The Basic Sandgarden

The Basic Sandgarden

Start Small

We’ll start off with what we regard as the smallest practical sandgarden…a 20-litre plastic bucket.

Picture two such buckets…one located above the other – so that the upper bucket can drain – through its base – into the lower one.

Don’t let’s get hung up on plastic buckets.  

For the moment, just see them as receptacles – for the purposes of demonstration – that hold sand of a sufficient depth to accommodate most plants.

Fill the upper bucket with sand and the lower one with water.

Plant a seedling into the sand bucket.

Add organic nutrient mix into the water. 

At predetermined intervals – several times a day in daylight hours – you go out and ladle the nutrient-rich water out of the lower bucket and gently pour it around the plant.

The water percolates down through the sand and drains back into the lower bucket.

A couple of hours later, you repeat the watering process.

And there you have it…the Zen (the essence) of a sandgarden in operation.

While I think you’ll agree it would be difficult to come up with anything easier than our bucket sandgarden, you have many other containment options available to you.

Indeed, in its simplest iteration, a sandgarden can comprise two holes in the ground.  One hole will function as the fish tank…and the other one will become the sandbed.   One is square and deep while the other is rectangular and shallow.  

Photo Credits:  Watercolours by Kenyan Artist Brandy Noon.

So, buckets…or in/on-the-ground?   They’re similar; but different. Same destination; different road.

Getting Bigger

The mention of holes in the ground implies something bigger than our single-bucket sandgarden so, in keeping with our commitment to simplicity, we’ll switch over to the on/in-ground model for now.

Once our respective ‘holes’ are in place, we line them in such a way that they hold water.  That can be done in a variety of ways ranging from plastic sheeting to biopolymer coatings and traditional pond sealing techniques…from the convenient to the environmentally responsible.

For practical purposes, a sandgarden can be as big – or as small – as you need or want.  It can be a single plant …or a backyard vegetable garden…or a commercial farm.

Sandgardens are scalable – both in terms of their expansion and their method of operation.

The Hand-Powered Sandgarden

In our little bucket sandgarden, you provided the energy to move the water…a task that took you seconds.

You might be surprised to discover just how many plants you could support with a manually operated sandgarden.  Suffice to say for now, it would be more than you need to feed your family…and still only require a modest effort on your part.

It’s worth taking the time to consider the extent to which we can integrate a human-powered sandgarden into our daily living regime…not just for its quality-of-life considerations but also for its sheer efficiency.

Eventually, however, a sandgarden becomes too large to manage effectively using human effort alone.  Or the operator decides to automate their unit.

Under the Pump

At that point, we simply add a submersible pump, a digital recycling timer and some pipe and fittings.

We set the timer up so that, at intermittent intervals, it runs the pump – for whatever time it takes to move enough water to saturate the sandbeds.  That water percolates down through the sand and drains from the bottom of the sandbed back into the fish tank.

This deceptively simple arrangement provides water and plant nutrients as the plants need it.

Not providing sufficient water and plant nutrients – in a timely manner – is arguably the principal cause of failure among aspiring gardeners.

What can I grow in a sandgarden?

The better question might be “what can’t I grow in a sandgarden?”

The answer is…not much!

You are not limited to the usual fruit and vegetables either. You can grow root crops, melons and vine crops, fruit trees, ornamentals, grapes and flowers…and even potatoes. 

You can also use a sandgarden to propagate plant and tree seedlings.

Is Sandgardening difficult to do?

No.  Sandgardening is arguably among the easiest of all ways to grow plants. 

Once you have the nutrient tank and the sand bed…and the pump and timer…and some suitable sand…the intermittent watering system will take over the day-to-day (life and death) matter of ensuring that the plants get food and water in a timely manner.

While sandgardening is premised on some very complex microbiology, its actual operation is disarmingly simple…and its most important functions can be fully automated…so that you just flick a switch. 

In short, it doesn’t get any simpler.

Of course, if you’re like many sandgardeners you’ll want to experiment…to tinker. If that’s you, we have lots of areas for you to experiment – and compare.

Who can build and operate a sandgarden?

iAVs was originally designed for impoverished villagers…but it can be done by virtually anyone… including those facing physical and intellectual challenges.

Sandgardening can be designed to suit gardeners with mobility needs by using raised beds that permit wheelchair access.

It’s also an excellent learning aid for ‘kids’ of all ages…from 5 to 95.

Where can I build a sandgarden?

Virtually anywhere – including:

  • Anywhere that freshwater is in short supply.
  • On pavement and sealed surfaces.
  • On rocky atolls.
  • In hot arid environments…including deserts.
  • Inside a controlled-environment greenhouse – or an indoor grow room.
  • On any balcony that is well enough engineered to support the weight of the sand.
  • Wherever the local soil has been polluted with toxic chemicals.

Gardening with Fish. Really?

It’s the integration of fish and plants that allows iAVs to leverage its efficiency.  Two crops for the same quantity of water puts the method into a productivity category of its own.

The fish are easy to raise in an iAVs particularly since they enjoy the protection of the most cost-effective filtration solution ever devised…sand!

You will remember the first day you sit down to eat fish and salads that you’ve grown yourself for the rest of your life.

Can I do Sandgardening without the Fish?

In a word…Yes!

While expressing a clear preference for iAVs (with fish) for all that it offers, I acknowledge that there are those for whom the idea of raising fish might clash with ethical concerns, cultural and dietary preferences or practical considerations like living in an apartment.

For practical purposes, a sandgarden (sans fish) is the same as an iAVs in terms of its construction and operation.  The challenge is to find an organic nutrient source that is equivalent to fish wastes.

iAVs is well-understood because of its research base and the efforts of adopters but sandgardening (without fish) is an idea that speaks to the versatility of the iAVs ‘architecture’.  Logically, it doesn’t come with same knowledge base that iAVs does…but it is worthy of exploration.

OK…now we know what a sandgarden looks like…how it works…and that it’s accessible to almost everyone …it’s time for us to take a look under the hood and see what really powers the iAVs Sandgarden.