Pigeon Towers: A Low-tech Alternative to Synthetic Fertilizers

pigeon-towers-iranPhoto credit: Bekleyen, A. (2009). The dovecotes of Diyarbakır: the surviving examples of a fading tradition. The Journal of Architecture, 14(4), 451-464..

Many societies, ancient and contemporary, have innovated ways of supplying their fields with fixed nitrogen and phosphorus—two crucial ingredients for crop productivity. One is crop rotation, which alternates nitrogen-fixing and nitrogen-exhausting crops. Farmers around the world make use of chickens, ducks, and geese to add “fresh” guano to their fields. Cattle manure is another useful alternative—although it often lacks in phosphorus. Much more labor intensive than simply adding fossil-fuel derived synthetic fertilizer, these practices tend to build up soil, limit greenhouse gas emissions, and lead to less run-off into rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Persian pigeon towers are one of the more elegant solutions to the nitrogen-phosphorus problem. These are essentially castles built for thousands of wild pigeons, strategically placed in the middle of the fields. Their droppings were shoveled up once a year and sold to nearby farmers. While most pigeon towers existing today are in disrepair, the oldest still standing are dated to the 16th century (but they are assumed to have existed over 1,000 years ago) and helped fuel the cultivation of Persia’s legendary orchards, melons, and wheat production.[1] [Read more…]

Enough with the Vertical Farming

dicksondespommier“In their efforts to develop a system that sustainably supplies cities with a large share of their food, theorists and practitioners of vertical farming face insurmountable obstacles.”

“These include the limited range of crop species that can be grown; the tiny proportion of our population’s total food needs that indoor crops could supply; the elite market being targeted; and the irrelevance of indoor agriculture to the lives and diets of people living in economically stressed rural regions where the bulk of our food is grown.”

“Meanwhile, looming largest among the many factors that will restrict the growth of vertical gardening (a term I believe is more apt than “vertical farming,” given the potential scale and the types of food that can be produced) are its extraordinary energy requirements and heavy climate impact.”

Read more: Enough with the vertical farming fantasies: there are still too many unanswered questions about the trendy practice. Via The Urban Vertical Project.

How to Plant an Iroquois Garden

Three sisters“According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American farming societies, is a sophisticated, sustainable system that provided long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations.” 

“Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb. Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot by providing nitrogen to the following years corn. Bean vines also help stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash vines become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crops chances of survival in dry years. Spiny squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans. The large amount of crop residue from this planting combination can be incorporated back into the soil at the end of the season, to build up the organic matter and improve its structure.” Read more: 1 / 2 / 3.

Straw Bale Gardening

straw bale gardening

“Straw Bale Gardening is simply a different type of container gardening. The main difference is that the container is the straw bale itself and is held together with two or three strings.”

“Once the straw inside the bale begins to decay the straw becomes ‘conditioned’ compost that creates an extraordinary plant rooting environment. Getting the straw bales conditioned is an essential part of the process, and should be started two weeks prior to your target planting date wherever you are located.”

“This gardening technique works well anywhere in the country or the world for that matter.” Read more: here and here.

Self-Watering Planter From Porous Earthenware

Unglazed clay pot for irrigationIndustrial designer Joey Roth developed a self-watering planter for use indoors or out. It is made from porous unglazed earthenware:

“Soil and plants are placed in the outer donut-shaped chamber, and the center chamber is filled with water. The unglazed terracotta’s natural porosity allows the water to move from the center chamber and into the soil, based on the soil’s moisture (and thus the plant’s need for water). The terracotta wall both regulates and filters the water. A simple lid on the top of the water chamber prevents evaporation.”

The design is based on the Olla, a terracotta pot for irrigation that has been in use for 4,000 years. See also:

Solar Powered Garden Helper Machine

Solar powered garden machine“I really love gardening but I have a bad back and when it comes to staying bent over in the garden it gets rough. So I built this Helper Machine. I call it My P-Machine. Planting/Picking/Pulling weeds/Putting around the garden machine.”

More.

Hat tip to Rob De Schutter.

Sub-irrigated Planters

sub irrigated planters

Sub-irrigated planters are simple devices that allow low-maintenance, low-water consumption container gardening. Appropedia has DIY-instructions, using plastic buckets or bottles.

Previously: Water batteries for trees, How to make your own low-tech vertical farm.

The Agricultural Building and Equipment Plan List: over 300 Free Plans

The Agricultural Building and Equipment Plan List

“The University of Tennessee Extension maintains a collection of over 300 building and equipment plans, and all are now available in electronic format for download. The plans are primarily intended for use in Tennessee, but many are appropriate for other locations as well.

The plans came from many sources. Some were developed in The University of Tennessee Extension Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science Department, but most were developed in a cooperative effort with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Cooperative Farm Building Plan Exchange. The Plan Exchange no longer exists, but the plans remain on file and are available.”

Via The Survivalist Blog.

Fences of Fruit Trees

fences of fruit trees

“Almost anyone who has a backyard or garden would do well to plant fruit trees for the years ahead. Most fruit trees, though, take more years to mature than most of us have to prepare, and take up more space than most of us have in cities or suburbs. Luckily, only a few centuries ago master gardeners developed a way to cultivate fruit in narrow spaces – one that yields more fruit, more quickly, and with a longer growing season.

Espalier is a method of growing a dwarf fruit tree along a wall or fence, binding it for support, and bending the branches to follow certain lines, as Japanese artists do with bonsai trees. Most gardeners started espaliers with a “maiden,” a one-year-old sapling that had not yet forked, and tied it to a staff of wood to keep it straight. Then they tied the desired branches to the fence or wall as they emerged, bending and pruning aggressively as the tree grew.

With the tree’s natural growth concentrated into only two dimensions, it creates many spurs looking for a chance to spread, creating more flowers and fruit than their conventional counterparts, and earlier in the trees’ life. The fruit can be picked casually while standing or sitting, with no need for the ladders or devices needed to pick many other fruit trees, and no risk of injury. Growing a tree against a south-facing wall has another advantage; not only does the tree receive maximum light and heat, but the thermal mass of the wall absorbs the heat and provides shelter from the wind. In this way trees get a longer growing season, and can grow in cooler climates than they would ordinarily tolerate.”

Read more: Fences of fruit trees. Related: Irish hedgerows.

Low-tech Vertical Garden in Ibiza, Spain

lowtech vertical garden ibiza

Jardín vertical low-tech en Ibiza” by Spanish architects Urbanarbolismo. The garden acts as a sound barrier between a club’s outdoor central courtyard and nearby appartments. The ceramic elements – used as a planting medium – are placed so that irrigation water can easily enter from above. No automated irrigation systems are required. Urbanarbolismo makes use of local plant varieties.

[Read more…]