It’s my FAVORITE time of year in AZ…”Fall”.
If you’ve ever lived in the valley, you’ll know why the quotation marks are oh so necessary. Fall is a different creature here…the leaves don’t shrivel up and fall off of the trees during our “fall”…they burst into bloom. Right around the end of October, the temperatures will drop to the mid-80’s, and the sunshine will soften just enough for our gardens to grow with little to no effort. For a crazy plant lady such as myself, this is better than Christmas, and certainly better than watching the leaves change color.
This fall, a new friend is also coming out of hibernation–my tower garden! We pulled the trigger on this aeroponic bad boy last year as a way to grow more of our own food…tower gardens have quite the reputation for growing a LOT of produce quickly, with little to no maintenance or effort on the operators part. Daniel and I were both excited, although I have to admit, he might have been more excited than I was.
I can’t help that I’m a bit of traditionalist. I love growing things in the ground…I love the smell of garden soil, the daily ritual of watering, and the connection that I feel to the earth through my plants. I was a bit hesitant to grow food in such a new, different way, but I had heard great things about tower gardens, so I was willing to give it a shot.
One year later, I wanted to share the reality of growing food in a tower garden, both the good and the bad.
8 Lessons Learned from 1 Year of Tower Gardening
1. Crops grow and ripen quickly
I started my tower garden seeds in the starter kit at the same time that I started the same variety of tomato in the ground. I did this on purpose, so that I could compare the two methods, and see which produced the best crop. With a tower garden, you start your seeds in rock wool cubes until your plants are about two inches tall, at which point you transfer them into their tower garden net pots. The seeds in my starter kit sprouted faster than the seeds in the ground by about three days, and they continued to grow more quickly than their traditional friends.
The produce growing in the tower garden was also ready for harvest sooner. I had lettuce within a month, although I let a lot of my greens mature for a few weeks longer before I started to harvest them. That’s part of the beauty of growing your own food…you can harvest it when it’s at its most ripe, instead of letting it ripen on a shelf in a store. Plus…the taste can’t be beat.
2. Planning is paramount
One of the biggest decisions we had to make when we were planning our tower garden was which plants should grow on which “level” of the tower. We were working with basil, salad greens, eggplants, beans, and tomatoes, so we decided that the eggplant and tomato should go on the bottom levels. That way, when the vines grew heavy with fruit, they wouldn’t squish the plants underneath them. This worked out great for us, but some of our other decisions didn’t pan out.
Our salad greens grew tall and wide almost instantly, and they overshadowed some of our more slow-growing plants, such as basil and green beans. If I had to do this particular tower over again, I would have put the salad greens just above the tomatoes, so that the other crops got more sun. This also would have hidden our tomatoes from birds (although this wasn’t much of a problem, but more on that later!).
We’ll be growing much different plants this year on our tower garden, but we’ll be more careful about how we plan out our tower.
3. Crops grow HUGE
Prior to our Tower Garden experiment, I had never grown lettuce before, except romaine lettuce that I had regrown from kitchen scraps. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was envisioning little leaves that I would pluck here and there. I thought that if I was lucky, I might have enough for a salad at the end of the week.
Not only did our salad greens grow quickly and plentifully, but they were HUGE. Some of the leaves were as broad as my hand with my fingers fanned out all of the way.
To be honest, I didn’t really know what to do with greens that big…now looking back, I’m really disappointed that I didn’t think to make PF Chang’s lettuce wraps with them. I guess there’s always this year, right?
4.Plants have less support
This was a big issue for our tomato plants. Tower Garden sells tomato cages specifically designed to support your tomatoes, but we told ourselves we would make something similar. We didn’t. Our tomato plants ended up growing downwards, and resting on the lip of the tower garden, trailing towards the ground. The stalks grew strong enough to support them this way, but it was a bit more of a hassle to keep the plants clean and harvest the tomatoes when you had to pull back a heavy curtain of leaves and stalks.
They were beautiful, though.
5. No pests or disease
Now, I’m not stating this as a scientific fact. I’ve only done one harvest with my Tower Garden, but in the 6 months or so that our garden was up and running, I didn’t have any issues with bugs, fungus, or other pests. I had a few birds picking at the tomatoes, but this was partially because I wasn’t able to harvest all of them in time.
A big part of this I attribute to the fact that there was no soil for the bugs and microorganisms to live in, so they stayed away from my tower garden and favored my in-soil crops instead. Again, not a fact, just my theory.
6. Day-to-day upkeep is minimal
This was both a good and a bad thing for me. It was nice not to have to worry about watering my plants every day. I only had to check the water levels in the tank every few days, and add fertilizer any time I added fresh water.
But, because I didn’t have to check on my plants every day, there were a few times where I forgot to add more water, and the pump didn’t have any water to send up to the roots at the top of the tower.
There was also a time where I had unplugged the tower and forgot to plug it back in for a day. I woke up the next morning and all of my salad greens were wilted, drooping lifelessly. I PANICKED. I plugged the tower in and ran it for several hours, and misted all of the leaves for a good thirty minutes. In about four hours they were good as new. We avoided disaster, thankfully, but still, my plants that were in the ground got a lot more daily attention, and were immaculate and well cared for as a result, whilst my tower garden plants grew wild and free.
Our Tower Garden did an amazing job of growing our produce for us last season. We had more than enough harvest to spare, and could honestly have fed a family of four or six with it. The work was minimal, and our veggies tasted amazing. In my opinion, Tower Gardens are PERFECT for anybody who wants to grow their own food, save money on organic produce, and reduce their carbon footprint. As far as aeroponic systems go, the Tower Garden model literally cannot be beat.
However, for someone who loves to garden because it’s a labor of love, I found that I needed more. I wanted to grow plants, in the ground, for the thrill of it. I’m fully aware that I sound like a washed up hippie when I say this, but I feel more connected to the process when I grow food in the ground, and nurture it carefully and closely every day. It helps me feel connected to Mother Earth, and brings me joy.
For me, a Tower Garden makes a wonderful addition to my traditional garden. It’s an easy, effortless way to grow the essentials that I don’t want to grow in the ground, which frees up valuable space in our tiny little backyard. I will continue to use my Tower Garden happily for the rest of my life, especially as we have more mouths to feed. As it happens, I’m already happily starting preparations for this year’s tower, and I’m excited to see what tips and tricks I pick up this time around.
If you’re interested in getting a tower garden for yourself, I would love to refer you to a great friend of mine that works with the company, and can help you get set up with a payment plan to make your tower garden more affordable!!
You can also learn more about tower gardens on their website, here. *AGAIN, not sponsored or affiliated*