WINDOWFARMS DIY: A step-by-step guide

A friend of mine has got me quite excited about windowfarming. You could say the idea is growing on me. I live in a flat with a poor excuse for a balcony and has these 'shiny' white tiles which I don't wish to get covered in soil. A windowfarm seems like the ideal alternative in such cases to introduce some greenery that is both clean and self-sustainable!

This particular 'windowfarms DIY guide' grows three plants and costs less than R300 to put together. The full DIY guide “How to make your own window farm” can also be downloaded at

Windowfarm DIY - Materials Needed:

  • Windowfarms DIY Guide (image:
  • 3 x Net Cups
  • Large cable ties
  • String or fishing line
  • 1 x 5 litre water bottle
  • Nail, screw or eyehook
  • 3 x 1.5 litre water bottles
  • 2 x tube / pump adapters
  • 3 x tree bark starter cubes
  • Duct tape, paint or thick fabric
  • 1 x bottle of hydroponic plant nutrients
  • 5 litres Hydrotron expanded clay pellets
  • 1 x two-way air pump (for 100 litre fish tank)
  • 3 x plants with all dirt removed from roots (or use seeds)

The 12-step program to building your own window farm:

STEP 1: Gather all the tools and ingredients you will need to make your own windowfarm. You will also need things like a permanent marker or felt-tipped pen and a sharp knife.

Windowfarms DIY 1STEP 2: Using the cap of one of the 1.5 litre water bottles, trace circles on on the bottom-centre of each 1.5 litre water bottle and cut them into holes.

STEP 3: Now we need to create a space for each plant. Trace and cut large holes on the bottom part of each 1.5 litre bottle as illustrated.

Windowfarms DIY 2STEP 4: Next we need to create an entrance in the 5 litre water bottle for the pumping tubes. Use the cap from this bottle to trace and cut a circle in the top shoulder of the 5 litre bottle.

STEP 5: We now need to cover the 1.5 litre bottles so that the plant roots don't photosynthesize. You can either use fabric paint to do this, or simply wrap them with thick tape. Cover two thirds of all three bottles as illustrated.

Windowfarms DIY 4STEP 6: Once wrapped up we need to stack the three 1.5 litre bottles by inserting the tops of the bottles into the holes cut in the bottoms as illustrated. Attach the bottle stack to the rod and air lift tube using cable ties.

STEP 7: Next we need to connect the pump to the air lift tube. Make two small insertions for the needle tips up from the bottom of the air lift tube. Place holes on opposite sides of the air lift tube so that the pipes do not overlap.

Windowfarms DIY 5STEP 8: Cut the adapter tubes and pump tubes to the appropriate lengths. Sleeve half of the adapter tube over the end of the pump tube as illustrated. Using tape, wrap the air pump needles until the threading is covered and sleeve those into the open end of the adapter tubes. Insert the needles into the air lift tube and secure these to the rod using cable ties.

Note: Make sure the mouth of the air lift tube is pointing straight down – flush with the rod. Ideally you want the whole tube to remain as straight and vertical as possible. Insert the rod with the tubing into the 5 litre base bottle. Make sure the mouth of the last plant-holding 1.5. litre bottle of the stack feeds into the mouth of the 5 litre base bottle.

Windowfarms DIY 6STEP 9: Bend the top of the air lift tube and insert it into the top of the first plant-holding bottle – forming a “U” shape inside the bottle, with the end of the tube pointing down. Attach the air tubes to the pump. Full the 5 litre base bottle with water to test your pump. Water should spurt out the air lift tube into the top plant-holding bottle and begin draining down through the other bottles. If everything is working, you can then add plant nutrient into the reservoir (5 litre bottle).

STEP 10: Place your plants into net cups and cover with clay pellets. You can either completely shake out the roots (to prevent dirt entering the system and clogging the pipes) or you can start your plants from seed by placing these in compost sponges.

