Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tower Garden Planning

Showing off my Green America temporary tattoo at Greenfest
While at DC's Green Festival last weekend, I was introduced to Tower Gardens, a vertical aeroponics planting system.  The basic concepts follow:
  1. Seeds are started in rockwool (not soil).  Rockwool is commonly used in hydroponics systems and is made of basalt rock and chalk.
  2. Seeds are transplanted into a cylindrical tower and the roots grow into the center of the tower.  Tower dimensions are 30"x30" for the base and 62" height for the basic model.
  3. Seeds are watered regularly by water that circulates through the system at regular intervals.  The water tank holds 20 gallons.
  4. Trellis and grow lights can be purchased for indoor growing.

Advantages of having a home indoor garden include:
  • Environmental:  Disposable packing materials are reduced and fuel for transporting food is avoided
  • Nutritional:  Having immediately available fruits and vegetables increases likelihood of including them in the diet
  • Flavor:  Fresh, fruits and vegetables can be grown through winter and taste better than those picked while unripe and allowed to ripen during transit
  • Convenience:  Grocery store visits can be reduced.  Tower Garden requires very little maintenance (pruning and starting plants, checking pH weekly, and cleaning pump monthly- one video blogger estimated an hour per week).
  • Cost:  While the initial cost is steep, the money saved by a decreased grocery bill should pay for the Tower Garden in less than a year (depending on how much is usually spent on organic fruits and vegetables).

So I bought a Tower Garden!  I've read every post and watched every video I could find on others' progress with indoor gardening to help me plan.  I thought I could also post my successes and failures here, so others can learn from my mistakes.  While waiting for the Tower Garden to arrive, I've done plenty of research, which I will summarize below:

The first step is picking what plants to grow.

Per the Tower Garden website, for indoor gardening, non-fruiting plants tend to thrive better than fruiting plants indoors.  Stevec on TowerTalk summarized the reasons well
  1. Leaves tend to grow with blue spectrum lights around 6,000 kelvin (Tower Gardens grow lights are in the 6,500 kelvin range), while fruits tend to grow with red spectrum lights in the 3,00 kelvin range.  The comments section of this post links to a red spectrum light that can be purchased from an outside website.  I purchased 2, total cost $23.05.
  2. Fruiting plants require pollination, which will not occur naturally via honeybees while plants are indoors.  Plenty of self pollination tutorials exist online, including this one.
Self Pollination: http://www.towergarden.com/content/tower-garden/en/blog.read.html/en/2016/1/growing-strawberries.html

Basically, in order for fruiting plants to thrive, they will require self-pollination and may benefit from time with a red light during the fruiting phase.  I definitely want fruiting plants.  Several video-bloggers have documented successful growth of fruiting plants indoors with or without use of red spectrum lights:

I decided to go with the following plants:
  • Herbs:  Parsley, Cilantro, Basil, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Tarragon, Dill, Chives, Peppermint
  • Vegetables:  Eggplant, Zucchini, Cucumber, Tomatoes, Green Onions, Green Beans, Sugar Snap Peas
  • Fruit:  Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Strawberries
  • If I end up purchasing the Extension Kit, which supplies 8 additional growing sites, I will also plant Leeks, Kale, Lettuce, Savory, Hot Peppes and others (we'll see).
I don't anticipate that all of them will thrive.  It is likely I will ultimately have to limit large plants with vines to the 4 bottom slots as the root systems will probably all compete for space.  If 6 large vines do take off, I plan on pruning them away from the base and directing the plant away from the tower toward additional grow lights.  In addition, I am planning on planting 2 plants in a single slot, which may result in smaller plants as the roots compete for space, or only 1 of the 2 plants surviving.  I decided which plants to pair based on Wikipedia's Companion Planting List.

The second step is deciding where to place each plant in the tower garden.  My plan is to put most of the fruiting plants in 2 columns so I can eventually change the 2 blue lights to 2 red lights.  

1. Blue Light2. Blue/Red Light3. Blue/Red light4. Blue Light

The third step is to buy seeds or seedlings.  I wanted less hassle and quicker results for my initial planting so I started mostly with seedlings.  Tower Garden lists several vendors that supply seedlings started in rockwool, specifically for the Tower Garden system.  
  • From Living Tower Seedlings, I purchased seedlings: Swiss Chard, Peppermint, Tarragon, Basil, Chives, Dill, Cucumbers, Green Beans, Squash, Sugar Snap Peas.  Total price with shipping: $28.75.
  • From True Garden, I purchased seedlings: Spinach, Green Onion, Rosemary, Eggplant, Thyme, Parsley, Sage, and Tomatoes.  Total price with shipping: $28.50.
  • From Backyard Berry Plants, I ordered 4 Strawberry plants: Cardinal, Sonata, Yellow Wonder Alpine, and Vanilla Yellow/White Alpine.  Total Cost: $41.  Of note, strawberries from seeds can take over a year to fruit.
  • From High Mowing Seeds, I ordered seeds: Sugar Baby Watermelon, Orange Sherbet F1 Melon, Chinook F1 Leek, Vates Kale, and Summer Savory.  Total Cost $18.95.

Tower Gardens are sold as a part of a multilevel marketing plan.  My rep is Denise Pesavento, who has kept in close touch with me and has offered to stop by and personally help if I have questions regarding maintenance or setup!  Other hydroponic systems exist.  Many are noted in this blog post.  There are many DIY posts for aeroponics/hydroponics systems available as well.  The Tower Garden seems the most efficient and easy to maintain out of the ones I have viewed.

My Tower Garden should arrive within a week.  I'll post pictures once I have it up and running!


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