Bowl of guacamole and chips. Photograph: Heath Robbins/Getty Images
I am just missing Cinco de Mayo in Old Town, San Diego this year but I will celebrate there next year. It is arguably the best Cinco de Mayo celebration in California. The rental truck, loaded with my plant lab and personal stuff will be rolling on its way to San Diego Friday morning May 9.
Of course I do not have the power to solve the drought but I can sure help using my 40 years of experience with water-saving sub-irrigated planter systems (SIPs).
SIP water conservation is not just a subjective opinion. There are professional studies that demonstrate water savings of 70% or more growing in SIPs while producing more productive and healthier edible and decorative plants…no mythical “green thumb” required. Even young kids can do it and SIPs definitely make gardening a lot easier for seniors like me.
Along with writing a couple of books about urban greenscaping with SIPs, I will ramp up posting activity on this blog. At my age it is long overdue for me to recruit some new bloggers and pass the baton.
My objective is to find some forward-looking people who are science and technology minded with an interest in the environment and 21st century urban greenscaping. It will be a personal joy to share what I know with like minded people.
The goal is to make Inside Urban Green a revenue generator with readership in the same league as Treehugger, Apartment Therapy and Inhabit to name a few. That is an attainable goal but one blogger cannot do it alone. It will take a motivated and dedicated team but it will be well worth the effort.
This year, food and drink-based Cinco de Mayo celebrations will be affected by the skyrocketing prices of limes. The hit to margaritas and guacamole are nothing compared to next year, though, when the California drought and resultant crop shortages are expected to ripple across the Cinco de Mayo meal table with higher prices expected for tomatoes, lettuce and avocados.
Cinco de Mayo is a holiday inspired by a battle won by the Mexican army in Puebla, Mexico in 1862. That city is the only place in Mexico where the holiday is widely acknowledged, but in the US, it has become an opportunity to commemorate the influence of Mexican American culture by eating guacamole and drinking margaritas.
This year, margarita production is threatened by the lime shortage, caused by a widespread citrus disease and cartel battles in Mexico’s lime-growing region. Last year, lime case prices were about $15-20. This year, cases can cost around $100.
Impending Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and general year-round enjoyment of guacamole and margaritas could be further threatened because of California’s devastating drought, which has harmed food production in the state that produces nearly half of US-grown produce and nuts. Here’s a look at some of the top crops that are being threatened by the state’s water shortage. Avocados
This unsightly, trash-filled property will become hydroponic greenhouses in Washington D.C. Unlike food grown in many contaminated urban community gardens, the fresh produce from these greenhouses will be "lead-free" veggies for sure.
The rooftop greenhouse in Sunset Park, Brooklyn (my birthplace) has not worked out so far but that has not stopped BrightFarms. This project in Washington D.C. looks like a winner in every way.
I am really enjoying monitoring the projects of BrightFarms, Gotham Greens,Lufa Farms and others. The jury is still out on whether or not these controlled environment agriculture projects are profitably sustainable.
There are some talented and farsighted men and women betting their futures on it. I am rooting for them, that is for sure.
It looks like a war zone, not the future of sustainable farming.
Two 20-foot-tall piles of razed rubble, twisted metal, and warped wood are the backdrops. A gnarled bicycle and dozens of unmatched shoes nearly hidden by overgrown prairie grass and weeds litter the ground between three large, white shipping containers that belong more on a freighter than in a city lot on the edge of Washington's southeastern border.
"It's bringing a farm to the part of the city that really hasn't experienced that before."
But in a few months, this abandoned lot in the Anacostia neighborhood of the capital city will become home to the world's largest urban greenhouse, eventually producing tons of produce, creating dozens of new jobs, and providing fresh food to areas in need.
The 100,000-square-foot greenhouse (close to 2.3 acres) will produce 1 million pounds of produce—including tomatoes on the vine, leafy-green mixes, and a variety of herbs—for 30 Giant grocery stores in the greater D.C. area. It's being funded by New York-based BrightFarms, which builds and runs greenhouses and rooftop farms that then sell produce to local grocery chains.
So far, BrightFarms either has built or plans to build greenhouses and rooftop farms in New York, Chicago, St. Paul, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Kansas City. Their first greenhouse—a 56,000-square-footer—is in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
I went to a meeting in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last Friday. After a tough subway ride, this macramé extravaganza greeted me after climbing the stairs on my tired old knees. Of course, it just warmed my heart to see this. Maybe it was left over from a Halloween party.
Once again, we have shades of hippie days long gone, or are they? What interesting serendipity considering my post on the same day.
It is time for me to leave Brooklyn both figuratively and literally. I will be climbing into the cab of a U-Haul truck on Friday, May 9. I am heading for the left coast to beautiful San Diego. It is not far from that other macramé hanger in Orange County. Let us hope this is not some kind of macramé renaissance. Pray!
It would benefit mainstream society, the poor in particular, that we move consumer horticulture into the 21st century rather than serve a few who choose to live in an imaginary past.
