ECHOcommunity Conversations

Emergency gardens in a quarantine world

Awesome, thanks, Richard. I was reading about the tire gardens but the sack garden concept is new to me. I’ll check it out!

Also see ECHO Technical Note #31 “Rooftop and Urban Gardening” and Dr. Price’s book with much of the same information “Gardening on rooftops: the last agricultural frontier” -

You’re likely familiar with red and green Malabar spinach–in a pot or sack with a tall stake–mine are like Jack and the beanstalk…and red giant mustard is fast, long lasting and handles the heat…best wishes,

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We work in the Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. Space there is very limited. We see things like filling rice sacks with soil, cutting slits in the sides and planting annuals. Any types of vining plants such as gourds, yard long beans, etc. are grown by the tents and allowed to grow right over the tents.

Edward Martin


One of the first things is to find out what they eat/like in the culture you’re proposing to provide supplies. If you provide seeds or cuttings of a food that is unfamiliar or uncommon your success of acceptance is very low and you waste a lot of time and energy. Start with the resources they already have and build from there. Be careful about providing too much outside intervention because you compete against the local farmers and destroy the local market. In the 2012 Haitian earthquake aftermath the food stock from foreign NGOs destroyed the local market and drove the farming community into deeper poverty. Source your food locally and support the communities internally. Otherwise helping can seriously hurt. Nuff said for now.
Edward Martin


Yep hope it helps.


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Hi @Joshua_Tucker,

I agree with @Edward_Martin that you first have to find out about what would be culturally acceptable. From my experience, Moringa wouldn’t be my first choice for the Guatemalan context for several reasons.

As a center of origin for many plants (Mesoamerica), there are many other better options to consider. I recommend an article that my colleague @Kelly_Wilson wrote about ancestral plants. Here is a quote that you might find helpful:

There are countless plants, high in nutrients and cultural value, important for food security and food sovereignty of urban and rural populations in Guatemala. Those at the AGER meeting called these ancestral plants “ tesoros despreciados ” (disregarded treasures). The goal is to pay attention to these plants once again and to regard them as the treasures that they are. Here is an abbreviated list of popular (or once popular) leafy greens:

  • Chipilín ( Crotalaria longirostrata )
  • Hierba mora ( Solanum americanum , American black nightshade)
  • Makuy ( Solanum nigrescens , divine nightshade)
  • Quilete or chomté ( Lycianthes synanthera , another species of the nightshade family)
  • Hierba madre ( Jaltomata procumbens , creeping false holly)
  • Bledo ( Amaranthus hybridus , vegetable amaranth)
  • Chaya ( Cnidoscolus aconitifolius )
  • Quixtán ( Solanum wendlandii , potato vine)
  • Colinabo ( Brassica campestris , field mustard)
  • Verdolaga ( Portulaca oleracea , purslane)

I hope this helps.
Kind regards,



Hey, thanks, Bob! There’s some great info here. I had skipped over a lot of the rooftop articles because so many people here have flimsy metal roofs here. But it looks like there’s still a lot to be gleaned from the general concept. Thanks!

Thanks, Lorraine! I’m adding it to my list to check out and maybe try out myself!

@Edward_Martin and @cgonzalez I very much appreciate the warnings. I think this will help me step a little more cautiously into the project. I was considering on just starting out with beans, potatoes, and chaya because beans and potatoes are familiar and chaya is so robust. But even so, I may need to have some more conversations, especially with some locals, before I start implementing anything. Thank you.

