Vertical Farming is the practice of raising crops in vertical stacks without needing natural soil or sunlight. This can be made within high-tech, huge, multi-story, industrial sized buildings that use either artificial or natural light to grow and raise plants and animals. Or, they can be made using low-tech, do-it-yourself devices, and placed inside of a home or yard. In addition, they can operate year-round, and be built anywhere.
Vertical gardens are often seen in permaculture designs because they follow the permaculture principles of stacking, using renewables, and making the most of available resources. People tend to start out using them when first learning about Permaculture, and grow to love them so much, because they are innovative, efficient, easy and comfortable to use, making for an affordable, beautiful, and highly-productive growing system, able to produce a variety of fruits, flowers, herbs, and vegetables using less water than traditional gardening methods. Although, most versions of vertical gardens can’t grow root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, or garlic in this system.
Vertical gardens are beneficial because the plants’ roots have constant access to nutrient-enriched water, allowing them to grow considerably faster than traditional or container gardens. Vertical farmers can grow in 15 days what takes 30 days in a field. Their ability to be grown in a tightly-packed space also permits you to grow up to ten times the number of plants per square foot of growing space.
They also conserve water by connecting the plants together into a low-waste loop so that water drips from one plant and falls straight into the next one below. Water is sent up through a vertical low-loss circuit, and waters all the plants from top to bottom without having to manually water them individually. This way, the system recycles water very efficiently, reducing waste by up to 97% in some systems. This produces healthier plants that can grow much faster because, unlike in regular soil, plants don’t have to grow large root systems to find new water and nutrients. The flavor of the plants will also be greatly improved, and crops like tomatoes, which normally ripen and are sweetest in the summer, will taste delicious even in the middle of January.
Apart from saving space, another potential advantage of vertical farming is a virtual inoculation against weather-related crop failures, meaning that farmers no longer have to pray for rain, hoping to produce stable crops, as irrigation is guaranteed. Vertical farms are also free of insects, herbicides, or pesticides, and are incredibly resistant to drought, flooding and disease. They also use 50% less fertilizer, and can grow year-round.
Vertical gardens provide additional elevation, improving convenience and accessibility by making pruning and dealing with pests much easier. Getting plants up and off the ground also improves air circulation, making for healthier plants that are less prone to mildew, fungus, and disease. It also minimizes damage due to pets or wild animals digging up gardens on the ground.
In addition, many areas that we want to use have such contaminated soil that it may not be safe to grow edible plants. With vertical gardening, you can opt for designs that use various types of containers which can be filled with prepared or purchased garden soil. These will make your garden system healthier and cleaner. This allows for the opportunity to grow nutritious food, with a greatly reduced chance of contamination.
Vertical gardens are versatile enough so that you can bring them indoors during off-seasons, making them excellent for growing in small, compact spaces all year round. They increase accessibility by making plants easier to reach, and makes fertilizing, watering, pruning and harvesting more convenient as they can be built inside the home. This makes them ideal for urban environments near human living spaces with limited horizontal space and little or no access to soil.
The Growing Need for Food Solutions In The Future
Human population growth has been an ever growing concern since the start of the modern age. With industrialism’s increasing productivity, our capability for growing food has increased exponentially. And with this increasing population has a corresponding increase in the size of urban centers, and an increasing need for food. This has created a self-perpetuating cycle of increasing population, quickly followed by an increasing need for more food, which further adds to and feeds the growing population centers.
Thus, according to these demographic trends, conservative estimates suggest that the human population will exceed 10 billion in 2050, and nearly 80% of the world’s population will live in urban centers. This means that more and more people will need to be fed, and there will be fewer and fewer people working in rural areas growing the food that feeds them. To complicate this fact, Dr. Dickson Despommier, professor of microbiology and public health at Columbia University, has said that, currently, more than 80% of the world’s land that is suitable for raising crops is already in use, and about 15% of that has been wasted by poor management practices. This will severely restrict the world’s crop growing capacity in the future, and reduce our ability to feed the growing population if there is so little available land left to grow on.
This seems to present bleak a picture of the future, and gives us real cause for concern. Luckily, for us, the present seems to be pretty comfortable, since most people in the developed world don’t typically worry about food security. But, if you look further into the details, the picture of our present isn’t much better than our future. As of now, nearly 50% of people now live in cities, and that number is only getting bigger. New York City, for example, is a huge city that has 8 million people, all of whom consume so much food that it takes a land mass the size of the state of Virginia to grow. That’s a huge amount of land needed to feed such a concentrated number of people, all packed together tightly in a single space.
Currently, feeding the 7 billion people alive today requires enough farmland equivalent in landmass to the size of all of South America, which is an astounding 6,890,000 square miles! That means that cities need some 3,440,000 square miles of land to satisfy their daily caloric needs. That kind of resource requirements in terms of land space spells for serious problems in the future, when it comes to land requirements. In order to grow enough food to sustain future generations using today’s growing practices, according to Dr. Dickson Despommier, the world will need an area of land 20% larger than the entire country of Brazil to use as growing space, in addition to the land that is already available.
To satisfy these hungry mouths, from 1950s to the present, more and more of the world’s rainforests have been destroyed to create new, arable farmland. The Brazilian rainforest, for example, is one of the areas to have been most negatively impacted by encroachment, sacrificing some 700,000 square miles of forest to feed its own growing population. This destruction of the natural environment will inevitably lead to various maladjustments and severe issues relating to a lack of and misdistribution of resources, leading to shortages in the near future.
This fact will become increasingly more important as climate change affects weather patterns and farmland. The latest report on global food insecurity by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that every food-producing country in the world had experienced some kind of environmental problem in the last that year that has affected food production. According to Despommier, In 2011, the United States lost some 110 billion dollars worth of grain crops due to a protracted drought throughout the American Midwest, including California, which is one of the biggest crop producing states in the union. This could affect virtually every U.S. citizen, with significantly higher food prices, and may even affect food availability, as well.
