We are delighted to share the screening of the newly released documentary, “The Seeds of Vandana Shiva” by Camila and Jim Becket. Watch the short trailer below to learn more about the importance of seeds and why it’s important of who owns rights to seeds.
“Food is a weapon. When you sell real weapons you control armies. When you control food you control society. But, when you control seed, you control life on earth.”
— Vandana Shiva, Activist and one of the pioneers of the Global Seed Movement
Same variety (Cherokee Purple), but the two on the left and right are soil-based seed. Our hydroponic seed is in the middle. We think there’s not only DNA Epigenetic differences that you can’t see, but also a noticeable visual difference.
Tomato World Guinness Record holder, Charles Wilber, talks about the importance of starting with good seed stock. Do you know who grows your seed?
This time of year, many a gardener will begin breaking out their seeds from storage and gather up their recent purchases in preparation for the upcoming growing season. With earnest, one cell tray or by one rock wool at a time, life will begin inside the gardener’s abode, protected from the cold weather outside.
Seed starting, used to be an annual event for me until I realized the importance of succession planting. If I wanted to have a continual supply of greens or move from one season to the next seamlessly, a little bit of planning was all I needed to do the trick.
If I was going to do succession planting, I needed to make it part of my everyday planting and tending tasks (even if all it means is a quick glance to check moisture levels or that your “babies” (as I affectionately call them) are growing as they should was the only task that day.) And as an everyday task, it needed to be part of my environment. The end result to succession planting throughout the year? A seed starting station.
If you’re only planting seeds one time a year, I encourage you to read on and challenge yourself to look at seed starting in a whole new light (pun intended). We want to set you up for success for the ENTIRE growing season ahead!
What is a Seed Starting Station?
Okay, I’m probably being “Captain Obvious” here, but a Seed Starting Station contains everything you need to start seeds. If I may recommend a few tips as you consider setting up your own Seed Starting Station:Your Seed Starting Station needs to be in a location where you walk by it at least once a day; two times or more a day is even better. Why? Seedlings need nurturing. Watching that they have proper light, temperature, moisture, and humidity levels are all key to successful strong seed starts.
Your Seed Starting Station need to have the proper temperature.
Temperatures do matter with germination and each seed / plant has different temps they prefer to germinate at and a “sweet spot” temperature range. For example, warm season plants typically prefer to germinate at temps above 65ºF. On the flip side, cool season plants, typically prefer to germinate at cooler temps. Spinach, for example, can be started in a container between two wet paper towel sheets in the refrigerator and after about 7-10 days you’ll see the root emerge. At this point, you can move it into soil or a wet rock wool and allow it to continue to grow into a young seedlings under bright light while maintaining high 60º-low 70ºF temps.
Seed heat mats can be a great tool for warming soil or rock wool when you set a tray on it. Just be careful to not overheat the young seeds. A thermostat on your heat mat can keep it in the proper range. Below is a quick cheat sheet for common veggies of optimal temperatures seeds typically germinate at:
Optimum Range (F)
Source: PennState Extension. Adapted from Kemble and Musgrove (2006) (Soil temperatures should be taken by inserting a soil thermometer 3-4 inches deep into the soil surface and noting temperature.
Your Seed Starting Station Needs Bright Light
Seedlings need a lot of light once they emerge — a nice bright strong light. If you don’t have a green house that can be temperature controlled for heat and cool air, you will need to grow your seedlings indoors. That means you will need artificial lighting intended for growing plants. Lighting could get real technical quick, so I’m going to try to keep it simple. When it comes to lighting and seed starting you need to keep three things in mind to make adjustments as needed to ultimately save money on seeds:
INTENSITY: You need to have enough lighting. • LED bars: 8–10 inches apart from each other • T5 fluorescents: 4–5 inches apart from each other
COVERAGE: You need to place lighting in the sweet spot — not too far from seedlings. • LED bars (like Phillips): 8–12 inches away from seedlings • T5 fluorescents: 5–6 inches away from seedlings
DURATION: You need to leave lights on long enough. 14-18 hrs a day
Your light needs to be bright (this is like the one we use) and you need to have a way to adjust the light so that it is the correct distance from the seedling. And if you’re planting into a hydroponic growing system where your seedling will mature into an adult plant, you’ll want lights that can be adjusted distance-wise from the plant (closer when they are young and further away about 8″-10″ when they are older). If you’re using a Tower Garden HOME or Tower Garden FLEX, these are the lights you will want to invest in as they can be adjusted from the plant as it grows and they have a built in timer making it easy to set it and go about your life never having to worry about the lights turning on and off again.
Don’t rely on a window with sun coming in as it will make your seedlings “leggy” where they stretch for the light and ultimately that makes them weaker plants as they mature. Today’s windows have a UV rating which actually blocks the essential UV light that seedlings crave. The window is designed to protect your home interior textiles such as the furniture, drapes, and carpet from fading — it is not taking into account seed germination needs at all.
