At the Festival of Ideas StreetFest, we demonstrated how to upcycle old plastic bottles into sub-irrigating planters for your home or office — it’s easy, inexpensive and eco-friendly! Made from 1L, 2L or 3L bottles, these planters are a great way to keep your plants happy without accidental over-watering. So many people asked for the instructions at the demo, we decided to post them here, on our blog!
Def: Sub-Irrigated Planter (SIP) is a generic name for a special type of planter used in container gardening.  A SIP is any method of watering plants where the water is introduced from the bottom, allowing the water to soak upwards to the plant through capillary action (wicking)
What we love about self-watering planters, besides being easy to make, is that we don’t have to worry about over-watering our plants or under-watering them.




  • Used Plastic Bottle (empty)(1L, 2L, or 3L)
  • metal skewer
  • potting soil
  • permanent marker
  • felt (optional)


  1. Remove the label from your bottle.
  2. Poke a series of holes in the neck and top of the bottle by heating a metal skewer over a gas burner. You can also use a wood burning pen or an electric soldering iron.
  3. Draw a straight line with a permanent marker around your bottle. A 14oz. can is a guide for how high up the bottle your line should be and helps keep your line straight. This is not an exact marker but a guide. The objective is to get the top of the neck to touch the inside of the bottom.
  4. Cut off the top of the bottle where the cap is located to keep the roots from clogging the bottle neck.
  5. Cut 1” of plastic from the bottom of the bottle to make up for the inch of bottle you just cut off. Make sure you cut straight!
  6. Get your soil and plant the top part of the bottle with seeds or your plant. The little holes are for the roots to poke out of so that they can soak up the water you will be putting in the base of the bottle. Don’t worry about the plant roots- they definitely know how to find water!
  7. Put the top of your bottle inside the bottom of the bottle and add water to the bottom part
  8. You’re done. Enjoy your beautiful new sub-irrigation planter.
  9. To water simply lift the top planter section from the bottom and add a measured amount of water, never add so much that it rises to the soil surface. The top ½” to ¾” should be dry. Remember… You are the self in self-watering
  10. For larger plastic containers like 5G water bottles, you can experiment by adding wicking material like polyester batting material (felt). Just pour some potting mix into the planter on top of the wick. Use a finger to push the soil down firmly until the wick protrudes at the neck opening. This will hold the soil in the planter and guarantees contact with the water

Many thanks to Groundworks INC for their help with this demonstration!


flickr user maggie hoffman

Two years ago, I was living in a loft conversion in the New York City neighborhood of Bushwick.  One of the big perks of living here was our roof access – which we turned into a rather extensive rooftop garden.  We had heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, chard, and any number of other vegetables (and perhaps a few fruits).

But one of the major issues we faced was watering our garden, especially on hot, dry days.  Up on a tar-covered urban roof, raised planters (especially wood planters) dried out quickly.  At the time, our only recourse to prevent our plants from dying was to carry gallon jugs of water up four flights of stairs several times a week.

It occurred to us a few weeks later that we should have collected dew and rainwater in barrels and use those for irrigation!

Even though our plans for rooftop rain barrels never panned out, capturing and reusing rainwater for a garden – or a lawn – is a really great idea.  It cuts down on municipal or well water consumption, reducing your impact on the environment, and on your wallet.  And if you’re watering a rooftop garden, it saves you the torture of carrying dozens of gallons of water up the stairs!


RAIN BARRELS ARE ON SALE THROUGH MAY 1! Here are three options for storing rainwater around the home:

The Bosmere Pop-up Rain Barrel holds 50 gallons of rainwater from the rain or a downspout.  A screen keeps out leaves and other debris.  This collapsible rain barrel can be stored flat in a work shed or garage and pulled out when you need it.  A handy on/off spigot at the bottom can be attached to a hose or the collected water can be accessed through the wide-mouth top which opens with a zipper for easy pail-filling.

The Garden Watersaver rainwater diverter makes it easy to redirect the rainwater flowing down your downspout to a rain barrel. It Installs right onto your downspout in minutes and is easy to activate and de-activate as needed by removing the hose & adding the plug in winter.

