May 1, 2015
Putting it together...
Last summer, when I was in Columbus, Ohio, covering the National Children & Youth Gardening Symposium for The American Gardener, I happened to meet Meghan Fronduti as I was attending a dinner in the gardens at Franklin Park. Meghan was there on behalf of Juice Plus/Tower Garden and it was the Tower Garden that caught my eye and made me stop to take a look.
A few years ago, I learned about the Tower Garden way of growing plants aeroponically when I was changing planes at O'Hare airport in Chicago. They have large ones set up between Terminals 2 and 3, and several of the restaurants there at the airport use the produce that is grown.
|Urban Garden at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, using|
large Tower Gardens to provide fresh produce for airport restaurants.
I'm not all that familiar with how aeroponics works, but I'm about to find out firsthand. Meghan and I thought it would be fun to share the experience of growing plants this way with other backyard gardeners like me, so she provided a Tower Garden for me to use this summer.
Tower Garden arrived on April 1st and though that was a little too early for me to start it up right then (our last frost date is May 10th), I unboxed it in my family room and put it together. It only took me 20 minutes, start to finish, with their easy-to-follow illustrated instructions. It also comes with an informational DVD.
|Twenty minutes from this...|
|... to this!|
I'll post all about my experience on this dedicated page of my blog, so if you want to follow along, you can subscribe by email (see the sign-up in the left sidebar). You'll only receive email when I post updates to the blog. You can also bookmark this page for future reference if you'd rather check my progress that way.
Oh, and there's a garden party planned for later in the season (July 25th), using what's been grown in the Tower Garden!
May 21, 2015
Getting the seeds started
Everything you need to get your Tower Garden growing is included - even some packets of seeds - and now it was time to get those seeds started. I got a later start to the seeds than I could have, but I was going to be gone for a week right then, and didn't want to take a chance of them not being watered properly, so I waited until I got back from my trip.
There was a block of rock wool, which is commonly used in hydroponics as a growing medium, instead of soil. It's composed of basalt rock and chalk, formed through a heating and spinning process.
I cut the rock wool into cubes, one for each of the varieties of seeds I was planting...
...arranged them in four rows in the provided tray
...and I added water to the tray until the cubes were thoroughly soaked. The Tower Garden Growing Guide suggests you let them soak for 30 minutes.
Now it was time to sow the seeds. There's a recommended number of seeds to be put into each cube, depending on the size of the seeds and their growing habits. Smaller seeds such as lettuce can be sown 6-12 to a cube, whereas the larger ones like beans or cucumbers will only be one or two to a cube.
What can you grow in a Tower Garden? Just about anything that isn't a root crop. (No carrots, beets, radishes, or the like.) And for obvious reason, no sweet corn, but that leaves you with green beans, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, zucchini, all kinds of herbs, and so many other things.
I decided to grow:
French marigolds? Yes, those will be grown at the very top, not only because they're pretty, but because they'll help attract pollinators.
|All seeds neatly tucked in!|
Once the seeds were dropped into the holes, I covered them with the provided vermiculite (dry), with a little less going in the smaller seeded spots, and then I made sure there was ¼" of water in the bottom of the tray.
Since I don't have space in a sunny window to place the seed tray, I decided to put it in the greenhouse to await germination. You could put it outside too, if there's no danger of frost.
May 26, 2015
Well, that didn't take long! Of course, I check on the planted seeds every day to monitor their progress. But I really didn't expect to see anything this soon. It's only been five days since I planted them.
Nearly everything has germinated. We're off and growing! Soon, I'll transfer these to the Tower Garden.
