical gardens in Bangladesh.


Read the full article: Voice of America

A simple question about hunger, a difficult answer (Willem Van Cotthem)

Today, all over the developed world, important parts of the population are combating the economic crisis and in particular the food crisis by switching to production of fresh food. Produced at home, even in the smallest quantities, this “own fresh food” plays a considerable  role in the well-being of families, in particular of children.  Container gardening, vertical gardening, bottle towers, gardening on risers, balconies or windowsills, hydroponics, aquaponics, gardening in self-watering buckets, bags, sacks, crates, boxes, pots, guerilla gardening, edible forests, …, it are all different initiatives taken to alleviate  hunger and malnutrition problems.

Day after day, messages and photos or videos on the internet confirm that people feel the need to produce  their own fresh food, even in the smallest available space, e.g. a balcony on the 17th floor in the city.  It is marvelous to notice that most of these “novice farmers or gardeners” proudly announce the successes of their first experiments and the swift progress made thanks to “lessons learned” and “exchange of information”.

Thanks to these personal initiatives of private gardening, the most vulnerable part of the population in developed countries is less affected by the food crisis, in particular by the high food prices.

Therefore, I feel the need to formulate a very simple question :

“If a large group of people in developed countries, affected by the actual crises and suffering from hunger or malnutrition because of the high food prices, is successfully setting up actions to produce an important part of their own food, why don’t we teach the billion hungry people, mostly living in developing countries, to do the same ?”.

The answer to this question seems to be a very difficult one.

My Chinese friends are telling me : “Don’t bring that hungry man a fish that he will eat in one day, but teach him how to fish and he will eat all year long“.

As Chinese is not my mother tongue, I translated it into : “Don’t bring the hungry people rations of nutritious food that they will eat in one day, but teach them how to grow their own fresh food and they will eat all year long”.


Purely by coincidence I found today these 3 publications confirming that food production has become a very hot topic all over the world.  Please read :


Captions of photos :

  • “By growing different vegetables, Ainob Bibi is able to supply her own family and earn money”
  • “Sack gardening does not require much space”
  • “Sack gardening has also empowered women, who most often organise and take care of the gardens”


2012 : And the result of growing vegetables and herbs in bottle towers (Photo WVC)
Fresh food galore in a small space : The result of growing vegetables and herbs in bottle towers (Photo WVC)

REACH-ing for good projects to REALLY tackle child hunger and malnutrition (Willem Van Cotthem)

Let us read attentively some paragraphs (or parts thereof) of the former posting on this blog (UN News) :


  1. United Nations agencies today stressed the need to tackle child hunger and undernutrition in the pursuit of sustainable development, highlighting a joint initiative (REACH) that offers practical and effective approaches to combat this problem in the most affected countries.
  2. Under the REACH initiative, the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have committed to a renewed effort against child hunger and undernutrition.
  3. …the main causes of child undernutrition – food insecurity, poor health and inappropriate care – are all known and preventable.
  4. … governments and other actors know why nutrition interventions are necessary and there is evidence for what works, when and where.
  5. “The greatest challenge, however, is how to scale up programmes so that they can have a real impact, and this is where the REACH approach can provide direction,”
  6. The whole idea is to share knowledge to come up with good projects that really tackle the issues and do it in a very un-bureaucratic way.


Now, let us understand the essence of this message :

  • Acknowledging the need to tackle child hunger, WFP, UNICEF, FAO and WHO have committed to a renewed effort : the REACH initiative.
  • Seemingly, the main causes of child hunger and malnutrition are all known and preventable.
  • All key actors know why nutrition interventions are necessary.
  • They all know what works, when and where.
  • Remains to scale up their programmes with direction provided by REACH, so that they have a real impact.
  • Therefore, the key actors will share knowledge (un-bureaucratically) to come up with good projects that really tackle the issues.


As we all know what works, when and where, it seems to me that we do not have to share a lot of knowledge for years, not even for months.  We even know what to do today.