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There is potential for consumption/subsistence production but also consider the local market and high value crops that can be exchanged for money and consider whether the need is carbohydrates or proteins or for vitamins. Undernourished people may do better with sweet potatoes and other carbohydrate rich foods if they can supplement with edible wild herbs or weeds and foraged legumes can provide some protein but beans and animals such as rabbits (if the climate is not too hot) may be a better source. Locally I can eat 50 to 75% of the weeds are edible and don’t taste bad and dried they could supplement the whole year. I like Gonzalez’s list. I have tried a number of them and all good. One strategy I use is to try to get very sweet small varieties of tomatoes to be grown near house and along walkways (i.e. cherry or currant tomatoes) or cape gooseberries/ ground cherry. The fruit of Solanum nigra nightshade taste good and in Kenya they eat the leaves of Black Nightshade. I have modified the sack gardening technique in our area because I found that my sacks were drying out too quickly. I now line the insides with old waste plastic and also the top with white plastic and poke plants through it and also the sides. I am doing much better this year with them as a result since they retain much more moisture. Gather up all your neighbors leaves, twigs, or weeds (preferably ones that have not yet gone to produce mature seed) and throw soil over the top of them, sprinkle small quantities of diluted urine on the leaves before you throw soil over the top. You can make raised beds that way or trenches or planting holes. You go up with your soil formations and planting if rains produce soil saturation at the surface or flooding. If soils are droughty then plant in holes or sunken gardens. I don’t bother composting since it takes too much time and I can do the same with the methods described above where the composting happens naturally below the surface from decaying brown or green (thin layer only to avoid heating) material without the need to turn the soil. Also above the surface as mulch so your organic matter is doing double or multiple duty for you. Human urine works wonders if applied at the right rate. I put urine on during the rain so no residual smell and everything washes off.


Hey Joshua,

These responses are great. Cecilia’s list could be huge! I wanted to double down on Dan Janzen’s recommendation for using urine as a key resource, especially for leafy vegetables. 1:10 dilution seems to be the most common recommendation. I have a smallish bucket, collect my urine at night and fill up the bucket with water.

There is a an article, “Human Urine as Fertilizer” in ECHO Development Note #108, and a bunch of helpful responses in EDN #109.

I also had a friend post a video,



What I do is store up urine and then when it rains that is my signal to “fertilize”. No I don’t pee in the garden but I find that at this time no dilution is necessary as long as I do it in the middle of the rain episode instead of at the end and I have never had problems as long as I don’t put too much or use it after transplanting (which requires a two week wait for using urine so as to avoid stress). I use a simple method of a plastic coke bottle that I just unscrew the lid a little and dribble a small amount down the line of vegetables and the smell and evidence I did it washes away and it dilutes into the whole root zone (as long as you don’t get too much rain then it could go outside the root zone). I have also used a watering can in the past but it takes more time since I store the urine in coke or water bottles. I don’t make compost which to me is a waste of my precious time but truth be told I do make compost but “in situ”. I make a planting hole and put leaves in the bottom. Then put a little urine around the outside edge of the leaves or just wait until it rains and then add the urine to provide for the missing nitrogen for the microbes to break it down. Then some soil on top. This is faster than making compost and the urine is perfect for it. Sometimes I dig down and check the progress and always in very short order I have compost in the planting hole. You can do this with trenches for plants planted closer together and you don’t have to dig them deep like you do with double digging which is also a lot of work (unless you like work). You put in the leaves and then the urine on the edge or later when it rains add a little soil over the top and “wala” it is ready for planting seeds or transplants. If your rain episodes are infrequent and rain does not puddle (have high water infiltration rate) you are best making the trench or planting holes deeper and leaving the trench or planting hole only partially filled (sunken garden concept) but if not you can leave it at soil surface level or higher if your soil puddles for extended periods of time and cuts off air to the roots. The rain method also forces you to add urine when it is least likely to do salt damage or salt stress (when cloudy weather and it dilutes salt to whole root zone) and it is very very fast with great results and you can add a lot more urine at one time because of this. Also I don’t weed but just use Roundup or a cheap glyphosate “knock off” brand. Spray works for between the plants and a big sponge and a rubber glove and 3 parts water to one part product wiping of weeds either above the surface of the crop or pulling or pressing down the weeds to the sides with the sponge. I rub the sponge a little on the bottom above the container to get some foamy lather so it does not drip on my crop plants and it is then leak free. If you have a problem with Roundup remember that to be scientific (or a steward of all that God has given us including pharmaceutical products which God has given us the intellect to save so many lives) about it. Remove the “other” bigger sources of carcinogens (verdict is still not out on whether Roundup is carcinogenic) in your food first and I am sure that no one is willing to remove them all from your diet since many if not most foods naturally carry natural chemicals that are carcinogenic when tested at the same rates as pesticides and industrial chemicals are scrutinized they are found to be carcinogenic. Remember plants are chemical factories and this is “ramped up” when they are attacked by insects or diseases. This is much faster than pulling weeds and also the weeds serve as a wonderful surface mulch if you time glyphosate spray or sponging well. I spend precious little time weeding. Gardening is more fun and enjoyable when I get big results with little effort and can farm/garden a large area with very little effort. I get to spend more time on the Great Commission and discipleship and changing people’s non-Christian world views as a result of all the time I save and teach other people to save with high-value agriculture as their support system. Just use these very simple efficient methods, using what we already have without even expensive machinery. From the income and savings you can invest in machinery for even more efficient equipment. Anyone can do this. Life is very rewarding in this way!

