Bugs, and a New Cycle… Not

Hello again, everyone! I’m getting bad at this whole check-the-blog-weekly thing, mostly because my brother’s closing date approaches, and we’ve had to do some preemptive work on his house to get his mortgage bank to stop being poop-faces. But that’s an entirely different issue!

Just after my last post, I got some more spinach/lettuce started in rockwool. Only three of them (of the 12 I seeded) germinated as of today. I was all excited when those did germinate, as I was anticipating another large lettuce yield in a few weeks. Not. Almost as soon as I put them in the TG, the lettuces got all wilted and died. Not from lack of water; I performed surgery on entrenched root masses to make sure the seedlings would get plenty of water (which was less than fun, let me tell you). I think it was due to massive heat – we’ve hit the 100s here a couple of times that I know of, and Florida humidity is almost always fairly oppressive. I’m still holding out hope that the other seeds will germinate, but at this point, I’m not expecting it.

On the other hand, our tomatoes are freaking out. The cherry tomatoes are looking more cherry sized, and they’re delicious. We’ve had one beefsteak tomato ripen, but it’s pretty pathetic in size. I’m pretty sure that’s due to me constantly ripping the roots out of the reservoir. It was still tasty, though!

My dad took over ripping the roots out of the reservoir one week, and went a little overboard, so our pea plant is looking pretty sad. It stopped producing, and one of the major stalks died. We’ve also had issues with wind damage (thank you TS Andrea). A few of the tomato stalks have kinked over, as did some of the pea stalks and one of the marigold plants. My mom is pushing for basically a reset; rip out everything but the tomatoes, and start over. Based on how the lettuces did, I’m not entirely sure that’s a good idea.

As for the bugs, they are definitely caterpillars of some kind. They’re mostly attacking the cucumber leaves and the un-ripe tomatoes. I’m going to find some organic caterpillar killer (it rhymes!) and douse the little suckers. I’ll let you know how that works.

Until next time, ladies and gentlemen! Which might be a while… My brother closes on his house next week, and we’ve got a lot of work to put into it before it’s habitable by our standards… But anyway. Until then, happy gardening!

So Much Water!

It’s been almost three (!) weeks since last time I posted… Sorry! My mom and I found this awesome flooring warehouse that we’ve kind of been going nuts with for my brother’s house, so everything else has fallen by the wayside a bit. On to the gardening!

I got an email from our local distributor a couple of days ago that basically informed us that, during the summer, it is acceptable to use half-strength tonic concentrations. This means that instead of 400mL of each tonic per 20 gallons, use 200mL of each. This is a totally good thing, because the TG has been absolutely inhaling water like a freaking elephant. Rough estimate? The TG is sucking up 60-80 gallons a week. We basically have had to refill the reservoir every two days or so, after letting it get down to the top of the pump every time.

However, we’re seeing even more massive amounts of growth!

South Side 6/3/13

South Side 6/3/13

North Side 6/3/13

North Side 6/3/13

We’re going to have more tomatoes than we know what to do with. It seems every time I lift a leaf to check on a plant, there’s either buds or baby tomatoes growing nearby. The tomatoes have almost entirely taken up the West side of the TG – all of the lettuces there got choked out from lack of sun. We’re seriously considering not having tomatoes in the TG next year, just because they’ve completely taken over. We do have one bunch of tomatoes that is beginning to ripen (finally).

Ripening tomatoes (Cherry) 6/3/13

Ripening tomatoes (Cherry) 6/3/13

These are supposedly the cherry tomatoes. My dad is entirely skeptical, because if these are actually cherry tomatoes, they’re HUGE. The circumference of the biggest one I could get to (the one on the right in the above picture) is about 6 inches.

There has been another Great Pea Harvest, as we’re calling it. This pea plant just keeps getting more and more massive!

Pea Plant - New Stalk 6/3/13

Pea Plant – New Stalk 6/3/13

This new stalk is just about hitting the ground, and we have the pea plant in the second section of the TG. That’s about 3 feet off the ground, so we have a 36″ pea bush.

The cucumber is finally producing, and may I just say that baby cucumbers look kind of freaky?

Baby Cucumber 6/3/13

Baby Cucumber 6/3/13

The marigolds are going nuts, though that’s not saying much, as it’s fairly hard to kill marigolds.

Marigolds (East Side) 6/3/13

Marigolds (East Side) 6/3/13

And the basil I didn’t think would get enough light randomly popped out between some tomato stalks.

Basil 6/3/13

Basil 6/3/13

We do have some new little bugs that are not thrips, but are going to town on the cucumber leaves. They haven’t really seemed to bother anything else, but that might change in the near future. We’ve had caterpillars chewing on leaves, but those don’t really bother me as much.

