Finding out about the Garden Tower Project

We were lucky enough to have a chat with the great people over at Garden Tower Project to find out about their amazing garden tower. We talk about everything from growing-your-own to how to reap the benefits of this sustainable, vertical garden. Check it out in the interview below!

Our interview with Garden Tower Project

1. How did you come up with the idea for the Garden Tower?

The Garden Tower was the brainchild of Colin Cudmore of Indianapolis in the USA, who had a ‘eureka’ moment one day whilst listening to a talk on permaculture techniques. He constructed a prototype version from a barrel and had great success with it, launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to redesign, upgrade, patent it, and bring it to market. The rest, as they say, is history. Nature’s Toolbox Ltd are the main agents in the UK.

2. The garden tower lets people grow up to 50 plants in 1.3 sq. metres. Does it have any restrictions on the plants you can grow?

There aren’t too many things you can’t grow in a Garden Tower, as keen Tower growers are discovering. The only real restrictions are physical ones. For example, it’s not advisable to plant very bulky root crops like potatoes (although this has been tried!) You also wouldn’t want to plant perennials that have very woody root systems that would choke the Tower up. Whilst the Tower rotates for ease of access, you can still grow sprawling plants like the cucurbits, or climbing plants that need staking up - you just need to limit your rotating when these mature. Plant height is, of course, an issue, being a vertical planter you don’t want to be harvesting maize with a step-ladder. As with any veggie garden, also be aware of light constraints. If your Tower is not in a well-lit spot, you will find it difficult to grow sun-loving plants like tomatoes, and conversely, lettuces may struggle with a warm aspect. This is where the ability to rotate the Tower really comes in handy.

3. The tower uses a unique ecological nutrient recycling system to help plants grow organically. How does this method help the plants develop compared to normal planting techniques?

The secret to the success of the Garden Tower is more than just the idea of growing plants vertically around a compost column. The amazing feature here is the ability of plants to self-regulate their own nutrient supply under these conditions. The populations of micro-organisms in the soil are boosted by the perforated wormery core. High levels of organic matter, aeration, good moisture levels and minimum soil disturbance provide ideal conditions and the root-zone (or rhizosphere) teems with beneficial bacteria and fungi which are attracted by carbohydrates excreted by the plants at their roots. These so-called ‘hot-spots’ attract bacteria-eating predators like protozoa, and the waste products from all this activity are the ‘juice-of-life’ for plants. Under ideal conditions, plants can thus regulate their own supply of soluble nutrients, including a huge array of micro-nutrients necessary for plant (and human) health. The design of Garden Tower helps to create these ideal conditions.

4. If you don’t have access to compost worms, can you still get the best results out of the tower?

The Garden Tower is designed to draw its benefits from composting worms and would not produce anywhere near the same result without them. The plant growth in a worm-composting Garden Tower is anecdotally three times more prolific than conventional growing. Composting worms are indigenous to Europe and usually arrive naturally in mature compost heaps of their own accord. If you don’t have access to a compost heap, various online suppliers sell them including the Garden Tower Project shop.

5. To really get the most out of the tower, would you recommend using a companion planting method to make sure that all the plants in the tower are beneficial to each other?

Companion planting is really what the Garden Tower is all about, but it doesn’t need to be hugely scientific to work. Nature thrives on diversity and so the most basic benefits of companion planting can be derived from simply having a variety of plants and not an over-abundance of anything, which is where monoculture fails. Firstly, be aware of plant size and the potential for abundant growth to shade out neighbouring plants or reduce much-needed air circulation. Thereafter, there is much-written advice about good companions and bad companions too diverse to discuss here - but a good companion chart is a good place to start when planning your initial layout.

That being said, a lot of the time planting in the Tower is an enjoyable ongoing activity, and frequently not so formalised as working to a strict pre-determined plan. A big advantage with the Tower is that if your soil is sufficiently bio-active, you do not need to be as concerned about crop rotation as you would in a conventional bed. Worm-boosted active predatory soil-life consumes pathogenic bugs along with the rest, so once you have finished snipping away at that cut-come-again lettuce, cut it off just below soil level and pop another next to it.

6. Do you still get weeds when using the Garden Tower?

The Garden Tower has a minimum of exposed soil surface which reduces evaporation but also means very little opportunity for weeds to get established. You can often find, with worm-generated compost, that because there was no heat generated in the composting process, weed seeds will survive. In this case, these might be surviving pips from your kitchen-scrapped tomatoes, cucumbers or maybe peppers that find germinating in worm compost quite easy. However, The compost column provides little surface area and no light so any introduced weeds do not survive long. Very occasional wind-blown weeds may arrive but are easily spotted and hand-pulled.

7. Who would find the Tower an ideal Gardening experience?

Having such a small footprint and designed for ease of access, the Garden Tower is ideal for space-restricted urban gardeners. A small balcony on the fifth-floor can easily become a productive 50-plant mini-allotment. Along with its special ability to grow abundant harvests, the other outstanding feature of the Garden Tower is that, because it relies on a ‘natural system’, it has a resilience which makes the Garden Tower a very easy gardening experience. The large volume of soil (potting media) and the organic nature of it, make the Tower naturally moisture-retentive and the vertical aspect means that it is simultaneously well-drained.

Worms create humus and continually ‘plough’ through the soil, aerating and enriching. Top planted seeds and replanted seedlings thrive and this is especially encouraging for youngsters, who are able to stand and work at the Tower and rotate it as necessary, which is why the Tower is so suitable as an educational mini-garden. These height and rotational aspects are also really comfortable features for elderly gardeners and especially those who are wheel-chair bound. Being able to rotate the Tower means you only need to sit in one position to easily reach 45 planting spaces.

8. How much kitchen waste can you dispose of in the Garden Tower wormery?

The Garden Tower wormery is a column that extends all the way down the central core of the planter and is perforated to allow the worms to freely inhabit the plant root-zone. This makes a very comfortable and resilient habitation zone for the worms. Frequently conventional tub-type wormeries can get too hot or too cold, too moist or too dry, and the worms have no escape, often with lethal consequences. With the Garden Tower, the 180-litre planter root zone surrounding the core helps ensure none of these extremes occur, and happy worms are hungry worms. Small, frequent and continual amounts of partially pre-decomposed veggie scraps will ensure the worms are busy turning your waste into your next abundant harvest of veggies. Vermicompost will eventually end up as approximately 7% of original volume, so the 16-litre volume would recycle some 230 litres of waste over time even without emptying from the bottom slider as you are able to do.

Check out some more of our gardening guides and interviews.