We do not have to scale up existing (expensive ?) programmes, in order to have a real impact.  On the contrary, we should use the available resources and means to replace those huge, but rather inefficient programmes by a multitude of very efficient small projects (an advice already given since decades).

We can use the lessons learned from the best practices to come up with good projects that really tackle hunger and malnutrition.

Let us follow Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s advice and join our efforts to promote small-scale farming, in which women play a very important role, at the largest scale.  It has been shown over and over again that all the women of this world can become “experts” in food production, simply by offering them a small kitchen garden for their family (see UNICEF’s project on family gardens in the Sahara desert of S.W. Algeria).

One of the hundreds of family gardens in a refugee camp in the Sahara desert of S.W. Algeria (UNICEF project) – (Photo WVC)

If it has been possible in the past to provide fresh food in a sustainable way to thousands of people living in the desert, and this within the shortest period of  some months, it should be possible for WFP, UNICEF, FAO and WHO to REACH a consensus over good projects for urban gardening, family gardening, container gardening, vertical gardening and other successful techniques of which we all know the lessons learned very well (see sack gardening in Nairobi and in the refugee camps of Dabaab).

May these international organizations work hand in hand with the national governments and other key actors, like the NGOs, to find the best lay-out for such good gardening projects, directly profitable for the hungry and malnourished children.

Hopefully, they will agree to do this in “a very un-bureaucratic way“, because “TACKLING CHILD HUNGER IS CRUCIAL TO ACHIEVING ‘THE FUTURE WE WANT’ “.

Sustainable food production / Duurzame Voeding (Tim JOYE-LNE Flanders / Willem VAN COTTHEM)

In Dutch : Sustainable food production (duurzame voeding)

by Tim JOYE – LNE Flanders

Solution for the hunger problem : food production at home (Jojo ROM / Muneer HINAY / Willem VAN COTTHEM)

Messages of Jojo ROM and Muneer HINAY to the HFC-HOME FARMERS CLUB :

Jojo ROM :

Jojo ROM's backyard transformed into a small food oasis - LEFT : vegetables and herbs in 5-gallon bottles and tetrapots (recycled tetrapacks) - RIGHT : a wooden A-form riser with bottles and tetrapots standing over a small fishpond (Photo Jojo ROM)

“I’m so shocked with the news today that in every 6 minutes 1 child dies in Africa because of hunger.  I’m figuring out if this Home Farmers Club Members, now reaching 1,600, will grow a garden 50 sqm each, we can have a 8-hectare garden. and could have reduced demand, increase supply and reduced prices of vegetables and indirectly helped the poor and the hungry ones access cheaper vegetables and fruits. Plus, if we integrated the fishpond under the “A” Riser we will have 3.2 hectares of fishpond-one good source of protein.

Fresh food at the lowest prize from the backyard directly to the kitchen : container gardening is one of the best solutions to combat hunger and save money, wherever you live, even in a city (Photo Jojo ROM)

Urban Container Gardening: Starting from what I have at home….

“In urban areas, agriculture seemed impossible due to compressed settlements.  Faith at work made it possible.  Household biodegradable waste is just a misplaced resource.  The only waste that cannot be recycled is WASTED TIME.
This is a response to the FOOD and WASTE crisis.”


Congratulations Jojo ! You made an excellent point and showed clearly that every individual family, rural or urban, should get a chance to set up its own kitchen garden. People should learn that container gardening and/or vertical gardening offers a lot of possibilities to alleviate hunger and child malnutrition. The real challenge is to get all aid organizations convinced that this is THE solution for the hunger problem. Continue to spread the good word, for the day will come …

Container gardening by Muneer HINAY - Growing Chinese cabbage (pechay) in plastic pots (small buckets) on the backyard wall (Photo Muneer HINAY)

Muneer HINAY :

“This is great! HFC (Home Farmers Club) membership is now at 1,600! Let’s continue to advance UCG (Urban Container Gardening) as an essential tool in solving malnutrition and hunger, achieving food security at home, reducing and recycling solid waste and democratizing agriculture! Let’s carry on!”


