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Organic Gardening for The Beginner

Organic Gardening for The Beginner
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In the last several years, I’ve been working to get healthier. I’ve taken up vegetarian eating (again), and I started organic juicing. I bought an Apple watch and started paying better attention to exercise and the calories that I burn throughout the day. http://ideasorlando.com/blog/healthiest-community-nation-begins/ And I have been tinkering with organic gardening. When the CDC announced the romaine lettuce e coli breakout in April, I got serious about it.

 

RESEARCH

I don’t have a whole lot of viable, sunny land area for a garden because I live in central Florida and purposely have planted lots of shade trees around our house. One of the sunnier areas I have is actually on the deck. So, I went on an online search for “container gardening” and came upon a great website, The Garden Tower Project (https://gardentowerproject.com). As the website name suggests, the original “project” was an experiment to find a way to grow a full garden in a small amount of space. If it worked as promised, this vertical garden would allow me to grow 50 plants in just 4 square feet of ground space. That would mean I could grow vegetables in a corner of my deck and eat organic all year. Yes, please!

 

THE TOWER

The tower looks kinda like a four-foot-high strawberry pot with five layers of “holes” around it to put the plants. Its circular design includes ball bearings in the base layer that allows you to rotate the entire tower. This way, all the plants can have their fair share of sunlight. And the open cylinder in the middle allows for vermiculture composting. That means the tower uses worms to make its own organic fertilizer. And since the garden is vertical, it means you don’t have to bend over and wrench your back to work in the garden. And the best part? NO WEEDING! After reading and watching many videos on their site, I decided to try this for myself!

I ordered the Garden Tower 2 …the second and much improved version of the original tower. It is made of food grade HDPE (non-toxic, BPA & PVC free plastic) components made in the USA and uses FDA-approved dye and UV-protection antioxidant package for health, durability, and recyclability. And no small thing, it also complemented the color of our deck quite nicely. It arrived in just a few days, along with printed directions for assembly. However, after discussions with hubby, I decided to order casters (which don’t come with the basic tower) so the whole thing could be moved around on our deck for easy deck cleaning. Assembly would have to wait.

 

THE SOIL

In the meantime, I decided to shop for one of the recommended potting soils to use in the tower. According to the directions, the soil needed to be organic, and it needed to not compact so the bottom layer would stay aerated with the weight of the other layers on top of it.

None of the recommended soils were available at local stores, but I was able to special order “Happy Frog Potting Soil” from my local Ace Hardware. SCORE! By the time the soil arrived, the casters had arrived, too. Finally. I could build my tower.

ASSEMBLY

The pieces were really easy to snap together!

First, I put the casters on the base; then, I began to stack the outer rings and inner rings together.

In just minutes, it was all assembled.

Now it was time for me to add the soil…one bag at a time with a hefty dowsing of water in between. With the tower built, I wanted to add seeds and plants, but first, it was time to begin a week or two of composting.

 

COMPOSTING

I began putting all our plant-based kitchen scraps into the center of the tower every day. “Plant-based” is key because animal-based scraps (meats, eggs, dairy) don’t compost well and the rotting odor attracts raccoons and other beasties I didn’t want to deal with. So, no animal scraps! The exception is egg shells, which I washed and crushed before dumping into the inner cylinder. Eggshells provide the plants with calcium which they need to build cell walls like we need calcium to build strong bones. Oh, and no scraps with seeds (like tomatoes) either, else I’d have plants growing in the center compost cylinder instead of in the outer rings that held the soil! I finally had a great use for all that fiber I was tossing out as a by-product of juicing. And, since corn on the cob was in season, it didn’t take long before the tower was filled with shucks and other kitchen scraps. I also added brown cardboard…the kind in the center of toilet paper and kitchen paper towel rolls that I cut up into small strips to hasten the decomposition process. It says you can also add newsprint, but I really didn’t want all the inks from a newspaper going into my food causing it to NOT be organic, and the worms don’t really like it either, so I opted out of using newspaper.

WORMS!

In a couple of weeks, the bacteria was building up, and it was time to add the worms. Back to Ace Hardware I went to buy the big, fat, red wrigglers. I opened the small container, took the top off of the inner cylinder of the tower, and dropped those fertilizer makers right in. The inner cylinder has holes in the sides so that the worms can move between the compost in the inner cylinder and the soil in the outer rings. Contrary to what I believed, I learned that the worms don’t actually eat the compost itself. Instead, they feed off the bacteria that comes with the rotting food scraps. Every third day I dowsed the tower with three gallons of water to make sure it was good and moist all the way through to make it easy for the worms to move around. Excess water drained through the center cylinder, through a filter at the bottom, and into a rectangular “bucket” at the very bottom of the tower. THIS was liquid gold…organic fertilizer complements of those fat, little wrigglers! The eco-system was almost complete. All I needed were some plants. Time for more research.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

Kelly Pounds
Kelly brings more than two decades of experience in education, training design and development, organization development and executive coaching to the IDEAS team.