Some love to say “You can just start your seedlings in your Tower Garden — I do it all the time.” A couple of cautionary words are needed when you hear or read this advice posted in social media groups. Simply, don’t do it. Seedlings started in this manner often become leggy and are overall weaker plants when they mature. Secondly, you can “burn” your tender seedling with high levels of nutrients that other mature plants may be getting within your growing system, as seedlings don’t require as much nutrients when they are teeny tiny. Remember to, instead, start your seedlings off strong in a Seed Starting Station under bright grow lights. Look for a light that has all the color spectrum of the sun and avoid cheap $20-$30 grow lights as they are just not strong enough for seedlings to thrive. We recommend a grow light like this that has a full-spectrum. A decent grow light for seedlings will cost between $60-$100. I’ve also used my Aerogarden Harvest as a light for seedlings when I don’t have anything growing in the ports.
You’ll want to keep a quick reference to the needs of different seeds.
Not all seeds need darkness or to be covered to begin the germination process. Some require light to germinate like lettuce. Some need to be scarified (slightly chipped) or go through a cold period before they will germinate. We recommend printing off our Seeds That Require Special Treatment Reference Chart and laminating it or sticking it in a 3-ring binder sheet protector to use as a quick reference (or just bookmark our reference page and come back to it as you need to).
Your Seed Station needs to have supplies relating to starting seeds and nurturing stored nearby
Here’s a list of some common supplies I use for soil and a list for common supplies I use for hydroponics.
Soil: • Seed starting tray cells, recycled containers that can be repurposed as small pots, or small paper pots • potting mix or screened peat moss • worm castings (to mix into your potting mix) (Note: don’t purchase and ship during hot months as temps of 85ºF in shipment will begin to kill beneficial bacteria in castings.) • access to a water source and/or some sort of watering can to “water in” seeds • seeds you intend to plant (those that are not in the freezer) • plant tags • permanent marker • and a tray to rest your seed starts on and move them easily from under your grow light to outdoors as temps allow. • heat mat with temp gauge • grow light
Now to the best part. Your own personal produce section!
To have a continual harvest, you’ll want to implement a sequential planting system. Pick a day that you are at your leisure (i.e.: Sundays are usually a restful day for most folks) and put a reminder on your calendar to plant at a certain time every week or every two weeks paying attention to your growing conditions (i.e.: indoor, cool season, warm season) and available space.
Let’s say you want to have a continuous supply of Bibb Lettuce. If you have a 28 port Tower Garden, you can plant 4 rock wools with Bibb Lettuce seed making sure to include a couple extra seeds per rock wool of which you’ll thin down as they germinate to the strongest one. You’ll repeat this process, planting several lettuce seeds into a single rock wool cube, filling four cubes total. As shown in the below planting chart, by week 4, your week 1 seedlings will be ready to transfer into your system. With each passing week, you’ll put the four seedlings that are ready from previous week plantings into the next row up of your vertical hydroponic / aeroponic Tower Garden. By week 10, you will have harvested your row 1 Bibb Lettuce (four ports = four heads of bibb lettuce to feed a typical family of four for a week). Once your lower lettuce has been harvested (pulled out of the port), the following week, replace the net pots and wipe down the port entrance with a cotton ball with alcohol on it and put a new clean net pot in it’s place. You are ready to plant the next set of four seedlings in these empty ports. As you continue to harvest up the vertical garden, you will clean each port and then plant the next seedling into it.
Note, if you are growing outdoors, sequential planting will get trickier, because temperature will be a variable. As temps raise towards summer time, bibb lettuce will begin to bolt (or go to seed) quicker or go limp if it is not a heat tolerant variety. This type of sequential planting works best if growing greens indoors and if the green has a 6-week grow cycle. This could work for Bok Choy and most greens. Consider putting some herbs like chives in the top row… these are cut and come again meaning that once they are a certain height, you can start cutting them 3″-4″ from the base of the plant and they will continue to grow from the center. Keep in mind that at some point, you will need to clean your system and restart the process, but in theory, if growing indoors, plants should continue to grow at a steady rate if you get in the habit of planting enough to fill four ports each week.
BIBB LETTUCE OR BOK CHOY EXAMPLE OF SEQUENTIAL PLANTING SCHEDULE FOR 1 TOWER GARDEN WITH 28 PORTS:
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Trans-plant into Tower Garden…
Week 1 seedlings Btm Row 1 of TG
Week 2 seedlings Btm Row 2 of TG
Week 3 seedlings Btm Row 3 of TG
Week 4 seedlings Row 4 of TG
Copyright 2021 Grow Your Health Gardening
4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Week 5 seedlings Row 5 of TG
Week 6 seedlings Row 6 of TG
Week 7 seedlings Row 7 of TG
Week 8 seedlings Row 1 of TG
Week 9 seedlings Row 2 of TG
Week 10 seedlings Row 3 of TG
Week 11 seedlings Row 4 of TG
Harvest off of btm row 1 lettuce
Harvest off of btm row 2 lettuce
Harvest off of btm row 3 lettuce
Harvest off of btm row 4 lettuce
Harvest off of btm row 5 lettuce
Copyright 2021 Grow Your Health Gardening
No matter what you want to grow, evaluate about how long the plant(s) you want to grow take to get to maturity for harvest, calculate when it will be ready for consumption, and enjoy your bounty continuously throughout the season with weekly seed starting in your own personal Seed Starting Station.
Happy Growing! — Erin
PS: Be sure to post your pics of your Seed Starting Station on social media and tag us at #gyhg and maybe you’ll get featured on our Instagram or Facebook channels and get some FREE seeds!