New Bugs

New Bugs

If anyone has any idea what kind of nasties these are, please let me know! And also if you have any organic-ish (not heavy pesticide) way of getting rid of them, that would be fantastic! They move like caterpillars, but they’re tiny. And it’s mostly just this one leaf that they’ve colonized.

I’m so glad I can help some of you make an informed decision on the TG. As always, if you have any questions, post a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!

Until next time, ladies and gentlemen, happy gardening!

Om Nom Nom :D

I didn’t think it wouldn’t be this long before I posted again, sorry! My brother just bought a house, so we’ve all been crazy busy planning decor (he doesn’t close until late June). On a related note: does anyone know how to restore really corroded brass? My brother is really into Steampunk, so we got him an old steamer trunk as a coffee table, but all of the brass accents are really corroded and hard to clean. I’ve been trying to use Brasso, but it’s not really working…

Anyway! On to the deliciousness!

Pea Pod (eaten as soon as this picture was taken)

Pea Pod (eaten as soon as this picture was taken)

There were a whole bunch more pea pods (they’re sugar snap peas, by the way) on the Garden, but we had a big salad with Mother’s Day dinner (Happy Belated to any moms reading!!!) and wiped out most of the ripe ones. Me snacking has been wiping out the rest.

Cherry Tomato Stalk

Cherry Tomato Stalk

I never thought that baby tomatoes could look adorable, but look at this:

Cherry Tomato

Cherry Tomato

TOO CUTE! Of course, it’s going to get eaten as soon as it ripens, so…

Beefsteak Tomato

Beefsteak Tomato

Also adorable, but sadly hidden on the bottom of the Garden. Maybe that means the birds will keep away from it.

Tomato Buds

Tomato Buds

And yet more tomatoes to come!

Marigolds

Marigolds

We lost one of our Marigold plants (not the whole thing, just one of the stalks) in the monsoon about a week ago. It was too tall and got kinked over by the wind. The rest are doing really well, though.

And now for overall growth pictures!

South Side 5/14/13

South Side 5/14/13

North Side 5/14/13

North Side 5/14/13

Those aren’t weeds next to the Garden, they’re wildflowers we planted about the same time as we started the Garden up.

I finally had to refill the reservoir on Mother’s Day. My brother noticed, while gathering lettuce for our salad, that the leaves felt all wilted and sad. Turns out that in the week since our massive amount of rain (which overflowed the reservoir), the plants had not only sucked up darn near all 20 gallons of water, but they’d grown masses of roots a good half-inch in diameter. So a word of advice: at the height of your growing season (or if it’s really warm outside), check your Garden frequently.

I’m getting ready to start another batch of lettuce seedlings, as we’ve pretty well picked over what is on the Garden now. I’m not sure how well they’ll do with the sheer mass of roots sucking up all that water, but we’ll see. I’ll try to get seed packets that don’t just say “lettuce,” as there are about a bazillion different kinds of lettuce out there, so I can tell you exactly what I plant where, and how well it does.

Since using the home-made remedy for thrips I posted a while back, I have not seen any sign of the little buggers. They might be hiding from me in the shade all of the plants generate, but I think they’re gone.

Until next time, ladies and gentlemen, happy gardening!

 

Thank you!!

I wanted to do two things here:

One, THANK YOU to all of you who are following/commenting on this blog. I didn’t set out to make this to get followers, but it still makes me feel all gooey inside to know definitively that people are benefiting from my experiment. So again, THANK YOU!!

The second thing I wanted to do was follow up on a request made on my previous post. Let me tell you, trying to remember where everything is planted on the Garden is not easy! I would have just gone outside to make my list, but it’s been a freaking monsoon for the past three days where I live. There has not been a break in the rain (that I have seen) since Thursday. So I did the next best thing to going outside and reviewed my pictures to figure out where everything was planted. (My parents were really confused as to why I was staring at super blown-up versions of the pics I’ve posted here)

So here’s what I’ve come up with. I’ve paired a number with a letter to make this easier to decipher, so here’s the general idea:
#L
The number (depicted by #) is the level of the Garden, starting at the bottom with 1.
The letter (depicted by L) is the direction that the plant faces. I’ve simplified it and made all of these Cardinal directions (as I’m sure you know that not all of them are exactly Cardinal directions, since each level is offset from the ones around it).

Here you go!