With little land suitable for farming — and with their focus being placed more on economic development and industrialization than on the development of sustainable living and practices — cities and developing countries have become heavily dependent on imports. As the concrete jungle spreads further, and as urban populations grow and space for farming rapidly runs out, chronic food shortages are feared. Because of this, certain forward-thinking governments (like in China and Hong Kong, for example) are looking for answers to the question of how they will feed their swelling ranks of people.
Traditional farming practices cannot feed this burgeoning population because of its dependence on using large swaths of land to grow crops, using lots of resources, while producing waste materials that actually reduce our ability to grow more food in the future. Shrinking land availability and supplies in urban areas also have prompted radical ideas for finding solutions to agriculture, meaning that we will have to find another way to grow our food. Vertical Farming could offer a way to solve this critical problem or land and resource shortages, and also save the world as the swelling global population begins to overwhelm the food supply.
As a concept, vertical farming has been around for decades, and uses many of the same techniques found in modern greenhouses. The difference in Vertical Farming is that it stacks the greenhouses on top of eachother in order to create vertical farmland that uses much less space than traditional fields. This can result in a significant increase in growing space per acre. So much so, that one indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more, depending upon the crop and the size of the building.
The reason vertical farming wasn’t adopted earlier is because it wasn’t economically viable. However, recently, new advances in technology and techniques are driving costs down, and Vertical Farming has recently been revived and developed as a way to respond to the needs of fast-growing cities. Some companies have made serious investments into Vertical Farming, and are utilizing abandoned buildings and old parking garages to create large, multi-story commercial grow houses that provide thousands square feet of growing space each.
Using these buildings, they have pioneered new, commercial farming techniques, using indoor aquaponics and aeroponic growing systems to grow plants using nutrient and mineral-rich solutions in water, often without soil. The buildings are typically outfitted with specialized growing systems that produce leafy green vegetables, and use sunlight as an energy source. Sometimes, they also capture rainwater to drive an innovative pulley system, which rotates the grow racks, ensuring an even distribution of sunlight for all the plants. It utilizes a unique growing platform system that produces micro-green salad ingredients, like baby spinach, and baby kales.
This has allowed for an incredible increase in the amount of crops that can be grown with Vertical Farming, which has spurred on a recent development in the technique to create local produce in a sustainable farming environment. In fact, these companies have gotten so efficient, that they claim they can now price match locally grown crops with ones grown in their Vertical Farms. By using a series of greenhouses stacked on top of each other and placed in urban environments, Vertical Farming could be a potential solution to the globe’s impending food shortage, providing a sustainable source of food as more people migrate into cities, and feeding tomorrow’s world with today’s emerging technologies.
Because of their incredible productive capabilities, and since many big cities have a predominant verticality and a lack of buildable space, many architects and city-planners have proposed to reinterpret this verticality to introduce vertical farming to the city’s outskirts. This would be a huge benefit to those cities, because having some Vertical urban farms within close proximity to urban areas would be ideal for a low-cost, low-mileage food distribution network that could feed the city’s population. And because of this promising outlook, these planners are predicting a shift to more vertical agriculture structures, which could be integrated into a territorial network across the country.
Growing cities (like those in China, Hong Kong, and Singapore, etc.) offer the perfect potential targets to introduce these farms into their outskirts for tests, bringing agriculture closer to the urban centers and creating a new productive landscape, which is crucial for a sustainable future. This would provide an opportunity to reduce food mileage, as well as carbon dioxide emissions, and to explore different forms of alternative agriculture.
Vertical gardens also can provide great environmental benefits. For starters, they help reduce the impact of pollution by using recycled or repurposed items. They also help to regulate the climate, temperature, and humidity of indoor spaces, and offer a great solution to many challenges presented by rapid increases in urban spaces and temperatures. Most cities worldwide lack sufficient green space, and finding ways to incorporate more greenery in cities (where minimal spare land is available), has led to a lot of discussion on the benefits of green walls, vertical gardens, and green roofs. Urban sprawl creates vast expanses of concrete and pavement, and because these materials retain more heat than the natural environments they replaced, cities are usually lacking in fresh greenery, a deficiency that contributes to hotter temperatures in city centers.
Having a layer of vegetation around a building can act as a natural, living shield that insulates buildings, and regulating temperatures by cooling and shading an area. A vertical garden creates a micro-climate that can reduce rapid heat gain and loss by 25%, and cut the wind chill factor by 75%. Replacing these stark building sides with vertical gardens could begin to cool and refresh our urban areas, making them more pleasant and comfortable for everyone. This will become increasingly important in our world with improving technology, the proliferation of urban territories, and with increasing global average temperatures placing greater strain on our ability to manage the dangers ahead of us.
Furthermore, Cities only occupy some 2-3 percent of the Earth’s landmass, but emit over 70% percent of the atmospheric carbon dioxide. Due to the pollution created by the all-pervasiveness of cars, and the presence of toxic chemicals produced by our everyday economic activity, airborne pollutants put all of us at increased risk of respiratory problems, disease, and cancer. Houses have also been found to have consistently worse air quality compared to the outdoors, even with all the external pollution. Compounded on this fact is that most people from Western countries tend to spend about 90% of their time indoors, whether in their homes, workplaces, cars, or entertainment spaces. Poor indoor air quality costs tens of billions of dollars in reduced economic activity each year. Indoor plants help to improve air quality by consuming carbon dioxide and removing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Research has revealed that plants improve both indoor and outdoor air quality by removing harmful VOCs, and by absorbing pollutants. Having plants indoors can help improve the health, well-being, and productivity of a building’s inhabitants.