HFC is clearly becoming a people’s movement, showing the way to a better future and inspiring people in other countries.Your successes are the stepping stones towards great international decisions to ban the hunger. “Best practices” and “Lessons learned” should be more than just words for decision-makers.

Seeds for Food to Gozo (Malta) – (Jacques GUEUNING / Willem VAN COTTHEM)

Today, Belgian Jacques GUEUNING received a lot of seeds of vegetables and fruits.  They will soon be taken to the Island of Gozo (Malta), where these new species and varieties will be welcome to enhance the biodiversity on the island and to enrich the food production for local families.

This action was taken within the framework of the “SEEDS FOR FOOD”-initiative.

Seeds collected for the “SEEDS FOR FOOD”-action are free for humanitarian projects. An important load is now taken to Gozo (Malta) – (Photo Jacques GUEUNING)

Jacques GUEUNING will also introduce Prof. VAN COTTHEM’s “container gardening”-method to the smallholder farmers at Gozo.  He will particularly recommend the “bottle tower”-technique to reduce the volume of irrigation water and to promote vertical gardening on poor soils (see :

2011 - Prof. Willem VAN COTTHEM showing his bottle tower-research work (Photo WVC)
2011 - Almost every species of vegetable can be grown with a minimum of water in these towers of bottles or pots (Photo WVC)

Those with agricultural roots, who move into cities, show the way to combat hunger (Google / PRI)

Read at :  Google Alert – vertical farming

Urban farming an emerging trend as Kenya lives on edge of climate change

Living on Earth

In Kenya, vertical farming and small, urban plots are becoming an important part of keeping poor Kenyans from starving as they move out of the countryside and into the cities, because of climate change.

Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is a bustling business city, but it’s also on the bleeding edge of climate change.

Rainfall disruptions and drought have led to a mass migration from rural areas of the country to the city. About 60 percent of the population now live in slums.

Hell on Earth is how some people, like journalist Jocelyn Zuckerman, describe it. But others see an opportunity. An opportunity for a form of urban agriculture called vertical farming.

“Most of the buildings are made of just sort of scraps of cardboard or mud – corrugated tin roofs on top of each other … and laundry hanging all over open sewage that you have to step over and around,” Zuckerman said after visiting a shantytown named Kibera. “But there’s also lots of little stores and barbershops and butchers and bakeries.”

A recent study found that 20 percent of people in Kibera said they’d gone a day and night without food in the last couple of months.

“Poor people around the world – especially in cities where they don’t have access to land to grow their own food – generally spend from 75 to 80 percent of their incomes just on food,” she said.

And more poor people are being forced to cities, especially in Kenya as the Saharan desert expands south because of climate change. Some 15 million people move into cities in sub-Saharan Africa each year, Zuckerman said.

“The dry periods are longer, and the rains are coming at times when they’re not expecting them,” she said. “They’re also tending to be more extreme – a lot of rain – and when a lot of rain falls on the land that’s been dry for so long, it can’t absorb it. So, they’re finding it much more difficult to farm.”

But those who move into cities are finding a way to hook into their agricultural roots.


The construction of a living “beehive” in the shape of a traditional Zulu hut (Google / IOL)

Read at : Google Alert – vertical gardening

Hanging out with a green-fingered guru

By Vivian Attwood

With his trim physique, golden curls and cornflower eyes, Leon Kluge could grace the cover of GQ. Instead, the gently spoken Adonis is making a name for himself internationally as the South African equivalent of his hero, Irish landscape gardener extraordinaire, Daiarmuid Gavin.

This year Gavin carried off the coveted gold medal for Best on Show for his display, “The Irish Sky Garden” at the Chelsea Flower Show. Admirers of Kluge’s unique style predict that the accolade will be his in the not-too-distant future.

Kluge was in Durban this week to create a display that will act as a permanent legacy of COP17 and which will educate visitors on climate change, biodiversity, the cultural legacy of the people of KZN, and the role of traditional medicinal plants in promoting health.

The result is the construction of a living “beehive” in the shape of a traditional Zulu hut with a 9m dome and a vertical garden. It is already attracting crowds at the Botanical Gardens.


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