ECHOcommunity Conversations

Current Practices Inquiry - Urban Gardening

My name is Matt Cunningham and I am the incoming Urban Garden intern at ECHO Florida.

I am wanting to hear from current or recent practitioners in the field today who could share with me some current methods being used in tropical urban agriculture and what are the successes and failures you are experiencing with those methods that could you share as I begin my time at ECHO. I am also interested to hear from the community if there are questions about some of the methods ECHO promotes (such as wick gardens, tire gardens, double-dug bed systems, etc.) that I could facilitate research with, or perhaps methods you would be interested in seeing tested that could possibly be investigated during my time here at ECHO Florida.

Thank you for your consideration and contribution to these questions.



We are watching what you all are doing in the Urban Garden section at Echo. We are about to start development work in the Rohingya Refugee camp in Bangladesh. Do to the land tenure issue and general lack of farming space we may be replicating Urban Gardening in the camp and are open to ideas.
Edward Martin

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I would like to offer advice, but I’m new around here. I will be volunteering on a sustainable farm in Colombia, and I would also like to help a local build an urban rooftop garden, so if you can point me to resources for that or offer advice, I would really appreciate it.

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We are putting together a farm/garden tour in Eastern Cuba. Most of the farms/gardens are permaculture. The major organoponico gardens in Cuba produce most of our vegetables and herbs. The other day there were carrots, and cumbers, peppers and bokchoy, parsley, chives, and a host of other veggies and herbs.
Over the past 20-30 years these gardens have been a major contribution to food self-sufficiency in Cuba.
An organoponico garden takes about 10 years to come to full balance and production - but my what flavours and nutrition!
For those who would like to see this process on a grand scale - its worth taking time to make a visit.

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Bill Mollison’s 4-part series called ‘Global Gardener’ has one on urban ag. This one here has a part on water-frugal ways of rooftop gardening in India :slight_smile: Here’s a link. I’m sure the other parts aren’t hard to find, but I found this after a quick YouTube search. :slight_smile:

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2 resources I would recommend, both compiled after extensive experience in the tropics and sub-tropics: firstly the Tropical Permaculture Guidebook - from Timor Leste, and secondly the Farmers’ Handbook from Nepal - (both available as free downloads). Lots of techniques, field tested by farmers and documented as best practice but also a holistic, systems approach.

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Hi Matt,

A good topic to research could be the ideas of Elaine Ingham at home garden level. Check it out.

God bless you

Thank you Edward.

I would be interested in hearing what the situation looks like once you have a visual on the environment of the Rohingya camp in Bangladesh (if there is some open land available for growing or if there is only enough space for a tire garden, or perhaps if there are rooftops or vertical space available). I know the current demonstrations in the Urban Garden (UG) are attempting to demonstrate how to produce food in small spaces but I’m wanting to look at how to maximize productivity in those small spaces using available materials and space. Tire gardens or other container gardens can help get some vegetable production going but I’m looking into ways to maximize the production in those small spaces. So let’s keep the conversation going and I look forward to learning together.


Wonderful! Thank you Lioness for contributing.

My suggestion to you at first is to look at Dr. Price’s new book, available through ECHO which gives information on several kinds of Urban Garden options including wick beds that require little to no soil at all to start growing in. I am just learning about these things myself so I look forward to learning more about these things together.

I’ll try to share a link to his book after posting this response.


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Here is the site for the book Dr. Price at ECHO produced sharing his experience with Urban Garden options:

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Thank you Kate for your contribution. I will have to look more into that process of organoponico and its usage in Cuba, and possibilities for contextualization elsewhere.


Thank you Troy.

That was a great video giving me several helpful ideas including the use of the clay pot underneath the soil in that Indian garden which is a great water-conserving method. Not sure how well that would work in our Florida sands though. But very helpful overall. Thanks again.


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Great. Thank you Chris for those suggestions. I will take a look at those and glean what I can for usage in the Urban Garden (UG) at ECHO.


Thank you WIl. I will have to check that out as well.

I appreciate your contribution.