Note: If you decide to start from seed, run your system without plant nutrients for the first week. If you start with adult plants, leave the lights off for the first few days. This will help the roots grow better and will help the plants recover from 'transplant shock.'

STEP 11: Place each plant of choice into the large openings of the 1.5 litre plant-holder bottles. Switch on your pump and viola! Adjust each bottle so that the plants are facing the light source from your window.

Windowfarms DIY Guide

Important Note: Take caution not to place your windowfarm too close to an electrical outlet. Loop your cords before plugging them in to prevent water from flowing along them towards the outlet.


  • If there is not enough natural light for your windowfarm, check out for ideas.
  • If you are worried about your windowfarm tipping, attach the rod to your windowsill with a nail and string.
  • There is also an option of creating a silencer for your windowfarm if the noise of the air pump is too much. Refer to the website for more.

I hope you found this Windowfarms DIY Guide helpful.

Happy eco-farming!

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GBCSA: Creating a sustainable future brick by brick

THE Green Building Council of South Africa is an independent, non-profit organisation which aims to ensure that all commercial buildings are built and operated in an environmentally sustainable way. The goal is to ensure that all South Africans can work and live in healthy, efficient and productive environments.

The GBCSA was formed in 2007 and is a full member of the World Green Building Council. The official certification of green buildings in South Africa falls under the Green Star SA Rating System. The GBCSA released a really great explainer video at the end of 2011, which explains everything in animated detail:

The Green Building Council of South Africa

A “green building” is classified as a building which is energy efficient, resource efficient and environmentally responsible.

"It incorporates design, construction and operational practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of development on the environment and occupants. Building green is an opportunity to use resources efficiently and address climate change while creating healthier and more productive environments for people to live and work in" -

In practice, this encompasses the use of design, materials and technology to reduce energy and resource consumption with the aim of creating improved human and natural environments. Specefic green building measures include: (taken from

  • The use of renewable energy sources;
  • Water-efficient plumbing fittings and water harvesting;
  • The use of energy-efficient air-conditioning and lighting;
  • The use of environmentally friendly, non-toxic materials;
  • The reduction of waste, and the use of recycled materials;
  • Sensitivity with regard to the impact of the development on the environment; and,
  • Careful building design to reduce heat loads, maximise natural light and promote the circulation of fresh air.

To achieve certification, building owners submit documentation to the Green Building Council of South Africa. Submissions are assessed and a score is given. Certification is awarded for 4-Star, 5-Star or 6-Star Green Star SA ratings. The South African rating tool is based on the Australian Green Star system.

"The rating system sets out a "menu" of all the green measures that can be incorporated into a building to make it green. Points are awarded to a building according to which measures have been incorporated, and, after appropriate weighting, a total score is arrived at, which determines the rating" -

A great example of a 6-Star Green Star SA accredited building in South Africa is the Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre (SSIC). It is said to be the greenest building in the southern hemisphere.

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SSIC: The super energy efficient SSIC building

THE Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre (SSIC) is said to be the greenest building in the southern hemisphere. It houses techies who are working on solutions for the future in the fields of construction, design, electrical and mechanical engineering and wet services. The SSIC is the first 6 Star Green Star SA accredited building in South Africa.

The aesthetic principle was to create a harmonious and seamless integration between the physical building and the surrounding landscape. The SSIC is a sustainable living building envisaged as a functioning showcase for innovative techniques and design.

The Greenest Building in the Southern Hemisphere

Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre (SSIC)

The SSIC is said to be the greenest building in the southern hemisphere and houses techies who are working on solutions for the future (image:

The design has a narrow floor plate surrounding a central open air courtyard with a rainwater pond and wetland. The building maximises the use of daylight using performance glass and motorised blinds.

Fresh air is cooled via a gabion or thermal rock store constructed below the building before it is released into the office space through vents. This functions as a natural air-conditioner. A solar absorption chiller provides radiant cooling or warming through water pumped through a thermally activated slab. The chiller also provides cooled air to the office space, so no water-based heat rejection systems are used.