The Slim-Line Water barrel holds 26 gallons of water and is made from molded UV-stable plastic. It comes with its own stand so that you can fill your watering can easily from the tap provided. The barrel has snap on-off lid for easy filling and keeping insects & debris out. This tool is designed to be unobtrusive and compact for small gardens, patios and decks.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit


from flickr user: the pug fatherTomorrow, April 22nd, is Earth Day!  To celebrate, here is a quick list of ten ideas to get you started:

  1. Start some compost. Composting is one really good way to reduce the amount of waste you produce in your kitchen, and get a really good byproduct out of!  Compost is rich in nutrients that are great for helping your plants grow strong and healthy.  I recently wrote about the “power of compost,” and you can still take advantage of Green Depot’s sale on springtime green products, including compost supplies!
  2. Plant a garden. Growing your own food is a remarkable way to connect to the ecosystem, and at the end of your project you’ll have grown some fresh, healthy food.  Starting a garden can be easy, if you have the right tools.
  3. Take a walk. Getting outside is one of the best ways to express an appreciation for nature.  Here on the East Coast, springtime is in full swing.  Notice how many flowers and new plants are springing up everywhere!
  4. Read a book. Reading about something environmental can open our minds to new ideas and knowledge about the profound beauty and diversity of the non-human, natural world, as well as ideas on how to live more sustainably (and economically).  Green Depot has a few recommendations for you!
  5. Plant a tree. Planting a tree seems to be the traditional way to celebrate earth day – but it’s one that makes a great difference!  Look to your local garden center or arborist to learn more about what you can do.
  6. Talk to a friend. The environmental movement has grown through the media, for sure, but the most profound contribution you can make to the movement is to talk to the people around you – explain how you came to care about the earth, and what you did to begin making a difference!  With any luck, you’ll change a few minds and continue the great momentum we already have.
  7. Ride a bike. Check out this great video from Grist about “the beauty of just getting on your bike.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit

From Flickr User: pmulloy2112

From Flickr User: pmulloy2112

Last week, the New York Times ran an article detailing a long-standing debate between the proponents of hybrid seeds and the proponents of heirloom seeds.  Its basic premise was that while heirloom seeds are growing in popularity, there are still distinct advantages to using hybridized seeds.

There actually is some truth in this.  I grew up on a farm, where our two principle products were lamb and vegetables.  I have seen my parents battle each year with pests and diseases – and chose hybridized plants that were bred to be resistant to some of these ailments, but still had the bright and robust flavor we came to expect from our garden vegetables.

To say a plant is hybridized, though, is not to say that it is designated as GMO – as genetically modified (that is, genetically modified using technologies beyond the simple cross-pollination techniques utilized by Gregor Mendel).  This seems to be a common point of confusion.  GMO also possess certain resistances to diseases and pests – or, in the case of Monsanto’s notorious line of Roundup-Ready seeds, to certain pesticides.

Heirloom seeds possess one very distinct advantage over many hybrid and GMO seeds: they are open pollinated, meaning that one can save the seeds from a plant one year to reuse the next.  Often, when plants are hybridized, the seeds are not plantable – meaning that one must re-purchase seeds the following year.  This ensures a reliance on the seed company for gardening needs, and a permanent income for companies selling hybridized or genetically-modified seeds.

But heirloom seed-saving faces its own challenges: that is, preserving the genetic integrity of the heirloom seeds year-to-year.  When browsing through an open-pollinated seed catalog, detailed instructions are given on how to ensure that the seeds do not cross-pollinate with other varieties and become hybridized.  Often these instructions include an isolation radius, i.e., “ensure there are no other tomato varieties growing within .25 miles.”  Because pollen can travel over long distances by wind or insect, saving seeds by avoiding cross-pollination can be difficult, if not impossible for persons living in more dense urban or suburban neighborhoods.

Of course, there’s no reason one can’t re-purchase heirloom seeds the following year, and many folks do for some important, but often overlooked, reasons: heirloom vegetables often have very vibrant flavors, and unique aesthetic qualities.  While hybridized seeds often have vibrant flavors of their own (a point which the Times is keen to point out), they are more commonly associated with the milder and standardized varieties found in supermarkets.  It’s likely this association that has given rise to the newfound popularity of heirloom seeds.  Who wants to risk growing the mealy, tough, perfectly spherical supermarket tomato when other succulent, curious-looking heirloom tomato seeds are now so readily available?

But even if the debate over hybrids and heirlooms continues on, there is one last important reason to support heirloom seed growers: they preserve the genetic diversity and uniqueness of many species of plants, and in doing so help to preserve our agricultural heritage.  Heirloom seeds connect us to old traditions and histories that many commercial, hybridized seeds lack.


Green Depot carries lots of green products with both heirloom and non-heirloom seeds for the home gardener.

Green Depot carries seeds from the Seed Savers Exchange.  Seed Saver’s mission is to preserve our diverse, but endangered, garden heritage for future generations by building a network of people committed to collecting, conserving and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.  Seed Savers also works to educate people about the value of genetic and cultural diversity.  Green Depot carries flower, herb, and vegetable seeds from Seed Savers.  To see the different kinds of seeds we carry in each of these categories, you can visit our page for each category: flowers, herbs, and vegetables.