Having plants indoors also offers emotional and therapeutic benefits to people, creating a serene environment to help humans connect to plants by tapping into the part of our brain that’s been evolutionarily hardwired for seeking out productive and fertile landscapes. This makes us feel more calm and happy because we feel like we’re in a natural, healthy landscape, surrounded by plants in abundance. The brain naturally produces stress hormones when it perceives the environment to be unsustainable or unlivable, so having plants in the immediate vicinity of people should reduce those stress hormones, and provide the same stress relievers and psychological benefits that a vacation to the beach or a country retreat provides, thereby increasing human well-being and performance. This could even be useful in the business environment, as strategically using indoor plants can reduce absenteeism and “presenteeism,” which is when the worker is physically present but mentally absent. Indoor plants can create a more physically comforting workplace, while also cleaning the air and adding oxygen, which provides a narcotic effect. This, in turn, can increase productivity, memory function, and attention span. This gives it added commercial applicability, attracting customers, and setting employees at ease.
Hanging vertical gardens can provide several special amenities, simultaneously improving the beauty of your garden, enhancing its visual character, and adding function, variety, structure and color. They are great for many other uses as well, such as: to create an entrance, backdrop, or a framework for a larger structure; to define boundaries and edges; to blur boundaries along fence lines; to cover up an unattractive wall or disguising unwanted views; to create a privacy screen; to provide a sense of enclosure or seclusion; to reduce background noise; to enhance outdoor areas; to refresh living spaces; and for increasing aesthetic appeal with creatively designed systems that grow up along tall structures instead of across the ground.
Making a vertical garden in an outdoor room visible from the inside encourages indoor-outdoor flow, and creates a functional garden space while not compromising on the entertainment area. With this, you can bring the outside in, turning a bland indoor space into a verdant, indoor sanctuary with a lush green wall. This creates an inviting garden feature that beckons people to the outdoors. Some vertical structures like arbors, arches, pergolas and gazebos help create the ambience of an outdoor garden ‘room’ and can focus the eye on the mystery beyond. They also give a sense of height and depth to an otherwise small space, provide an appealing vertical structure to add color and character, and can be used to create a micro-climate by extending growing spaces up to a higher elevation. A tall arbor at an entrance, or on a pathway, can pleasingly frame a space, and invite viewers further into the garden. You can even grow plants vertically in compact spaces, like windowsills, balconies, front entrances, or hanging in aerial spaces. Try having a mixture of potted plants, with some plants in large planters and some in vertical systems, to create layers of lush greenery in your own urban yard.
Whatever components you use, you will need a well-planned support system. Find what works for you to achieve the most productive gardening system. Fortunately, there are a variety of creative options to choose from, including walls, fences, wire cages, trellises, tripods, pyramids, and pallets, or combinations of any of these. Many different techniques can be employed, using a variety of different materials. You could build a trellis, which is useful for growing climbing plants like beans, squashes, vines, and cucumbers. Or, use the edges of two raised wooden beds and connect them with a tall arch made from wire, using the space between them as a covered walkway. You can also use wood and bamboo to build a trellis above the beds, or they can run up the side of a wall. The cooler spot under the support of these structures could suit shade-loving plants well, and sun worshippers will thrive by climbing up and over them. Other possible alternatives could be made in the shape of a tepee, trellis, pergola, arbor, an arch, or even an A-frame.
You can even use recycled or repurposed items in your designs, like empty bottles, crates, wood pallets, step ladders, baskets, window boxes, or repurposed chairs. Use pallets or recycled wood to erect a tall wood-wall, built as a singular vertical structure, or with two of them connected at a corner. Plastic crates could be used by filling them with fabric and a support media, with the plants growing through the front of the crates. Repurposed geotextile blankets, fastened to the wall with soil-filled pockets, could also be used to hold plants. Use trellises and archways to stack upon raised beds to grow climbing veggies, chaining bottles together, or even combining rain gutters to make a system in which plants share water and nutrients. You can also get creative with containers, using anything from traditional pots to used plastic beverage bottles. Use wooden planks or crates to erect a series of baskets made from wood planks by arranging them in rows, interspersed along a fence, and plant from the top down. Remember, you don’t need a complicated draining system for your vertical garden, as you could build one from a wooden pallet or even a shoe organizer.
Vertical food gardens are ultimately about growing food, and utilizing an otherwise unused vertical space to stack a lot of functions into one simple system. They provide food while increasing biodiversity, and provide more spots for ever-important pollinators, like bees and other insects, to come and do their work. But while they are effective at this, they are also useful for other reasons. They can create a front-yard area that would provide a natural or decorative space for a home or business. They can stand in for an art display that gets guests talking; adding life to urban exteriors; and making a popular feature for visitors. They provide beauty in a city’s hard landscapes and increase urban green space, which have positive effects on the mental wellbeing and happiness of residents. In addition, they aid in the reduction of pollution and the urban heat island effect, helping keep our cities cooler. Vertical gardens are thus the perfect way to cultivate a peaceful green space, making them good for the environment, good for the individual, and beautiful to behold.
- Bok Choi
- Pole beans
How to Build It
Before getting started, you need to choose a spot that receives a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight each day. Design your garden strategically so the higher plants do not cast shadows that will block sunlight from reaching the lower ones. Be mindful of the amount of water required by your plants, as well as their exposure to wind and sun, as those will cause them to dry out faster than plants growing directly in the soil.