The more plants you begin to grow, you’ll begin to realize the importance of staying organized. As the plant begins to mature, knowing when you started the seed and when it should be mature will aid you in gauging when to begin harvesting or even how old a plant may be and if you should pull it and replace it with another.
We grow hundreds of varieties of plants per season on our property and have found that labeling is essential. Even if you are not planting many plants, knowing what you planted and having a quick reference will be essential to knowing and learning more about your plants. Here’s what we include on our labels and some tips that help along the way:
Use a label that offers space enough to record data/info
Record plant variety and kind
Record start of seedling date
Record anticipated maturity date for when you should be able to begin harvest
Optional: Record any special characteristic that helps to identify it — especially if you have more than one variety growing of the same kind of plant (ie: seed stock source, ppm range)
We love the look of bamboo labels, which is a recyclable material, so if your budget allows, this is a great option. This is cost-prohibitive on a larger scale for our seed production, so we opt to use plastic labels and recycle them. When we are finished using the label, we give them a quick rinse with soap and water and then place them in a sealed jar of 91%-94% rubbing alcohol to soak and process them (clean them) during the winter months. After a bit of soaking in 91%-94% Rubbing Alcohol, you can strip off the permanent ink pen writing when you rub with a cotton ball or paper towel and apply a little bit of pressure.
For those growing in soil, if you have access to an old white window covering blind (the kind you put in the window to shade your home interior from the sun), many Master Gardeners like to cut these down and use them as plant markers / labels using a permanent marker or wax pencil.
Some Tower Garden or Lettuce Grow Farmstand hydroponic / aeroponic home growers will use painter’s tape and write info on that and stick it to the actual vertical garden growing system. We’ve found that if it is outdoors, it can weather and come off if you have a longer season of growth, but it works great if you’re growing indoors. We like this tape and use it for our Grow Order Client Orders that are grown indoors. We like that it is 2″ wide so we can write our client’s name as well as the plant variety, start date, and harvest date all on the same short strip.
Tip: When placing tape on your vertical garden growing system, try to place ABOVE the port as sometimes water can drip downwards from a leaf. And try to only use tape if growing indoors as weather can cause removable tape to loose it’s adherence to your grow tower.
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT use duct tape on your hydroponic / aeroponic vertical growing system. It may be difficult to remove and will leave a sticky residue.
We’ve also heard of some people writing directly on their Tower as well. The challenge with using an erasable marker is if the Tower Garden gets bumped in any way, you may lose valuable information. The other challenge is that a vertical garden like the Tower Garden or Lettuce Grow Farmstand will need weekly maintenance of wiping down the exterior so that you don’t get minerals building up in the nooks and crevices. The other factor is if you’re growing outside, you may want to periodically spray down your plants with a shower level of pressure of water to not only rinse off the exterior of your hydroponic growing system. This not only cleans your tower but also helps to knock-off any aphids or bugs that may be hiding underneath leaves or in plant crevices. If you were to have removable ink on your growing system, you would lose valuable information with the introduction of water.
So, when looking at your foundation of the kind of plant tag or plant label you plan to use, consider how the weather (rain and sun) is going to affect it as well as water and routine cleanings around where it will remain.
Record Plant Variety and Kind
We always list variety first and plant kind in caps on the second row. This makes for a quick visual check when grouping similar plants together as seedlings or when placing in a growing area or hydroponic system.
Record Start of Seedling Date
We like to put our seed start date in the left-hand corner of our label and the harvest date on the lower right. The key here is just to be consistent as it speeds up efficiency when you’re in the garden checking on plants. Our eyes scan when they read and having information in the same spot on every plant tag or label will save you time in the long run. Consistency is your friend when your looking to make things efficient in your garden.
Record the Anticipated Days to Maturity Date
Often you will see in seed catalogs or on seed packets “Days to Maturity” noted. This notation is not determined from seed start date, but is intended as what to expect from the date of transplant. To figure out days to maturity, use the following loose formula:
Days to Germination + 2 weeks + Days to Maturity = When you can expect to harvest
To quickly calculate your harvest date, use the formula above and enter that number into this handy date calculator. (Make sure you use the tab for “Add or Subtract Date”. (See blue line under “Add Days” in example screen shot below.) Begin by entering your date of seed starting and calculate days of germination, plus two weeks for seedling growth, plus days to maturity from seed packet or catalog description. This will give you total number of days. Make sure the Add/Subtract drop down has selected “(+) Add” and then enter a numerical value under “Days” and hit “Enter” on your key pad. Below, you will be given the “Result” date. This is what you will write on your label.
Granted, each plant and growing condition is different (i.e.: plant receives more light and more nutrients and may grow faster than standard days to maturity. Note: If you’re growing hydroponically, realize that plants in general grow 30% faster, so don’t be surprised if you check your anticipated maturity date and your plant is already maturing before that date has arrived.
Record Any Special Characteristic that you want to Remember for Future Reference
When I was starting out growing food hydroponically, I would put PPM ranges on my tag to make sure I grouped plants together that liked the same range. Then I sat down one day and did some figuring and came up with these handy charts for reference. Now, I simply refer to the charts to know what plants go best with each other depending on whether it is a cool growing season or warm growing season. I no longer need to put that information on my label and can use that space for other information.
