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Garden Towers

Last week I received an email from Ramsay Harik, letting me know about the “Garden Tower Project”. Here is a quick blurb from the Garden Tower Project website:

The Garden Tower is a revolutionary self-contained garden/composting system with the potential to transform home gardening, urban gardening, and world hunger programs. Garden Tower Project is a socially-responsible company based in Bloomington, Indiana whose mission is to make that happen, innovatively, collaboratively, and affordably.

I recommend watching the video above as well. From the looks of things, they are now focusing on a newer model, but the one featured in the video is pretty cool as it is.

In a nutshell, Garden Towers are like a containerized version of a “Worm Tower“. The idea is that composting worms process waste materials that are placed inside a central tube, producing castings which then help to fertilize plants growing in the main container itself. I love the concept, and have been thinking of trying something similar for quite some time (inspired by the success of my vermicomposting trenches) – really cool to see someone heading in a commercial direction with it!

Written by Bentley on April 9th, 2012 with 14 comments.
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Get your own gravatar by visiting Paul from Winnipeg
#1. April 9th, 2012, at 7:20 PM.

I wonder if the red wigglers would really venture far out into the potting soil? Maybe if the tube got anaerobic and nasty on them.

Otherwise it looks pretty cool.

Get your own gravatar by visiting John Duffy
#2. April 9th, 2012, at 10:25 PM.

Go Hoosiers!…I knew there was more going on around here than just basketball (no ill intended toward Indiana sports fans)
Sounds like a really cool idea. I wonder if compost (leaf mold, specifically) would work as well as potting soil. My concern with using potting soil is all the chemical fertilizers they might contain…Nonetheless, I am definitely going to check out their website!
It was good to hear from you Bentley. I was getting concerned.I’m not used to going any length of time without your inspiration.

Get your own gravatar by visiting Craig Miller
#3. April 9th, 2012, at 11:02 PM.

What a great idea! My immediate concern is the weight of the completed unit on those small legs. Will have to check to see if newer units are designed differently.

Get your own gravatar by visiting Laura
#4. April 10th, 2012, at 9:11 AM.

I checked the site out and the newer version has good improvements. My query is about the container overheating, to grow the suggested plants would require full sun, would this not overheat the worms in the tube? Also noticed Uncle Jims is being punted for purchase of worms …. just saying!

Get your own gravatar by visiting Michael
#5. April 10th, 2012, at 7:12 PM.

It is interesting but I wonder how well the plastic will hold up to the sun. The plastic looks thin to me and after the sun beats it up will the plastic end up breaking like potato chips.

Get your own gravatar by visiting Ramsay Harik
#6. April 11th, 2012, at 10:45 AM.

Great questions all! My responses:
Paul–there is excellent drainage of both the vermicomposting tube and the larger body. In all our various long-term trials, anaerobic respiration has never been in evidence and the quality of the vermicompost is excellent. Red wigglers will venture out into the potting soil as it becomes more enriched itself, esp. if it begins as high-organic-matter soil. Nightcrawlers should want to spend more time in the potting soil–what do you think, Bentley?
John–potting soil is key. I’m experimenting with a variety of soils, and Growing Power in Milwaukee is experimenting with using just their compost as a growing matrix. I want to keep it organic as possible, balancing this with expense.
Craig–the legs are sturdier than they look–oak–and in any case, the new model has integrated wide-body plastic legs. Check out the new design on the website.
Laura–the plastic is very sturdy and the new model is a light shade of terra cotta. In our trials this past summer (a very hot summer) the worms were very happy and produced good compost all summer long. Thanks for mentioning Uncle Jim’s–we’ve already switched over to Bentley’s business instead!
Michael–the plastic is very sturdy with uv-protection and an estimated 10 year full-exposure lifetime.
Thanks for all your observations!

Get your own gravatar by visiting bob costello
#7. April 12th, 2012, at 9:38 AM.

I remember reading in one of Bentleys articles, you didn’t like to use potting mix or soil, because you felt it had ingrdients in it that would put the worms at risk. But here it is stated that potting soil is being used in the tower. Won’t this put the worms at risk? If not, then will please explain what type of potting soil or mix you are using. Thanx also it’s good to hear from you Bentley.

Get your own gravatar by visiting Bentley
#8. April 12th, 2012, at 10:13 AM.

Some great thoughts, everyone!
I think the idea would be to use a rich organic potting soil – not your typical “Miracle Gro” type stuff. You definitely wouldn’t want something that had inorganic salts in it. Worms do just fine in peat and coir (often base materials for potting soils), so I wouldn’t be surprised if they moved in and out a fair bin. Using something even richer like a mushroom compost or something like that might also work well.

The overheating question is a good one – it would be interesting to see how hot it ended up getting in the worm habitat zone.

Looks like the newer model doesn’t use the legs, and also has a darker plastic – so it may be better in a lot of ways. If it was similar to the plastic used for planters, pots etc, I would think it would be just fine.

Get your own gravatar by visiting Bentley
#9. April 12th, 2012, at 10:15 AM.

By the way – apologies to Ramsay for taking so long to “approve” his comment. Just realized now that it had been added. (Thanks Ramsay for chiming in)

Get your own gravatar by visiting Ramsay Harik
#10. April 12th, 2012, at 11:02 AM.

I’ve been using Foxfarm and Happy Frog organic mixes lately, and they work great. Really just a matter of expense. More on this as it develops on our website.

Get your own gravatar by visiting Real
#11. April 13th, 2012, at 9:12 AM.

I wonder if in the design, a few tubes could run from top to bottom, unobstructed that would cause an air flow via chimney evvect to keep things cool

Get your own gravatar by visiting Ramsay Harik
#12. April 14th, 2012, at 8:03 AM.

This is a good idea, if it proves necessary. So far nothing has indicated a “heating up” problem, but we’ll watch closely this summer–it’s good to be on the alert for that. Also, it has been very helpful to hear from people concerned about making sure the soil is organic. If the Growing Power compost experiment goes well, there’s our answer. If not, does anyone out there have a reasonably priced, lightweight organic soil they could recommend?

Get your own gravatar by visiting Geekmom
#13. May 1st, 2012, at 4:53 PM.

Does it rotate? If not, how practical can all the planting holes be? I think you would end up using just a few of them.

Get your own gravatar by visiting Ramsay Harik
#14. May 3rd, 2012, at 9:47 AM.

Important question, Geekmom. The new Tower is indeed rotatable. We’ve found, though, that the old, non-rotatable model does quite well even on the backside, esp. when placed in full sun or on a patio against a light background (see the Flower Tower pic on our facebook page). All 50 holes were planted and did great. But the rotatability will certainly help under less than perfect condition, and for ease of access as well.
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