Time(s): 10:00 am - 12:00 pm Location:Visitors Center Pavilion | Map & Directions $33.00; Pre-registration required; Age 13+
Brighten your home or garden with the handcrafted treasure of a macramé plant holder and succulent arrangement. Learn several types of knots and techniques to design your own unique creation, while discovering how to plant and maintain a thriving succulent garden. Class will include all materials, including vessel and plants, hands on instruction and guided lab time by Creative Outlet Studios.
Class will be held in the Visitor Center Pavilion, rain or shine.
Spaces are limited so register early to secure your spot. Click here to register. Registration closes Thursday, May 8.
Bubble SIPs are a great way to supply both water and oxygen to plants growing in low light indoors
This is a bubble SIP made from a Glad 48 oz Big Bowl. I highly recommend starting with SIPs by growing some plants in clear plastic containers like this. As you can see below, the root system and soil moisture are visible. You can see exactly what is going on.
Once you gain experience you will be able to grow any terrestrial plant in any water tight container of any size equipped with a SIP bubble reservoir or multiple reservoirs. More about that coming in a future post.
Forget about so-called "self-watering"
One of the worst things you can do when using sub-irrigated planters for indoor plants is to think of them as “self-watering”. There is no such thing and it leads to misuse of SIPs indoors.
With all the incessant lecturing about the need for drain holes in plant containers it is probably difficult to believe that sub-irrigation with SIPs is the best way to water plants in containers … but it is! And, it’s not just a subjective opinion, it’s provable and you can prove it to yourself by understanding how they work and testing them.
The primary feature of a SIP is the reservoir. Stop thinking of it as a water reservoir that the plant can drink from when it is “thirsty." Many houseplant hobbyists have a tendency to anthropomorphize when dealing with “houseplants” i.e. to attribute human form or personality to things not human.
Plants do not have a brain like animals and humans…and they are immobile. They are stuck in the planter and cannot escape when the oxygen supply runs out. If you constantly add water to the reservoir “bubble” you will drown the plant. An animal can drink and walk away, a plant obviously cannot do that.
With too much water it will sit there and die from lack of oxygen. Death is inevitable as the root system begins to rot.
This is difficult to comprehend when well known companies advertise their SIPs as “self-watering” and claim that you cannot over water the plants. What they do not say is that this is true only when used to grow plants in full sun (10,000 foot-candles) or near full sun.
Indoor plants, however, are typically struggling to grow with less than 100 foot-candles (less than 1% of full sunlight). Over water them and they soon die under indoor low light conditions. This is what has given the so-called “self-watering” planters a bad reputation in the houseplant gardening community. It isn’t the planter at fault but insufficient education and misleading marketing.
There are in fact many greenhouse growers who like it this way. They do not want you to become proficient in the use of sub-irrigated planters. Their business plans are founded on consumption rather than sustainability. The plan is for the plants to die after a while and for you to blame yourself for their death.
A simple method of SIP water management based on what professional greenhouse growers do.
The best way to measure the moisture level in a SIP is to use a digital scale. An 11 lb capacity scale with tare feature will do for most table top plants. I use a 50 lb capacity scale in the CuGreen lab.
1. Start by filling the bubble SIP with water right to the top. Let it stand for a while to be certain all the soil is moist. A couple of hours is fine. You will not harm the plant.
2. Pour the excess water out by way of the fill tube. Or, use a baster to siphon the water. Or, use a piece of 1/4" clear tubing as a siphon if you know how to do that.
3. Weigh the planter to determine its "wet weight" in ounces (Data Point 1). Write it down in a notebook.
4. Wait until the plant uses all of the water and the soil dries down. This should be close to the "wilt point" The number of days will depend on the plant species and the light level. With a clear planter you can see the color of the soil - light color = dry, dark color = moist.
5. Weigh the planter to determine its "dry weight" in ounces. Write it down in a notebook. This is Data Point 2.
6. The difference between the wet (Data point 1) and dry weight (Data Point 2) equals the weight in ounces of the water consumed (Data Point 3).
7. Add half of the water-consumed amount (Data Point 3) via the SIP fill tube. If the consumed amount is 20 oz., add 10 oz (Data Point 4). As you gain some historical data you can confidently modify Data point 4.
If you are growing in natural light, Data Point 4 will vary depending on the weather and season of the year. If growing under artifical light DP4 will remain constant assuming you keep the light(s) on for the same time each day. Use a timer to do that.
Using this method you will keep the soil moisture optimized and in balance. Your plants will appreciate this very much and show it by staying alive and healthy.
Meet the "Bubble SIP" a clay pot with no drain hole.
Bubble SIP - Sansevieria 'Hahnii' in a no-hole clay pot with SIP "bubble" inside. Stay tuned for more decorative bubble SIPs coming soon! Note that bubble SIPs are scalable. I will soon post a photo of a 7-gallon bubble SIP that is big enough to grow tomatoes.
The Sansevieria was growing in a recycled soda bottle SIP. These are the best planters for teaching kids (and their families) about plant science and horticulture. They are the cat's meow. I like the techie look but not everyone does. No problem. When you get tired of looking at it, simply move the plant into a no-hole decorative pot like this clay pot with "bubble SIP" plumbing. It doesn't get any simpler than this. Any no-hole decorative container becomes a water, time and plant saver. Look for more ideas in future posts. See more photos below.
