Garden Tower Update: Mistakes Were Made

Time for an update on our vertical gardening project. When last I posted about the Garden Tower, everything was growing robustly and looking smart.

I hate to say it, but that was kind of the high point of the season. The plants have not grown as vigorously as I’d hoped since that photo session.

Our Garden Tower in mid-September: Not bad but not great. And this is its good side.

Our Garden Tower in mid-September: Not bad but not great. And this is its good side.

Today there are five tomatoes just about ready to pick, but the plant looks pitiful. I cut off most of the grim stuff a few weeks ago.

Not sure what kind of maters these are; the plant was a sucker from a friend's tomato patch, and she didn't label it.

Not sure what kind of maters these are; the plant was a sucker from a friend’s tomato patch, and she didn’t label it.

On the bright side, we’ve had several cucumbers, as well as snippings of basil, parsley, and kale. I’ve also harvested a few small beets from the top (with lovely greens)—and more are still growing.

The peppers have produced some sad little specimens, but then again we didn’t expect much, having planted them so late in the summer. I was excited to see peas and green beans, till I realized that the yield was going to be quite lean, barely a handful each. I guess one would need to plant almost a whole tower of legumes to get a “crop.”

Sadly the plants have just not grown very robustly. But the Tower setup isn’t to blame. My mistakes:

  • I planted immediately after filling the barrel with the soil mixture. When I watered everything in, the soil sank a couple inches. This caused the plantings in the side holes to become quite leggy as they reached for sunlight. In retrospect, I probably should have watered well first, allowed everything to settle, and then planted. That might have given them a better start.

    Leggy amaranth and kohlrabi

    Leggy amaranth and kohlrabi

  • I neglected to apply the weekly liquid fertilizer suggested by the literature that came with the barrel. Said literature was buried on my desk until recently. Oops. (After the first month this is supposed to be unnecessary as the worms do their work. But I imagine that fertilizing during those first crucial weeks would have given the plants a needed boost.)
  • I overcrowded the side pockets, planting more than one seed. I told myself I would remove all but the strongest seedling later, and I did some thinning, but not nearly enough. I just didn’t have the heart to do it. I bet they would have grown bigger with less competition.

    Overcrowded chard

    Overcrowded chard

  • I overfilled the center tube with veggie scraps at the very beginning: In my excitement over this new worm farming adventure, I filled it to the top instead of to the suggested one-third level. I don’t know if this was a factor or not. (We’ll see how it goes when we harvest worm castings!)

One point of pride: my daily hand picking of cabbage worms at the height of their infestation seems to have saved my kale plants. However, it was too late for the kohlrabi and cabbages, which have not progressed beyond seedling size. I’m told that an application of Bt and some ladybugs would eliminate these little munchers, so we’ll keep that in mind for next year.

It may have been another misstep to mix our compost into the potting soil, given how much trouble we’ve had with diseases in our tomato plants. I hated to see the tomato transplant succumb to the same yellowing and crispy leaves we’ve had the last several years in our regular beds. But: no blossom end rot; the tomatoes themselves are so far looking luscious.

We can’t do anything about the soil, short of dumping it out and starting over, and I’m not willing to do that. But the other issues are all learning points for the next growing season. With gardeners, it’s all about next year!