One of the biggest challenges facing vertical gardening is how much and how often you need to water the plants. Proper watering and irrigation are necessary to keep the plants alive and aesthetically pleasing. Too much and the plants will suffocate and invite bacterial growth, causing “root rot”. Too little and the plants will dehydrate and die. You will probably need to experiment on your own to discover how much water is necessary for the particular plants in your system. When you create your vertical garden, think about the way the water will drain, and which plants will thrive at the top versus the bottom. Water in your vertical garden will drain downwards, so place plants that can handle lots of water at the bottom. Plants that don’t need as much water, or are okay with just rainwater (or that need more light), can go on the top. A little planning will result in a longer lasting, healthier green space.
- Hanging Plastic Bottle Tower
The hanging bottle garden is a soil-free vertical crop system, delivering water and nutrients directly to the plants’ roots to improve crop yields and growth rates. They require no digging, can grow a high yield utilizing minimal floor space, and you can use liquid fertilizers or worm tea (i.e. water steeped with nutrient-rich worm castings) to help fertilize the plants. You can have a small system, growing just a few plants or more, or it can be expanded to a large-scale, commercial-size growing operation, allowing for infinite scalability.
The hanging bottle garden utilizes the methods of stacking and resource sharing to grow a wide variety of plants in a small space, allowing you to grow all of your herbs and lettuces easily. This garden optimizes planting space by stacking plants on top of one another in a vertical orientation, creating a column of crops that increases production, conserves water and energy, and makes maximum use of all available growing areas. This allows you to place the garden in a window, utilizing more light. All you need is a small vertical area around a balcony, a porch, or an open window in a sunny spot which can store a vertical array of drink bottles.
This system can be built using entirely (or mostly) recycled materials, making it free or cheap to build. This is not to mention it makes for a useful and productive use of garbage that would otherwise be clogging up common drain ways, chocking local wildlife, polluting the environment, and overloading the ecosystem. When finished, it will also be lightweight, waterproof, and it will look great. One item that can easily be repurposed for vertical hydroponic systems is a 2-liter plastic soft drink bottle, although milk jugs and other types of small, medium, or large sized food-grade plastic bottles can be used, too. The bottles will last multiple years, and can be used to setup a greenhouse to make a hot, humid growing space. A simple window farm system consists of a column of upside down water bottles, about 1- to 2-liters in size, all connected to one another and supported by a hanging system. Each bottle has a hole cut out in the side and is filled with a solid support medium (like potting mix, vermiculite, or clay pellets) in which the plants grow.
This system can easily be combined with a pump to facilitate automatic drip-irrigation. Different techniques for setting up your pump can be used. Try using the more efficient Multiple Air Lift (MAL) technique. In most designs, a timer engages the pump to produce an air bubble in nutrient-rich water. This air bubble pushes the water up from the reservoir, and circulates it through some plastic tubing to the top of the assembly. The liquid rises up inside the tube, spurts out at the top, and trickles through the bottles, watering each plant, until it gets to the bottom and is captured in the reservoir for recirculation. This reservoir could be connected to a rain water collection-barrel, which can also be connected directly to your rain gutters, making for an eco-friendly and cost-saving solution to meet your increasing water needs. Window farms may create an unpleasant gurgling sound. To ameliorate this, drill a few holes into the bottom of a vitamin or pill bottle and stick it over the end of the tubing at the top of the system to silence the sound.
- Clear plastic bottles (1.5 liters) with caps
- Clay pellets, vermiculite, etc.
- Plastic tubing
- Sharp scissors or a knife
- Power drill
- A fish tank, barrel, or other water-holding container
- Air pump
- Various hydroponic supplies that may be specialized according to your needs
- Air valve needles (used to blow up basketballs), or drip catheters
- Art display hanging system
It’s helpful to first fill the bottles with water, freeze them overnight, and then use a saw or drill when cutting, as this prevents them from crumbling. Stack the bottles upright when freezing so that no air bubbles will be left on the sides or bottom of the bottles, as these could interfere with the drill or saw when cutting.
This system uses three different kinds of modified bottles, stacked on top of each other. In each column, there is one feeder bottle at the top, connected to several planter bottles in the middle, with one reservoir bottle or jug at the bottom. First, drill a hole into the bottom section on the side of each planter bottle, using a wide, circular holesaw, holding it carefully so as to not let it slip. The size of the hole drilled in the side should be sized appropriately to fit the size of your bottles, but could be as wide as 2/3 to ¾ the diameter of the bottles.
For the planter bottles, which are stacked below the top feeder, drill a smaller hole (a bit smaller than the width of a bottle cap) into the bottom using a flat drill bit about 1-inch wide. When finished drilling, allow the bottles to thaw and dry. Then cover the bottom half of each bottle with tape, a piece of paper, or plastic wrap, and paint the top half (including the spout) with a black or dark-colored spray paint. This will shield the roots from the sun and prevent algae growth.
To assemble the tower, apply a bead of silicone around the edge of the spout where the threads are. Then poke the funnel of that bottle into the small hole on the bottom of another bottle, twisting the threads until they snap together.
Line up the holes on the sides of the bottles where the plants grow, and stick a small sponge into the neck of each bottle, resting on top of the cap. This will slow the rate of water flow to allow the plant to absorb more of it, and also prevent the roots from growing out of the bottle. Then, drill some small drainage holes into the flat side of the bottle cap and screw them onto the bottles after assembly.
Next, take one bottle (to be used as the top feeder), and drill a hole directly into the bottom, creating a wide, circular opening at its base. With large bottles, cut off about 2 cm from the bottom, instead. Take the bottle that will be used as the top feeder, and cut four small holes around the bottom where the large hole has been drilled out. Tie some bits of string through them, and weave them through a ring at the top to create a hanging sling that will hold the whole column vertically in place. Use a lighter to melt the ends of the rope to smooth them off.