SSICInstalled on the roof are 292 photovoltaic panels delivering 230kWh of solar energy to the building – twice the amount of energy required. The balance is fed back into the Vodacom campus, creating a zero-rated energy building. Motion light detection sensors are used to minimise energy use.

For efficient water consumption, grey water is treated through the constructed wetland and then reused for irrigation and toilet flushing. Rainwater (harvested from the roof) is stored in the pond in the courtyard and in tanks below the building.

The structural elements of the building have been constructed using material excavated from the building site. The structural columns are a combination of steel and eucalyptus gumpoles while the roof structure is an exposed timber beam system. The structural elements are designed for disassembly and 90% of all the steel used has an average post-consumer recycled content of 60%.

The Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre and its landscaped garden is a great example of green and sustainable living. It also illustrates how big corporations such as Vodacom can operate in such an eco-friendly manner. The SSIC will be open to visitors and demonstrates the innovative techniques and systems utilised to create a low energy and sustainable construction solution.

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THE OASIS: Fresh thinking on climate change

IT’S hard to imagine that anything sustainably substantial will come out of this year’s Cop17 (Conference of the Parties on climate change). This assumption is based on the fact that this will be the 17th attempt to reach agreement and that climate change remains a heavily heated issue with much to be done by way of solution.

Polar Bear (image:, if things continue the way they are with regards to industry practice and global carbon emissions, we will all be cooked within the next 20 years.

Only acting after the shit squarely hits the fan and the sea levels are on our doorsteps, seems to be the consistent tale of humanity. It is known that if you place a frog in a tub and gradually increase the temperature, the frog will not react until it quite literally boils alive.

We have come a long way since evolving from amphibian-hood and we are better equipped with knowledge and technology than we have ever been before. Let’s hope to hell that this year a real plan of action will be set in motion at Cop17. We need fresh thinking around climate change. Our lives may depend on it.

Fresh thinking on climate change

One of the central issues regarding combating climate change is that big, profit-driven businesses are often reluctant to reduce their carbon emissions if this means a reduction in profits.

But increasingly some big business is coming around to the necessity for change. This year more than 300 businesses have signed the The 2°C Challenge - a document that the Corporate Leaders Network for Climate Action – calling on governments to break the deadlock at Cop17 and reach agreement. Governments must decide how to divide up the carbon budget available to us if we want to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees (a target agreed at the last COP held in Cancun).

Obviously some countries are in a stickier position than others and this will mean a sweaty slap in the face of economic growth for many. Countries and business need to get a lot more creative if they want to find alternative ways to grow without destroying the planet.

Frustratingly, green technologies, in general, are not yet cheap enough for mass use. Older technology - specifically power-generating technologies, are still being pawned off to poorer countries such as South Africa, which puts them firmly in the category of “high carbon emitters.” Then there is the painful attitude of those who plead ignorance and deny that global warming is a scientific reality.

Perhaps what is needed is greater incentive to go green. For one, the country of Bhutan for example is one of the only countries on Earth that is actually a carbon sink. Not only that, but Bhutan’s major export is hydro-electric power. Surely such a role model to the world should be praised and rewarded?

By the same token, businesses of all shapes and sizes should not only aim to meet their new carbon budgets, but be given the incentive to go further - greater rewards for being greener than thy neighbour. But then of course there is the issue of where reward funding would come from.

It will be interesting to hear what businesses themselves have to say on such matters and what some of them aim to do in the coming decades. I’m sure we can expect a lot of PR speak and lobbyist chatter at Cop17, but much of it is likely to be interesting.

Fresh thinking on climate change

One to watch is the discussions that are set to take place at the Fresh Thinking Oasis. This will be convened by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership – the organisation behind the Corporate Leaders Network for Climate Action. The CPSL is also widely acknowledged to be a champion of progressive international business when it comes to sustainability issues.

