Assembly and Instructions
1. General Information
1.1. Dimensions and Shipping
Dimensions: 50-plant model stands 44″ tall, 26″ wide
Weight: 36lbs “packaged weight” for shipping, 185-205lb loaded with 6+ cubic feet potting soil (well-watered)
Capacity: Holds 5-6 cubic feet of potting soil
Shipping: 23”x23”x25 octagonal box, freight class 200
In most regions the tower can be planted in the spring with vegetables, flowers, and herbs, and again in the late summer for the fall season. Temperate climates allow for three or even four complete crop cycles per year with proper planning.
The Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system is 100% made in the USA
Made from 100% food-grade materials
High-impact HDPE (high-density polyethylene) body 100% is recyclable
Food grade UV-inhibitor
Food grade terracotta colorant
Ruggedly overbuilt, lab quality consistency
Five year warranty on manufacturing defects
1.3. Parts Description
Base: The bottom of the unit to which the feet are attached and the bottom ring is joined. It is also where the drawer slides in.
Bottom Ring: Attaches to the base and seals in the bearings. The first section of the compost column attaches to the base with subsequent sections stacked on top of it.
Bearings: There are 43-54 nylon bearings. The Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system can function fine on 13 bearings. We use more bearings than necessary to assure smooth and trouble-free functioning. Using more bearings creates a friction drag that makes rotating the unit difficult. The bearing track is formed by the joining of the base and bottom ring.
Compost Column: Each compost column consists of five perforated sections, one top solid compost column piece, and a cap. The compost column attaches to the center section of the bottom ring.
Grow Ring(s): These are the five sectional rings of the tower that create the pockets and comprise the body of the unit.
Drawer: This is the receptacle that slides into the base to catch the excess nutrient-rich runoff.
1.4. General Definitions
Vermicompost(ing): Vermicomposting is the process of maintaining a worm habitat by providing the right balance of moisture, bedding, and veggie scraps to decompose and sustain the worms.
Compost Column: The central column of the tower, intended for use in vermicomposting.
Soil Column: The growing area of the tower located inside the grow rings which surround the
Organic Soil Amendment: A natural fertilizer. It can be commercially prepared or made from a DIY mix of organic nutrients from various natural origins.
Compost Tea: The leachate or runoff that is collected in the drawer. When hydrating the tower, the water collects many of the nutrients provided by the worm manure. Any water not immediately absorbed by the soil will drain into the drawer at the bottom of the tower. Reapply this water quickly. Compost tea is significantly different from what is often known as worm tea, though the terms are often used interchangeably. The compost tea leachate from the tower can be directly reintroduced into the tower or used for gardens and houseplants without dilution since it is PH neutral. Traditional worm wea is concentrated and highly acidic. It can burn plants if used undiluted.
2. Basic Setup
2.1. Setup Tips
Zip ties should be installed as shown in the instructions PDF on page 6, step 13.
Location is important. A number of “failures” occur due to either lack of light or poor watering. Choose a place that provides the most sun possible throughout the day. The location should also be stable and easily accessible. In desert conditions or extreme heat, you may want to shade your Garden Tower® 2 system for a couple of hours during the hottest part of the day. It’s best to place it on a hard flat surface to prevent it from sinking into the ground.
The Garden Tower® 2 planting system works on an aerobic composting principal. Most issues that occur are a result of over-compaction, either in the soil column or directly in the compost column. Straw, grass, leaves, and coir — fiber from the outer husk of the coconut — serve as great bedding for worms. These items should occasionally be added to the compost column to avoid compaction.
Too many greens and fresh scraps will quickly become anaerobic and may start to stink. This is a sign the column is being overfed. The biggest mistake new worm ranchers make is overfeeding. This also causes a major attractor of pests, both large and small. A balanced compost column will not stink or attract too many bugs. If you see leftover scraps of recognizable undigested or unprocessed vegetable matter, it is not yet time to feed the worms.
A good potting soil or mix is critical for success with the Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system. It is essential to use high-quality organic, professional potting soil or mix meant for use in containers. A good commercial organic potting soil, or “grower’s mix, will optimize drainage, water retention, and aeration for both plants and the compost. We recommend you ask your nursery for a lightweight, fluffy grower’s mix or potting soil. Organic types are best, but not required. Many grower’s mixes are completely free of fertilizers and we do recommend a quality granular amendment.
Tip: Spend some time at a local garden center or talk to local gardeners about potting mixes and what types of plants would do well in your area. Mention the amount of shade you have, your area’s overall temperature, and other details.
We recommend giving your plants an initial organic soil amendment boost while the compost column starts working. As the central compost column begins to produce its own fertilizer, this will no longer be necessary.