If I am growing a special collection (ie: Tom Wagner Varieties of tomatoes), I may want to grow those plants together so I can observe their growth patterns and development. An indeterminate or determinate tomato would grow differently from one other, so knowing the growing habits of the seedling I’m holding helps me to quickly place it in the best suitable spot in my garden. A micro-dwarf tomato can grow at the top of a vertical garden growing system like the Tower Garden because it is a determinate and will stay a certain small size that doesn’t need support whereas an indeterminate tomato will need to be trellised from the side and grown towards the lower part of the Tower Garden.
Sometimes we grow the same variety using two different seed stock sources. Diversity is good for strengthening seed stock. So sometimes, I will designate the seed stock source so I can compare plants while in the garden to see which line perhaps has more rigor before I do any cross pollination. In these situations, I just use the first letters of the seed stock sources name as a reference (ie: “SSE” would be Seed Savers Exchange).
Think of the Sun with Labeling
You may not realize, but some permanent markers are not very permanent when those UV light waves begin to hit them day after day. My sweet son had gotten me some permanent markers from the dollar store with his own money as a Mother’s Day gift and I used them on a few labels and they faded within months. I had to go over them with another type of permanent marker. Here are some options that should last through the season:
Another easy thing you can do to prolong your tag’s writing is point it away from the sun — at least until the plant has developed leaves to shield it from the sun’s rays.
The other good practice you can do is implement a secondary label. I’ve heard of some gardeners who grow in soil, bury a second label under the soil level near the plant for future reference. I tend to forget where I bury things if they are not marked, so instead I like to use these Tyvek wrist bands to loop around the plant as it gets big enough. This is especially helpful on plants that take a good while to mature like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. You can create a system of your liking using different colors, but I tend to just stick with neon yellow, because it’s quick to find when I need to find it.
As you tackle your seed starting, I hope this has inspired you to consider what information your plant will need to follow it in it’s journey towards harvest. With just a few simple considerations, you can be set up for success and at the end of the growing season have the information you need to make decisions for the next growing season!
As committed Seed Stewards, we understand the importance of good quality seed, because strong seed means strong plants that can better fight-off pest pressure and diseases … and strong plants also mean the best nutrition possible for your body. It’s important to know where your seed comes from because the plant that seed came from has adapted to its growing environment — and if it’s different than your environment, that plant may struggle which means you struggle.
But it doesn’t have to be a struggle to grow your own food — in fact, we think it is FUN to be connected to your food from seed to harvest! Our seed for sale has been cultivated from seed and nurtured using organic growing methods on through to harvest by our family of seven. We take great pride in our seed stock knowing each generation of plants we grow only strengthens our exclusive line of seeds. We are thrilled we can now share our extra seeds with you!
We are unique in that we have thoughtfully chosen heirloom and open source varieties of vegetables, herbs, and greens (and sometimes extremely rare seed) and have grown these varieties out in one season adapting them to hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic growing conditions in the Southeast region of the United States.
As a friend of GYHG and follower, enjoy today through November 14, 2021, 21% off your first seed order! Enter code: GYHG-LOVES-ME-21 when you check out.
Thanks and we hope that this year is the year you especially grow your health gardening!
July is just around the corner and it’s time to start thinking about the fall garden if you can believe it! Here in the SE, we are blessed to have two growing seasons if the timing is planned right.
THINKING ABOUT WHAT YOU WILL PLANT FOR YOUR FALL CROP AND WHEN TO PLANT IT: All it takes to maximize your growing season is to know when your frost dates are for spring and fall. You’ll want to google what your last frost or freeze date is for your area. There is the traditional Farmer’s Almanac you can use, or I like Dave’s Garden’s resource as it gives a range of dates based on statistical data of when the first and last frost date has occurred. You’ll want to check this date each season prior to planning when to start your seed. I tend to lean on the 30-40% dates as my target date to plan off of and watch as the time gets closer. For our purposes, we will be looking at a freeze possibly happening between Oct 16-Oct 20, so I’ll split the difference and use Oct 18th as my first frost date and count back from this date based on the number of days (found on seed packet) for the plant will reach maturity and add in a 20 days for the plant to produce and bring a harvest in before a cold snap hits.
FINAL PLANTING OPPORTUNITY OF WARM SEASON PLANTS: If you are growing in the southeast (we are in Atlanta in planting zone 7B), plant the following vegetables no later than July 20th to allow time to mature before frost: tomatoes, okra, corn, pole beans, lima beans, cucumbers, squash and snap beans. If you have a sucker growing on one of your existing tomato plants, now is the time to start a new tomato plant which will continue to grow and fruit until hit with a freeze. Toward’s the end of July, start your final crop of snap beans as these can be planted by August 15 as seedlings into the garden for fall harvest.
Now is the time to also plant Zinnia seed. These heat loving annuals sprout in six days and bloom in a few weeks in the heat of the summer. Plant more Caladiums and Coleus as they’ll look better in the fall than the plants often started in May.
You can also plant another crop of Gladiolus for another flush of blooms for summer and into fall. Now is also a good time to divide Daffodils using caution not to cut into the bulbs as you dig into the ground.
AN EASY TASK TO LIMIT PESTS AND DISEASES: As you are harvesting your crops and cleaning off any dead leaves or removing leaves that have been attacked possibly by insect pressure, be sure to place these leaves in a 5 gallon tote to toss at the end of the day. You don’t want to leave dead leaves on the ground next to your growing plants as they will attract insects and promote disease which can transfer to your healthy growing plants. Keeping the ground around your plants tidy is a simple way to keep your plants thriving through the growing season.