While the world’s governments sweat it out next door around the negotiating table, the folk at the Oasis will be hoping to generate some fresh thinking on the old challenges in a more relaxed environment.

** Video Gallery of COPpuccinos at COP17 **

Greenpeace Report: Who's holding us back?

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I WAS thrilled to hear that the world’s first fully solar powered aircraft, Solar Impulse, successfully completed its first international flight last week. The Swiss solar powered aircraft flew for a full 13 hours from Payerne to Brussels without using a single drop of fuel. Granted that the aircraft is slow moving (with a top speed of around 50 km/h), Solar Impulse represents an astonishing feat of engineering and shows just how much can be achieved with renewable technology. suggests that we may even look back on this period as a “Wright brothers moment” in the history of aviation.

According to Gizmag: “A rough calculation tells us that a Boeing 747 would have used around 7 570 litres of fuel to make the same trip. Of course it’s not much of a comparison when you consider that a commercial airliner can carry hundreds of people, but one can’t help but think that the seeds of a new era are being sewn. Solar Impulse is powered by 4x10 horsepower electric engines, the Wright brothers had 12 horsepower at their disposal when they flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903.”

We should not neglect these significant moments in history. It brings to mind the ecological work done by a Frenchman who died in 1981. My attention was drawn to this great innovator by a contact living in Russia who happened across a video made by some permaculture students living in New Zealand. Ah, the joys of Facebook!

Jean Pain (1930-1981) was a self-taught organic gardener, forester, and biotechnologist who developed a compost-based bio-energy system that produced 100% of his energy needs. It can be argued that he was a genius ahead of his time, as three decades later we continue to develop efficient bio-energy systems with new technologies that are as efficient. Pain’s work is certainly worth celebrating, so I wish to offer this as a tribute to the great man.

The Jean Pain Method

The Jean Pain Method

"This power plant supplies all a rural household’s energy needs. It is a mound of tiny brushwood pieces (three metres high and six across). This compost mound is made of tree limbs and pulverized underbrush. The 50 ton compost is in a steel tank with a capacity of four cubic metres. It is three-fourths full of the same compost, which has first been steeped in water for two months. The tank is hemetically sealed, but is connected by a tubing of 24 truck tyre inner tubes, banked near by a reservoir for the methane gas produced as the compost ferments" —

The method of creating usable energy from composting materials has come to be known as the Jean Pain Method. By distilling methane, Pain was able to run an electricity generator, fuel his truck and power all his electric appliances. Pain lived on a 241-hectare timber farm, so had free access to the raw materials needed to produce energy.

Pain essentially constructed a compost power plant (of his own design) using brushwood and pulverized underbrush, which supplied 100% of his and his wife’s household energy needs. Pain estimated that 10 kilos of brushwood would supply the gas equivalent of a liter of petrol.

Jean PainPain spent considerable attention developing prototypes of machines required to macerate small tree trunks and limbs; one of these, a tractor-driven model, was awarded fourth prize in the 1978 Grenoble Agricultural Fair, according to Wikipedia.

When compost decomposes or ferments it produces heat. By burying 200 metres of pipe within a large compost mound, Pain was able to heat four litres of water a minute to 60 degrees Celsius. A sizeable compost heap continues to ferment for 18 months, after which the installation is dismantled, the humus is used to mulch and fertilise soils, and a new compost system is erected.

Jean Pain’s methane generator took 90 days to produce 500 cubic metres of gas. However, this is enough to power two ovens and three burner stoves for a full year. Pain’s methane-fueled combustion also powered a generator which produced 100 watt-hours of electricity every hour. Pain was also able to store this current in an accumulative battery, which could be used to power lights.

The Jean Pain Method is an amazingly simple and incredibly inexpensive system of extracting both energy and fertiliser from plant life. Pain worked within the balance of nature to become truly self sufficient. May history honour his memory.


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