Food Freedom Experiment! Does the Garden Tower® 2 Vertical Planting System Really Work?
With seeds of hope and dreams of food abundance, my wife, Andrea, and I purchased a 4.5 acre homestead in south-central Indiana this past Spring. We’ve gardened together a few times before, both at the apartments we’ve lived in and at our city-house where we were the self-proclaimed neighborhood weirdos for killing our grass to build garden beds. But most of our days were spent working as research-academics and science-writers. I’m a political-economist and Andrea is a neuroscientist. So far, jumping onto acreage has been a real eye-opener on the difficulties of growing our own food. But why would we try to do that in the first place?
Why We Decided to Try Homesteading
California produces a staggering percentage of America’s food supply. However, it is subject to drought, natural disasters, and supply-side struggles. If a domestic or international crisis slowed or stopped the trucking industry, many towns would have around three days before significant food shortages began. To add further concern to the mix, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that the Earth has about 60 harvests left, given the current methods and rates of agricultural production.
As fate would have it, the “perfect property” just outside of town came up in an email list we belong to, so we “carpe”-ed the “diem” and took the plunge. After a month-long scramble to schlep our stuff to the small limestone house and seemingly-endless (4.5!) acres, we could finally get our food game going, but we were a little too late, in more ways than one.
Growing Pains and Troubles
We knew we needed plant starts and we wanted to learn the whole process, so we kicked off with some seed germination. As green shoots popped through the loose potting mix, we knew it was time to prepare the crop rows, both in the back field and the greenhouse. But, Holy Basil! We were in for a shock. The greenhouse hadn’t been used for years, so the soil had mineralized. The watering system for the row crop field had been shredded by a tractor and long since grown over with weedy grasses. The farm tools, kindly left behind by the previous owners, were mostly rusted or busted. Our dreams were decimated and our game was gone, before we’d really begun. Fail! Panic! Chaos!
What to do? We busted out the measuring tape, calculators, and graph paper, and we measured the areas of the field and the greenhouse to make rough estimates of the resources we’d need to get things into working order. Buying these items would just about break the bank. So what now?
Learning About the Garden Tower Project
In 2012, I saw a friend’s Facebook post about some foodie thing called a Garden Tower. Being a bit of a local food freak, I helped back the project and got one Garden Tower® 1 planting system for myself and one for my parents. I’d grown some greens and some herbs in it before, but I was kind of lazy and didn’t put much thought into it at the time. But now, when a conventional food-growing infrastructure was out of reach, I wondered what this thing I had sitting in the carport could really do. Could it grow the food that I needed?
Since I live in Bloomington, Indiana, the birthplace of the Garden Tower® vertical planting system, for years I had been hearing stories from friends and neighbors that their Garden Tower® systems were great food-growing planters. Growing 50 plants in 4 sq feet sounded pretty convenient, and lots of folks tell me they were making their money back in fresh food cost-cutting. So, as a world-aware scientist and community autonomy advocate, what am I to do? Test! Study! Experiment!
After talking it through with Andrea, we contacted the Garden Tower Project, to see if they had a bulk discount. But when we told them our story, it seemed that serendipity was at work. They were looking for a third party to independently test their new towers. Here we were, two scientists-turned-farmers wanting to test out a new food growing infrastructure! It was a win-win: Garden Tower Project would donate some Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting systems if we would agree to share all the data from our experiments. Hence, we got six Garden Tower® 2 systems and the first adventures of Fable Farms Indiana (the name we gave our homestead) truly began. Two towers for 100 veggies, two towers for 100 artisanal herbs, and two towers for 100 of those irresistible summer-strawberries.
I can’t pretend to know what’s next, but I can promise to let you know how it goes. I’m no Garden Tower® planting system expert, so if you’re just starting out, like me, we’re bound to make some similar mistakes and learn some lessons together. And for you folks who are still deciding whether or not to take the Garden Tower® system plunge, I hope the data from my experiment can be useful to you. If the rumors are true, we’ll be rolling in produce and cutting back on our grocery bills.
Who can say for sure? All I know right now is that my towers are off to a good start and are blooming with greens, herbs, and berries. But I’m also hunting down cabbage beetles on my kales, deterring berry-stealin’ deer, bushing out the bolting basils, and navigating local nurseries to be sure I keep our towers full, budding, and blooming, now and for months to come!
So if you want to see what a Garden Tower® 2 can do in the hands of an amateur homesteader, join me on the great adventure of my Food Freedom Experiment!