CONTINUE TO FERTILIZE: For annuals, you’ll want to continue to fertilize at two-to-six-week intervals. When using granular products, make sure to water afterwards to encourage the nutrients to filter down to the root zone of your plants. For soil, you can use “organic” fertilizers like manure (cattle or chicken), blood meal, and/or fish emulsion. Dr. Tim Smalley, horticulture professor at the University of Georgia, has shown that composted hen litter continues to release food for four years after a 2-inch layer is worked into flower beds. Patio tomatoes (in a container) need to be fed consistently because constant watering rinses fertilizer out of the soil.
WATERING PLANTS: Be sure to keep tabs on watering soil-based plants. If you have had a good heavy rain, your watering tasks are probably eased for the day, but if it hasn’t rained, you’ll want to make sure you water deeply as needed to prevent drought stress. You can prevent root rot by watering deeply once per week and mixing plenty of organic amendments into the soil before planting and adding mulch to the soil surface beneath growing plants.
For plants growing in a hydroponic or aeroponic vertical gardening Tower Garden system, be sure to check your reservoirs at least twice a week as things warm up outside. If you’re growing tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, squash, kale, or beans, you’ll want to check your reservoir daily (or every other day) and top off the reservoir and add nutrients as these are “heavy feeders” meaning they take up a lot of nutrients when they are producing fruit, veggies, or legumes. Even though you are adding water to your system, it will be substantially less than the soil-based garden as hydroponic growing trials have been shown by NASA that these growing methods grow plants three times faster and produce 30% greater yields on average while using only 10% of the water a traditional soil-based garden would use to grow the same food.
INCREASE PLANT PRODUCTION: As your bush beans are growing, be sure to pick each day to encourage growth and plant output. Same is true with tomatoes… as they begin to ripen, pick often to encourage further fruit set.
PUMPKIN PLANTING TIME: Plant that big pumpkin for Halloween this month and give it plenty of room to sprawl. If you have a fisherman in your family, save a fish head and toss in to the hole before planting your pumpkin seedling into the ground.
JULY PLANTING CALENDAR: And finally, here is a quick cheat sheet you can print off and reference for what you can plant each week through either direct sowing (DS) into the ground or sowing indoors (SI).
But first, before we dive in… it’s important to know WHY we need to grow our own lettuce. So many consumers blindly are trusting the food system and don’t realize that our current mass-produced lettuce is picked before it’s prime, often travels many food miles to the consumer, and the lettuce food system has had 46 outbreaks nationally between the years of 2006-2019 (and most of those cases have happened in recent years!)
Dangers of Store-Bought Lettuce
Let’s first look at if organic lettuce can really be trusted… According to Consumer Reports, 72 percent of Americans try to avoid GMOs when they shop. And more than half seek out the “organic” label. But is organic lettuce really pesticide-free? Just because it’s organic, doesn’t mean it’s pesticide free… Despite being natural, spinosad, pyrethrin, azadirachtin, and other approved ingredients can still be harmful. (They are toxic pesticides, after all.) And in some cases, farmers must spray greater volumes of natural solutions because they aren’t as effective as their non-organic counterparts. In fact, up to 20 percent of organic lettuce may contain pesticide residue. And as though that weren’t enough, one study found that organic produce is more likely to play host to pathogens, such as E. coli and Salmonella. This is likely because it’s grown with organic fertilizers (e.g., manure and compost).
And that doesn’t even account for what is used as irrigation to grow the lettuce. Recent outbreaks were said to occur because of feed lots up stream tainting the irrigation supply. Hmmm….
Did you know that from 2006 to 2019, leafy greens like Romaine, Spinach and bags of Spring Mix from Salinas, CA and Phoenix, AZ accounted for at least 46 national outbreaks of E. coli. Check out this article and news report. (You may be more at risk of you’re purchasing a salad kit? The last outbreak sickened 11 people in Washington State. As of December 2019, there were two simutaneous outbreaks. “The FDA is investigating two other E. coli outbreaks, each caused by strains that are different from each other and different from the larger outbreak.” See report here.)
“Fresh-picked salad greens can have a higher nutritional value than store-bought greens. The flavor of homegrown salad greens is also noticeably better, as most kitchen gardeners will affirm. This is due to the extreme freshness of your salad, when you can use the instant “pick and plate” approach to preparation. Once you taste salad greens straight from the garden, you’ll be spoiled for life.