May 31, 2015
Transferring the seedlings to the Tower Garden
It's now been just 10 days since I sowed my seeds in the rock wool and they're ready to go outside. All danger of frost is past for us and the weather, although very rainy and cooler than usual for this time of year, is suitable for growing.
|Look at those beans GO!|
|You can see how the roots grow easily right through the rock wool.|
I filled the Tower Garden reservoir with water from the hose, and then added the Mineral Blend - Tower Tonic A and Tower Tonic B (included), which is a "pH-balanced blend of natural plant nutrients that stimulate plant roots, flowers, fruits, and leaves" - according to the instructions for new plants (half-strength). I used gloves while doing this and I used a long-handled plastic spoon to stir it around in the water. I also wore my glasses, just in case things got splashy.
|A measuring cup is included for adding solutions.|
The water I used to fill the reservoir has not been filtered or treated in any way. It's straight from our well. In order to see if conditions are optimum for growing, a pH test kit is provided with the Tower Garden. It's not difficult to test (or adjust the pH, if necessary), and full instructions on how to do this are in the Tower Garden Growing Guide.
|A handy little pH chart is included so you can visually compare your|
water to it and determine what its pH is. Ours is 6.5-7.0. Perfect!
Fortunately, our water is within the recommended pH range, so I didn't have to do anything to it - just fill the reservoir. In case yours is out of the recommended range (5.0-7.0), a pH buffering solution is included.
Once I got that done, I transferred each rock wool cube to its little pocket on the tower.
|French marigolds, still wearing their seed coats!|
Does it matter how you place your plants in the tower? Yes, and once again, Tower Garden provides a quick-start guide for what to put where.
Now that the plants were tucked into the Tower Garden, it was time to get the pump running. Since things are grown aeroponically (as opposed to hydroponically), a timer is required for the pump to intermittently bathe the roots in water and nutrients.
What's the difference between aeroponics and hydroponics? Mostly, plants grown aeroponically are bathed in water and nutrients, while not being actually grown in the water. Hydroponically grown plants are grown in a water and nutrient solution. That's my simple explanation. Read more here.
The timer (included) is just like timers you might use for outdoor Christmas lights. It needs to be set so that it will run the pump for 15 minutes, then be off for 15 minutes, and it will continue this on/off cycle 24/7.
We ran a heavy outdoor extension cord from an outdoor electrical plug to our Tower Garden, because it's located about 40 feet from the house. We buried it in areas of the yard so it wasn't seen, and it also ran through garden beds where the plants camouflaged its presence.
Annnnnnnnnnnnd . . . we're off!
June 13, 2015
Starting plants from the garden center
Every year, I try to grow something new in my garden, so I decided to double that challenge by growing it in the Tower Garden too. This year, it was celery. I didn't want to grow those from seed, so I bought small seedlings from the garden center. Yes, you can plant those in your Tower Garden too!
Since the celery seedlings weren't growing in rock wool, I simply carefully removed them from their nursery pots, gently rinsed the soil from the roots, cut a rock wool cube in half and sandwiched the roots in that, then put them in the pocket, making sure they were all the way into the bottom. I honestly have my doubts as to how celery will do in this little pocket, but we'll see!
When I first planted the other seedlings that were growing in the rock wool, I didn't yet have my celery seedlings, so in order to keep too much light and air from entering the Tower Garden in the empty pockets, I crumpled up aluminum foil and stuck it in the pockets until I got my celery starts.
June 27, 2015
Adding more water and nutrients
Because we had a cool and wet spring, I went for over a month before ever having to add more water and nutrients to the Tower Garden reservoir. Things took a bit longer than normal to start really growing because of the weather too, but once they started, they really took off at breakneck speed.
It's much like they do when faced with the same growing conditions in the garden - they usually make up for lost time.
|Things are taking off now, after a somewhat slow start due to weather.|
When the water level in the reservoir got down to about half-full, it was time to add water and nutrients. I made it easy on myself and merely added water directly from the hose and the proper amount of Tonic A and Tonic B (as directed). I put the tonics in first and then the water. The force of the water from the hose mixed up the tonic in the reservoir.
|I'm cutting this much lettuce every time I harvest and it's more than enough|
for us to have a couple of salads each.