Soil amendment can either be commercially prepared or made from a DIY mix of organic nutrients from various natural origins. You can also purchase a plant food to fortify your soil mix, mix with your soil, or kick start the movement of nutrients through the tower.
Here are some general tips and information about using commercially-prepared products:
- Use an organic plant food that is not manure-based. Adding this to the soil makes nutrients immediately available in the system. OMRI Certified is best.
- Liquid organic plant food mixtures will provide a lot of nutrition to young plants, but have to be periodically reapplied.
- Granular types of amendment are time-release and will provide nutrients for about three months.
- Make sure to purchase a naturally-derived plant food.
- We recommend staying away from animal manure products as they have an overabundance of salts.
- Your amendments should not contain DPW (Dehydrated Poultry Waste), municipal sludge (typically labeled as bio-solids), or petrochemical-derived fertilizers (salts).
- The application rate for a general purpose organic 4-4-4 is up to 1 cup per cubic foot of soil.
3. Tower and Compost Setup
3.1. Tower Setup
This setup method helps prevent the soil mixture from settling too far below the edge of the Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system over time, and gives you a sense of how much water it takes to achieve full hydration without overflowing the drawer.
- Use a light, organic professional potting mix. You may plant seeds from cool weather crops or even transplants before or at the last frost date.
- Mix in a small bag of high quality soil amendment with the initial potting soil to give the seeds and transplants a good start until the compost column begins working.
- Build and fill the tower approximately 1/3 at a time. Start with the bottom ring and the 2 grow rings. Place 3 compost column pieces and the cap on the compost column to keep dirt from pouring in. Fill this with potting mix.
- Add soil amendment in a ring around the column and mix it into the soil.
- Evenly pour 2-3 gallons of water from the top slowly on the soil until it starts dripping into the drawer. Count the containers of water or use a water meter to keep track of how much water you use for each level. The number of gallons the tower holds before dripping into the drawer tells you the water-holding capacity of your soil.
- Add a couple of grow rings and compost column pieces. Replace the cap. Add more soil mixture until the next row or two of rings are filled. Add another handful of soil amendment and water. Continue to layer like a cake, sprinkling the organic soil amendment above the root zone of the levels and watering each, until the tower is full and water is dripping into the drawer.
- Finish filling the last ring until it is filled about one inch from the top of the top ring. Reuse water from drawer as necessary. Evenly pour 3-4 more gallons of water from the top of the soil.
- On setup, water the tower as above, hydrating each level until it is dripping into the drawer.
- You should cover or protect the tower at night when the temperature drops significantly.
3.2. Column Setup
Wait until after the last frost date to introduce worms into a new, recently emptied, or restarted tower. Composting worms can live outside of their comfort zone, although keeping temperatures between 55-65°F is optimal.
Acclimate worms in a cooler area for 24-48 hours before moving them into 50°F or colder temperatures to avoid shocking them. Temperatures fluctuate less in a working compost column, even when they dip to freezing at night. A partially full column is slightly more sensitive to temperature.
Use 250-500 red wiggler worms to start, or 25-50+ earthworms. Red wigglers go in the compost tube, and earthworms go in the soil column. You may release them anywhere on the Garden Tower® 2 planting system and they will eventually make it to where they will do their best work.
3.3. Composting Glossary
Vermicompost: The contents of the compost column consisting of unprocessed food scraps, shredded paper, leaves, and the worm colony.
Castings: The finished product of vermicomposting. These are worm castings otherwise known as “Black Gold.” Black Gold is prized by gardeners around the globe. Castings may be used as a soil amendment. Worm castings should only be 10-20% of the overall soil mix.
Browns: Browns include well-dried leaves, grasses, and finely shredded brown cardboard and paper. This serves as bedding for the worms, but also becomes a food source, since it gradually breaks down over time. Bedding is just another name for browns.
Greens: Greens are fresh veggie scraps suitable for composting. Greens = worm food.
The leading cause of death to worms by beginners is overfeeding, which is often caused by excess moisture, lack of oxygen, excessive temperature and acidity. The worms can’t keep up with the food supply. This causes their food to turn sour, acquire a nasty smell, and blocks oxygen from penetrating the compost. Do not stuff the compost column, as good air circulation is important to the worms’ well-being. Overfeeding invites unwanted pests into your worm bin and your yard.
Generally, the worm bin will receive enough moisture from the food you put in. There is no need to ever water directly into the compost column.
Feed the worms a generous handful or two of food every couple of days and provide plenty of browns for bedding. If you can still see undigested food scraps, then it is not time to feed them yet.
