DIY Vertical Farm and Solar Shower

Don’t miss out on exclusive vertical farming content not on the blog. Sign up here.

This projected started when I stepped off the bus and wandered through a small town in central Chile for 3 hours before finally finding CIHOL.

In this post:

  • My favorite DIY vertical farm
  • “do-nothing farming”
  • project update

Best DIY Vertical Farming Project

This projected started when I stepped off the bus and wandered through a small town in central Chile for 3 hours before finally finding CIHOL.

CIHOL was the farm I had been talking with in the hopes of working with the owner, Victor, to bring the efficiency principles of vertical farming to the land he had spent his life creating.  You see, what Victor had created at CIHOL was not a farm in the traditional sense of the word.  It wasn’t even a permaculture farm like I had first expected.

Victor had followed the teachings of the Japanese philosopher and scientist Masanobu Fukuoka and was on his way to creating a “Natural Farm.”  Also known as “do-nothing farming,” natural farming is a philosophy of agriculture that respects the beauty of nature’s own cycles and seeks to minimize the amount of human input and decision making.  As opposed to the efficiency of vertical farming I had hoped to share, “do-nothing farming’ rejects all forms of artificial intervention.


Korn and Fukuoka


Longtime student of Fukuoka, Larry Korn, describes it best:

“Mollison [founding thinker of permaculture] and Fukuoka took entirely different routes to get to essentially the same place. Permaculture is a design system which aims to maximize the functional connection of its elements…

The key word here is design. Permaculture is a consciously designed system. The designer carefully uses his/her knowledge, skill and sensitivity to make a plan, then implement it. Fukuoka created natural farming from a completely different perspective.

But where to begin? Fukuoka had no model to go by. “‘How about trying this? How about trying that?’ That is the usual way of developing agricultural technique. My way was different. ‘How about not doing this, and How about not doing that?’ – this was the path I followed. Now my rice growing is simply sowing seed and spreading straw, but it has taken me more than thirty years to reach this simplicity.””

Though natural farming seemed slightly at odds with the constructed nature of vertical farming, working with Victor, the Urban Vertical Project team was able to develop a project that would fit into his vision while still trumpeting the efficient use of space characteristic of vertical projects.



There was no hot water where we stayed, but Victor had been toying with the idea of an outdoor solar shower for some time.  We realized that there would need to be a privacy wall for the shower and arrived at the happy conclusion of making that a green wall.  I’ve worked on green walls before, but in order to most accommodate the idea of natural farming, we decided to make this one entirely out of waste materials already readily available at CIHOL.  After taking stock of what most needed to be used, we realized we had an ample supply of plastic bottles and shipping palettes.

Pulling from Willem Van Cotthem’s bottle tower design, we converted a wobbling rusted tower into an exemplar of sustainable design.

Early Concept

Early Concept

The bottle towers are elegantly simple and low tech.  Each bottle nests inside another, with drainage in the bottom and a ‘water tank’ on top, creating a controlled, gravity-powered irrigation. Though we had to leave before germination, roots will soon penetrate the humid soil and plants will start to grow.



Since the complete tower loses almost no water, there is little need for time consuming waterings. Even so, with the system we built, you can water almost 50 plants in about 15 seconds.

Below are the quick steps for making the towers yourself. Once your materials are gathered, building a tower shouldn’t take you any longer than 20 minutes:

  1. Gather 5-7 (changing the number will change the height of the final towers and the number of plants you can grow) bottles of the same size.
  2. Cut the bottoms off of each bottle.  While we cut our bottles off about 3 inches from the bottom, you will want to adjust this distance and cut at a point where the bottles will fit best inside of each other.
  3. Discard the bottle caps of all but 2 of the bottles.  One of the bottles with a cap will be the top “water tank” and the other will be the bottom.
  4. Leaving the top bottle and one other empty, fill the rest with potting soil (in our case, we took soil from the agroforestry project behind the house), leaving about an inch of plastic showing at the end opposite the neck.
  5. The bottle filled with soil that still has its cap will be the bottom.  Stack the rest of the bottles with soil on top of it, gently twisting each additional bottle into the soil of the bottle underneath of it.
  6. At this point, you will probably want to secure the tower with string or wire to the support behind it.
  7. In each bottle you hope to grow a plant in, make two vertical cuts and one horizontal cut connecting them so you can make a little pull-out window.  For us, each cut was 2-3 inches long, but this will vary with what you want to plant.
    bottle tower close up
  8. You should have two empty bottles left; one with a lid and one without a lid.  Take the bottle without the lid and press it down into your highest bottle containing soil.  the purpose of this bottle will be to regulate the flow of water through the other bottles.
  9. The last bottle will be used as the water tank.  With a hammer and a small nail, a drill, a knife, or whatever tool you have handy, puncture a 1 mm hole in the lid and set this bottle into the top, empty bottle.
  10. Puncture two holes across from each other in the bottom bottle between 1 and 2 inches above the lid.  These are here for overflow drainage.

The only thing left to do is to plant seeds, seed balls, or transplants, and then water!

We attached our towers to palettes encircling the place for the shower, laid a brick floor, and set up a water tank where it would not only be hit naturally with the full force of the sun from morning to midday, but also where it would be able to connect to the solar heater above.

03302015 Devons Album 217

The project was a success and I hope to do more like it in the future.  If you need help with your own projects or have any feedback on this one, please feel free to reach out.  Good ways to do so are in the comments or on twitter @proverticalfarm, but the best is by signing up to the mailing list and replying to the emails you get there.  Not only can we get in touch personally through the list, but you’ll get secret content straight to your inbox that doesn’t even make it on the site.  Can’t wait to see you there!


4 thoughts on “DIY Vertical Farm and Solar Shower

  1. Pingback: 5 New Vertical Farming Articles April 3 | The Urban Vertical Project

  2. Pingback: WORLD ORGANIC NEWS | DIY Vertical Farm and Solar Shower | The Urban Vertical Project

  3. Pingback: Simple Secrets To Start A Vertical Farm | The Urban Vertical Project

  4. Pingback: Pop-Up Aquaponics In The Mall – The Urban Vertical Project

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s