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Albo-stein:
Self-watering Indoor Planter

Albo-stein SIPs are self-watering, S.I.P. (sub-irrigated planter) systems that require no measuring and NO messy cutting! These indoor garden pots are a nice upgrade from soda pop bottle SIPs. Instead, they are made from recycled / reused Clorox Wipes & Dannon Yogurt containers! I discovered this by chance. For me, the Soda SIPs were pointless, since I don't drink Soda. (Even better than recycling Soda bottles, is to never buy Soda in the 1st place!) I do however, eat Dannon yogurt & I use Clorox disinfectant wipes. As it turns out, you can repurpose or "upcycle" these containers. They are a perfect match for an indoor SIP!

Video: Self-watering SIP Planter

Albo-stein: See how to build a self-watering SIP planter from recycled containers.

Directions:

WHAT TO GET:

  • 105 cnt Clorox Wipes container
  • 32oz Dannon Yogurt container (not Greek yogurt)
  • Polyester Round Shoe Lace cut to 11" in length
  • Potting Mix*

    * This is an example recipe for SIP mix:
  • 7 parts MG Moisture Control potting mix
  • 1 part MG Perlite (1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 Tbs crushed garden lime (dolomitic)
  • 2 tsp Espoma Bio-tone Starter Plus 4-3-3

  1. Remove Clorox Wipes label & thoroughly wash container.
  2. Poke / melt several holes into top rim for container aeration.
  3. Clean Dannon Yogurt container & drill / melt 2 x 1/4" holes into base.
  4. Cut polyester shoe lace to 11" in length.
  5. Pull lace through holes in yogurt container so that both ends hang down.
  6. Poke / melt several holes into yogurt container for root aeration.
  7. Fill yogurt container with slightly moistened potting mix.
  8. Add 3 cups of water to wipes container.
  9. Place yogurt container into wipes container.*

    * Note: Newer Clorox Wipes containers may have a slightly tighter fit.
            I used sandpaper to open them up a little.

CAPACITY:
The recycled Dannon yogurt container holds an entire 32oz of potting mix.
The recycled Clorox wipes container holds up to 3 cups (24 fl oz) of water.

DIY: self-watering SIP indoor garden planter - Albo-stein Diagram
The Dannon Yogurt container fits perfectly in the Clorox Wipes container. pin it

32oz Dannon Yogurt vs 105cnt Clorox Wipes Containers
You can see the height difference in the containers: 32oz Dannon Yogurt vs 105cnt Clorox Wipes
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Dannon Yogurt container fits inside Clorox Wipes
The smaller Dannon Yogurt container fits inside Clorox Wipes container, but the outer lip holds it in place at the top.
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Soldering iron perforates Dannon container making aeration holes
A soldering iron easily perforates the Dannon container. The holes are a good way to boost aeration for healthier roots.
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Perforate top of Clorox container to prevent anaerobic water reservoir
Perforating top of Clorox container allows for exchange of gases to prevent water from becoming anaerobic.
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SIP Sub-irrigation occurs due to wicking cord or shoelace
The sub-irrigation occurs due to capillary action. One 11 inch shoelace or cord will wick up water from the reservoir.
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VARIATIONS:
- Using different types of laces will impact the wicking rate.
- You could also use a 2nd lace running in the opposite direction.
- Increasing the number of holes will increase aeration potential.
- Clear 1 qt food containers could be used instead of the Dannon container.
- The water reservoir could be kept empty until seedlings have begun to mature.


Soda bottle SIP vs Albo-stein sub-irrigated self-watering planters

Advantages:

Self-watering containers can work great, but some work better than others. A typical 2L (67oz) recycled Soda SIP only uses around 55% of it's capacity for growing medium (37oz). For a 1L Soda SIP, I estimate 60% which translates into 20oz. An Albo-stein sub-irrigation container easily outperforms its 1L competitor. And it also rivals the capacity of the 2L version.

Does soil capacity even matter? Well sure it does! More potting mix means more available nutrients. Remember too, potting mix stores moisture. So more mix means more moisture buffer between your plant and the reservoir. Finally, if your water is high in salts, it will take longer for those salts to reach toxic levels of concentration.

PROS:
- With each Albo-stein, you recycle 2 containers.
- Easier / faster to construct.
- Outer container is easy to decorate.
- It can be lifted from the top without falling apart.
- More capacity than 1L Soda SIPs.
- Easier to separate for watering purposes.
- Stability: both pieces sit perfectly level.
- More potential for aeration through perforation.
- More control over wicking potential.

CONS:
- Soil capacity is less than a 3L Soda SIP.
- Soda SIPs are thin walled & easier to conceal inside other pots.
- It is not transparent. You can't determine water level as quickly.
- It is not transparent. You can't view root growth.

The biggest challenge in this wicking system that I can see, is finding the right potting mix. Your mix needs to absorb water. But it MUST maintain good aeration which is achieved through pore spacing. This is my reason for adding perlite.

