Saturday, February 23, 2013

The 2-Liter Bottle Planter

I decided to grow some plants. They provide a nominal amount of oxygen and absorb CO2, and some plants you can eat. Fortunately, the Internet is foggy with how-to's and DIYs on this topic, so a reader of market perspicacity can read a dozen articles, assimilate and crystalize the salient points, and set to work. That's what I did, anyway.

This project involved turning 2-liter soda bottles into planters. That was the first problem: I don't drink soda. I don't drink cans, and I definitely don't drink 2-liter bottles. There is nothing healthful about soda in the first place, and then people drink it instead of water, milk or juice, generating hypertension, obesity and type II diabetes in themselves, placing an emotional burden upon people who care about them and a financial burden upon the health care industry. And when you try to explain this to them, they double-down on their ignorance and ridicule you for being a Debbie-downer or a health freak, lashing out at anything or anyone that threatens their addiction to junk food.

So where was I going to get a 2-liter bottle? As it happened, there were some parties in my social circles within the recent past and we were asked to provide beverages. So I bought some 2-liter bottles of soda for drink mixers, people used what they needed, I discarded the rest, et voila: planters.

Many of the instructions start out the same: you can take a can of soup or beans and stand it next to the 2-liter bottle. Using a Sharpie or other permanent marker, trace a circle around the 2-liter bottle using the top of the can as a line guide: brilliant in its simplicity. After that, use a very sharp pair of scissors or a good X-acto knife to cut along the line in the bottle. The importance of this technique is to halve the bottle but to ensure a ratio: you will turn the top half of the bottle upside down and place it in the bottom half, but you don't want the neck of the bottle to bump up against or lie flush with the bottom of the bottle. This resourceful can-measuring technique works around that most handily.

The next thing to do is to puncture some holes in the top half of the 2-liter bottle. Again, there are many clever ways to do this: a slim, sharp pair of scissors, a good X-acto knife, heat up a metal chopstick or nail with a candle flame and melt holes into the plastic... The sky's the limit. You will doubtlessly find your own great idea to achieve this effect.

The function of these holes is to allow the soil to rest in the top half of the bottle while exposing it to some measure of water. The bottom half of the bottle will be filled with water at all times, of course, and two rings of four to six holes will suffice for this purpose.

You don't want all the soil dumping through the neck of the bottle, of course, so that brings us to our next step. Many DIY instructions have their own technique for handling this, so please choose the one that you find most accessible or actionable. You can save the bottle cap and make a small puncture in it, through which you will run some string, twine, or yarn—the point, ultimately, is to create a hydrating wick that will carry water from the reservoir up into the soil. Anything will do this, and the instructions I found initially (but can't find again) suggested using quilt batting, and using this does not require retaining the bottle cap. You can plug up the neck of the bottle and an abundance of water will transfer up into the soil.

Well, I went out to Bachman's and I forgot all about the word "batting," so I fought through throngs of customers for their weekend sale and farmer's market to find someone at a desk to help me. What I described to him was a hydration or irrigation wick, and he looked baffled for a moment. I tried to describe what I was doing as clearly as possible (but Horace said, Brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio) and he started to grasp the concept but didn't think there was anything in his jurisdiction that would effect it. We asked another guy in another department and he said they used to carry it, maybe a few months ago, but didn't have it now; he suggested shopping for hydration wicks online.

Ultimately, I found a strange substance called WaterStor which looks like small plastic woven squares, until you take them out of the little bag and they scatter particulate all over. Didn't care for that, but it's designed to retain water and slowly distribute it into plant soil, like a kind of slow-release water bank. My hope is that it will also work as a wick (and if not, I'll consider it a $5 donation to science). Two sheets, rolled up, just fit inside the neck of a 2-liter bottle and that's good enough for me.

At Bachman's I picked up two small herb plants, having had the good fortune to find an available staff and ask her what was hardy and easy to grow indoors. Based on her recommendations I picked up sweet Italian large-leaf basil and silver thyme. They smell wonderful and they'll go into food we're already making for ourselves, which I hope will be a nice addition. I'm thinking about some kind of structure to deter our curious and obnoxious cats from killing these lovely specimina, but it's just as likely they won't care in the first place.

The next thing we have to do is walk down to ACE Hardware and pick up "mixed soil." All the DIY instructions call for mixed soil specifically and in contrast with potting soil. My hypothesis is that mixed soil has a blend of components that amateur growers like myself find beneficial for raising plants indoors. And these will be indoors, sitting in the windows to absorb as much sunlight as makes itself available. I also have plans to construct a grow-light trellis, however, with red, white and blue LED bulbs that should—if cursory research serves—provide a sufficiently full spectrum of light by which to nourish the plants. That will be another project and I will document that just as diligently.

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