Category Archives: Tower Garden Tips

How to Have Your Own Personal Produce Aisle in Your Own Home

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:

Minimum (F)Optimum Range (F)Optimum (F)Maximum
Beet40º50º-85º85º85º
Cabbage40º45º-95º85º100º
Cauliflower40º45º-85º80º100º
Celery40º60º-70º70º85º
Chard40º50º-85º85º95ª
Cucumber60º60º-95º95º105º
Eggplant60º75º-95º90º100º
Lettuce35º40º-80º75º85º
Melons60º75º-95º90º100º
Onion35º50º-95º75º95º
Parsley40º50º-85º75º90º
Pepper60º65º-95º85º95º
Pumpkin60º70º-90º90º100º
Spinach35º45º-70º70º85º
Squash60º70º-95º95º100º
Tomato50º70º-95º85º95º
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).

Click above screen shot to access full list of seeds that have special requirements to germinate.

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.

Hydroponics:
1.5″ rock wool
• bowl for soaking rock wool
• vermiculite for seeds that need to be covered
(see our list here if you’re unsure)
liquid kelp (I add a TBSP to my water soak)
seeds you intend to plant (those that are not in the freezer)
plant tags
permanent marker
• access to a water source and/or some sort of watering can to “water in” seeds
• and a tray of some sort (I use an old cookie sheet) to rest your starts upon under lights for easy moving around from under your grow light to outdoors as temps allow or to your indoor growing system.
heat mat with temp gauge
grow light

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:

Week
1
Week
2
Week
3
Week
4
Week
5
Week
6
Week
7
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 TGWeek 2 seedlings Btm Row 2 of TGWeek 3 seedlings Btm Row 3 of TGWeek 4 seedlings Row 4 of TG
Copyright 2021 Grow Your Health Gardening
Week
8
Week
9
Week
10
Week
11
Week
12
Week
13
Week
14
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 TGWeek 6 seedlings Row 6 of TGWeek 7 seedlings Row 7 of TGWeek 8 seedlings Row 1 of TGWeek 9 seedlings Row 2 of TGWeek 10 seedlings Row 3 of TGWeek 11 seedlings Row 4 of TG
Harvest off of btm row 1 lettuceHarvest off of btm row 2 lettuceHarvest off of btm row 3 lettuceHarvest off of btm row 4 lettuceHarvest 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!

Grow Guide: Growing your own Arugula in a Hydroponic or Aeroponic Tower Garden

Learn how to grow your own arugula at home hydroponically / aeroponically from certified hydroponic grower, Erin Castillo of Grow Your Health Gardening and GYHG Seed Co.

Quick Links:
• Jump to Starting Arugula from Seed
• Jump to Arugula Hydroponic Growing Guide
• Jump to Arugula Nutritional Information
• Jump to How to Use Arugula
• Or continue to read the article… enjoy!

Why you should be growing your own arugula instead of buying from the grocery store or Big-Box Retailer

You know how you go to a fancy restaurant and they bring you your salad course and before they leave your table they offer fresh pepper for your salad and with your permission proceed to grind cracked pepper onto your salad? Think of arugula as your cracked pepper of the salad world.

Why Grow Arugula and How To Use It

I wanted to feature Arugula, because I just don’t think people understand how versatile this plant truly is and that it is beneficial in so many ways. It is chalk-full of beneficial nutrients (which we will cover later in case you wanted to know) while also being low in calories.

It is ideal for new home gardeners in building confidence of gardening skills as it grows quickly from seed (aptly nicknamed “Salad Rocket” in some countries) and can begun to be harvested off of and tossed into salads with other greens when the leaves are still young and small at 2″-3″ in length. (Note: If you leave the center 3-4 leaves, it will continue to produce as a cut-and-come-again plant.) Arugula is often found in the produce aisle in salad greens mix and called “mesclun”.

