Monday, May 4, 2015

Against Bottled Water

I don't drink bottled water, because

  1. making plastic bottles uses a lot of fuel and water: it takes several times more water to make the bottle than to fill it!, and
  2. most bottled water is municipal water, but with less regulation for safety.

There are a few times when bottled water is appropriate (such as when local water is known to be unsafe), but generally it can be avoided for a more ecological choice. Consider a reusable water bottle and a water filter instead.


Flowers for Teacher Appreciation Week

It's Teacher Appreciation Week!

My children's school organizes themes for each day of the Teacher Appreciation work-Week, and today's suggestion was to bring fresh flowers to your teachers. Although cut flowers are lovely, they are also short-lived; I wanted a gift with more staying power. I also like DIY, crafts done with my kids, recycling, and gardening. (You can probably see where I'm going.) This year, like last year (I just didn't have a better idea for this year, but we did improve our technique), we put marigold starts in a self-irrigating planter; the planter was a recycled craft we made together.

These marigolds are a dwarf marigold (Tagetes patula), in French Gold (orange, not yellow). Marigolds are self-seeding annuals, which means they will come back year after year, but from seeds not roots (like perennials). The best way to prepare the seeds, according to my mother, is to let the seeds dry on the plant over winter. I recommend pulling up the plants on a dry day to gather the seed pods (where the blossoms were) once the entire plant is gray and has thoroughly dried out. Take care to gather all the seed pods that have fallen off during the drying process so you're not over-run the next year.

The first year, I planted the six seeds from a 10¢ pack on a drizzly February 12, 2012; just casually scattered under the mailbox before I escaped back to the warm dry. All of the seeds germinated, and the one closest to the road with the most space grew particularly tall; almost two feet tall and nearly as wide! (Dwarf? Ha!) The next two years, I gathered the seeds (and passed them on), and let the ones that fell and germinated on their own grow with minimal thinning; those that grew outside the rock border around my mailbox were mowed without compunction. With lateral competition, the plants did not grow as tall, but I still had an amazing number of blooms all summer until the first hard frost. This year, I plan to thin the mailbox marigolds much more to see if they grow like the first year. I carefully pulled up the largest starts for this year's teacher appreciation marigolds; marigolds are fairly sturdy so they should survive this transplanting. I have more marigold seeds now than I know what to do with! In 2012, I thought 6 seeds for 10¢ was a bit steep, but in one year I had a hundred-fold increase and I think that dime has gone a long way now.

The Parts List:

  • empty water or soda bottles, with their caps, to recycle; you need as many bottles as you want to make planters
  • cotton twine, or any cord made of uncoated natural material that will wick water (including strips of cotton tee shirts)
  • duct tape
  • aluminum foil, or any opaque flexible material to cover the roots for root health

The Tools List:

  • drill and two bits, maybe 1/16" and 1/8" (size isn't critical, just "small" and "about the size of the cord bundle"; careful adults only)
  • utility knife (careful adults only)
  • scissors
  • a towel that can get gardening-dirty

The Resources List:

Based on what I learned last year, here is how we made the self-irrigating planters from recycled water bottles this year:

  1. I drilled several small holes around the shoulder of the water bottles that were empty and to be recycled.
  2. I drilled a larger hole in the bottle cap.
  3. For the last "careful adult" step, I used a utility knife to cut the bottle roughly in half (a bit more on the top, a bit shorter on the bottom; see how one looks, and adjust the others).
  4. The remaining steps were done by my eager children. First we cut two sections of twine, and put a big knot in the middle. Then we threaded the twine through the bottle cap; holding the bottle cap like a cup, it should have octopus-style legs of twine and the knot should be large enough to keep the cord from pulling through the hole. We sealed the cap back on the top of the water bottle.
  5. We lined the inside top of the water bottle with aluminum foil to protect the plant's roots from light. You could instead wrap the entire planter at the end to do that, and to minimize algae growth. I chose to leave the bottom section visible so it's obvious when to add water, but that does allow algae growth.
  6. If the cut edge of the water bottle top is sharper than you'd like, use duct tape folded over that edge to hold the aluminum foil in place, and to cover the sharp edge itself.
  7. We carefully scooped potting mix inside the foil inside the top of the water bottle, shaping as we went.
  8. We placed the water bottle tops inside the water bottle bottoms, and watered. The goal is for the potting soil to be thoroughly moistened, so we ended up pouring out some water from the bottoms.
  9. We dried the bottles as needed before wrapping them with duct tape to hold the upside-down top to the bottom.
  10. Add a few seeds or one small plant, and you are ready to gift or tend this!

All parts came from the recycling bin or the dollar store, so this is a low-cost project. I raided the recycling bin at work because I'm opposed to bottled water.

If you leave out the aluminum foil, the plant will not be as healthy in the long term, but your children can observe the later stages of root growth.

Most plants need as much room for roots underground as they occupy aboveground, so clearly this self-irrigating water bottle planter should not be the final home for most plants. However, a group should be sufficient for a small (windowsill?) herb garden. You can also adapt this technique to larger recycled containers.

There you go! It's surprisingly easy!