We're harvesting lettuce nearly every day now and goodness, it's so tender, sweet, and clean. I mention clean because when you get a fair amount of rain in the garden, the lettuce can get a bit muddy. Not that you can't wash it, but it's nice to harvest clean lettuce to begin with.
June 30, 2015
This is pretty amazing. Things are growing on the Tower Garden at such a fast rate now that we're sharing lettuce with family. I mean, I love a good salad as much as the next person, but we simply have too much for the two of us to consume.
The green beans (including the purple ones!) are loaded with blooms and we've been picking those right along too. We haven't had a huge harvest of them yet, but as you can see in the photo below, we will!
July 6, 2015
Thanks to the Tower Garden, we are awash in beautiful, tender lettuce! I've grown a lot of lettuce through the years, both head and leaf, and I can truly say I've never tasted better leaf lettuce than this. It melts in your mouth.
|This is tonight's harvest and there's that much more that I left growing on|
We're having a lot of these types of salads for dinner every night. Yes, those are blueberries, and yes, we grew them! (In our Berry Barn.)
We've had so much lettuce that I wouldn't doubt if you could sit by the Tower Garden and watch it grow.
July 16, 2015
Kale and celery
Meghan has been awesome in checking in with me to see how I'm doing with the Tower Garden. As a first-timer who has no experience growing this way, I appreciate this. I'm happy to say though, that everything has truly been so much easier than I expected.
|What lush and beautiful plants!|
As long as I keep the water and nutrients supplied in the reservoir, the plants just keep on growing and producing.
The kale, which I generally don't like the taste of, is actually good, eaten right off the tower. I've grown it in the ground before and I just don't care for how "cabbage-y" it tastes. This, however, is very tender and a little bit sweet!
It won't ever be one of my favorite veggies, but this was better than any I've had in the past. It's growing much better in the Tower Garden than it has for me in the ground, too.
And then there is the celery!
July 23, 2015
Garden party time!
After I'd been gardening for quite a few years, I started thinking about having a garden party - just a few girlfriends, drinks and hors d'ouevres on a nice sunny afternoon, as we strolled among the flowers. Doesn't that sound dreamy?
Each year I'd think about it but I never followed through and actually planned the party. But this year, as I was talking to Meghan on the phone one day, I shared that with her and before we were finished with our conversation, a party was in the works. Plans were to use food I'd grown on the Tower Garden and in my ground garden for my guests.
Today was party day! And here's how it went down:
|Photo by Susan Pieper|
With the unpredictable weather we'd been having, I knew I was taking a real chance that it would be suitable on July 23rd for spending the day outside, but that's what faith is for, right? And it could not have been lovelier.
Nearly 20 of us gathered in the backyard and by the day's end, looking back I think I can say it was the highlight of my summer, eclipsed only by grandson Maverick's birth two weeks later. ❤
|The Tower Garden provided plenty of leafy greens for our salads, and |
celery for the Bloody Marys.
This summer was the first time I'd ever used a Tower Garden, and my intent was to serve a meal using the bounty from it and the rest of my garden, with a little help from the grocery store. Meghan Fronduti, my Tower Garden connection, encouraged me to do this and with Meghan in your corner, you think you can do just about anything.
My girl Jenny flew up from Texas for the party and she was such a help to me in pulling this off. I don't "do" parties, but if I can get Jenny to help me again, I just might do another one!
We strolled and chatted and shared laughter and stories, and then settled down next to the pool for Curried Tuna Apple Salad on a bed of lettuce from the Tower Garden.
Teresa O'Connor's recipe, and while the orange petals didn't really add flavor to the biscuits, they made them look pretty. They do add antioxidants and Calendula is often used as a more affordable substitute for saffron.
|Not just a pretty face in the garden!|
For dessert, we had miniature cheesecakes, topped with blueberries from my Brazelberries® Peach Sorbet™ plants, grown in our Berry Barn.