The dampness or dryness of the tower can vary from day to day. This is okay. You may not see worms. This is fine, as worms are good at hiding. They will move out of the compost column if they do not like the conditions, but they will move back in as soon as a balance is restored.
3.5. Composting Tips
Compost performance will vary with the temperature. Worms will love your indoor Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system habitat. Their activity, however, is directly related to temperature. Only add kitchen scraps when more space is generated within the composting column.
Certain items are difficult for the worms to eat and should be avoided. These include avocado pits, corn cobs, and other hard, dense objects. The smaller the scraps that you use, the faster the worms can make vermicompost.
Do not put any meats, fats, dairy products, string, or hair into the compost column.
3.6. Worm Types
Red Wigglers (eisenia fetida) are the workhorses of the compost column and the entire system overall. Earthworms, on the other hand, act as a supplemental soil conditioners. They clean up debris in the tower, spread nutrients, and aerate the soil column. Red wigglers are voracious composters and live primarily in the compost column. The Red Wigglers sold in bait shops and Walmart are not the same as the Wigglers sold for vermicomposting. They are misnamed.
Nightcrawlers are beneficial to add into the soil column in limited numbers as they are burrowers, earth movers, and vertical dwellers. They eat materials in the soil, such as old root bits and other organic matter, and continually aerate it. They also help distribute nutrients throughout the system. Nightcrawlers can be harvested locally by looking under leaves or by leaving a wet carpet outside. After a few days, worms will collect on the carpet. Don’t add too many or they will break down the soil structure of the potting mix much faster than normal. Ten to twenty-five earthworms is a good amount to start with. Otherwise you may find your soil draining poorly and retaining too much moisture.
4.1. Planting Tips
Use these planting tips to reap a bountiful harvest from your Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system!
- Four to five larger plants may be planted in the top.
- Large plants such as tomatoes are a great choice for the top of the tower and can be trellised or staked many feet in the air. Plant tomatoes very deeply in the soil for steady access to water.
- Trailing vines such as squash and zucchini do best on the bottom row. They require more floor space to accommodate their growth, but be aware that they will make your tower difficult to rotate.
- If you have limited space, or wish to have the option of being able to rotate your tower, these types of plants may not be your best choice. Look for “bush” varieties of these vining or trailing veggies as they are more compact and much easier to grow in small spaces.
- Pay attention to the space requirements of the plants you’re planning to grow and consider placing plants that require less space between plants that require more space.
- Planting identical plants in diagonal columns or in small clusters of three to five generally performs well and looks beautiful.
- You can begin with seed or small starts, available at garden centers and farmers markets. Start your seeds in soil in a compact flat or tray where they will grow into small starts for easy transplanting. Water your seeds with a misting sprayer.
- When planting side pockets, start at the bottom row with your bushiest mature plants. Working up the rows, choose your next plants according to size as you plant. Choose plants of decreasing mature size as you plant from bottom to top. Check our companion planting guide to learn more about what plants grow well together.
4.2. Seed Selection
4.3. When to Plant
Planting times will be location dependent. Search online for “Last Frost Date” for the location name, or consult our hardiness zone library.
4.4. Plant Selection
Here are a few general guidelines for planting in the Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system.
- Plant 4-5 large, bushy plants in the top.
- Study the Companion Planting Guide since space in the Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system is compact. The root zones are very close together, and companion planting can have a positive impact on your planting.
- Determinate (bush variety) tomatoes, basil, eggplants, peppers, and beans do well in the top of the tower.
- Cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, and kohlrabi all do well in the lower and middle side pockets. Lettuce and spinach can be planted anywhere it will fit.
- Herbs such as cilantro and parsley can be interspersed with similar companions.
- Flowers can be planted throughout and act as a beacon to beneficial insects. Marigolds are reported to be good for certain pest controls and Nasturtiums are delicate, beautiful, and the flowers are edible!
- Vining plants, such as indeterminate tomatoes, squash, cucumber, and melons, should go in the bottom two rows of the tower. They should be trellised away from the tower to a railing, stool, chair, or other garden art. This prevents them from blocking sun from their neighbors, but also makes it hard to rotate the tower in the later part of the season.
- If you are having issues growing a particular plant or variety, try looking for a container or bush variety of whatever type of plant that hasn’t grown well for you.
- We advise against planting strawberries and other woody-stemmed, vining (and potentially invasive) plants in the tower. Mints, for example, have a high nutrient density which makes it possible for them to take over other crops. In the following year or two you will have a big woody mess to cut out of the tower. The Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system makes this chore a bit easier due to its sectional design.