But arguably the greatest benefit is that of human health. In recent decades, there has been an increase in the percentage of foodborne illnesses related to produce, and greens have been one of the biggest culprits. This is mainly due to the soft leaves of the greens, which retain any germs they come in contact with. The CDC estimates that roughly 22 percent of all foodborne illness is caused by leafy greens. This has grown from less than one percent 40 years ago. This may be the best reason to grow your own leafy greens: while store-bought produce must be thoroughly washed to reduce the risk of illness, you can be sure that greens grown at home are much safer.” — Fix.com
The seriousness of these E. coli outbreaks have not only health impacts, but financial ones as well. According to Marler Clark, a law firm reprenting 28 victims from just one ecoli incident, said “Illness typically lasts from 1 to 12 days; however, E. coli patients who develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication of E. coli infection, can remain hospitalized for months. They often require kidney dialysis and extensive supportive care. The cost of hospitalization for an E. coli case can range from several hundred dollars to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Store Bought Lettuce Food Miles and Nutritional Value
The other factor to consider is how far your lettuce has had to travel to get to your plate. Food miles are the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it is ultimately purchased or consumed by the end user. The term, “food miles” was originally penned from a study in Iowa that focused on how far food had to travel.In 2011, lettuce was grown on 206,000 acres in California (most coming from Salinas, CA), which represented 73% of the total U.S. acreage (Source: Lettuce_Production_CA). If trucks were to drive a straight line (which in reality they don’t — they make pit-stops at processing centers and go to distribution centers before traveling to our local grocery store), lettuce harvested in Salinas, CA must travel a minimum of 3,000 miles to Atlanta, GA and is at least 4-5 days old by the time it reaches our grocery store. It’s estimated that it take an average of 10 days to go from farm to our plate! Are you even getting any nutritional value from eating it at this point? We’ll explore that in a minute…
One thing to note, since the 2019 E Coli outbreaks, the lettuce industry has incorporated a standard of placing labels on packages of romaine to indicate where the lettuce originated from so that the CDC can better track down the source of contamination. (Yes, I’m trying to shake you out of denial — it’s really that bad.)
The other factor at play with store-bought lettuce is the depletion of nutrients from the time the lettuce is harvested to the time it reaches our plate. Like mentioned earlier, it takes upwards of 10 days from farm to plate in our traditional food system. Did you know that the nutritional value found in the plant actually starts to deteriorate within the first day or two of harvesting? University of California studies show that vegetables can lose 15 to 55 percent of vitamin C, for instance, within a week. And some spinach, for example, can lose 90 percent within the first 24 hours after harvest!
Here are our tips for growing lettuce with the hydroponic Tower Garden system.
Best Growing Conditions for Lettuce
Of the many varieties of leaf and head lettuce, most prefer full sun and temperatures between 45–80˚, making lettuce a good cool season crop. Lettuce can withstand light frosts. But in hot weather, it will easily bolt (i.e., quickly grow vertically, flower and produce seeds)—and this process typically makes lettuce bitter. So if you grow lettuce in warmer conditions, plant it in partial shade or grow heat-tolerant varieties, like these:
There are five distinct types of lettuce: Loose-Leaf (45-60 days), Cos or Romaine (~70 days), Crisphead (75+ days), French (50-75 days), and Butterhead (55-75 days). With a variety of colors, shapes and flavors available, plant several types of lettuce for tasty and interesting salads. Keep in mind, all varieties of lettuce grow very well indoors with grow lights.
If you want fresh lettuce every day for salads or other dishes, we suggest growing approximately 2-3 heads of lettuce per person. The cool thing about the Tower Garden system is you can grow in up to 28 ports (base Tower Garden with one extension) in less than a 2.5′ x 2.5′ space. That means in the corner of your kitchen or dining room or on your back deck, you can have instant access to your greens any time and harvest Tower to table within a matter if minutes — not hours — not days — MINUTES! This means you and your family will get optimal nutritional value from each plant because it is being harvested at it’s peak and consumed right away.
Seedlings should be ready to transplant to your Tower Garden 10–14 days after sprouting, or whenever they have at least 2–3 leaves and a visible root structure. When transplanting, keep in mind that lettuce is a good crop to plant near the top of your Tower Garden.
Once you’ve transplanted lettuce into your Tower Garden, keep the pH between 5.6-6.2 as this will help the plant uptake available nutrients in your water promoting growth. Using the Tower Garden Nutrient Solution, keep the PPM range between 560-840 or an EC of 0.8-1.2 for ideal continuous growth. Ten to twelve hours of light will be sufficient. Check the back of your seed packet for maturation as it varies by lettuce type and variety (typically between 30-85 days). Also, some lettuces can be cut and come again meaning if you cut about 2″ from the base of the plant, it will regrow new leaves and thereby extending your harvest.
Download our lettuce cheat sheet that can be sliced down and put into a standard ziplock sandwich bag and used for seed storage and/or as a growing journal for what happened with your crop (we put ours on a clipboard. | download PDF |
Growing lettuce with Tower Garden decreases the chance of pests and plant diseases. But just in case, here are some potential problems:
Aphids are small insects that typically feed on young plant growth, causing it to appear puckered or deformed.
Cabbage loopers are green caterpillars that feed on the underside of lower leaves and in the center of the head of lettuce.
Cucumber beetles are yellow-orange beetles with black markings that sometimes feed on lettuce seedlings. Take care not to confuse these with ladybugs.
Botrytis, a gray-brown fuzzy growth, thrives in cool environments and can appear on plant debris that has fallen from the plant.
Downy mildew looks like fine white cotton or frosting and often infects lower plant leaves first. It can spread rapidly and kill plants in cool conditions.
Powdery mildew forms a white-gray powdery growth, usually on the upper surfaces of leaves. You’re most likely to see this common disease in late summer.
Tower Tip: Lettuce doesn’t typically suffer with aphids, especially if you’re interplanting basil at the same time (it is a deterrent to aphids.) Learn how you can naturally beat bad bugs and prevent plant diseases.