When attaching the bottom reservoir bottle, take two caps and attach them together by their flat sides. Apply the roofing silicate to their surfaces, press them together, and clamp them down with a vice. When dry, drill a small hole into the center of the two caps and put a stainless steel nut bolt through the hole to hold them together. Then, with a small drill bit, drill a series of additional holes around the center for drainage. Finally, screw these caps on the bottom planter bottle that will attach to the reservoir (a regular, unmodified bottle), which will collect the drippings. The only change to the reservoir bottle being a small hole drilled into the side of the neck. Just drill a small hole into the side of the reservoir’s neck, under where the cap screws on, to allow for air to escape as the bottle fills up.
Before planting, set up the apparatus to hang vertically, and secure the bottles to the wall or structure where you want it located. If you want, you can build a frame using wood, metal, or PVC pipe. You can make a series of slings, pockets, or pouches made from old cloth, rope, string, or even recycled plastic bags. They can also be secured with cable ties to a mesh or netting, or by tying them to a length of string or a secure, thin pole. You can build up the vertical tower as high as you want, but having up to four or five planter bottles (or more, according to your preference) is usually ideal, based on the size of the bottles and your available vertical space.
After hanging and securing the columns, then fill the planter bottles with vermiculite, potting soil, or compost, packing it in lightly so that the medium remains loose and aerated. Before getting ready to plant, add water for a couple of days to flush out and clean the growing medium. Take a bottle and fill it with compost up to the black painted line. To plant, put a few seeds or seedlings in each planter.
After filling the planters and adding the plants, begin watering with nutrient-rich water from the top. When the top container is full enough, water will soak down through each layer, draining down to each plants, and falling into a reservoir bottle at the bottom. After watering, you can reuse this water and start the process once again. The contents of the water you use will affect the taste of your plants, so try to change its composition to reach the desired flavor, if needed.
2. Salad Tower
A salad tower is a great way to grow healthy food, as well as helping empower people towards maintaining their own food security. The advantages of the Salad Tower are that it conserves water (because it is enclosed on all sides, vastly reducing evaporation), and it allows for easy recycling of nutrient-rich kitchen scraps, as well as to provide a way to re-use greywater. Additionally, any excess water will fall into the container set up underneath, resting on a frame, and can be poured back on top of the tower with ease.
The Salad Tower is affordable to purchase and, when completed, is free and easy to use. It’s also sturdy, well-crafted, convenient, and will last a long time. It can also grow a lot of food much faster than a traditional garden, and requires no digging or weeding. Plant growth in the Salad Tower is estimated to be up to 30% faster than normal growing systems. In addition, it can be combined with a worm farm, using vermicomposting to break down kitchen scraps, creating its own organic fertilizer so that water and nutrients are constantly available to the plants. No garden plot is needed, as it uses floor space efficiently, making it the perfect solution for apartment residents, condo owners, and home tenants whose garden space is limited to a deck, patio, or balcony. It is also great for growing in dry or desert climates, and they can also be easily covered with floating row covers or tarps during excessively cold weather, allowing you to harvest in the winter.
There are two possible designs of the Salad Tower: a larger version and a smaller version.
For this design, you need a 50-gallon food-grade plastic barrel. First, mark the outside of the barrel where you want to cut openings for inserting seeds or starter plants once it’s set on the frame. The majority of openings for plants should be at or above waist level. Use a drill or jigsaw to make openings around the sides of the barrel, each with a shelf to keep soil from spilling out. If necessary, use a blow torch to heat and soften the plastic around the holes you cut, and insert a short PVC pipe section into the openings to bend them out, making a wide indentation in the sides that provides an outlet to grow the plants. Typically, a barrel this size can have up to forty-five holes, holding an equal number of plants around the sides, with an additional five plants on top, for a total of fifty plants. In this system, you will be able to water all of these plants with only about 5-gallons of water per day.
To create the worm farm, take a plastic tube, about 4- to 6-inches wide, and cut it to a length slightly taller than the height of the barrel. Then, drill holes along the sides of the tube, about 1-inch wide, from top to bottom. Next, cut some drain holes in a tight circle on the bottom of the barrel, and cover it with a synthetic sheet, like a weed mat, to create a drain while keeping the soil from falling out.
This way, the worm castings will automatically drop down into an open reservoir, being collected as they’re created. Put a container underneath the tower to act as this reservoir, which will capture all of the nutrient-dense water that drains out. To securely cover the worm farm, simply add a plastic cap at the top, along with a removable plug at the bottom of the base holding the Tower and the reservoir. This will allow you to empty the contents of the tube and collect the fertilizer at will. You could also set up a PVC drain at the bottom, with a tap attached to it, to use to collect the worm tea.
After collection, simply pour it back on the top of the tower at the next watering. The water will trickle down to wet all growing zones, and the excess water will drain through the bottom drainage holes. The vermicompost tube allows the water poured on top to seep through the holes in the sides, pulling nutrients from both the compost and worm castings into the soil. No additional purchases of fertilizer are required because the nutrients from the compost will be recycled by the worms and enrich the soil over time.
Lastly, fill the barrel with bagged potting soil from a store, and add legs to the base for support. However, do not fill the central tube with soil, as this needs to remain mostly empty to fit the compost. Consider filling the bottom few centimeters of the barrel and compost tube with gravel before adding the soil for better drainage. Then, add a cup of worms to the soil, and put in the plants. Water each plant individually until their roots have established, after which you can water exclusively from the top.
- A large plant pot
- A wide plastic tube, around 25 cm wide
- A narrower plastic tube, around 4 cm wide
First, drill some planting holes in the biggest tube, cut in circles around 5 cm wide. Size the holes to accommodate the plants’ roots so that they’re big enough for the plants to grow through, but not so big that they fall out. Once the roots take hold, they will become more stable. Then, drill some small holes, a few mm wide, in the thin tube to act as a watering device.