1N: Beefsteak Tomato
1E: Empty (the root mass blocking the water flow got too big before I could get a seedling established here)
1S: Beefsteak Tomato
1W: Marketmore Cucumber

2N: Empty (The other pea plant got choked out by the other plants)
2E: Strawberry (That isn’t really doing much more than staying tiny little seedlings…)
2S: Pea Plant
2W: Cherry Tomato

3N: Lettuce
3E: Lettuce
3S: Basil
3W: Lettuce

4N: Lettuce
4E: Empty (The spinach I was trying to germinate refused to grow)
4S: Lettuce
4W: Lettuce

5N: Lettuce
5E: Lettuce
5S: Lettuce
5W: Spinach (The only one that germinated)

6N: Lettuce
6E: Lettuce
6S: Lettuce
6W: Empty (Either for a spinach or a basil that didn’t germinate)

7N: Empty (Either for a spinach or a basil that didn’t germinate)
7E: Marigold
7S: Empty (Either for a spinach or a basil that didn’t germinate)
7W: Marigold

There is a LOT of lettuce, I know. And I have no idea what varieties they are. One of my neighbors (who loves lettuce) has said that one variety is most likely Arugula, and another is most likely Romaine. We have one Red Leaf in there, too, but it’s buried behind the other leafy greens.

I will give you this little bit of advice: Plant from the base up. The roots of the plants grow quickly, and they grow downwards, so if you don’t have plants with well-established root systems at the bottom, they will get choked out by the roots from plants further up. I found this out the hard way. At the same time, don’t put anything at the very bottom that needs a huge root system, as you will be continually pruning roots out of the reservoir once your plants take off. Again, I’m learning this the hard way, haha.

Other than that, the only thing I have left to say is that the plants on the South side (which faces the sun) are bigger than those on the North side (away from the sun). I haven’t turned the Garden at all, so it seems like the more sun, the better. I don’t know if that helps you figure out where you’re going to put your Garden, but I hope so!

Again, thank you all, and happy gardening!!

Buds everywhere!

After my post a few days ago, I went out to do some maintenance on the Garden. We’ve gotten a decent amount of rain recently, so I needed to add Tonic to the reservoir and trim back dangling roots. In the process, I was pretty up-close and personal with the pea plant (I just about had my face in it a couple of times) and I noticed that there was one little flower opening up. So, once I was finished with the maintenance, I checked over each plant pretty thoroughly. The pea plant has a bunch of buds, the cherry tomato plant has six, and one of our beefsteak tomato plants also has six buds. The marigolds are budding everywhere, too.

So there you have it. About a month and a half (being generous) of growth, and we’re getting buds on most of our fruits and veggies. I can already attest that this is much faster than growing in soil medium, as my dad’s tomato plants usually take a month or two to flower, and that’s after getting them as juvenile plants.

Hopefully the bees don’t start obsessing with the Garden. I’ll never be able to work on it again (I have a phobia of bees and wasps).

My next post will probably include pictures of little baby tomatoes and pea pods, and perhaps a color other than green with some flowering marigolds. Until then, happy gardening!

We’re starting to harvest!

It’s been a few weeks, so it’s time for another post.

We’ve had a warm streak here in northern Florida, with temperatures up in the high 70s to low 80s for the past few weeks. Apparently the Tower Garden (or at least the plants we have in it) love the weather as much as I do. Here’s more overall growth pictures. I just took these today.

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South side of the Tower Garden (Facing the sun)

 

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North side of the Tower Garden (Away from the sun)

The pea plant, as you can see, is massive. I’ve had to train it away from the other plants in order to keep everything happy. To do this while the little feelers were still too short, I used zip ties and manually wrapped the pea around the dangling end in order to make it grow away from its neighboring tomato plant, rather than strangling it.

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Trained pea plant 4/23/13

You can sort of see the zip ties in that photo. The tomato plants we have in there are also really happy; we’re about ready to start pruning them back to increase production.

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Cherry tomato plant 4/23/13

The various lettuce plants that we have in the Garden are the ones we are harvesting, or at least beginning to. We’ve all picked our favorite flavors, and each of us (meaning my mom, dad, and I) will randomly go out and snack on a couple leaves. Some of them are quite bitter, while others are really mild. I like the mild ones, myself.

Gourmet Lettuce 4/23/13

Gourmet Lettuce 4/23/13

The only plant we currently have any buds on is the marigold on the West side of the Garden.

Marigold 4/23/13

Marigold 4/23/13

I have had to trim back the roots that dangle into the reservoir quite a bit. It seems to be the pea and the tomato plants that are currently going crazy that keep growing roots where I really wish they wouldn’t. Trimming the roots back is a work of contortion, simply because I can’t lift the Garden lid up. I basically have to wiggle my arm into the small reservoir access and bend in awkward directions to trim the dangling roots. I’ve been checking the roots every couple of days, and trimming them about the same amount.