How to Harvest Lettuce
Since they grow so quickly, lettuces will be ready to harvest within a few weeks after planting. You can harvest lettuce in 2 ways:
Whole head. Remove the entire plant and net pot from your Tower Garden, or cut all the leaves off at the base of the plant. If you choose this method, be sure to have replacement seedlings ready.
Individual leaf. This technique keeps the plant alive and encourages continued production. When there are plenty of mature leaves present:
Harvest only a few leaves at a time, from the bottom of the plant upward.
Allow 2–3 leaves to remain so the plant may keep growing.
Repeat every 2–3 days until the plant bolts, or begins flowering.
After bolting, replace the plant with a fresh seedling.
We also have a handy resource that you can print off and cut down and slide into any sandwich-size Ziplock bag and use to store your seeds (limits oxygen and moisture which can be harmful to seed saving. We also print an extra sheet for our garden journal to keep records of how our crop performed so we can learn and remember what worked for the following year.
New to growing your own food in a Tower Garden? First off, kudos on your decision to take control of your own health and it all starts at the foundational level of the food we put into our body. It actually can go even deeper than that… it all starts with the parent plant that made the seed that we collect and then grow and then harvest to put into our body. But I digress…
When considering what to put into your Tower Garden, there are certain vegetables and herbs that grow well together. I have grouped these plants based on shared PPM (parts per million) values. You will need a PPM meter to measure what your water’s PPM is with the nutrient solution added.
When determining our list below, we look for areas where PPM levels share common ground (see blue vertical bars to highlight overlapping plant PPMs)… Note: this PPM reference chart is available in full for all our Tower Garden and hydroponic clients, but here’s a little snippet:
Note that some plants can tolerate higher levels of nutrients than mentioned here as these are ideal ranges for growth. You’ll know when a plant is getting too high a level when the edges of the leaves get a brown tint (called tip burn). Otherwise, know that these plant groupings are going to grow together fairly well at certain PPMs and that you can push some of the plants that are below the PPM level to the next level up in some cases…
based on the PPM of 775 and a pH of around 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B: Arugula, Artichoke, Basil, Calendula (petals of flower are edible), Cilantro/Coriander, Dandelion (leaves edible & root used in tea), Fennel, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Nasturtiums (leaves & flower are edible + plant deters some insects), Oregano, Pansies (flower petals are edible), Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Violas(petals of flower are edible), Watercress.
based on the PPM of 1000 and a pH of around 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B Artichoke, Basil, Chives, Fennel, Kale, Leek, Lemon Balm, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Oregano, Parsley, Peas, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Watercress
(Lettuce/Romaine may grow in this range as well, just watch for tip burn on the leaves — some varieties may tolerate the PPM level)
based on the PPM of 1265 and a pH of 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B: Artichoke, Beetroot, Bok Choy, Broad Bean (Fava Bean), Carnation (2′ tall, but petals of flower are edible), Cauliflower, Celery, Chives, Cucumber, Kale, Leek, Marjoram, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Parsley, Peas, Purslane, Pumpkin, Spinach, Summer Squash, Strawberries and Swiss Chard, Turnip Greens, Water Cress, Watermelon, Zucchini
based on the PPM of 1490 and a pH of around 6.5, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B: Beans, Beetroot, Bok Choy, Broad Bean (Fava Bean), Celery, Eggplant, Endive/Chicory, Chives, Cucumber, Kale, Melon, Mint, Okra, Hot Peppers or Sweet Bell Peppers (Note: Planting both near each other may result in cross-pollination if outdoors and open-pollinated by bees and your sweet peppers can get a bit of heat in the flavor department. If growing indoors and hand pollinating blooms, you should be fine.), Purslane, Pumpkin, Spinach, Summer Squash, Strawberries, Swiss Chard, Tomatillo, Tomato, Turnip Greens, Watermelon, Zucchini
Remember to put larger plants like kale and those that vine like peas, cucumber, and nasturtiums towards the bottom and you’ll need a support next to the Tower Garden where the vines can continue to grow out and fruit. Taller plants go towards the top (like Celery and Rainbow Swiss Chard).
based on the PPM of 1990 and a pH of around 6.5, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B: Beans, Beetroot, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Dill, Hot Peppers, Sweet Bell Peppers, Tomatillo, TomatoKeep in mind that your squashes, watermelons, tomatillos, and tomatoes are going to be heavy “feeders” meaning they will drink up water and nutrients during the hotter summer days.
Okay, so now you have an idea of what plants have similar growing PPM characteristics. Select one PPM group based on vegetables and herbs you like to use every day!
Keep in mind that for most of us, lettuce has to travel quite a ways if you’re purchasing it from a big box store especially. 70%+ of all romaine is grown in Salinas, California. That means that romaine has to travel roughly 3,000 miles to get to my plate here in Atlanta, Georgia. They say on average it takes 10 days for a harvested romaine to get from the farm to our dinner plate! This is unacceptable! Especially since we know from industry studies that due to respiration rates of plants, nutrient availability decreases within the first 24-48 hours! That translates into you losing out nutritionally on the very purpose of eating that salad! So, with that in mind, simply starting by growing greens is a great place to start. I also like greens because of they mature in 4-6 weeks meaning you get to see your success (and enjoy the fruit of your efforts) earlier rather than later.