Take a large plant pot, and fill the bottom few centimeters with gravel, and fill the rest of the pot with compost. Put the large tube in the pot, and place the small tube inside the large tube, and fill the layer between them with compost. Do not fill or cover the small tube, as this is used for watering, and should stick out of the top by a few inches. You can now plant through the large holes, directly in the compost. To water, simply pour or spray water into the small tube.
- Vertical Hydroponic Tower Garden
This design uses regular home guttering, or a series of long and wide PVC pipes, to create several rows of planters that work great for herbs, lettuces, strawberries, flowers, and many other plants. The trough of the gutter, or the inside of the pipe, contains soil or hanging pots filled with an aquaponics growing medium, inside of which the plants are grown. Large-sized holes may be drilled into the sides the whole way along the length of it to hold the plants. This unit can hold as many as one-hundred or more plants, each one sitting in a net pot or trough, providing for a large yield using minimal space.
The benefits of this system are similar to the Vertical Bottle Tower, in that it saves space, water, and resources by keeping all the moisture and nutrients in a closed, circulating loop. Also similar to the Bottle Tower, no soil needs to be involved, meaning you may never have to till or re-fertilize the soil, and it is immune to gophers since it is high off the ground. It could also be used in an Aquaponics system. Shortfalls of this system, however, include difficulty getting water into the growing medium, and only a small space being available for the roots. It is also susceptible to squirrels and ants, which can climb up the framing to get to the plants.
The whole unit is 10-feet wide, and 9-feet high. The frame is constructed from 4x4s, 10-feet long, and sunk into the ground by 1-foot. To hold the plants, use some 10-foot long sections of PVC pipe or gutters, about 4-inches wide, and attach them to the frame in a stacked series. If using PVC pipes, start by drilling several holes in each PVC segment with a 3-inch wide hole saw. Space out the holes for the plants by about 5- to 7-inches, depending on your plants. Inside each of these holes will be placed a net cup filled with vermiculite or another aquaponics growing medium, like expanded clay pebbles, which holds the plants and absorbs the water. Instead of net cups, you could use regular plastic drinking cups, with several holes drilled into the bottom to allow the water to wick up. If using rain gutters, then you would not use the net cups, but you would fill the whole gutter with the growing medium.
Next, take the gutter troughs or drilled PVC tubes, and attach them to a wall, or a wooden frame, so they run down and to the side, horizontally, but they are stacked on top of each other, vertically. Each gutter or pipe should sit above or below another one, connected to the one above or below it via a gravity-fed drip system, or via some PVC corners or joiners attached to their ends. Slope them downwards a little bit so that water will drain downwards via gravity. This way, as the water flows down from the top row of planters, the water will naturally flow out and into the ones below it, facilitating automatic watering. The last gutter or PVC section should drain back into the reservoir via a series of elbow connectors, or by dropping down directly into it.
The reservoir consists of a 40-gallon tank or container at the bottom, filled with nutrient-filled water. Fertilizers can be used by dissolving plant food in the water. Simply use a concentrated solution of liquid fertilizer or a plant-food packet (the kind you get when you buy flowers), and pour it directly in the reservoir. Also consider adding Rockdust to supply more minerals to the plants. This will make them more colorful and vibrant, and also give them a higher brix level, which will improve their taste and increase their vitamin content.
Inside the reservoir is placed a submersible pump, which pushes the water up a 3/8- or ½-inch black irrigation tube, zip-tied to the frame or a steady pole. This tubing goes all the way to the very top, turns a corner, and trickles down the runway, following down the length of the whole gutter or PVC system. The water trickles down automatically, providing water and plant food to the roots of every plant down the line. Use about 20- to 30-feet of tubing, or more, depending on the size of your system.
Consider attaching an air stone to the pump in the reservoir, which will oxygenate the water and help promote the growth of beneficial aerobic bacteria. This will, in turn, prevent the growth of anaerobic bacteria, which are harmful to the health of the plants, and can cause nasty smells. Alternatively, have the water fall into the reservoir from a height of about 1- or 2-feet, using gravity to aerate it.
- Pallet Wall
- Old shipping pallet (non-chemically treated; use a heat-treated or untreated pallet)
- A roll of landscape fabric
- A staple gun and staples
- 2 bags of compost
- Flowers, herbs, plants
First, cover the bottom, back, and sides of the pallet with fabric to prevent the soil and plants from falling out. Use double layers of fabric to make it thicker and stronger. The only sides that should remain uncovered are the top and the front, in the spaces where the slates are, as this is where the plants go. Next, hold the fabric taut, and staple the fabric around the edges along the top, the sides, and the bottom. Check it to make sure that it is secure and no soil will fall out. When you’re ready to add the soil and plants, choose a spot to move the pallet, lay it flat where you want to plant, and fill it there, lightly packing the soil inside the pockets of the fabric.
Plant the seedlings in a row, arranging them in a tight space, and stuff the spaces around them with compost. Start by planting the top layer of the pallet first, and then continue with the lower rows. After planting, leave the pallet flat for a couple weeks, and water regularly until the roots have established. This will ensure the plants stay in place when you move the pallet. When you’re ready to move it, grab hold of the top end of the pallet, and tip it over, standing it upright. Then, carefully drag it into position and leave it there to grow.
- Salad Pyramid
The Salad Pyramid or Plant Pyramid is a free-standing vertical garden design, making a plant box that is beautiful, functional, easy to build, and can be placed in just about any location to increase your growing area. This is a simple design using wooden boards to create a vertical frame that holds the plants in soil-filled rows on different levels. It allows you to create a complete kitchen garden that doesn’t take up too much space, and provides optimal growth conditions for your plants on about 1 meter square of garden space.