Mature Full-Grown Leaves and How to Use Them

I as a mother of five know that life can get busy, so if you fall behind on harvesting leaves when small and the plant gets more mature, that’s okay! It will be “spicier” or “peppery” in taste as a mature plant. Take these 6″-8″ long leaves and slice them from tip to base into 1/4″ or thinner strips and sprinkle over your salad or mix in (think of it like your freshly ground peppercorn). Diced leaves can even be added to dishes that call for cilantro or parsley, or mixed into pastas, side dishes, put on top of sandwiches, in wraps and/or added to soups. Its flavor compliments goat cheese, balsamic vinaigrette, tomatoes, olive oil and garlic, making it perfect to blend into dips or spreads.

fresh cut vegetable in bowl in kitchen
Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

Arugula can also be added to your basil pesto as added flavor or if you like the peppery flavor, you can substitute arugula in place of basil and make an entire pesto out of arugula leaves. We like this happy medium of a pesto recipe in particular over at PCOSbites. It’s great if you are looking for something that isn’t the same ol’ pesto recipe, but full of nutrients while still tasting delicious. We think of it as the new “elderberry syrup” as an immune-boosting meal for our family.

Healthy Pesto in a Mason Jar
Photo by: PCOSbites: Healthy Pesto Recipe


We also love to add arugula baby leaves to our sun-dried tomato, goat cheese, and pine nut mini pizzas! The kids don’t bat an eye-lash at the greens on their personalized pizzas because these taste so good!

Mature leaves can also be cooked or sautéed much like you would cook collards. With a TBSP of sherry, soy sauce, minced garlic, and vegetable oil + 1/2 tsp of salt and granulated sugar you can have a quick healthy side dish to accompany your sun-dried tomato mozzarella chicken. YUM!

faceless man showing appetizing pizza with arugula in restaurant
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com


If you don’t plan on eating a salad and just want to move it out of your system to put something else in, simply clean harvested leaves with water and pat dry with paper towels and spread out on a dehydrator. Dehydrate at 110ºF for 6 hrs until it breaks crisp (no moisture left in leaves.) Do not crush leaves, but place in a glass jar with an oxygen absorber and put in your spice and seasoning cabinet. When a recipe calls for pepper or if you’re making a soup, simply add in your dried arugula. BAM! (As Emeril would say…) or YUMMO! (As Rachel Ray would say…) You will get a hint of that pepper flavor as well as all the amazing nutrients that this little power-packed leaf holds.

Tip: After you dehydrate your arugula, don’t crush the leaves. Store the leaves as one piece as much as possible. When you “crush” or break up the leaves, it releases the flavonoids and other beneficial nutrients. We want those to stay in tack until we are ready to consume it in our cooking, so I always encourage folks to hold off crushing your leaves for this reason. This is also why you may notice your home-grown herbs and spices have so much more flavor than the crushed and processed ones from the grocery store.

—Erin Castillo, Owner Grow Your Health Gardening and GYHG Seed Co.

Nutritional Benefits You’ll Get from Eating Arugula

So, we’ve covered how to use arugula. Let’s briefly touch on why you should be eating this green. According to the USDA, a half cup (approximately 10 grams) of raw arugula has about:

  • 2.5 calories
  • 0.4 gram carbohydrates
  • 0.3 gram protein
  • 0.1 gram fat
  • 0.2 gram fiber
  • 10.9 micrograms vitamin K (14 percent DV)
  • 237 international units vitamin A (5 percent DV)
  • 1.5 milligrams vitamin C (2 percent DV)
  • 9.7 micrograms folate (2 percent DV)
  • 16 milligrams calcium (2 percent DV)

In addition, this leafy green contains some iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and choline. It also is rich in phytonutrients offering 1,424 mg of Beto-Carotene B

Did you know that one cup of Arugula can meet over a quarter of the daily recommended value of Vitamin K? Vitamin K is essential to blood clot formation and bone formation. Some researchers even believe that vitamin K may be a key factor in bone development, more so than calcium. I want my children to have strong bones as they grow and I encourage them to eat salads daily. One way to help provide their bodies with what they need is to mix in some arugula into their daily salad.

Tip: If you’re having difficulty getting your children to eat greens, involve them in the growing process. Give them a garden that is completely their own area to tend and help them grow plants from seed. As they feel more connected to their food, their natural curiosity will kick-in and they will willingly try the food they have patiently waited for to grow.

—Erin Castillo, Owner Grow Your Health Gardening and GYHG Seed Co.