The other thing to consider regarding a salad is the number of varieties you have probably never tried because the grocery store only carries 3-4 options. I have found that some of my best salads incorporate a variety of greens and textures. Have fun exploring greens you’ve never tried before — you might find you really like them fresh off of your Tower Garden. I had always shy’d away from Bok Choy in the grocery store because it looked limp and lifeless, but when I grew it in the Tower Garden it was super tasty and I learned that I could keep harvesting for 2 months until the plant flowered. Now it’s something I always plan on growing because it can be added to soups, quinoa, and salads.
If doing a greens selection to grow on your Tower Garden, I like to recommend my clients include a nasturtium on the lower part of their Tower Garden because a) you can eat both the leaves and the flower, b) most people have never tasted a nasturtium because they are not found readily in the grocery store and most often found on the fine diner’s plate, c) they are so pretty to look at on your tower and d) they are companion plants meaning they are good to grow next to other plants to help deter certain pests… When planted alongside cucumbers. eggplant, tomatoes, or squash plants, nasturtiums may repel cucumber beetles, whiteflies, aphids and squash bugs. There are other edible flowers in this range that would be fun to explore if you’re willing to be adventurous.
If you decide to do a vining crop with a higher PPM, keep in mind space (tip: put a trellis next to where the plant’s port is and it can grow off to the side. These vining plants are often water hogs and love the sun, so plan accordingly for anything planted above them — those plants will also need to be heat tolerant. I always recommend including a flowering plant as it will attract pollinators and pollinators (aka: bees) will plump up your fruit and leave your flowering plants in a better state than how they found it.
Tomatoes are the most popular thing to grow. Ideally, you’ll want to look for varieties that have compact traits, but if you do have room next to your outdoor Tower Garden, make sure you can handle the growth habit on a trellis. My favorite tomato is an heirloom variety, Cherokee Purple, and it’s vining can reach up to 10′ or more if it’s given the nutrients it loves. (And BOY do they taste AMAZING!!!!) Cherry Tomato varieties are going to be prolific, so plan a space to support their growing needs to you have airflow and are able to easily keep pests from moving in on your crop.
Tip: If you are putting large vining plants in the lower ports of your Tower Garden. Plant to the left, right and on the back side leaving the front port open. (You may want to cover that port with a rubber disc like this.) The reason for leaving the front port unplanted is you need access to your water reservoir opening and some vines take over and make it difficult to reach it.
And my last thing to highlight is the pepper — remember that if you are growing outdoors and have hot peppers and sweet peppers both growing in your Tower Garden, you may get some cross-pollination through open-pollination and your sweet peppers might be hotter than their parent plants. It’s a good idea to just pick either hot peppers or sweet peppers if growing outdoors. Now if you’re growing indoors under lights, you can plant both hot and sweet in the same system in ports on opposite side of the Tower Garden because you will have to self-pollinate your flower buds anyway (turn a fan on to give your tower a light breeze or hand-pollinate with a toothbrush or paintbrush).
This should get your started. If you’re looking for Seed Providers, you can check out our article here.
PS: If you want a printable version of the information above to print off and to use as a reference in your garden journal, simply click here: Growing by Common PPMs.
If you have found this information to be helpful, we appreciate any donation large or small to continue our research and to keep GrowYourHealthGardening.com available as a continued resource. Thank you!
This Black Seeded Simpson seed was packaged in 2014 and we just did a germination test. We placed on a wet paper towel under bright light (lettuce needs light to germinate) at 70°F for 24 hours, covered in darkness overnight and found germination! Six-year-old lettuce seed properly stored germinated! It amazes me the life that is contained in one little seed.
Doing a quick germination test like this prior to ordering seed can save you the hassle and money of purchasing new seed. To calculate your germination rate, take the number of seeds that germinated (evident by the radical root emerging from the seed casing) and divide by the total number of seeds you put in your tray — that will give you the germination rate of your seed.
Because I use rockwool for hydroponics, we can use seeds from this germination test and transfer them into wetted rockwool and continue to grow them in ideal seed started conditions (warming mat to 70°F and bright lights). No seed is wasted! This also helps me conserve my rockwool.
To transfer germinated seeds, I take a tweezer with (the kind with a flat edge) and clean them with rubbing alcohol and finish off with a quick rinse of water. I gently pick up each germinate seed with the tweezer and drop it into the hole of my rockwool making sure to not plant the seed too deep. General rule of thumb whether sowing soil or into another planting medium like rock wool is to plant seed as deep as it is wide. I sometimes use the plastic tip of my nearby plant marker to slide it off of the tweezer tip as we don’t want to crush the seed embryo (still inside seed casing). I also plant two seeds per rockwool cube (in case one doesn’t make it for some reason.) I can always thin out to one plant as the seed grows into a seedling.
If you want tips on how long seeds can last when properly stored, check out our handy guide here.
PS: Food for thought… Jesus said you need only to have faith in Him — even if it’s as small as a mustard seed… Think of how much life is just within a little tiny seed. The giant redwood tree, for example, comes from something that is so tiny… if God can create a magnificent and awe-inspiring tree, how much MORE amazing and beautiful are you who is made in His own image.
“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.””
Matthew 13:31-32 NIV https://www.bible.com/111/mat.13.31-32.niv
Tips for Hydroponic, Aeroponic, Aquaponic, and Soil-based Gardening Methods