Also I am teaching people to make sack gardens where there is no soil (or no soil surface or cement or too much rock or gravel) and this is going great. I will try to give an update. I just take a regular sack and line the inside with waste plastic so it does not dry out quickly then I fill with a leaves (composted or uncomposted does not matter) and soil and I have a sack garden. I can plant the top and sides by making slits. I put a white plastic bag over the top if I have one.

Hello Dan,

Your insight on the modified sack gardens for more drought prone/arid climates is very helpful. Could you provide photos of this? You also mention in a comment below that you are doing a similar design for spaces with minimal plant/composting resources - supplementing with plastic bottles. Could you provide photos of this technique as well?
Thank you for the help!


Hello Edward,

Your tips are very relevant to some conversations I am having with an org that partners with refugees in Iraq and Syria. In Bangladesh refugee camps, how do individuals access water during the dry season? What are they doing to maintain their production and conserve water resources? If they are paying for water, about how much are they willing to pay for water that goes into their garden? If using gray water, what sources are they receiving it from? What chemicals might be in the gray water due to soaps used, and how does that impact the plants?

Thank you for the help!

I need to know more about your situation and what you would like to do.

I was talking about lining polywoven bags or feed bags or any other large bag that breaths with plastic so that the flow of air does not dry it out quickly.

There are lots of things you can do with plastic bottles related to gardening and I looked back through my conversation to try to find that which you are referencing and not sure. I use plastic bottles mostly as planting containers after cutting off the top and bottom and then when extracting the plant or tree I cut it open so the roots are damaged less. Otherwise the ribs make it difficult to push it through.

Dan Janzen South Sudan # +211925635255

+211916292312 (message phone when can not reach # above)
16162042268 (WhatsApp & permanent voice mail phone # for when I am overseas)

The refugee camp in Bangladesh is in a tropical climate so water is hardly ever an issue. We do work, however, in non-refugee situations in arid areas. The most important thing to teach is to keep the soil covered at all times. This will expend your growing season and effectively shorten the dry season. We recently had a situation in Haiti where there were no rains for over two months after the beans were planted and they still harvested a crop. The neighboring fields were uncovered and bare and their bean seeds didn’t produce plants.

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Thank you, Edward! Mulching is so crucial and finding creative solutions for mulch that are not are typical ideas. Have you seen some creative mulch alternatives in Bangladesh?

Thank you, Dan. I will have to try a side-by-side of the poly woven bags with plastic lining and one without to observe this difference. That could be a simple solution to some evaporation challenges.
Thank you for the ideas!


In the area in southern Bangladesh where we are located it’s semi-tropical so finding material seems to be no problem.