It is ideal for use on patios, rooftops, decks, in backyards, or even in windows, making it very practical for urban or city gardening. The vertically-orientated growing area increases the available planting space, increasing planting spaces by a factor of three to five. With this design, a 4.2 square foot area can be turned into 15 square feet of planting space, or 6.5 square feet into 36 square feet. Its design also allows the plants’ root systems to take advantage of a larger soil volume to ensure maximum growth, and it can fit many plants, taking advantage of a small area with limited garden space. Large versions of the plant pyramid may take up an area of about 1.2 square meters, and have space for up to 90 plants with 20 cm between each one. Since this garden is vertical, it makes it easier to plant and harvest without requiring much bending, sitting, and standing, as the compact, upright construction ensures that all plants are within reach when gardening.
Create a design, basing it either off a pyramid or a regular wood wall, with in-built planter rows, and build a frame according to the design below, or another of your choosing. When making this wood planter, be sure to use high-quality cedar woods, like Western Red Cedar, Redwood, or another wood that weathers well for the bender boards and 2x4s to ensure your planter is durable and will last a long time. Do not use a treated wood as it will be in direct contact with the plants and soil.
- 2x 18-foot long, 4-inch wide, ½-inch thick bender boards
- 1x 2×4, 6-feet long
For this design, only one 18-foot piece of bender board is necessary, but you are likely to make some mistakes, so it is useful to have a spare on hand when you need it. When cutting, be sure that you do everything correctly, or else it won’t fit together. Use a thicker bender board (like ½-inches) to make a heavier, sturdier, albeit more expensive unit, or use a thinner one (like ¼-inches) to make one that’s cheaper and more lightweight. If you change the thickness of the bender boards, the only thing that you will need to change in the design is the width of the dado cuts.
Make sure the bender boards are free of knots, each one has at least one good edge, and there are no cracks down the full length of them. However, because the bender boards will be split in two, only one side of it needs to be free of cracks, or have no cracks that extend up into the 2 ¾-inch wide piece that you will use.
Use the 2x4s to make the rails or feet. First, take the 2x4s and rip them to 2 3/8-inches wide, so you no longer have a 2×4 but a 2×2 3/8. To make a rip, or a rip-cut, use a table saw to sever or divide the wood parallel to the grain, or perpendicular to the center of the log. Next, cut two pieces of the 2×2 3/8s to 26-inches long for the rails. Cut a 60-degree miter on each end, making the lower edge 23 ¼-inches long. Optionally, make a slight radius in the center to create a stand for the feet. Use a band saw to cut a shallow indentation, about 12-inches long, on the bottom side of the rails and sand it off. Next,
Then, take your bender board pieces, and rip them all to 2 ¾-inches wide. Check the thickness of the bender board along its full length. The thickest part will become the starting point for calculating the width of the slots (dimension Y Drawing A). These are used for the base, and to create the various sides and lengths of the planter. Use a miter or table saw to cut the bender board into 18 individual pieces, using the following lengths. The bender boards should be easy to cut after ripping them. The result should be 9 pairs that face each other in the finished project. There are 5 pieces for each end, and 4 pieces for each side. The way to tell the difference between “ends” and “sides” is that the bottom edge of the end fits into the rail.
The maximum lengths shown below are dimension X on drawing A)
- 2x – 11 3/8” – For Tops of End pieces
- 2x – 13 1/2” – For Tops of Side pieces
- 2x – 15 3/8” – For End pieces
- 2x – 17 1/2” – For Side pieces
- 2x – 19 3/8” – For End pieces
- 2x – 21 1/2” – For Side pieces
- 2x – 23 3/8” – For End pieces
- 2x – 24 3/8” – For Bottom End pieces
- 2x – 25 1/2” – For Bottom Side pieces
A note about Drawing A—This covers the middle pairs. The top and bottom are slightly different. The top has no slot and is slightly smaller (Drawing B). The bottom is like all the others except it has no offset corner because it fits into the rails on the base. Do not notch out that piece. The bottom is also the only one in which the dado cuts are on the long edge of the piece. All others have the dado slots in the short edge as shown in Drawing A.
At each end of the two Bottom End pieces, cut a miter at 60° with the long point facing up. For the remaining pieces for both Sides and Ends, cut a 60° miter with the long point facing down. The long point faces down on all but the very bottom ends which go into the slots on the rails, these have the long point (with the dado slot in it) facing up. This will give you the finished blanks from the bender boards (meaning pieces of wood with no extra notches or extra cuts made in them).
After cutting the 18 pieces into blanks you then want to cut notches into each end, so that the ends have an angle that ends in a slight point. Then, you want to cut a compound miter dado, which is a groove cut in the face of a board, into which the edge of another board is fixed. Remember that the dado cuts for the rails were straight cuts, while these are compound miters.
To cut the compound miter dados, line two blank pieces up together, and number them 1-4 to keep track of them. Use these to align your cuts so that you make an angled cut on each side of the boards so that when you put two together, the cuts make a chevron shape, which points towards the outward side on each end. When making your cuts, you’ll need a table saw that has the ability to change the angle of the saw to less than 90 degrees, so that it is angled slightly downward. Odd numbered cuts will have the board angled toward the saw one way, while even numbered cuts will have the board angled the other way. This will create opposing cuts that make a chevron shape when the boards are placed side-by-side.
To make the first cut, set the miter in the right direction. For the Base: Set the dado blade height according to Drawing A. Run a piece of scrap through to check height. Test your fit of the bender board in the slot and adjust if necessary. For the rails, two 26 in. lengths of 2 (nominal) x 2 3/8, run the dado on a straight cut (no miter) with the saw tilt at 32-degrees, 2 in. from each end, as shown in Drawing B. For the sides, set the dado head on your table saw to the thickness (of the bender board) that allows some tolerance between the bender board and the slot that the dado cuts. You want the fit to be barely snug.
