Script 27.5

Notes to broadcasters

Content: Boxes, baskets, used tires, plastic bags, and bottles are some of the containers you can use to grow crops for food or profit in the city.


Do you think that because you live in a town or a city you cannot grow food for your family or for the market? In almost no space at all, some city families grow crops that improve their diet and earn them money too!

They learned that growing crops in rows in fields is not the only way to produce fresh food. All that plants need to grow is light, water, and something to root in that will give them the food they need. And they can get these things right in the city – right where you live!

Where to start container gardening:
If you have a patio, balcony, open stairwell, or a flat roof, you can become a productive part‑time farmer. The secret is to grow your garden in containers‑‑boxes, baskets, pots, used tires, even plastic bags. Anything that will hold a soil mixture will do.

You can even grow crops on a wall as long as it gets some sunlight. Some city farmers attach long narrow planters or boxes to their walls. Others hang plastic pots or halves of plastic soft drink bottles. Many plants, like cucumber and melon, are happy to grow up a wall or fence if you support them with sticks or twine.

Container gardens around the world:
In Chile, the Centre for Education and Technology has a 20 square‑metre city farm where they produce vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, chickens and rabbits. They make the most of the small space by planting crops in containers which they stack up in pyramids. Plants grow on the walls, and the same vines that provide a ceiling of shade also provide crops. By using containers, walls, and even air space, 20 square metres turn into three times that much productive farm space.

In Hong Kong, the world’s most crowded city, vegetables are grown in containers that rest on top of the floating cages used for raising fish. And in Old Delhi, in India, you can find silkworms producing their magic yarn in boxes on people’s verandas.

Did you know that some restaurants grow their own mushrooms and bean sprouts indoors, in containers? In Colombia, a women’s cooperative uses stairwells, roof tops, and tiny yards to produce vegetables for a supermarket chain by using a type of gardening called hydroponics, that uses no soil at all!

Preparing your containers:
To get started with your own container garden, you will have to prepare your containers. Most containers should be lined with plastic to keep moisture in and to protect the container. You might use a plastic bag from a store. Make a few small holes in the bottom so that excess water can drain out.

You will have to make sure that the soil mixture in your containers will give you strong plants. Begin with any earth that you find near your home, and add organic material. You can add grass clippings, rice hulls, vegetable scraps from your kitchen or a market or restaurant, crushed eggshells, shredded newspapers, corn cobs and husks, animal dung, leaves, weeds, sawdust.

You can add these just as they are, but plants make better use of them if you let them rot into compost first. Put them in a basket, or a pile, or even a small hole in the ground. Keep the mixture moist, and stir it every few days to speed up the rotting process. After several weeks you will have a compost mix that will really improve your soil.

Plants must have water. In hot countries you probably will not be able to depend on regular rains to keep your plants moist. Containers of soil dry out quickly in hot weather and when the plants are growing well. Cover the soil in your pots with something that will help to keep it from drying out. Use wood chips, paper, leaves, sawdust, whatever you can find. Check your containers every day and see how often each one needs water. Avoid overwatering as much as underwatering.

Good container garden crops:
How do you decide what to grow? Begin with your family’s dinner plate. Grow what you need to add more nourishment, or to add variety, especially things that are expensive or hard to get. Green leafy vegetables are a good bet: they grow quickly, give a good yield, and are important in a healthy diet. Beans of many kinds, herbs, peppers, and tomatoes also do well in containers. Another way to decide what to grow is to think about what you can sell in the market. Grow what will give you a good return for your work for as much of the year as possible. You can save time and money by cooperating with neighbours when you buy seeds and other inputs and when you sell your crop. Cooperation has worked for people all over the world.

One tip successful container gardeners often give is, “Grow short season crops.” A crop that is ready in 60 days is worth much more than one that takes 120 days to mature. Another good tip is, “Do not grow what everyone else is growing because the price for that crop will probably be low.”

Some city farmers who grow vegetables in containers also raise chickens and rabbits. They feed less‑than‑perfect vegetables and scraps to the animals and use the animal urine and dung to fertilize the vegetables.

Container, or “farm in a box” gardening delivers good nutrition and a more stable family income. And the plants themselves recycle waste and clean the air, helping to make the city a better place for everyone. Container farmers even find that their houses are cooler in summer and warmer in winter, because the containers and plants protect their houses from extreme temperatures. Why not improve the life of your family and your neighbourhood by starting a “farm in a box”?

Information Sources

Jac Smit, RCD Consultants, 1711 Lamont Street N.W., Washington D.C., 20010, U.S.A., fax: 202‑986‑6732.

“Container Gardening,” Learning‑by‑doing leaflet No. 13, OUTREACH pack 73.  Published by OUTREACH, 200 East Building, New York University, New York, New York, 10003, U.S.A.

Growing food in containers in the tropics.  Published by Agricultural Research, Science and Education Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, P.O. Box 53326, New Orleans, Louisianna  70153, U.S.A.

Rooftop or shallow‑bed gardening, by Martin Price.  Published by ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization), 1986.  17430 Durrance Road, North Ft. Myers, Florida 33917‑2200, U.S.A.