It was good to encounter some creativity in the houseplant business recently. These are coffee trees (probably Coffea arabica) growing in 4" pots inside simulated burlap coffee bean sacks. They are lined with sheet plastic so you can bottom water them with a measured amount of water poured into the sacks. But, there's a far better way to grow them. Read on.
The orange juice bottle is the makings of a recycled plastic bottle sub-irrigated planter (SIP). I like the fact that they are square with clean lines. There are no wavy-curvy parts in the mold like there are in many soda bottles.
The downside is that these are not kid-friendly bottles to cut. Rather than scissors, I used a wood-burning pen with a knife blade tip. Even doing it this way I had to go slow to cut through the tough plastic. The finished result was worth it. To me they look like "science lab" planters, which is what they are.
The original plants were overloaded with cuttings so I carefully took them apart and planted 3 stems per bottle SIP. I bought 10 plants. Eight of them became 27 plants in the bottle SIPs. I still have the other 2 plants in the photo and will split them also to make 5 more SIP planters. So the 10 4" plants will make a total of 32 SIP planter trees.
I paid $5 ea. ($50) for them at Walmart. Using the purchase price they are now "worth" $160, not counting the added value of the SIPs. Some day some kids are going to own some 6' coffee trees like the ones I donated to Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
The coffee tree plantation is growing under new style LED shop lights from Costco. The plants are very healthy and developing new root systems that are very easy to see through the clear walls of the SIPs. It has been a fun science project for this old kid.
The precursors to this project were the two 4" pot size coffee plants that I grew into 6' trees in my Brooklyn apartment lab. I grew them in an east facing window with the aid of a common T12 fluorescent shop light. They got too large and I donated them to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for use in their children's garden. They were the first coffee trees in the garden.
These cool LED shop light fixtures are from Costco for $35 each. The fixture over the coffee trees is at an angle because I bought the plants and potted them up in two batches. So, the plants are in order of age; oldest and tallest to the right.
Using LED fixtures you need not worry about heat scorching the plant leaves. You can lower the fixtures close to the foliage and optimize the available light. These are the palms in the back row.
Notice that I cut off the neck of the bottle (the part with the threading for the cap). That leaves a hole about 1 3/4" in diameter. The white cloth wick covering the hole is Pellon polyester batting. I also lay a strip of the material in the bottom section. It interfaces with the pad in the bottle. New white "hydroponic" roots grow into and fasten the wick strip in the bottom to the pad in the top.
I no longer leave the neck on a bottle SIP of any type or size or use the original cap with holes drilled in it. You know the common expression "bottle neck". There's a good reason for it. Over time, a healthy plant will clog up the neck of the bottle and cap with white "hydro" roots. Not good.
The plants are loving it and doing a great job of creating a healthy new root system in preparation for a surge of new stem and leaf growth above.
Click on the photo below for a macro view of the new white "hydro" roots. My new mantra is "STEM before stems." In my opinion our consumer gardening and horticulture education is largely STEMless. That's the basic subject of the book I'm writing.
Click on the photo for a macro view of the new white "hydro" roots. All children should have the opportunity to see this happening at an early age. Dumb clay pots and dirt hide it from their curious eyes and brains.