I did find a website that had a homemade remedy for the thrips, and it seems to be working. Here’s the recipe, if you’re interested.

1 tsp cooking oil
1 tsp dish soap
1 quart of water
Mix the ingredients thoroughly. Spray (And by that I mean drench) the affected areas once every three days for two weeks. Be careful! Spraying the mixture onto your plants when the sun is strong can result in leaf burning, the same way putting on baby oil can give you a nasty sunburn.

This website has a bunch of other cool home-made plant cures. I haven’t tried them all, and the site seems to be made for orchid growers, but the ones that I have tried seem to be working quite well. Here’s the link.

http://www.firstrays.com/remedies.htm

I think that’s it for this time around. If you have any questions, please let me know! I’ll answer them as best I can.

Happy gardening!

 

Holy Moly!

Okay, so I know I said that it would be a few weeks before my next post. However, I’ve been completely astounded by the amount of growth on the Tower Garden (especially the pea plant), and I thought I should share it with you.

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Cherry Tomato Plant (placed March 11)

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Pea Plant (placed March 18)

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Marigolds (placed March 18)

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Lettuce Plant (placed March 11)

Again, the lettuce and pea plants are the same ones I’ve been photographing since the beginning. I decided to take pictures of a few of the other things we have planted (we mostly have lettuce, so forgive the lack of variety) in order to give all of you an idea of growing times. The dates in the captions are when I placed the seedlings into the Tower Garden. There’s been quite a bit of growth on everything in the garden for the past week, probably because it’s been a wonderful mid-seventies with bright Florida sunshine around here.

I have yet to refill the Garden’s reservoir myself. Every time it seems we need to refill it, Florida weather gives us a day or two of soaking rain, and the reservoir is magically refilled. The only issue with this is that I don’t know exactly how many gallons were added, so I’ve been estimating in order to add more tonic. We still have the thrips, but I’ve only seen them bothering one of our beefsteak tomato plants (which is still little more than a seedling; I placed it about a week ago). You can see that plant in the bottom left-hand corner of the pea plant picture.

We actually tried a couple leaves of one of the lettuce plants the other day. They’re still not ready; the lettuce tasted a bit green, for lack of a better term, but everything is maturing much faster than I thought it would.

Just to give you an idea of the degree of growth…

Tower Garden - South Side (March 18)

Tower Garden – South Side (March 18)

Tower Garden - North Side (April 8)

Tower Garden – North Side (April 8)

Tower Garden - South Side (April 8)

Tower Garden – South Side (April 8)

Again, we did lose a couple of seedlings to another cold snap – notably the cucumber, a couple of lettuces, and the cantaloupe. Yes, cantaloupe. We still also have a few empty net pots for seeds I’m still trying to nurse to life.

Until next time, happy gardening!

Growth!

So it’s been two weeks since I last posted pictures of the plants we have growing on the Tower Garden. Image

This is the SAME pea plant that I photographed a few weeks back.Image

And this is the SAME lettuce plant that I photographed. As you can see, there’s been quite a bit of growth on both of these plants, as well as all of the others we have on the Garden. We did lose a few seedlings due to a cold snap, but overall they’re all doing quite well. We do still have the thrips crawling all over the Garden, and I’ve noticed some algae growing on some of the rockwool cubes, but otherwise there is nothing wrong with the unit.

I will say this: if you are planning on using the Tower Garden to grow basil, get it seeded early. I’ve been nursing a basil seedling for over two weeks now, and it’s only just now starting to really grow. The spinach seeds we bought are also taking forever to even germinate. But the peas freaking love the Tower Garden, as do the cherry and beefsteak tomato plants we have in there.

I’ll update with more pictures of growth in a couple weeks. Happy gardening!

Bug Update

I did a little bit of research into our tiny little orange bugs, and found out that they are what are known as thrips. The picture I’ve posted is just the larvae. They can be detrimental to the plants, so I’m going to be keeping a really close eye on them.ImageThe larvae. They’re really tiny. I had to use my dedicated Macro lens with a 1.25″ extension tube to get this shot. For someone that doesn’t know just how close up that is, here is a picture of a single grain of long-grain white rice at the same magnification.

Image

If anyone has any more information on how to get rid of these buggers without using heavy pesticides, I’d really appreciate it. Or if you think it’s a different bug, please let me know.

Set-up

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Our Tower Garden with extension kit and tomato cage (both sold separately)

Some of our seedlings still growing

Some of our seedlings still growing

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Gourmet Lettuce seedling

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Pea 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!