After we finished eating, we all retired to a shady spot under one of our 200-year-old oak trees for a fun White Elephant type of gift exchange. In this instance, I provided the gifts, mostly from the bounty of swag bag items I've received over the years.
|Photo by Meghan Fronduti|
One member (not naming any names) liked her gift so well that she hid it and gave the stink eye to anyone who even looked her way with the intent of stealing it. It was all in good fun.
|Crescent Garden provided a couple of containers that I fell in love with at |
P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Farm in April. This one is "Eye Am" and it's
available in several colors.
|The table arrangements were simple Ball jars filled with local wildflowers that|
Jenny and I cut from the roadside nearby that morning - black-eyed Susans,
Queen Anne's lace, ironweed, and wild lettuce.
|There's always a cat or two patrolling Our Little Acre.|
Photo by Marsha Ross
|The entrance to Max's Garden|
Photo by Marsha Ross
|Several people wore garden hats, including Marsha Ross and my mom.|
|Thank you, Meghan, for taking this photo of Jenny and me. We rarely get|
our picture taken together, for some reason.
|The day was warm and the pool was tempting, so Angie Bidlack, Sarah|
Messmann and Kara Fritz took advantage of it.
|The new kitchen saw its first party as the bar lived up to its name.|
It was a beautiful afternoon with so many lovely guests, I'm not sure we could duplicate it, but I'm giving it some thought for next year. Thank you to everyone that attended, because without each and every one of you, this little get-together would not have happened.
August 9, 2015
After the party
Whew! The party was a success and the Tower Garden came through exactly as expected. There was some interest in it from a few party-goers and I was glad to share my success with it. But summer's not over and neither is the Tower Garden.
Another fun thing I grew on the tower was something I had never even seen before, much less grown. Often called Mexican sour gherkins or cucamelons, Melothria scabra is relatively new to the backyard garden scene.
They grow on a proliferate, though somewhat wimpy vine, which is why I added the optional cage attachment to the Tower Garden. It comes in handy when growing vining things like these or tomatoes. It also helped with the green beans, which were somewhat large plants, even though I grew the bush type.
The cucamelons grow fairly quickly after the tiny yellow blossom falls off.
Your supposed to pick them before they get too large, typically at an inch in length or under. Otherwise, they get too seedy. I had lots of little cucumbers that looked like cute tiny watermelons.
They tasted like a cucumber, however, with a bit of lemony flavor to them. I intended to pickle them, but never got around to it. I'll grow them again next year (I saved some seed) and I'll try pickling them then. I think they'd be really good like that.
August 12, 2015
The magic beans
I've grown a lot of green beans in the garden through the years, and I know if you keep picking them, they'll keep producing beans, until they don't. And that usually happens about mid- to late summer. These beans I grew in the Tower Garden did that too, except that they kept producing quite a bit longer, as long as I kept picking.
A few years ago, I grew burgundy "green" beans and learned that those burgundy beans turned green when you cook them! That just fascinated me.
|I grew a mix of both green and burgundy beans, but by the time these are|
cooked all the way, they'll all be green.
Why do the purple beans turn green when you cook them? Because heat causes the anthocyanins, which gives the beans their burgundy color, to break down. When it breaks down, that lets the green color show, which was there all along, masked by the anthocyanins.
That's the simple explanation.
Why grow purple beans when they're going to turn green when you cook them? Because they're pretty and they're much easier to find when you go to pick them. Don't tell me you haven't come across an overly mature green bean before, that was obviously hiding behind a green leaf. Because if you tell me you haven't, I won't believe you.
August 27, 2015
Happy French marigolds
I planted French marigolds - the ones that have the beautiful fine ferny foliage and the cute little orange flowers - in the top level of the Tower Garden for two reasons:
- to attract more pollinators
- because they would look pretty
September 14, 2015
Still going . . .
Summer is winding down for real now. The nights are getting cooler and the days continue to get shorter. Yet the Tower Garden is still going strong for the most part.
