Three Urban Garden Ideas: Gravity Drip Irrigation, Worm Walkways & Bamboo Hoop Houses

I have been experimenting with some new ideas in my small-scale urban garden in our rented home in the Gainesville, FL student ghetto.

One of my goals in gardening is to use local, sustainable and/or reclaimed materials as much as possible.

I am interested in discovering and developing urban gardening models that are:

  • Affordable.
  • Built with local and reclaimed materials when possible.
  • Beneficial to ecology and promote soil building.

Here are a few of the projects I am working on or have worked on (often with help from roommates and friends) over the summer and fall in my small home garden in Gainesville.

#1: Gravity Drip Irrigation System

A drip irrigation system keeps plants consistently watered, at a slow pace throughout the day. It saves you water, time, and work. And the plants love it because they are never thirsty.

Here is a video of my gravity drip irrigation system when I installed it in July:

For this project, I got a 55-gallon barrel from a car wash and washed it out several times to get out the soapy residues. I placed the barrel on a stack of about 10 half-pallets (five wooden shipping pallets which I sawed in half). The barrel serves as the water reservoir for the gravity drip irrigation system.

Instructions & Parts

I purchased my irrigation supplies from Irrigation Direct. I estimate that it cost me around $40 to $50, for drip materials that will last for seasons. While I would imagine it would be difficult to find reclaimed or free microtubing parts, it is a small investment that will last, will save you time and work, and will pay for itself in water savings.

Materials from Irrigation Direct:
Links in bold are items that are necessary or highly recommended.

  1. A 1/2″ Main Line of Poly Tubing is inserted in a 1/2″ hole that I have drilled in the main water reservoir, a plastic barrel which I acquired from a local car wash.
  2. Inside the barrel, I have attached a 3/4″ Hose Thread Swivel and a 3/4″ Hose Filter Washer to prevent debris inside the barrel from clogging the main drip line.
  3. Outside the barrel, I have attached a 5/8″ Flow Control Valve to have the ability to turn the whole drip system on and off.
  4. The main 1/2″ poly tubing halfway encircles the garden, while seven 1/4″ Vinyl Micro Tubing lines divert the water throughout all of my rows. Attach the 1/4″ micro tubing to the 1/2″ main line using 1/4″ Barbed Connectors. You can also restrict water flow to individual rows by installing 1/4″ Barbed In-Line Flow Control Valves.
  5. Finally, you need 1/2 GPH Mini In-Line Drippers to drip water on the individual plants, or Full Circle Stream Spray Bubblers for spraying larger areas like flower beds or a group of containers. Micro Tubing Holder Stakes are helpful for keeping dirt out of the drippers.
  6. Don’t forget Goof Plugs for cutting off the water at the end of the 1/4″ microtubing, and a Compression Hose End Plug for stopping water flow at the end of the 1/2″ main line.

To use the gravity drip system, I fill the water reservoir using a hose every one to two days (depending on the size of your garden and water needs). I run the drip system for 4-5 hours each day and turn the valve off every evening. Adding mulch around plants helps to retain moisture and reduce the amount of water needed.

In the future, I would like to find or fashion a rain gutter on the shed to divert rainwater into the reservoir.

#2: Worm Walkways

Worm Walkways

My Worm Walkway is a raised garden path made of wooden pallets, with a worm farm underneath.

Why worms? Worms aid in breaking down organic matter and turning it into compost. They also produce castings (i.e. worm poop) which can be used as a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer.

To make the pathways, I cut wooden pallets in half, then removed the bottom panels of wood so that I would have space to add the worm farm below. Important: Be sure to use pallets marked with an “HT” stamp, indicating that they are heat treated rather than chemically treated.

After cutting the pallets, I filled the area below them with a mix of dried crumbled leaves and vegetable scraps, fruit peels and coffee grounds. After the mixture sat for a while and composted, I added 1000 Alabama Jumper worms, which should further break down the organic matter and leave behind their nutrient-rich castings.

Alabama Jumper Worms

The idea behind the Worm Walkways is that you use the underutilized pathways between your rows to create rich, vermicomposted soil for the next season’s beds. The following season, you can plant directly in the space that was previously your walkway (and turn your spent rows into new Worm Walkways), or take the finished compost and add it to your already existing rows for the next planting.

If successful, these Worm Walkways could prove to be a sustainable and effective way to build rich soil in a small space, while turning previously unused pathways into mini ecological hubs.

The inspiration for this came from an instructional video by the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute:

#3: Bamboo Hoop House

The latest project I am working on is a bamboo hoop house, made from my neighbor’s invasive bamboo plants and plastic bags that I was previously throwing away.

Bamboo Hoop House
(Incomplete as pictured.)

With any luck, this mini greenhouse will allow me to grow some warmer season crops in my raised bed, to have a wider variety of food in the cold months, and to start seeds early before the last winter frost.

My neighbor has a mini bamboo forest in his yard, and since bamboo is an invasive exotic that is hard to destroy, he had no problem with me cutting a few live sticks to make the frame for my hoop house.

Since I have been collecting cabbage leaves (for compost) from Reggae Shack in clear plastic bags, I am using the plastic from these bags as the cover for my greenhouse. I am waiting on a few more bags that I can use to add a front and back cover to the hoop house in the coming weeks.

I used a staple gun to attach the plastic to the sticks, folding the plastic along the edges to give it more security. I have used duct tape to cover any holes and attach the edges of the bags to each other.

All of the above projects are evolving works in progress, but with any luck they will help me reach my goal of growing a substantial amount of my own food in a small space.