Does your SIP only work when the water levels cycle (partially drying up)? If plants seem to suffer when the reservoir is full for a long time, then something wasn't designed right. The container is too shallow. The potting mix lacks pore spacing or is too absorbent. The wicking surface is too great.

I believe a good SIP should be able to have a water reservoir that is full ALL the time. Is this possible with small, inside plantings? We shall see!


Botanical Interests Garden Organic Seed Packets

Beta Testing:

I did some initial alpha tests a year earlier. Then I began saving my containers. On Dec 12, 2012 I was ready to start beta testing on 8 containers under my upgraded LED light (90w LED + 4 x 26w 6500k CFLs). I planted seeds:
- 1 Arugula
- 1 Baby Spinach
- 1 Mustard
- 2 Oak Leaf Lettuce
- 3 Butterhead Container Lettuce

For this SIP indoor garden, I wanted the test to include seed starting. I set up a 14 hr light cycle, running from 8 AM to 10 PM. The LED was 18" above the soil surface. CFLs were placed at the side & corners. I had a fan running on a timer (6-10 AM, 6-10 PM). Daytime temps were around 80 F and evening temp were around 75 F. I would occasionally spritz the surface of the soil to ensure the seeds did not dry out. My 1st germination was 2 days later (Arugula). By day 6, every container showed germination. No damping off yet. Photo taken at day 7. All containers still had water in the reservoir.

Day 8:

Artificial grow lights: 90w UFO LED + 4 x 26w 6500k CFLs
Artificial grow lights: 90w UFO LED + 4 x 26w 6500k CFLs
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Albo-stein: Arugula seedling grown in self-watering container
Albo-stein: Arugula seedling grown in self-watering container
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Albo-stein: Oak Leaf Lettuce seedling grown in wicking SIP
Albo-stein: Oak Leaf Lettuce seedling grown in wicking SIP
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Albo-stein: Butterhead Container Lettuce seedling grown in sub-irrigated container
Albo-stein: Butterhead Container Lettuce seedling grown in sub-irrigated container
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Albo-stein: Baby Spinach seedling grown in self-watering container
Albo-stein: Baby Spinach seedling grown in self-watering container
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Albo-stein: Oak Leaf Lettuce seedling grown in sub-irrigated container
Albo-stein: Oak Leaf Lettuce seedling grown in sub-irrigated container
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Albo-stein: Butterhead Container Lettuce seedling grown in self-watering planter
Albo-stein: Butterhead Container Lettuce seedling grown in self-watering planter
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Albo-stein: Butterhead Container Lettuce seedling grown in wicking SIP
Albo-stein: Butterhead Container Lettuce seedling grown in wicking SIP
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Albo-stein: Mustard seedling grown in self-watering planter
Albo-stein: Mustard seedling grown in self-watering planter
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Albo-stein: Indoor self-watering salad garden Day 8
Albo-stein: Indoor self-watering salad garden Day 8
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Day 15:

Albo-stein: Indoor self-watering salad garden Day 15a
Albo-stein: Indoor self-watering salad garden Day 15a
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Albo-stein: Young Arugula growing in self-watering planter
Albo-stein: Young Arugula growing in self-watering planter
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Albo-stein: Young Oak Leaf Lettuce grown in SIP wicking container
Albo-stein: Young Oak Leaf Lettuce grown in SIP wicking container
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Albo-stein: Young Butterhead Container Lettuce grown in sub-irrigated container
Albo-stein: Young Butterhead Container Lettuce grown in sub-irrigated container
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Albo-stein: Young Baby Spinach growing in self-watering planter
Albo-stein: Young Baby Spinach growing in self-watering planter
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Albo-stein: Young Oak Leaf Lettuce grown with sub-irrigation
Albo-stein: Young Oak Leaf Lettuce grown with sub-irrigation
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Albo-stein: Young Butterhead Container Lettuce growing in self-watering planter
Albo-stein: Young Butterhead Container Lettuce growing in self-watering planter
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Albo-stein: Young Butterhead Container Lettuce grown in sub-irrigated container
Albo-stein: Young Butterhead Container Lettuce grown in sub-irrigated container
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Albo-stein: Young Mustard growing in self-watering SIP
Albo-stein: Young Mustard growing in self-watering SIP
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Albo-stein: Indoor self-watering salad garden Day 15b
Albo-stein: Indoor self-watering salad garden Day 15b
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Day 16: Looking at yesterday's photos, I've noticed the leaves of my seedlings curving downward. When I had set up my mix, I added crushed dolomitic lime. I decided to test my pH to make sure things weren't too alkaline. Based on surface samples combined from 3 pots, the pH seems to be 6.0. This is ok for Lettuce / Mustard / Spinach.

So next I wondered if my mix is retaining too much water for such small plants. Thus, I've emptied out the water reservoirs to allow moisture levels to come down. I'm using new LEDs & also wonder if they are too strong. But I'll see about the moisture levels 1st. An interesting note about the leaves is that they reach upward when the lights are off.