The French marigolds look like they're on steroids, as do the cucamelon vines, which are producing copious amounts of little cukes. The lettuce is getting a little leggy, but it's no doubt due to the marigolds making like kudzu and hogging a lot of the light.
The kale is doing fine, but the cabbage white butterflies found it and laid eggs. I didn't notice until big sections of kale leaves began disappearing and upon investigation, I found the little green worms. As soon as I noticed it, I started checking them daily and picking the worms off, giving them to grateful chickens.
The basil has produced just right, and I've used it in cooking. I'm only getting a handful of beans at this point.
October 18, 2015
That's a wrap
First frost is imminent and it's time to take down and clean up. *sniff* Tearing down the Tower Garden was not a huge deal. I simply pulled out the plants - rock wool and all - and composted them.
Except for the celery. Oh my gosh, the CELERY. Never in a million years did I think the celery would do this well. It just kept growing and growing and growing. Romie would take his jar of peanut butter outside, cut some celery, and have a snack at the patio table. I don't like raw celery, so he had more than enough for himself.
Taking those celery roots out of the pockets was an ordeal. I had to use a large knife and cut them out in chunks. It was crazy. Our final take of celery stalks looked like this:
Seriously. That's a LOT of celery.
Once I got all the plant material out, I emptied the reservoir, took a brush and scrubbed the inside a bit and rinsed it out. I then followed the instructions for cleaning the sections by putting those in the reservoir and filling it with dishwashing detergent and letting them soak for several hours. I rinsed everything off and put it all in the garage. Super easy.
October 20, 2015
Final thoughts on the Tower Garden experience
I have to tell you, I'm a skeptic. If something seems too easy to be true, I simply don't trust it. I'm leery of all multilevel marketing programs and don't generally use products that are sold that way. But I agreed to use the Tower Garden and give it a try before making any hasty judgements. If it worked, wonderful! If not, I wasn't out anything, because the Tower Garden I used didn't belong to me.
Now that I've gone through an entire growing season, start to finish, here's what I think:
1. This is a quality-made product. You can tell that when you put it together and as the season progresses. We had several nasty storms which included one that had wind strong enough to topple the Tower Garden even with the heavy reservoir of water. It suffered no damage whatsoever. (Nor did the plants, due to the cage protecting them!)
2. Setting up the Tower Garden, getting it planted, and maintaining it throughout the season was very easy. Nothing took any great amount of time. AND NO WEEDING REQUIRED!
3. With one exception (kohlrabi), everything grew fantastically. I learned what I would grow more of (spinach) and less of (lettuce) in future years. I also learned that what row you put certain plants on makes a difference. I won't grow a vine just above the green beans again, because they eventually were smothered by the vines.
4. The vegetables really did have exceptional flavor. It isn't that the vegetables grown in my garden aren't good, but the Tower Garden ones tasted a little better. They really did. And they were more tender.
5. I loved how much I could grow in such a small space! This is vertical gardening at its finest.
6. Yes, the Tower Garden, with all its optional accessories and nutrients, is an investment in its first year. But once you have it, the costs are somewhat comparable to traditional gardening, depending on what you're used to using.
The convenience of it, and knowing that you can grow lush, beautiful vegetables in a small amount of space, wherever you have sun, is well worth it. My vegetables produced quicker and longer than any I grew in the garden. For this reason, surprise, Meghan! I'm going to purchase the Tower Garden for myself. It has proven its worth and I look forward to another growing season next spring.
If you want to know more, you can visit the Tower Garden website here, or contact Meghan Fronduti at 513-307-9373 or through her website contact form.
Tower Garden Growing Guide - everything you need to know about setting up and maintaining your Tower Garden. A printed copy comes with your Tower Garden.
Frequently Asked Questions
I received a Tower Garden unit to use for this summer, just to try out growing vegetables aeroponically. In exchange for the use of the Tower Garden, I have agreed to blog about my experiences. I have received no compensation for my efforts other than the use of the Tower Garden, which I will return at the end of the season. Unless I decide to buy it.