When cutting the nine pairs for the sides, you need a compound miter (blade tilt 32-degrees, miter fence set at 75-degrees). The sides will only work one way, and it is very easy to make a mistake. The only safe way is to lay them out together (matching each length from opposing sides), match them up, and number each end 1 through 4 to make a pattern – See Drawing C.
Because redwood is soft and open grain, the dado head of the saw tends to chop out a piece of the board from the back. To prevent this, put a sacrificial piece of scrap behind each cut to prevent the dado head from damaging the back of each cut as it exits. To prevent your wood from getting damage, put another piece of waste wood behind the board as you’re cutting so that that extra piece of wood will be sacrificed, allowing you to have a cleanly cut piece of board for the planter.
Also, lay a piece of colored tape down on the table, behind the saw, parallel with the blade. The left edge of this tape will allow you to guide the miter point straight into the saw, so that the miter point is directly against that left edge. An important point to know is that you will only have two pieces of boards, or a single pair, that have your dado cuts with the long end of your miters against the saw table. All of the rest will have the dado cuts in the short end.
When ready to cut, put the board on the table, set it up with the sacrificial piece of wood behind it, line it up with the tape, start the saw, and slowly guide the board straight through. Carefully cut each compound dado on each end, checking each time to make sure they work. The slant of each side is such that the inside face should be tilted up, and the dado outside face of the slots must face outward. Drawing C shows a pair with the two cuts such that a double arrow (appearing like a chevron) to the outside is the final look from the top edge. Your miter setting of 75-degrees must be constantly changed from inside to outside. The temptation to make multiple cuts at once should be resisted unless you do a lot of geometry to satisfy yourself that you will have a consistent 1 5/8 in. from the outside of the slot to the outside corner of each side.
Then, to cut the next notches, use a band saw. The cuts you make should be the same distance from the long point on all of the boards, meaning you could cut several boards at once, although two at once is ideal for better control. Lay down a piece of tape to tell you when to stop on your inbound cut. Set up a fence to guide the board straight into the saw, which will determine that amount of wood on the board that you keep. First, make one cut running parallel with the long end of the board, then flip it and cut perpendicular to the first cut to remove a chunk out of the corner.
Before assembly, cut a recess notch in the bottom of each end of the pieces in each end and each side except the bottom end pieces that fit into the rails. The 2 bottom 24 3/8 in. end pieces do not need a recess. This is the end (long point) of each piece, as shown in Drawing A. Next, make some straight slots in the rail. Make sure that all the slots you cut are the same size and shape.
To assemble the base, put a carpenter’s square down flat on the bench, and put one rail in the corner of the carpenter’s square. Make sure the short end of the miter is in the corner, against the carpenter’s the square. Then, put another rail on the bench, parallel with the other one and 17 3/8 in. to the side, and use the carpenter’s square to ensure it’s straight again. Once you have it orientated, lay down a bead of waterproof glue on the rails. Then, take a piece of the bender board, already ripped and cut, and lay it on the rails so that you can just barely see the notches under and to the side of the board. Do the same thing on the other end with a second board to make a nice square shape with the boards connecting the two rails to make a base. Carefully square up the base using a carpenter’s square, and test the fit with a few other bender boards between those two. Use about 5 bender boards in the middle, with a total of 7 pieces on top of the rails, forming the base. Once that’s done, remove the boards in the middle, hold down the bender boards, and use a nail gun to secure them to the rails with one nail in each end. Evenly space the 7 – 17 3/8 pieces of bender board on these two 2 x 2 3/8 pieces (the rails) which will be standing on the thinnest side, with the feet down and the slots up. The 7 pieces must fit between the slots.
After securing the board to the rails, use the carpenter’s square to make sure the boards are still straight at all four corners, and then add a second nail to the sides to better secure the boards. Now that you know it’s square and secure, set the remaining 17 3/8-inch bender board pieces in the middle (about 5), leaving a little space between each one for drainage. Then, add a second nail to each end of the outside boards to lock it square. If you plan to use an automated drip system to water it, drill a ½ inch hold in the middle of the center board to accommodate the drip line from below.
To assemble the final product, lay out all the pieces on a flat surface, with the finished base in the center, and the five ends and four sides radiating out from the center in the same order they’re going to be assembled. Be sure to place the two end pieces that have the slots cut into the long sides next to the base, and start by putting these two pieces in first. Make sure all the compound miter cuts have the faces showing out, so that the cuts splay out and away from the center. If these are incorrectly cut, then the pieces will not fit together correctly, and you may have to redo some of the pieces. The center two 24 3/8-inch pieces should be between the notches in the rails of the base. Put the two 25 ½-inch side pieces in the center, and put them into the notches of the last set of pieces.
Go around the sides, adding each piece, alternating each end and side pieces until finished. Achieve a good tight fit by slightly bending and twisting the adjacent pieces as they are inserted into the slots, and use a mallet to gently hammer them in. The pieces should be self-tightening as you build it, and if you’ve made all your measurements carefully, then they should slip right in. This will make for a strong and sturdy planter. Be careful not to accidentally break off one of the tabs or corner pieces with the mallet, as if you do, then you will have to start over with that piece of wood.
When it is finally constructed, then fill the rows with soil and plant directly through the sides. Point one corner of your Plant Pyramid north to will ensure all sides get sun. If you have a three-sided pyramid, point one of the corners of the pyramid towards the north to ensure that all of the plants get an adequate amount of sunlight. If you have a four-sided pyramid, then put the plants that require the least sunlight in the northern-most end of the planter.