DIY Water-Saving Kitchen Garden in Malawi-Africa

October 21, 2016

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Madagascar, I lived in a small village without running water or electricity.  I fetched my water from a river, and read books by candlelight.  Fast forward 14 years to life in small town Malawi. Almost everyone in my neighborhood, myself included, has satellite TV and plumbing for running water.  There are no rivers running through our town.  We all rely on city water or private “bore holes” for our water supply.

Life is much easier with the luxury of electricity and running water. But there is a big downside.  When the power goes out, water can’t be pumped up from the bore hole to the tank, which means no showers, no washing the dishes, and no working toilets. It’s easy to forget how precious water is until it stops flowing through the taps.

Malawi suffered a massive drought last year which resulted in there not being enough water to feed the turbines at Nkhula Falls, where hydro electricity is generated for the entire country. For the past few months we have had 8-14 hour blackouts – daily. It’s very difficult to plan a work schedule, and often impossible to work at all.  Even in the tree nursery we find ourselves unable to be productive.  It’s hard to take care of tree seedlings with no water!

With our current shortage of water, we’ve been thinking of ways to save as much as we can, when we have it.  We knew we were wasting water through evaporation. Dumping a bunch of water onto an open, dry space wasn’t helping our garden vegetables much, either. Our solution was to try container gardening. By upcycling plastic bottles from the market into water-saving pots, we are also encouraging people to collect trash for much-needed cash, and keeping our environment free of plastic waste.

Our DIY up-cycled water-saving kitchen garden experiment at the Zoona Nova tree nursery:


Plastic 5 Liter bottles are collected and washed out with water.



The bottles are cut in half.



The bottle cap is removed from the top part of the bottle.  It is filled with potting soil (ours is a mix of river sand, cow manure, and top soil) and buried in the earth.  We planted 50 bottle tops near our kitchen and planted lettuce, tomatoes, beans, and herbs in our containers.  Watering is minimal because all the water goes directly to the plant and is not wasted on the surrounding soil.  If our experiment works, this could be a great way for villagers (and urbanites!) with limited water supply to plant and keep a healthy kitchen garden.  *We will do a follow-up post next month to share our progress!

The bottom part of the 5 liter bottle is used for planting our tree seeds and cuttings at the Zoona Nova tree nursery.


Baby baobab trees in the Zoona Nova tree nursery.  In about 6-8 months they will be ready for transplant in villages and gardens in our community.  For each PDF sew-at-home pattern sold, trees will be planted, and a cash contribution will be made to our environmental education project.

Happy planting, sewists!

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