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Garbage in, Garden Out, The Recycling Gardener, Greenhouse Gardening

Updated on January 23, 2015

My Shade Garden for Tropicals


Backyard Greenhouses

A greenhouse as a back yard can be a great place to raise flowers that simply can’t stand the local environment, or grow veggies all year long.

Greenhouses are surprisingly water friendly. Less evaporation means less water use assuming the plants you raise are not water hungry and the soils under the greenhouse does not drain excessively fast.

Plants mostly grow by evaporation and photosynthesis. They need light and water to grow so and they need to evaporate that water through their leaves. In a greenhouse you prevent excess loss of water and much of that water ends up on the floor of the greenhouse. Often people will grow one crop on a greenhouse table and another under the table using only waste or recycled water.

An alternative to this is to simply use the ground itself if you are not growing plants which will be removed at a later date. Using the ground naturally recycles the water, especially at night when it condenses and runs off the sides back into the ground.

There is the ultimate water recycling mechanism shared with all of nature. Water evaporates from the surface and from plants, condenses and then falls back to the ground.

If you live in a cool climate this can be used to reduce your heating bill if attached to a brick or otherwise water resistant wall then opening the windows of the house to that warm solar heated air.

Commercial Greenhouses

Commercial greenhouses have been used for hundreds of years. However, even modern greenhouses have issues that orient around naturalistic assumptions from more than a century ago.

What do I mean?

Let me use my aquarium as an example. When I was a boy the thought was that you needed to change 25% of your water every week. (Professional fish people, zoologists, etc. did this daily.) You changed your filter material also, and the cost was ongoing and substantial. Through a very long experiment I played with aquariums until I had a system as close to nature as possible. Biological filters, shrimp, snails, plants, etc. I change about 25% of my water once a year because salts build up in them from evaporation. I never buy filter material, but I do sell plants to my local fish store and have traded for plants, fish, lighting systems, fish foods, and even a cube aquarium by simply including everything a normal environment would include.

The same is true here. In Japan they have perfected systems that exclude specific aspects of nature, and the perfect plants produced in these stacked, fully controlled environments where the only living things are the people and the plants, produce in one month a tender fully formed plant where the only things missing are flavor and nutrients.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

By designing systems that fully integrate all we know about what happens in a garden we can make vast improvements to these systems that ignore specific aspects of the well balanced design we see in nature. We are certainly intelligent enough to realize that we don’t know everything or science would simply stop.

The problem of unknown factors helps offset the ignorance and arrogance of man thinking they do know everything and then ending up with acceptable vegetables, but which could be significantly improved.

Cool House Garden

No, I don't mean a cold frame, I means "really cool!"

If you every make it to Laguna Beach there is a nursery there that is not only spectacular itself with its variety of plants, but also uses a shade house style of covering over much of the outside growing area making it almost indoors.

It is just south of the city on the main drag, on the east side of the street.

We were there on a warm day and it was nice and temperate inside with vended glass and fiberglass coverings which shade the plants, allow in a very comfortable amount of light, and allow rains to come in selectively.

Again, this reduces the water needed for the plants but allows an incredibly nice yard inside with some climate control. This turns into an arboretum of sorts.

The high roof allowed by this design allows for heat to be released from the top and cooler air in from the grounds surrounding it. If you plant around this, then the air is cooled by your planting before being brought inside.

OK, it was cool in both uses of the word. Incredibly comfortable. I also filled in my Aeonium collection with a tiny one they had there. If in the area, do stop in and see them.

Stacked Pot Gardening

My Stack of Plastic Pots, growing so well, they are a bit hard to see.
My Stack of Plastic Pots, growing so well, they are a bit hard to see. | Source

Stack of Pots

Stack of pots as growing stack, largest on the bottom.

Water is reused several times as it passed down.

Nurseries have these pots as display pots with successively smaller pots. Again, the largest on the bottom and smallest on top.

I used to have such a stack with different kinds of geraniums on each level. At the top, one that grew up, a bush type, then below it a very fine cascading type with a totally different appearance and on the bottom a peppermint geranium, which is a large trailing type with large soft fizzy leaves, very pretty and very fragrant.

You can plant any number of plants in a pot like this. A stack of your favorite bulbs, for instance. Freesia love these arrangements and you end up with a four foot high stack of flowers.

For small or short bulbs like Crocus, Scilla, or Hyacinth (Muscari) bulbs, use short pots to prevent the pot from dominating the scene.

There are no rules here, except make sure the pots decrease in size as the stack grows. Again, even if you fill the bottom water tray with soils and plant, say, Crocus in it for effect, it will not dry out quickly because it will get water from above as the water drains out.

The reason this works is the pots prevent water loss then allow water to slowly be used as it drains down, or is used by the plants, but the surface area where much water is lost is significantly reduced.

You could make a spectacular, but expensive collection by stacking very large clay pots then have both taller and cascading plants at each level.

If you have no yard, or it is all cement, this allows for some height in the garden even though there are no trees.

So often much of a yard is cemented over and a simple trick like this can not only ass a point of interest but actually be useful for aesthetic and practical reasons.


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