Growing Plants On A Liveaboard
Living off the grid can be an extremely rewarding experience, especially when one is able to rely on their ability to harvest food or create a beautiful array of life in the form of plants and vegetables from the edge of a floating vessel.
Even while cruising, having an ample supply of fresh greens or vegetables can be a very scrumptious reward. But doing so requires dedication and a bit of planning.
Assuming you have every other aspect of the liveaboard life figured out, the next step in evolving into a true liveaboard is to create life along the lifelines of a boat to provide sustenance and flavor to both your meals and the exterior of your abode.
Seems simple, right? Seems that you can purchase a few pots and seeds, some potting soil, and away you go. Well, not exactly. A multitude of challenges face any liveaboard “farmer” just as they do on land.
The Challenges Of Growing On-Board
Depending on what part of the latitude and longitude you exist at any given time and during any given season, finding and learning about what will thrive and what will die in fauna and flora terms requires a bit of effort.
First you will need to assess your aptitude to approach and challenge nature. If you are in a seasonal climate, there are considerations with when to plant and which plants will thrive or regress dependent upon several factors.
If you do not have time or patience, planting or growing anything aboard a vessel will be more challenging than you can handle. Let’s face it, you are already steeped in boat projects and work, so adding yet another ongoing daily chore could spin you out of control.
After all, being a liveaboard requires an extreme level of care with regard to time management, and that basil or oregano can be bought for a few bucks at the store instead.
With adequate planning and preparation, cultivating a full garden of both beautiful and edible plants can happen within a few short months. If you are truly dedicated to living off the grid as a liveaboard, this step toward freedom should not be taken lightly.
Why Do You Want To Cultivate Plants At All?
First you must determine what the reason you have for growing something on your boat answers. Why are you growing plants or flowers in the first place? Are you a stationary liveaboard or are you a cruiser?
Let’s consider each before moving further with the discussion.
If you are living aboard a stationary vessel in a marina, you only need to concern yourself with the movement of the boat and the level of the lifelines.
If the lifelines are secure and sturdy, you should be able to hang several planters outward to give them enough space and swivel to adjust and adapt to any swaying of the tides and wakes of other boats entering or exiting the marina.
In this case you should research planters with hangers which are sturdy enough to withhold the battering from constant movement.
Also take into consideration the position of the planters as they relate to the movement of the sun. Be mindful of the bimini, boom(s), and other obstructions on the boat that may limit direct sunlight.
Cruising And Growing Plants
If you frequently cruise, you will want to organize a system of bringing all of the hanging planters below deck and into a very secure spot. Keep in mind that soil can easily become loose and create quite a mess!
One method is to create swatches of aluminum foil around the bases of the plants and tape them into place. This serves two purposes. It holds in moisture and regulates temperature, while also keeping things in place during transit.
Another method is to place planters tightly into wooden crates. The crate should be large enough to contain all the planters and will absorb any shock from the movement while asea.
A third method is to grow upside down in a bucket. Tomatoes and zucchini do quite well when grown this way. With a standard five-gallon bucket from the hardware store, some vegetable planting soil, and seeds (already sprouted) or seedlings, this should only take an hour or so to assemble.
How To Grow Tomatoes In A Hanging Bucket On A Boat
- Using a two-inch spade bit in a power drill, make a hole in center of the bottom of the bucket. If you don’t have a drill, try using a sharp knife (or machete) to slice an X into the bottom and cut around it. The diameter need not be perfect, the main goal is to create a large enough hole in the bottom of the bucket to allow a plant and its widening stem to grow for several months and create the fruit and/or vegetable desired without constraining it from doing so.
- Tape some mesh across the hole from the inside or place some moss in the bottom of the bucket to prevent soil and the plant from falling out while hanging
- Hang the bucket using its handle from wherever you decide will be out of the way, but be sure it is hung in a location that receives adequate natural sunlight. Then feed the plant through the hole downward, keeping the roots inside the bucket. Add soil around the core root structure, enough soil to cover the roots by a few inches
- Mix in a few handfuls of compost and layer enough soil to fill the bucket to just an inch or two below the rim
- Now water the tomato plant thoroughly until the soil and compost are fully saturated. Water plants regularly and cover the top securely to reduce evaporation and to prevent salt water from spraying into the bucket. As the leaves grow, they will naturally try to find sunlight and aim toward the sky. But once your fruit (yes, tomatoes are fruit!) begins to grow, the weight will force everything downward.
But What Else Can I Grow, You Ask?
Sprouts can add a nice crunch to an otherwise mushy diet of canned meats and vegetables, and they are relatively easy to grow aboard your boat. Growing sprouts is actually the best way to begin to grow a garden because they are very easy to get growing. Place sprout seeds in damp and dark place for a week or so and viola! Sprouts!
The best medium is a simple mason jar, a rubber band, and some cheesecloth, but always be cautious with placement when dealing with glass on your boat. Once a glass container breaks, everyone will be forced to wear foot protection and let’s face it, barefoot is the goal on board.
Fresh nutrients are a valuable commodity in any liveaboard or cruising lifestyle, so be sure to pay attention to watering regularly and maintaining the health of your crops.
Common Sprouting Vegetables
Some of the most common sprouting veggies are:
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Green peas
- Red beans
- Red clover
- Garbanzo beans (great for hummus)
Sourcing Your Seeds
Whichever you decide to plant and grow, be sure to find non-GMO and heirloom if possible. This may require a bit of research, but if you are docked at a marina which accepts deliveries or you have a P.O.Box, some farms will mail a package of varieties of seeds. Also look into whether there are local nurseries and explain that you are trying to grow aboard a boat near salt water.
Building a Floating Garden for Your Liveaboard Life Part 1 of 2 [Video]
Caring For Sprouting Plants On A Boat
When sprouting, two ounces of seeds will yield a few pounds of sprouts, while half a pound of dry beans will yield about a pound of sprouts.
Be sure to rinse the sprouts for several days as they grow, so having adequate fresh water available on your boat that is dedicated to your little farm is essential.
Try to recycle the water using a strainer after rinsing the plants so it can be used for boiling. Just a few minutes per day and you should have a harvest in a week or so.
Part 2 of 2 - A Floating Garden For a Tiny Floating Home (Liveaboard boats) [Video]
A Note on Transporting Soil
A final note of caution...Most countries will not permit soil from other foreign ports to be brought into or nearby marinas, and therefore plants may not be permissible to be brought across their borders. US customs, Australia, France, South Pacific, and most others will likely confiscate any living plant and all soil when you enter their territory.
If you plan to cross into international waters, be sure to research ports of call so that you can prepare for this happening once you arrive or avoid it by redirecting your route. Be sure to keep a log of how many plants and planters you have aboard so that you can provide full disclosure to the authorities.
Once they see that you have a plant or two, they may suspect that you have more to hide. So be transparent and provide documentation whenever possible. Also be sure to dispose of dead plants (compost) properly.
Do not flush them in the marine head and try not to dump them overboard unless there is no alternative. Adding elements to the water may have an affect on marine life, especially if growth additives are used.