This is about plugging unneeded drain holes in plant pots, in this case ubiquitous clay pots. They are wasting precious water all over the country...and the world.
For those who love the look of clay pots, that’s fine but they do not need to have any type of drain hole for indoor use. Drain hole pots waste water and provide no benefit in spite of what most houseplant and gardening books say.
The people who relentlessly write this drain hole stuff are living in a prior century horticulturally. Or, they may have a business plan they protect that does not include plant sustainability à la "Here today, gone tomorrow." "Aw, gee" they say, "It's only a little white lie."
The truth is that the benefits of sub-irrigated planters (SIPs) are many. Here are a few:
* SIPs save water in the range of 70-80% as compared to drench and drain watering.
* There is no messy run-off to damage furniture or floors.
* The "bubble" under the plant supplies water which is gradually used. The empty space in the bubble supplies vitally needed oxygen which is equally as important as water. These oxygen and water bubbles (aka reservoirs) are the primary reason plants maintained in SIPs are healthier and have long life spans.
* They save plant care time because of the built-in water reservoir. In addition, you can water plants on a fixed schedule, regardless of plant species or origin. Desert plants like Cactus and water-loving Peace Lilies are equally at home in SIPs. It's only a question of how much water you add to the "bubble" reservoir.
* With proper use, they prevent over watering and plant death. Over watering is a major cause of houseplant mortality.
Stay tuned for a post this coming week about water management in SIPs. It is based on what greenhouse growers do to manage proper soil moisture. It does not involve sticking your finger into the pot.
Note that sub-irrigated planters (SIPs) for outdoor use need an overflow drain hole in the side. I will cover the subject of positioning and drilling these holes in a future post.
The one and only need stated for drain holes is the big bad bugaboo about soluble salts. It is a myth unless you are using some very hard water from a well perhaps.
I have maintained the CuGreen indoor plant lab with city water for more than 15 years in San Diego and Brooklyn and have never experienced a soluble salts problem using sub-irrigation.
Back in the 1970's, I started using SIPs in my interior plantscaping business in Los Angeles and had no soluble salts probems there either.
The threat of soluble salts problems is based on greenhouse growing rather than home gardener usage. Greenhouse growers pour on the water and fertilizer (soluble salts) to push the plants out the greenhouse door as quickly as possible.
This is not the way home gardeners water and fertilize plants (particularly houseplants under low light). Houseplants require only a fraction of the water and fertilizer used to produce them, ergo minimal exposure to soluble salts.
As soon as you start growing in SIPs you will discover a miraculous new way to maintain plants in containers. Just remember that you cannot grow plants in the dark whatever watering method used.
A SIP (an acronym for sub-irrigated planter) should be classified as an EPA WaterSense product but it is not. More than that, it is a common sense product. SIPs will not solve the current drought crisis in California and other western states but widespread use of them would certainly help.
Never mind what your friendly garden writer, USDA Extension Program educator, commercial plant grower or gardening friend preaches about needing drain holes in plant pots. Ignore them for your own benefit and that of your family and friends. Drain holes in plant pots waste water and provide no benefit.
We could call propaganda about the need for drain holes as brain washing. In street talk, it is a hose job (literally and figuratively). This particular hose job leads to wasting a lot of water at a time when a significant part of the country is in a drought crisis. Those who are responsible for this hose job should be ashamed of themselves but they obviously are not. Many of them live in a counter-cultural space station.
SIPs conserve water, help protect small children from lead poisoning, are kid-friendly and make gardening a hell of a lot easier for seniors. I’m 80 and know a lot about working around my limitations after two knee replacement surgeries.
All of the SIP advantages mentioned are on top of growing healthier plants and saving time. If you use them to grow vegetables, plan to give away lots of them. You will likely have more than you need and people will think of you as a green thumber. Remember to do right and share your little secret. "Shhhhhhh…it’s the SIPs!"
No, forget that. Shout it out! You could make a nice living doing it while being a green Good Samaritan. I plan to mentor many people like you when I get back to San Diego in May. I’m counting the days. You may have noticed that Forbes listed San Diego as number one city to start a business. Let's start some!
As you know, California is facing a drought crisis as declared by Governor Jerry Brown. I look forward to helping in whatever way I can. There are lots of them, including writing a book about modern urban greenscaping technology and best practices.
Next up is a post about a simple way to plug the drain holes and make SIPs. I call them "bubble SIPs." It's all about saving water, adding oxygen...and growing healthy plants. Stay tuned!
This is shall we say, "hot out of the camera" from Whole Foods. I noted being the first YouTube viewer. Next to being there this is a great virtual visit. Well done Whole Foods!
Disclosure; I have absolutely no connection to Whole Foods and have been a Trader Joe's and Costco shopper for a very long time. With that said, I think I will give myself a Christmas treat and stop by the new Whole Foods this week.
This store is going to give Fairway in Red Hook some serious competition. They are both fabulous food treats rivaling anything I know of in Southern California "foodie land", home of super supermarkets. That's saying a lot!