Day 19: After 48 hrs I refilled the reservoirs and have kept them filled since. The mustard has been growing fast. I was hungry. I ate some.


Day 22:

Albo-stein: SIP potting mix soil test of pH 6.0
Albo-stein: SIP potting mix soil test of pH 6.0
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Albo-stein: SIP grown arugula with healthy leaves
Albo-stein: SIP grown arugula with healthy leaves
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Albo-stein: Sub-irrigated oak leaf lettuce growing well
Albo-stein: Sub-irrigated oak leaf lettuce growing well
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Albo-stein: Butterhead container lettuce watered with sub-irrigation
Albo-stein: Butterhead container lettuce watered with sub-irrigation
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Albo-stein: Vigorous mustard growth due to water conserving reservoir
Albo-stein: Vigorous mustard growth due to water conserving reservoir
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Albo-stein: Oak leaf lettuce growth is unrestricted due to self-watering
Albo-stein: Oak leaf lettuce growth is unrestricted due to self-watering
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Albo-stein: Butterhead container lettuce growing larger with the help of sub-irrigation
Albo-stein: Butterhead container lettuce growing larger with the help of sub-irrigation
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Albo-stein: Butterhead container lettuce a perfect candidate for SIP planters
Albo-stein: Butterhead container lettuce a perfect candidate for SIP planters
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Albo-stein: Baby spinach does very well in self-wicking systems
Albo-stein: Baby spinach does very well in self-wicking systems
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Albo-stein: Flourishing indoor sub-irrigated salad garden Day 22
Albo-stein: Flourishing indoor sub-irrigated salad garden Day 22
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Day 29:

Albo-stein: Day 1 - Micro Tom Tomato planted in SIP container
Albo-stein: Day 1 - Micro Tom Tomato planted in SIP container
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Albo-stein: Indoor SIP salad garden showing extreme growth Day 29
Albo-stein: Indoor SIP salad garden showing extreme growth Day 29
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Albo-stein: Mustard - SIP reservoir supports healthy air root growth
Albo-stein: Mustard - SIP reservoir supports healthy air root growth (not the same as aeroponics of course)
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Albo-stein: Mustard - SIP reservoir supports healthy water root growth
Albo-stein: Mustard - SIP reservoir supports healthy water root growth (not the same as hydroponics of course)
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Albo-stein: Day 29 - Big harvest of greens from indoor SIP garden
Albo-stein: Day 29 - Big harvest of greens from indoor SIP garden
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Albo-stein: Arugula - Cut back from harvest
Albo-stein: Arugula - Cut back from harvest
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Albo-stein: Spinach - Cut back from harvest
Albo-stein: Spinach - Cut back from harvest
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Albo-stein: Lettuce - Will it re-grow?
Albo-stein: Lettuce - Will it re-grow?
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Albo-stein: Lettuce - Will it re-grow?
Albo-stein: Lettuce - Will it re-grow?
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Albo-stein: Day 29 - Remaining SIP containers after harvest
Albo-stein: Day 29 - The remaining SIP containers after harvest
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CONCLUSION: This SIP system has proved to be a remarkable success. The plants provided greens for sandwiches, tacos and 3 large individual salads. Everything tasted good & I had zero pest problems. No aphids! No cabbage moths! No leaf miners!

The recycled Clorox wipes containers store lots of water but are still compact. The repurposed Dannon yogurt containers are a good size for many dwarf or micro varieties. I'm currently testing a "Micro Tom" tomato. I also planted 5 new varieties this weekend, including "Toy Choy" bok choy.

This system will work well for any young garden plants, but you may make adaptations to better suit them. Succulents such as purslane might actually do better with less moisture. So you might let the pot dry a little between waterings. You could also experiment with various potting mix compositions.

For SEEDLINGS: it might be better to keep the water reservoir empty until the seedling has begun to grow and mature. The dryer conditions will cause the seedling to develop more vigorous roots. This will also reduce the likelihood of damping off. A 32 oz container will hold lots of water even without a sub-irrigated reservoir. Later on, as your plant gets bigger, water consumption will increase. This is when you'll want to fill your reservoir.

Plants that are either crowded or simply possess vigorous root systems may show roots growing down into the water reservoir. As long as I kept the reservoir moist, the roots flourished (appearing clean and white). But once I allowed the bottom to dry out I observed dead (brown) roots. This did not kill my plants.

After a couple harvests, my arugula, spinach & mustard slowed down. I added a very small amount of Miracle-Gro liquid feed to the reservoir for a few days. Then I flushed the reservoirs & went back to straight water. This seemed to rejuvenate the plants. They are currently in their 7th week. In addition to testing new varieties, I'll eventually test various potting mixes. It might even be interesting to try a hydroponic application.

One thing is for sure: Albo-stein sub-irrigation systems works!


HOW TO (Make an Albo-spindle) →