Our Tower Garden with extension kit and tomato cage (both sold separately)
Some of our seedlings still growing
Gourmet Lettuce seedling
Sorry it’s a bit late, but here we go.
Our Tower Garden came in rather quickly; the sales reps stated it would be 5 to 7 business days for shipping, but we got it within 3. The box for the main tower itself was over 60 pounds, and rather awkward to get through the door for a person with limited upper-body strength, but I managed. Luckily we don’t have carpeting, so I only had to shove it through the house to get it to the back porch, where my parents decided would be the best place to set the garden up.
The box is packed incredibly well; I was amazed at the amount of stuff that each had its own place. The bottom section of the tower itself was the first piece, and the bottom of the reservoir was on the bottom of the box, so you pretty much have to unpack the whole box to start setting everything up.
The instructions that come with the Tower Garden are okay, but they’re not quite detailed enough for me. You have to look really closely at the pictures to see which way things are supposed to go in some cases, especially if you get the tomato cage to go with the unit. But basically, you just attach the blue flex hose from the pump to the underside of the base of the tower itself, then use the two metal rods with wing nuts to securely stack each section on top of each other. Now the instructions say that to seat each section together, all you have to do is “press firmly on the center section.” Yeah, I suppose that’s true. If “firmly” is equivalent to putting the vast majority of my body weight into it. You want either no gaps or as small of a gap as you can possibly manage between the sections, and the sections like to rock when they’re being put together. It was a little frustrating and took me longer than I thought it would to put together, but I finally got it. The metal poles are only long enough to hold the five sections and the shower cap part together. If you order the extension kit, you’ll get a kind of extension rod that you screw onto the original rods to support the extra sections. Once you hand-tighten the wing nuts, the remaining gaps in the tower should disappear.
Filling up the reservoir is fairly easy. Drop a hose in the reservoir, then fill it up to about three inches below the drilled hole in the side. That should be more or less twenty gallons of water. If you want to painstakingly measure out twenty gallons, be my guest, but the chemistry involved in the next portion is really easy. The only direction for the water source that they give you is to not use softened water or overly hard water. Mostly keep the heavy chlorine water away. I used our family’s well water, since our city water is softened before it actually gets into our home. Once you have the reservoir filled, dump in 200mL (they give you a mL measuring cup – don’t panic) of each of the tonic solutions they send you. The bottles all say 400mL, but somewhere in the literature it will say that for a Tower Garden with all new plants, use only 200mL of each. My guess is the lower concentration is to keep the plants from burning out.
Once you’ve got the tonics in, you get to pH test the water (they also send you a pH testing kit). This is SUPER EASY. Put some of the reservoir water in the little cup, drop in some of the pH indicator, swirl until the color is evenly distributed, then use the included color chart to determine where your pH is. You want it between 5.0 and 7.0 – for all you non-chemistry people, that means either slightly acidic or neutral. Our water was way acidic – the indicator will show from pH 4.5 to 9.0, and our water was below 4.5. EASY FIX, so don’t panic. They send you pH buffers with the unit. If your pH is too low, dump in an appropriate amount of the pH(+) buffer. If it’s too high, dump in some pH(-) buffer. Keep doing that (and testing between buffer additions) until your water gets between 5.0 and 7.0. The color should be pretty close to green. I had to add quite a bit of the pH(+) buffer to get our water within the range.
Now that your tower is set up and your water is good to go, check to make sure your pump works properly. Ours has a dial adjuster to regulate the flow. You want the flow high enough that water gets up through the tower and bubbles out of the top, but low enough that the water fountain at the top does not touch the cap of the unit. If your flow is too high, you’ll leak water out of the unit. They also send you a timer for the pump, so if you don’t want to have it running 24/7, you can set it to turn off at intervals. I read somewhere online that the recommendation was 15 minutes on/15 minutes off, but I couldn’t find that anywhere. We decided to leave the unit on all the time anyway. If you’re planning on keeping the Garden inside and don’t like the sound of a fountain, you might want to think of another place to put it. The Tower Garden isn’t loud, but it’s not exactly silent, either. The unit stands at about 4 feet tall with just the base unit (no extensions), and you can hear the water falling from those 4 feet. If you don’t have any seedlings ready to go into the unit, you might as well just unplug it. There’s no sense in watering nothing. I would also recommend that you use some method to attach the weight of the reservoir to the tower itself. There are two holes drilled into the lip of the reservoir that match up with two holes in the lid. Zip-ties should work through them. If you ordered the tomato cage, don’t worry about it; you use these holes to attach the cage to the unit.
The seedlings are super easy to get going. They send you seeds with the unit: cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, gourmet lettuce, cucumber, and basil. If you want seeds other than that, you’ll have to go out and buy them (Oh no! A $1 purchase!). Soak your rockwool in water for 30 minutes before you do anything; again, use non-chlorinated water. I used our softened house water for this, and the seeds didn’t seem to care in the least. Once your rockwool is soaked, put the appropriate number of seeds in the little holes (they give you a basic guide). Then fill the holes with the included vermiculite, dribble water over them, and put the little babies in the included seeding tray. You might want form some sort of method to remember which seeds are which, as everything looks the same under the vermiculite. Keep the seeding tray filled with 1/4″ of water at all times. If you live someplace cold and there’s a chance of frost, keep your seedlings inside by a sunny window. If you’re like us and you live in Florida, where it’s warm, put them outside in an area that gets a decent amount of sun. I stuck them next to the Tower Garden. If you have them outside, you might have to keep a closer eye on the water levels.
Once your seeds germinate, you can start using the water from your Tower Garden reservoir to water them, but only use it every other day. Again, I think this is to keep from burning the seedlings out. Once your seedlings are big enough that they can peek over the edge of the net pot inserts in your Tower Garden, you can put them in, so long as you’re past all chance of frost. Make sure the rockwool is touching the bottom of the net pots by pushing down gently on the rockwool. Plug in your pump, and watch them grow.
If you want a quick seed to really see how happy the Tower Garden makes your plants, get some pea seeds. Put only one in each rockwool cube; I tried putting two in each and wound up having a few not germinate. Peas are pretty quick to sprout, and once they do they kind of go nuts. Once the peas sprouted, they went into the Tower Garden within a week, and it’s been kind of insane how quickly they’re growing. It’s not miraculously fast, but we’ve had a few particularly sunny days, and there’s been a marked growth on all of our plants in the Tower Garden from one day to the next.
The only problem that we’ve encountered so far are these tiny orange-red mite looking things that are attracted to the nutrient-rich water of the Tower Garden. I’m not sure what they are, but they aren’t attacking the seedlings growing in the net pots, so I’m not terribly concerned at this point. I’m watching them, but I’m not going to to pesticide crazy to get rid of them if they’re not damaging the plants.
Again, if you have any questions, leave a comment. I’ll answer them as best I can. Happy gardening!