In the last two years my husband Doug, my two daughters, and I have embraced growing as much of our own food as possible. This is the story of how we went from having difficulty growing many crops because of limited space, and a short Pacific Northwest growing season, to harvesting a large variety of plants year round. You can read Part 1 of this series here.
Q: Doug, isn’t it cold and cloudy for much of the year in the Pacific Northwest?
With the onset of the cold fall weather, it did not take long for us to realize how much we missed having access to the high volume of Tower Garden® fresh produce on demand. Plus, the expense of buying lackluster organic greens from our local food co-op was added back into the weekly shopping budget. In mid-December, I began sprouting kale, chard, collards, some lettuce, and herbs. I picked up a 5.5 x 5.5-foot pop-up plastic greenhouse from Lowe’s for about $85. I picked up several 4-foot T5 fluorescent fixtures, and celebrated the New Year by starting my winter Tower Garden® project on the shores of Port Susan. With the average high being in the low 40s, and the nightly low just above freezing, I dropped a 200-watt heater in each of the three reservoirs, and 30 days later we were harvesting greens! The portable greenhouse provided just enough protection to grow fresh produce during our winter months on the ocean, and I realized that – with minimal power consumption – we could continue to grow our own food 12 months of the year.
The greenhouse also provided a place to start my springtime Tower Garden® farm much earlier than Mother Nature will often allow. Whereas some people would not consider planting much before May or June, I could be harvesting by the time traditional neighborhood gardeners were just getting started.
As we entered our second full growing season, we raised cauliflower, broccoli, beans, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, a variety of dark leafy greens, several different types of lettuce, several herbs, and edible flowers. One Tower Garden® was dedicated strictly to strawberries. Because of the different micro-climates that exist on our hillside, we had warm weather crops growing on our deck, and cooler weather crops growing in our terrace hillside garden. One of the best aspects of the Tower Garden® was that we had virtually no issues related to dirt-born predators. There was no need for any herbicides or pesticides with the Tower Gardens, even when I had the reservoirs set in the dirt of our terraced hillside garden. The joy of watching my girls harvest strawberries directly from the Tower Garden® whenever they walked by was delightful!
Q: Doug, how did you transition from the small greenhouse to a larger one?
By the second winter I realized that I needed to find a more permanent solution to my portable plastic pop-up green house so we purchased a larger 10’ x 12’ metal-framed, polycarbonate structure.
Q: Mitra, do you like the winter produce?
At this point, I turn up my nose when I walk into Whole Foods and see a pathetic looking bunch of organic kale with a price tag of $5. And it is wilted! I saw a TED talk where an urban gardener said, “Growing your own food is like printing money!”, and I have to agree. It is not just the cost of the food at stake; it is preventative health care and savings down the road. I am convinced that the biggest drain on a household’s budget is healthcare, and most people have no idea what poor health (from poor eating habits and lifestyle) actually costs them in the long run.
Q: Mitra and Doug, what is next for you?
Our experience with the Tower Garden® Farm has been nothing short of extraordinary. We try to live our lives with as little impact as possible; but, as my brother-in-law points out, one can never do enough to minimize one’s carbon footprint.
The Tower Garden®, being a closed-loop system with no run-off, has brought about an even greater awareness of the relationship that we humans have with Mother Earth, and allows us to do our own part in an even greater way in terms of minimizing our impact. Whether it is food safety, nutritional status, environmental impact, sustainability, or cost, I really feel that the Tower Garden® is a game-changer on so many levels. In addition, it provides any family with an opportunity to contribute to their own well-being, and that of the planet. It is the most fun – with the least amount of effort – that a family can have. And the education will last for generations.
Because our children are the planet’s future, we started a science project at our children’s school, lending them a Tower Garden® for the school year. This led some of the teachers to get excited about a bigger project, teaching sustainable living. Next school year, we will donate a family farm of three Towers to the school as a part of this project.
Teaching the next generation about food production, and its relation to human health, is an important educational piece that is mostly missing today. Many schools are incorporating gardens into their schools as a way to bring in this missing piece. The Tower Gardens® just make the gardening venture more fun and productive. They also illustrate water conservation, because using a closed system avoids runoff. Today’s kids know that their parents – as well as previous generations – are leaving behind a world wrought with complex societal issues and environmental pollution. It is nice to expose them to elegant solutions such as Tower Gardens® so they can have hope in their hearts about their future.
Want your own Tower Garden®, or have a few questions? Learn more, here.