The growing capacity of an Earthship can be increased by growing food in buckets suspended in the front face, receiving the maximum amount of light most vegetables need to grow. These contained buckets operate similarly to a very basic hydroponic system.
Three gallon semi transparent buckets are used. Each bucket needs a one or one and a half inch diameter pvc pipe cut the same length as the depth of the bucket. Each bucket is filled with about an inch of ceramic beads, a special hydroponic growing medium. The pvc pipe is placed standing up on top of the one inch of ceramic beads. The bucket is then filled a third to half of the way up with the ceramic beads, which hold the pvc pipe in place. (The ceramic beads must be rinsed first before being put into the bucket.)These are imported from Germany, and therefore have a large carbon footprint, but they work better than gravel (which is too heavy;) better than pumice gravel (which turns to mush after a time.) They are very light weight, incorporating allot of oxygen, and can be washed and reused continuously.
A layer of chopped straw is then placed about an inch thick, over the ceramic beads, to form a dense layer, so that the potting soil does not fall through and fill the gaps between the ceramic beads.
Then the top half of the bucket is then filled with a loose growing soil into which the vegetable starts will be planted.
At this point it is best to hang the buckets with the rope going through two holes drilled into the side of the bucket on either side of each bucket handle. The rope then is fed around the sides of the bucket under the lip of the bucket out through the other two holes. This spreads the weight of the bucket around its circumference, instead of only from the handle. Once hung, the soil can be watered gently to be wet enough to be planted. No water should ever collect in the bottom of the bucket while the plants are still small.
With the buckets hung, the vegetable starts can be planted.
This is a perfect opportunity to do companion planting. It will be tempting to plant too many starts in the buckets, but it must be remembered that the plants will grow large and produce well if they are not over crowded. Following are some examples of what to plant together and how many.
1- One heirloom cucumber and an early producing tomato such as Oregon Spring (we recommend using heirloom seeds, then one can save your own seeds from year to year.) Our cucumber plant produced +- 15 one foot-long cucumbers. They produce yellow male and female flowers, which have to be hand pollinated with a small paint brush, as there are no bees and not many other pollinating insects inside Earthships.
2- Melon with lettuce. The melon flowers are the same as cucumbers, they need to be hand pollinated. When the melon starts to form, it needs to be suspended in a net, so that it dies not fall to the ground from way up where the vine will grow and hang. Needles to say, watermelons need to be grown in the planters.
3- Two Rainbow chard and two lettuce starts.
4- Lettuce with two strawberry starts.
5- One tomato and one basil start. In the buckets always only plant small tomato varieties, otherwise the plants will get too large and heavy and will snap.
6- One eggplant and one pepper start.
7- One mammoth basil and one pepper start.
8- Four to five beet starts.
9- Herbs such as basil, parsley and dill.
10- Tulsi (Holy Basil -for tea) and fennil.
Each hanging bucket of plants becomes totally individual with regards to water application, which is determined by the weather (time of the year) and what plants are planted in it and how large they grow.
When the vegetable starts are still young and small, the soil surface needs to be watered with a watering can with a spout, or a hose on a gentle shower, just enough to moisten the soil. At this stage the soil should be kept slightly moist all the time. Water should never collect at the bottom of the bucket between the ceramic beads when the starts are still small, as their roots do not reach down there and the water will get stagnant and bad and eventually cause root rot.
When working with the plants in the hanging buckets every day, one gets to know the needs of each set of plants, which may differ greatly from bucket to bucket. These variations are determined by the age, size and kind of the plants, by the time of the year(season) and how hot and sunny the weather is, or how cool and cloudy or cold it is.
For instance, one hanging bucket may have a large cucumber growing in it which has grown into a large vine that has taken over a large part of the front face window it is growing behind. Its roots have grown to almost occupying all the space that occurs between the ceramic beads. In this bucket the water needs of the cucumber is large as it is a very large plant producing many large fruits which grow inches a day. Yet the water holding capacity of the bucket has greatly diminished due to the cucumbers large root system. So this hanging bucket would need to be watered down the pvc pipe until the water level is just below the soil surface, once in the morning and possibly again in the evening, if it is a hot sunny summers day. On a cool cloudy day, maybe once is enough. Large plants with large leaves and producing fruit, need allot more water when it is hot and sunny.
Then the hanging bucket next to the cucumber may be planted with strawberries, which are smaller plants in comparison, with smaller leaves. This bucket would be watered down the pvc pipe once every two days maybe, if the weather is hot and sunny, and maybe every three to four days if there is a cloudy spell. Every day the rate of water absorption by the plant, and evaporation by the hot weather is noticed and individual buckets are watered accordingly.
The bucket on the other side of the cucumber may be a newly planted bucket with five beet starts in it. The water needs of this bucket is completely different to that of the other two buckets discussed. This bucket is top watered, as opposed to being watered through the pvc pipe, once a day using the hose nozzle on shower, just to keep the soil moist through out.
Anybody, living in any home that has large south facing windows (in the northern hemisphere,) can grow their own food indoors all year round using this simple method described. It is fun and exciting to see how much these suspended growing buckets can produce. It is also a fun project to do with children.
EXPERIMENT AND HAVE FUN!