- Plants that prefer well drained soil do best planted closer to the top (spinach, peas, peppers, beans, etc.). Plants that prefer lots of water and nutrient do well on the bottom (vining or indeterminate tomatoes, cucumber, melons, etc.).
4.5. Plant Suggestions
- Vegetables: Amaranth (vegetable type), Arugula, Beans(Lima, bush, pole, shell, fava), Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Chinese Cabbage, Cauliflower, Chard, Chicory, Collards, Cucumbers, Dandelion, Eggplant, Endive, Escarole, Gourds, Kale, Leeks, Lettuce, Melons, Mesclun, Mustard Greens, Dwarf Okra, Peas, Peppers, Radicchio, Sorrel, Spinach, Squash, Strawberries, Tomatoes.
Note that vines such as squash and melons grow nicely from the bottom holes, trailing on the ground.
- Herbs: Angelica, Anise Hyssop, Basil, Calendula, Catmint, Catnip, Chamomile, Chervil, Chives, Cilantro (Coriander), Dandelion, Dill, Echinacea (Coneflower), Feverfew, Flax, Garlic Chives, Goldenseal Hyssop, Lavender, Fennel, Lemon Balm, Marjoram, Milk Thistle, Mint, Nettle, Oregano, Parsley, Passion Flower, Pleurisy Root, Rosemary, Sage, Salad Burnet, Saltwort, Savory, Shiso, Stevia, Thyme, Valerian, Wormwood.
- Edible Flowers: Calendula, Carthamus, Dianthus, Marigolds, Nasturtiums, Pansies, Salvia, Violas.
- Ornamental Flowers: Ageratum, Amaranth, Ammi, Aster, Bells of Ireland, Bupleurum, Morning Glory, Nigella, Petunia, Phlox, Polygonum, Poppy, Ptilotus, Rudbeckia, Safflower, Salpiglossis, Sanvitalia, Scabiosa, Snapdragon, Stock, Strawflower, Sweet Peas, Verbena, Yarrow, Zinnia.
5.1. Watering Tips
Maintain a regular watering schedule. Morning is best, afternoon is okay, evening is the least desirable.
Do not water your tower with a hose because it is difficult to discern how much water your tower actually requires with one. Once you have more experience and know how much water your tower needs, you can get away with using a hose.
By watering with a container such as a 1-2 gallon sprinkling can or 5 gallon bucket, you will learn how much water is ideal for your tower.
Do not water plants during the hottest part of the day, as this can damage them.
During the active growing season, a good rule of thumb is to use 4-6 gallons of water every 2-3 days.
Test the soil for dryness by placing your finger in a pocket in the lowest row. If the soil feels dry, a heavier watering is required (5-7 gallons). If the soil feels slightly moist, maintenance watering is all that is required (2-4 gallons).
If water drains into the drawer more often than twice per week, you’re watering too frequently.
A layer of mulch on the top surface of the tower will help maintain constant moisture. Soak hardwood mulch or small woodchips in water for 24-48 hours and use it to regulate moisture loss in dry environments.
Tend to your garden as you would with a regular garden. Remove dead or damaged leaves, cut back on unruly growth, and replace harvested plants.
As a self-contained, self-fertilizing system, the Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system requires relatively little care.
6. Extended Growing Season
6.1. Extended Growing Season Tips
You can get 2-3 weeks of extended growing on each side of the season! Because of the large thermal mass created by the volume of the Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system body and soil, the seeds, starts, and plants are protected both in the spring and at harvest. In the spring, the tower heats up faster than the ground around it. This allows you to plant 2-3 weeks ahead of when you would normally plant in the ground. In the fall, you will be able to harvest 2-3 weeks later than similar plants in the ground.
If the temperature dips below 32°F, we suggest putting a piece of clear plastic over the tower, with stakes positioned to protect the plants. The plastic must be removed as soon as the sun comes out if it’s going to be above 32°F or your plants might get damaged. Garden fleece material or bags may be used to extend your season even further.
Here are a couple of products to try for light extended season or overwinter use:
- Frost Cold Garden Greenhouse Fleecing 31″x47″
- Tierra Garden 50-8000 2-Pack Haxnicks Easy Fleece Jacket, Large
- For heavier cover and snow protection, try using NuVue Winter Wrap.
Put stakes in the tower to keep the cover off of the plants, and gather it around the bottom to secure it from the wind. If you are protecting worms during a severe cold snap, then darker plastic will absorb more warmth and provide more protection to the compost column.
6.2. Indoor Use
The Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system is being used around the world in greenhouses, hoop-houses, sun-rooms, and regular rooms. The best placement indoors in the winter months is in front of a south-facing window. Depending on the amount of available light, supplemental lighting should be used.
Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system setup is similar both indoors and out. Lighting is the biggest consideration. Setting up your tower one level at a time is especially important for indoor gardeners. As you hydrate each level, count the number of gallons you use to water the entire tower. Water each level as you fill it until it drips. This will tell you the capacity of your soil column, so that you can fully water it without overflowing the reservoir drawer.
For an inexpensive lighting setup, use full-spectrum 40 watt CFL bulbs with standard reflective bulb fixtures. Better yet, use 40″ full spectrum fixtures. These can be mounted vertically using 2×4’s. Using Mylar or foil film (a readily available source is emergency blankets) around the tower and lights will help increase the efficiency of the lighting. Pricier setups use High-Pressure Sodium/Mercury (HPS/HPM) lights. These have have heat and ventilation requirements and can be expensive to replace.
People often notice a mild odor for a few weeks after startup, but this fades as the compost matures and comes into balance. With proper composting practices, we have not had a single tower exhibit any sharp odors indicative of high acidity brought on by lack of oxygen.
You may wish to invest in casters (wheels) to make moving your tower easier.
7. Seasonal Maintenance
7.1. Emptying the Compost Column
We recommend emptying a portion of the compost column on a regular basis every 30 – 45 days or before it is totally full of vermicompost. This prevents a buildup of a “root mat” that becomes more difficult to remove.
This is how you empty the column:
- Make sure the worms have fully consumed all of the kitchen scraps.
- Make sure there is no water in the drawer.
- Pull the screen out half way to allow vermicompost to exit the bottom of the compost column and fall into the drawer.
- Depending on the degree to which the plants have rooted into the compost, it may be necessary to push the contents of the compost column out with a wooden broomstick or other handle.
- Clear the track if necessary and push the screen back in.
7.2.Reconditioning the Soil
After emptying part of the contents of the compost tube, remove the drawer and place vermicompost on top of the soil at the top of the tower. Your soil will have had time to settle a bit at this point, so it is recommended that you place a 1-3″ thick (or more) layer of vermicompost on top of the soil. Be careful not to exceed the height of the top ring section. Any excess vermicompost can be used on your house plants, garden flowers, given to a friend, or saved to rejuvenate the soil in your tower at a later date.
7.3. Overwintering the Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system
When winter arrives, you can either move your tower to a heated location or leave it outdoors and replant in the spring. Flip the drawer over to prevent ice buildup and cover your tower when not in use.
The biggest factor affecting the longevity of the plastic body is degradation from ultraviolet radiation. The body is only exposed during the growing season for the first few weeks until foliage grows enough to shield the tower. During the winter the Garden Tower® 2 body is not protected by foliage.
A dark, breathable, semi-permeable cover, especially in colder climates, will help the tower gather warmth throughout the day providing protection and insulation for the worms during cold and even sub-zero nights.
A cover can prevent the soil from drying out. Dry soil collapses and may lead to increased compaction when you start to use the tower again when the growing season starts. Proper rehydration of dry soil is critical for success. A couple of drops of organic dish soap in each gallon of the first watering will help break the surface tension of the water, act as a wetting agent, and promote moisture uptake by the soil.
7.4. Overwintering Worms
In middle and northern regions, overwintering worms is possible during mild winters. The Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system can absorb enough heat during the day to carry it through nights in the low 20’s without the worm habitat dropping to dangerous temperatures. It takes at least several days and often up to a week or more of freezing and sub-zero days and nights to significantly affect the worm population.
The Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system is a flexible and forgiving system, but every natural system has its limits. When overwintering the worms, we recommend that you cover the tower with dark, semi-permeable material, such as a grill cover or landscape cloth. The dark material will help the tower absorb heat during the day, even if it is only slightly above freezing. We have covered one with a light plastic sheet while we were harvesting chives, cilantro, and parsley well into December, despite several snowfalls with over 8″ of accumulation. The worms were still alive in the tower, but because there were ice crystals forming in the compost, we knew another cold snap would do them in. Fearing a harsh winter, we removed some worms from the tower to overwinter in a bin in a semi-heated garage. It made composting in sub-zero temperatures easy because we didn’t have to trek out to the towers, or to the compost pile.
During very cold winters, the compost in the central tube should be removed, worms and all, and placed in a 1 foot (or more) deep hole in the ground outside. Fresh kitchen scraps can be added and an 8″ layer of straw will ensure the worms don’t freeze. If you live in an apartment, you can overwinter the worms inside in a small bin. All of this may be unnecessary if the Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system is near a building, on a patio, porch, or near a wall, as it is unlikely to actually freeze because of the substantial thermal mass of soil.