Many of you have seen this photo before. As of today there have been more than 76,000 views of it in this Flickr album.
I installed this sub-irrigation planter (SIP) garden (mostly succulents) on the property of a b&b hotel as compensation for temporary storage space for my plant lab back in 2014. Unfortunately the inn closed due to declining business that was evidently triggered by the great recession. It is now apartments.
The plants are still alive but now intermingled with traditional "poke, pour and pray" drain hole pots. The garden as it was is no longer intact. All of their planters should have been converted into SIPs. Sad story but life moves on.
The replacement garden is below. As you can see this version is an indoor light garden. It is housed on an Inter-Metro style rolling rack (aka wire rack) from Costco ($90 - 4'x6'x1.5', 6 shelves with casters for easy mobility, chrome). These racks are also available from other stores such as Lowe's Home Depot and The Container Store (usually without casters). The light is supplied by LED shop lights, also from Costco ( 2 per shelf). These lights appear to be an exclusive Costco item ($30-35).
I view this as a beta-test garden in my plant lab. We will see how the plants grow in this set-up. I am creating a Flickr album with many more close-up photos of individual planters. I will post the status monthly. Stay tuned.
Note the shelf below the "desert garden." It is a "coffee plantation" shown previously in this post. Click the photo for a much larger view.
The little coffee trees below the desert garden are growing like Topsy. I keep pruning the tops to create strong trunks. I will soon have more room to let them grow taller. The next light garden theme will be tropical rainforest plants including Tillandsias (air plants).
There will also be another version of the "desert garden" in the future. The plants will be growing in sub-irrigated tray planters instead of individual pots. The SIP trays will simulate a desert landscape with decorative sand over the top of the artificial planter mix substrate. It will allow much more room for creativity for those whose vision includes an Arabian fantasy. Shhh...don't tell anyone there is water just below the sand. It will be your little secret.
These theme gardens will offer a new way to supplement book learning of other subjects besides STEM based plant science in public schools (geography and environmental studies for example). My vision is that there be one or more of these light gardens in every school in the U.S. and abroad.
I will seek corporate sponsorship for this worthy project. Our horticultural education system is currently dominated by ideology and outdated gardening practices (drain holes for example). We need disruptive change if we expect to feed ourselves in the future.
Indoor light gardens should be available to all teachers and students every day the year round regardless of weather or climate. Since they are highly mobile with casters they can be rolled easily from classroom to classroom. Simply plug them in and the show is on.
These are examples of the planters used in this desert garden. The rectangular planter at the top was a clearance item from Rite-Aid. They are high fired ceramic. I have found a number of bargains in Rite-Aid at the end of the season. I bought several of these for just a few dollars.
The two water and oxygen reservoirs are made from recycled 5.3 oz Dannon Greek yogurt containers. Note the clear vinyl fill tube (3/4" o.d. - 5/8" i.d. allows for insertion of a plastic funnel with a 1/2" neck). You need just one. Water will flow across the bottom of the planter into the reservoir on the right.
The reservoir for the clay pot (.78 at Home Depot) is the little plastic grow container the cactus came in. All holes in these reservoirs were made with a wood burning pen. The drain hole in the little clay pot was plugged with Goop adhesive (my favorite). It is widely available in big box and hardware stores and on-line.
The high-fired, high-quality, ceramic planter on the right is from Ikea. They were just .49 each (note that they were less than the common clay pot). I bought a bunch of these planters. What a deal! And...there was no need to plug a drain hole in these cache pots.
This photo shows how the soil wicks work. They are partially filled for illustration purposes. The potting mix surrounding the water/oxygen reservoir acts as the wick (no cloth wick required). The plants roots grow down to (and into) the reservoir while the water moves up by capillary action. This "SIP action" is actually a very simple form of hydroponics with no need for power or oxygen pumps.
Part 2 of this series of posts about SIP light gardens everywhere, any time, will explain how I use an inexpensive digital scale to measure, monitor and manage the reservoir contents and the soil moisture. The method is very accurate once you get the hang of it. There is no need for praying and you do not need a mythical green thumb.
At some time in the near future (this year hopefully) there will be an app for it.