Even during unrelated intuitive sessions, clients often take a few minutes to pick my brain about garden challenges. Since I keep hearing similar questions, I thought I’d share a few observations and tips here.
GARDEN TOWER PROJECT QUESTIONS:
Many people know I’ve owned and used both the original Garden Tower Project (which a new gardener friend now has) and the new Garden Tower 2. A lot of people purchased GT’s after reading about them right here, and new growers have asked for help this year.
First of all, I have to say that in most areas of the US, 2016 has been an extremely difficult gardening year! If you have not had the hugely abundant harvest you imagined, don’t blame yourself or the Garden Tower Project. In most areas, prolonged heat and drought have played a major role — including in my own next generation GT, until I figured out the issues. Below, you’ll find some photos, along with my discoveries in our yard, as well as what I’ve deduced from talking with clients. You can also skip my observations and go directly to their website’s FAQ’s.
As you can see, we’ve got some really good growth up top, some moderate growth in the middle, quite a few empty holes, and some dried out plants on the lower level. If the GT2 were my only garden, I would give it full attention, and I have no doubt this system would be producing from all the holes. I just happen to be gardening 1/3 acre spread across two yards, with many thirsty and delicate new fruit and nut trees and perennials. I also have annuals spread all over the yard in various raised beds and in the ground, so unfortunately, the GT2 has not received priority this summer. That’s sad news if you happen to be a plant in my GT2; however, it’s good news for people who are not as passionate about gardening as I am. Let’s call this a level playing field for the average person who just doesn’t spend much time gardening.
The empty holes you see above at one time held cooler weather crops like lettuce, cilantro and arugula, which really don’t like much above 70 degrees, or they bolt. We’ve had consistently hot, humid, rain-less temps in the 90’s for weeks. It’s miserable for a person, let alone cool season annuals! If you provide just the right shade at just the right time of day, or you reseed throughout the season, you can grow these crops all summer. I just got too busy to replant when the first round died out, which brings me to …
Tip #1: If you want maximum harvest, then you need to plant the holes with the right types of crops for each season. Again, the Garden Tower Project website’s FAQ section contains a lot of info about appropriate plants. The Urban Farmer site also includes month-by-month info on what to plant when.
Tip #2:In addition to providing extra plants to harvest, filling all the holes with plants shades the soil and keeps the GT and GT2 from losing so much moisture out the sides. I discovered this the hard way! The lower pockets dry out first, since moisture rises. If you don’t water deeply enough, those plants may not even get enough water to begin with. If you have lots of openings for the sun to beat on all day, then those areas and nearby plants will dry out faster. Once your plants grow large enough to shade any empty pockets, this becomes a non-issue, but if you only want to grow a few plants, then you’d be better off growing them in smaller containers. Taking advantage of the many growing holes in the GT and GT2 creates a synergistic effect for all the plants, as they work together to hold in moisture. Plants are social! Pack ’em in.
For the record, we’ve already harvested a lot of produce from the GT2: eggplants, green beans, celery, purple kale, basil, cilantro, lettuce, and we’ve got okra on the way. I find the celery particularly impressive, since that’s usually a challenge even for advanced gardeners to grow well.
The various beans were growing strong until I let them all dry out. Beans like moist soil, which brings us to…
Tip #3: If you want to ignore your GT or GT2, then consider planting more drought-hardy plants like amaranth, quinoa, cosmo flowers, or even a green striped cushaw squash from the bottom holes.
I’ve actually been really impressed with the eggplants and kale, since despite my neglect this summer, the GT2 ones are producing more rapidly than their in ground or raised bed counterparts. The opposite is true with my black-eyed peas, which apparently hate my irregular watering in the GT2 but have grown gangbusters in the ground. They’ve shown medium performance in raised beds, with much better growth the better the bed retains water. It’s all a mad scientist garden experiment, but now I know: black-eyed peas go in the ground if I want maximum growth. Put hardier plants in the GT2 if I don’t want to babysit it while the rest of the yard demands so much attention.
Tip #4: Yes, you really do need the red wiggler worms, and you need to feed them regularly! If you don’t feed them in the compost tube, they will die, and then your plants will look all sad and nutrient deficient. That happened to me, because we have four other compost bins, and I had “just filled the GT2 tube a few nights ago.” I kept dumping veggies craps in the other bins, and when I opened the compost tube again, it was empty. Those worms can eat! David does vermicomposting in our basement, so I replaced the red wigglers and have continued to feed them every day. Within two days, all the plants except the black eyed peas perked up. I really just need to replace the black eyed peas with a fall crop!
Tip #5: Do collect and reuse your water from the GT and GT2. You need a tub under the first generation GT, but the second generation has a collection cabinet built in. You’ll see the nutrient-rich, brownish “worm tea” when you collect it and your plants will love you for re-watering them with such potent growth material!
The Garden Tower Project is essentially a very large, complex container garden with a built-in vermicomposter, so all the tips about needing to monitor water and plan for drought periods holds true with container gardening, too.
Plants in the ground can grow deeper roots if the soil dries out, but plants in containers only have whatever water you or rains provide them. Mulch helps. If your soil still dries out between waterings, or you just don’t want to water so often, you can also saturate the soil and then fill an old wine bottle with water and stick it on an angle in the soil. As the wet soil dries out, it will begin to pull water from the bottle. (If you begin with dry soil, then all the reserve water will just pour out, so begin with wet soil to use this method.) I have many tomato plants in raised beds, but this little container plant produced our first five tomatoes of the season and continues to pump them out. I can’t believe how many tomatoes we get from such a tiny little plant!
Without the built-in vermicomposter of a giant Garden Tower Project “container garden,” you will need to provide additional nutrients at some point(s) throughout the season, depending on how rich your original potting soil was and how heavy your plants feed. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, and leafy greens are all heavy feeders!
You can use an organic fertilizer for fruits and veggies, or dilute your own urine as nutrient boost. It sounds gross, but Mother Earth News did a study a few years ago to find the best fertilizer for plants, and diluted human urine won. It’s free, sterile, and you don’t need to flush your toilet all the time. Depending on the plant and how yellow your pee is, you’ll need to water it down anywhere between 5-20 parts water:1 part urine.
Do NOT pour straight pee or old urine on your plants! It’s too strong and will likely kill them. You can, however, dump straight pee or old, collected urine directly on your compost pile. A lot of organic farmers just pee in the fields (but not directly on their plants) or in their compost pile. It’s kind of a not-so-secret sustainability tip that closes the loops.
I’m running out of time here, but thankfully, my public outcry about the drought appears to brought some much needed rain as I typed! Speaking of drought tolerant plants, though, if you’re looking for no-care roses that tolerate pretty much any conditions, I highly recommend Robinhood roses:
I planted a whole hedge of these lovelies in front of our house, and they bloom from June until the first heavy frost. You don’t need to deadhead them back to the first five leaf bunch like most roses, and I have not even watered these once this year. Sometimes I do cut off the spent blossom clusters, but not in a fussy way at all. These roses are somewhat salt tolerant, too, so you don’t need to worry about acidic soil. They line an area that often gets salt spray in the winter. Birds love hopping around these branches, and bees go nuts on the blooms! Every morning, I see flowers waiving in the breeze.
Robinhood roses: the most carefree beauties in our yard.
Wishing you and yours beauty and abundance. If you don’t grow your own, consider volunteering to help a neighbor who does in exchange for their excess … and don’t forget to support your local farmers market!