Easy-to-Grow Mushroom Garden: These growing kits allow you to grow up to two pounds of mushrooms over several weeks.  The mushrooms grow in recycled coffee grounds, which are a safe and healthy medium, and can be stored in a closet or refrigerator for several weeks before activating the mushrooms for growth, simply by placing the kit in an area that is room-temperature, and receives lots of fresh air and indirect sunlight.  The mushroomer then opens a slit in the exposed plastic and mists with water twice a day, yielding a mushroom bounty.

Rice Hull Gardens are a complete gardening set for indoors or outdoors.  The pots are made from rice grain husks and organic pigments – they are constructed from highly renewable resources.  The pots last for up to five years and are 100% biodegradable.  They come with many different kinds of herb seeds already contained within – available in lemon basil, lavender, parsley, oregano, garlic chives, heirloom sweet pepper, heirloom mini-tomato, and an organic basil boutique.

For lots more indoor and outdoor gardening products, you can visit our gardening department.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit


Growing in woolly pockets on the wall.One of the challenges that I have always faced in a small apartment has been not only where to garden, but where to store all of my gardening supplies.

I live in a small apartment in Brooklyn, with four roommates.  It’s a tight space, and storage area is limited.  Whatever space we do use has to be shared equally, and fairly.  This can make some activities like gardening or composting difficult to coordinate – where can I store all of my excess seeding trays, for example, after I am done using them for the spring?

It can also be difficult finding space to share in sunny windows.  Living in New York City, it’s not uncommon to hear stories on how bedroom and other windows face directly into an alleyway (actually, my own bedroom is no exception).  Maximizing space becomes essential to growing houseplants and vegetables successfully.

Below are two options to help growing in a small apartment a little more feasible.


Woolly Pockets planters come in two different styles: Freestanding Islands, and Living Wall Systems.  They are both constructed from 100% post-consumer recycled thick felt that allows excess moisture to evaporate, and a moisture-barrier reservoir that holds water for plants to draw from.  The wall system is totally modular – allowing stacking to create an entire indoor or outdoor living wall, saving valuable space near windows.

Cowpot Seed Starting flats are an amazing green product not only because they will save space that would otherwise go to storing plastic, petroleum-based (and non-biodegradable!) seed flats, but because of their essential design.  They are made from renewable, composted cow manure that can be planted directly into the ground and biodegrade completely.  A manufacturing process removes any of the weeds, pathogens and odor that may be present in the manure.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit


waterMarch 22nd was world water day, and while we’re few weeks late in celebrating it, water conservation is something to always consider.  International World Water Day was first recommended in 1992 at the UN Conference on Environment and development as a way of “focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.”  The United Nations General Assembly designated March 22nd as World Water Day, and this is a tradition that has occurred annually ever since.

As the webpage for World Water Days points out, each year WWD highlights a specific aspect of freshwater conservation.  It is perhaps especially appropriate for  those of us dwelling in urban areas to (re)consider water conservation in 2011, since this year’s theme was “Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge.”

But what urban challenge?  Well – this is the first time in human history that more people are living in urban areas than in rural ones, and this trend is expected to continue for some time.  Because urban water consumption is then set to increase, strain will be added to the area watersheds that provide potable water to city populations.  Given that climate change will change some aspects of the water cycle, this strain could increase in some urban areas.

Another major water challenge for the coming decades is that the rapid pace of urbanization has given rise to vast informal settlements – or slums – for which there is often no piped, safe drinking water.  93% of all urbanization is occurring in the developing world, and 40% of that growth is the growth of informal settlements.  Infrastructure has not kept pace with this growth, meaning that conservation is especially important in these areas.


In an urban, suburban, or rural home, water consumption is most likely to occur in the kitchen and bathroom, where in many places our flushable water is the same as our drinking water.  To address issues of water conservation, Green Depot is focusing on green products that reduce water consumption in the bathroom.

Green Depot is currently offering 50% off Caroma Dual-flush toilets and sinks, which gives one the ability to choose whether less or more water is needed to flush. With a two-button system, the user can select a small flush (0.8 gallons) or a larger flush (1.6 gallons in some models, and 1.2 gallons in the High Efficiency models). A 4″ trap throughway assures the user of maximum flushing efficiency.  A Caroma dual-flush toilet will help conserve water in any commercial or residential project, and are certified by EPA-Watersense as a water-saving device.

All models of toilets have complementary sinks–call Green Depot to inquire.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit