Monday, February 18, 2013

Low Tech Window Farm

Lately I've been studying the best way to use a sunny, south-facing window in my office for growing food. For the last few years I started seeds there, but didn't have much success. I'm much better at growing things outside!

I was inspired to create a window farm by some that I saw on the web, most of which used an aquaponics system to recirculate water and nutrients, like this:

Image credit
From my research, this is the most efficient system with the best results. However, I have a three year old who I know will find endless fascination with this set-up, and I don't want to risk the mess. So, with the help of tips from Romanus Willem's blog, I decided to try a window farm my own way.

Willem is a retired professor of Ghent University in Belgium, and his blog focuses on issues of desertification, proverty, and dry-land gardening. He's got some great tips for growing in containers, especially recycled bottles and such. After spending some time on his site, I was ready to give my own system a go.

I used a bottle from Trader Joe's sparkling water, cut off the cone-shaped top, and placed it inside the bottle. This will allow for a water reservoir at the bottom that will prevent the roots from being waterlogged, since there will be no drainage holes in the bottom of the bottle, like the traditional hydroponic systems. I'm trying to avoid a kid-mess here, remember? Using a tall, thin bottle helps the water drain away from the roots better.

Taking a cue from Willem, I placed one end of twine in the reservoir with the other end hanging over the side of the bottle. This will help wick moisture through to the top of the bottle and to the plant. With a hole puncher, we created two holes at the top of the bottom that we will use to hang it in the window.

Next, we filled the bottle with soil, being careful to keep the cone upright and the twine running out the top of the bottle. I used an organic seed starting soil, which we then watered to soak.

We decided to try this gorgeous looking French Red Leaf Lettuce from Renee's Garden for our first swing at a window farm. [Note: I did receive these seeds from Renee's at no charge, but would have selected them anyway because I love their products.] Greens are best to grow in window farms, herbs do great too, and some people even grow tomatoes and peppers!

We dropped in about 7 or 8 seeds, pushed them into the soil a bit, and set about attaching the chain for hanging. I had originally planned to use ball chain, as I figured it would be easiest to work while forming loops and attaching with the connectors. But the hardware store I went to didn't carry them, and I didn't feel like driving around to a bunch. So, I am using a link chain, and that worked out well.

Remember those two holes at the top? I used those to hang the chain from, then another piece of chain was attached to hang to a rod I already had hanging in my office window. We then wrapped the top of the bottle in plastic wrap, creating a mini-greenhouse that aids seed germination.

Then we hung it in our sunny window. It's not a great picture, but you can see how inserting the top of the bottle into the bottom part creates the water reservoir that will help drain the top part.

Here you can see the first bottle hung. As we collect more bottles, we will fill up the window with a natural shade. While I won't get to spy on my neighbors anymore (just kidding, guys!), I'm excited to see this space filled with greens, herbs, strawberries, and more!

UPDATE 3/24/13

We've got seedlings! Red leafed lettuce, bok choi, and Swiss Chard. Can't wait to get more chain and hang at least three more bottles.


  1. Looks like an experiment worth trying! I hope it works for you. Your kids are very cute, by the way. It's great you got them involved.

  2. Thanks, Jason! Thanks for visiting. I'm hoping it works, but need to look up how to pollinate strawberries!