Projects: “The ProletariPot”

Back in 2007, horticulturalist and indoor plant specialist Bob Hyland offered instructions for converting a standard 2-liter soda bottle into a sub-irrigation planter he called a Volksplanter. While his design was very ingenious, I needed to do a few modifications to optimize its use for carnivorous plants. I jokingly called it a “ProletariPot” as an inside gag dedicated to the British comedian Alexei Sayle, and the ProletariPot has proven itself to be an excellent replacement for standard plastic pots. Besides being extremely cheap to manufacture, the ProletariPot encourages deep root systems, conserves water, and facilitates easy cleaning and reuse. Most of the Texas Triffid Ranch’s carnivores are raised in ProletariPots, with deep-rooting plants such as Venus flytraps particularly enjoying the improved drainage. With a bit of modification, or a return to Mr. Hyland’s original design, a ProletariPot could be used for propagation, overwintering, dormancy chilling, seed starting, or any other need that potentially requires an inexpensive container.

The list of materials

A raw ProletariPot in its natural state

A raw ProletariPot in its natural state

Making a ProletariPot requires at least one washed 2-liter soda bottle with cap, a sharp knife or pair of scissors, and an awl or other sharp pointy thing suitable for making holes in plastic. (If you’re doing a lot of them, a drill fitted with at least a 1/4″ bit will make things very quick.) If an awl is unavailable, and I find that the awl in most Swiss Army knives is perfect for the job, then a hammer and a large nail will work just as well. Optionally, a black Sharpie marker is handy but not absolutely necessary. Each ProletariPot will also require a cup of horticulture grade perlite, and the soil mix of your choice.

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Preparation
The first step in preparation of the bottle is to strip it. With the knife or scissors, cut the label off the bottle. For best results, use bottles with plastic labels that can be peeled off, as paper labels glued by their entirety to the bottle will dull your blades.

Peeling the label

Peeling the label

Degloving the bottle

Degloving the bottle

After discarding the label, it’s time to poke a hole in the cap for drainage. You have the option of removing the cap and punching a hole with a hammer and nail, but I’ve found that using a Swiss Army knife’s awl produces a perfectly sized hole for our needs. (Again, with lots of bottles, you’re better off using a drill.) When doing it this way, make sure that the cap is securely affixed to the bottle, so that the air pressure inside the bottle keeps the bottle from collapsing.

Punching a hole in the cap

Punching a hole in the cap

After punching the hole, replace the cap if you removed it, and make sure that it’s on the bottle as securely as it can. Squeeze the bottle to force out the air inside.

Squeezing the bottle

Squeezing the bottle

Pick a place on the bottle about one-third up the side from the base and cut across the bottle with the knife or scissors.

Cutting the bottle

Cutting the bottle.

The idea is to cut the bottle at such a point where the top of the bottle can be nested inside the base, with the cap in the bottom. You want to cut the base high enough that the edge of the base will support the weight of the rest of the ProletariPot and the top doesn’t pivot on the cap, but not so high that the cap doesn’t rest on the bottom.

Proper nesting of top and base

Proper nesting of top and base

At this point, the basic pot is ready, but still requires soil and plants. If you want to label the ProletariPot, particularly if you plan to use it for starting seeds,do so now with the black Sharpie.

Adding soil
At this point, the Proletaripot is ready for use, and all that’s necessary is an appropriate growing medium. First, though, add a cup of horticulture-grade perlite to the bottom: this will allow drainage while also allowing capillary action to draw up moisture from the bottom of the pot. I find that pouring the perlite is improved by using a Rubbermaid pitcher to pour it, as the plastic will trap excess dusts without spreading them in the air. You do NOT want to breathe perlite dust, so use a mask and try to do this outdoors if possible.

Pouring perlite

Pouring perlite

Next, add the soil mix of your choice. My preferred mix for carnivores is a 50/50 blend of pool filter sand and shredded sphagnum peat, with enough water to give it the consistency of a good mud pie.

Filling a ProletariPot with soil mix

Filling a ProletariPot with soil mix

Add the plant of your choice, add more soil mix to fill the space between the plant and the walls of the ProletariPot, and water it well. Within about a minute, you’ll see water collecting in the base of the ProletariPot, and this will act as the pot’s reservoir.

Collections
Single pots get the job done, but anyone with a dedicated collection of plants may need a way to store the pots while still allowing air circulation between them. Interestingly, most soda bottlers developed a perfect solution, if it’s available to you.

ProletariPot and carrier

ProletariPot and carrier

Now, a quick warning and notice. The bottler carrier shown above was being thrown out by a local liquor store, and any retailer who carries 2-liter soda bottles will probably have more in the back or behind the building. Depending upon local law, taking these without permission may constitute theft. For instance, Texas law makes the unauthorized collection or possession of plastic milk crates a prosecutable offense. While bottle carriers aren’t as versatile as milk crates, many distributors return the carriers to a soda bottler for a deposit, and unauthorized harvesting of carriers may be prosecuted. If all else fails, ASK FIRST: if a retailer gives permission to clean through a stock of carriers, it’s usually because they were being thrown away.

While bottle carriers help assist with supporting ProletariPots, they aren’t necessary, as the base is already designed to help a bottle heavier and more unstable than the final project stand upright in pantries and refrigerators. So long as you aren’t worried about aesthetics, the new pots can be used indoor or outdoors, and can be modified further, such as becoming the core of a macrame pot hanger. In the meantime, try one for propagation and another for seed germination, and enjoy the results.

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