A simple, super effective, water-saving method to grow lots of food!

The ecocircle method is proving to be one of our most popular with new trainees at Siyazisiza’s Zululand Agri-Support Centre. It allows one to grow a lot of food in a small space, that saves up to 70% in water usage, builds soil fertility, and requires some initial soil preparation but then is super easy to manage. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it!

We learned this from Pat Featherstone’s great book, Grow to Live, and ecocircles are proving to be a hit for homesteads, creches and even farmers. Here’s the basic method:

Step one

Make a circle in the soil that’s a metre in diameter (that’s about the length of a spade).

Step two

Remove the first 20 cm of topsoil and place it in a pile next to the hole.

Step three

Then remove the next 30 cm of subsoil and place that in a separate pile. The depth of your hole should be 50 cm (knee deep).


Take an empty 2-litre plastic bottle with a lid and make about 16 small holes in the sides of the bottle in the lower part (no higher that 10 cm from the bottom of the bottle). It can be easiest to make these holes by using the heated end of a needle. Put that bottle aside for the moment.


Now collect a pile of old animal manure or compost, and another pile of dried grass, weeds and leaves.

Step SIX

You will create layers in your ecocircle from these three piles:

    a) Manure / compost (2 cm high)

    b) Dried grass / weeds / leaves (2cm high)

    c) Subsoil (6cm high)


Add your first layer made up of each of these piles (your layer will be about 10cm thick), then water this layer well.

Step seven

Place the bottle in the centre of your ecocircle on top of this first layer.

Step eight

From the three piles, continue adding layers in the hole around the bottle, filling up your ecocircle and watering each layer as you go.

Remember to not use any topsoil yet.

Step NINe

When all the subsoil has been replaced (with the manure/compost and dried grass/weeds/leaves), it is likely that your soil level in your ecocircle will be about the same as the ground around it or a bit higher. Now add the topsoil to make more of a raised bed, and make sure it is higher at the edges of the circle than at the middle around the bottle — this creates a shallow basin shape of the top surface of your ecocircle. Only the top neck of the bottle and the lid should be sticking out in the middle – don’t cover this! Your basin-shaped surface will help funnel water into the centre where it sinks into the soil.

Step Ten

Now add a layer of mulch to the surface of the ecocircle (from dried grass, leaves, bark, or other plant material). This will help prevent water loss from evaporation and subdue weed growth.


Planting time! Now you can gently push aside some mulch to plant your seedlings, keeping good spacing between the plants depending on their needs. One ecocircle can hold up to 10 lettuces, or 5 to 8 cabbages, or 4 rows of beans, or a variety of different crops. Make more ecocircles to extend your growing options!

The layering of your ecocircle’s soil with organic matter, plus wetting each of these layers, helps create a big sponge that will encourage your plant roots to grow downwards, making them stronger. The fact that your bottle only has holes in its lowest section means that it will help refill the deep sponge. This layering also allows lots of small air pockets filled with oxygen that stimulates root growth.


  • Simply fill the bottle with water about once a week. Tighten the lid, then loosen it a tiny bit so that it doesn’t make a vacuum once the water dribbles out. If your ecocircle is well mulched, this is all the water your plants should need, which means you are only using 2 litres of water weekly for each ecocircle!
  • The plants in the ecocircles are easy to reach for plant care and harvesting.
  • Keep simple, accurate records on what you plant and how you rotate your crops, as this can help you learn what works well and what needs changing.
  • If you live where there is a lot of rain, rather make the surface of your ecocircle flat to prevent too much water being funnelled down.
  • You can create multiple ecocircles close to each other with small pathways, herbs and flowers in between that will attract pollinators, act as natural pest deterrents, and create healthy biodiversity in your garden.

How easy and wonderful!