Thanks Matt, for the response, which I also appreciate. Like everyone else here, I aim to please :slight_smile:

Hello Edward and Matt,
Interested and want to help with what you are both doing.
I run Permaculture Institute Asia here in Thailand. I do a Urban Permaculture course every March.
This past two years I am getting lots of interest from Teachers. The schools in Bangkok, Thailand are starting Urban school gardens. My focus for Urban schools however, incorporates the UN, sustainable development goals (SDG) with the view of creating a young Global citizen by the end of their school education. This is for Urban gardening.

As for Edwards project. There is a project on Facebook run by John Luis call “Global Earth Repair Camps”
You can look at their objectives and see if there is an alignment that can bring volunteers to repair the earth in the camp and rebuild the local ecosystem that would also include food gardens.

Hope this helps.
Howard Story

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Hello Permies.

Thank you for your contribution. It sounds like you have a great program going there in Thailand and are doing great work towards training up new leaders in agricultural techniques that will be a help to many people for years to come.

Are you finding that permaculture techniques are effectively applicable in urban environments with minimal space? Or are the areas in which you are working have spaces of arable land available to grow crops in?


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In terms of increasing productivity, I’d be curious about using lots of bamboo as vertical towers similar to aeroponic towers, in the sense that vertical space is maximized, and a lot of water could be saved. Instead of doing aeroponics though, you could just put small holes in the nodes (similar to how they prepare bamboo to be treated with borax), fill each culm with a couple inches of compost/soil, then drill angled holes toward the top of the culm for vegetables to reach outside for the sun. The top culm could even be setup as some sort of storage for a drip irrigation system where an entire bamboo stalk would be drip irrigated from the top. It would be interesting to see if drip irrigation could provide enough water to the bottom-most culm without flooding the top-most culm. The bamboo could be either hung from above, or mounted in the ground. If it is off the ground it probably would last longer/not rot as fast.

If this sounds crazy just look at some of these growing towers:

Here is another site that has already done this commercially:

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I have kind of a biggish space to work with in the current house we are renting. I have had more and I have had less space, including one rental where about 90% of the outside space had been cemented over to avoid mud. Different mentality than mine.

There are four or five things that I think I have learned from my context.

Tire gardens are incredible for a number of reasons, but I think the big one is that we can create the very best soil in small units, 6-8" deep, rather than trying to improve the top 2-3" over a large space. Also, since we have lived in three different rentals in three years, tire gardens are nice because I can move my food.

Everywhere I have lived I have had access to African red worms. They rock. They help me create micro-ecological systems in the tires and in the sometimes limited yard soil I have. Among other things, they help keep me focused on moving my kitchen waste into the system. I have rarely had much animal manure to feed them. However, feeding them kitchen waste directly does not work. I rot the kitchen waste mixed with sawdust and tree leaves, and, even more importantly, banana waste.

That leads me to my third love in tropical gardening. Bananas and plantains of all varieties. My understanding is that they do not fix nitrogen. Nevertheless, given enough moisture, bananas produce so much extra biomass, that it seems like they can renew soils on their own. Just a few of them seem to be able to provide all of the mulch we need for the vegetable tires and to keep the African redworms chilled out in their tires.

So, vegetable tires, African redworms and bananas, for one heck of multiple productive mini-ecosystems.

Now for the disclaimer. Most of the people with whom I have worked in Haiti have two major limitations in terms of yard gardens that I don’t have, but which are likely to exist in a context of a refugee camp in addition to many many rural and urban settings.

One, people rarely have abundant sources of water. So one thing I would love to find out from you, Matt, is the best possible vegetable tire system that maximizes every drop of water, without requiring any input except what someone in urban or rural Haiti could find for free.

The other limitation is social rather than technical, I believe. I have never worked with any family doing yard gardening that did not have problems with their own or their neighbors’ animals, and the chickens in particular. A refugee camp seems like it would present the epitome of having little or no control over your neighbor’s impact on your space. You probably cannot figure that out on your own in ECHO, Matt, but keep it in mind as you communicate with people. How can a family that wants to garden protect their plants without getting into disputes with their neighbors who are accustomed to free-ranging their chickens and other critical domestic animals?

Many blessings and I look forward to hearing about everything that you learn!!!


Hey Permies,

I would also like to hear about what urban permaculture folks use for fencing, and how animals are incorporated and also controlled??