How to Grow Arugula in a Hydroponic System

In this article, I’ll focus on growing it hydroponically, because that’s my preferred method of growing, but a lot of the same tips can be applied to growing in soil.

You can grow arugula in any hydroponic or aeroponic system. In a vertical garden growing system like the Tower Garden or Farm Stand, you’ll want to place this plant towards the top as you will most likely be harvesting from it continuously and keeping the plant size small.


Starting your arugula from seed:
Choosing your arugula variety

If you’re growing in a hydroponic / aeroponic system, we strongly recommend you opt of seed that has already adapted to these growing conditions. Can seed from soil-grown parent plants grow hydroponically? Absolutely, but plants adapt epigenetically each growing season, so you’ll have a stronger healthier plant if you start out right with seed that has already adapted to the growing conditions you want to match. According to growers at the Seed Savers Exchange, seed DNA can hold 5+ years of growing seasons in which it can tap to survive and thrive. Choosing your seed stock source is more important than most realize.

Our arugula seed has been grown outdoors in the cool season of the Southeast in Zone 7 (not mentioning the zone here because it’s a perennial, but to help you get an idea of where the seed is grown so you can best match it to your own growing conditions.) GYHG Seed Co arugula seed can handle heat and humidity to a point before it bolts, but definitely plan on growing this during the cool season and start your seedlings 2 weeks before your last average frost date with the intention to move it outdoors as a transplant.

How many plants should you plant:

If you are wanting arugula on hand to pick fresh and mix into salads, I recommend planting four plants on a rotation (see below charts.) Place in upper level of Tower Garden or Farm Stand.

This is also a seed that you will want to plant on a continual basis on a four to five week cycle, so if you don’t have a Seed Starting Station set up already, you will want to read up about how to get one set up here. We recommend to plant four plants and keep them in your upper level of your Tower Garden or Farm Stand vertical garden growing system.

Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5
Start 2
rockwool cubes
Nurture
Week 1 seeds
Start 2
rockwool cubes
Nurture
Week 3 seeds
Start 2
rockwool
cubes
Transplant
Week 1
Seedlings
into TG
Transplant
Week 3
Seedlings
into TG
Harvest
baby
leaves
Harvest
baby
leaves
Copyright 2021 Grow Your Health Gardening
Week 6Week 7Week 8Week 9Week 10
Nurture
Week 5 seeds
Start 2
rockwool cubes
Nurture
Week 7 seeds
Start 2
rockwool cubes
Nurture
Week 9 seeds
Pull Week 1 Plants.
Transplant
Week 5
Seedlings
into TG
Pull Week 3 Plants.
Transplant
Week 7
Seedlings
into TG
Continue
pattern
of pulling
older plants
and
transplanting seedlings
Harvest
baby
leaves
Harvest
baby
leaves
Harvest
baby
leaves
Harvest
baby
leaves
Harvest
baby
leaves
Copyright 2021 Grow Your Health Gardening

Arugula needs light to germinate. If you’re ever unsure of what a seed may require for germination, we have a handy resource on our Web site that lists out seeds that require special treatment that you may want to download or bookmark the page.

Outdoor planting in a hydroponics system: If planting in the spring, you will want to start your seeds indoors or in a greenhouse so that your seedling start will be about two to three weeks old by the time your last spring frost date rolls around. If planting in the fall, you’ll want to factor in your harvest date range and count backwards 4-6 weeks from your frost date.

Arugula likes to live around 45° to 65°F (10-18°C). Plant arugula so that it comes to harvest in cool weather. It may fail to germinate if it’s too warm. Use a UV light system of some sort to grow your seedlings indoors keeping the light source 8″-12″ if LEDs and 5″-6″ away from seedlings if fluorescent lighting.

LED-vs-Fluorescent1-bigger-1080x410


How many seeds to plant per rock wool: We recommend planting about 3-5 seeds per rock wool cube. Arugula typically germinates within 4-8 days. Be sure to use seed that is packaged for the current growing season as it will aide your ability to germinate the seeds. You can always remove any excess seedlings down to two plants as the plants mature if you are concerned about crowding. Our philosophy is start out with more and thin down as needed (but don’t toss those microgreens you pull — they are healthy for you to eat as micro-greens).

How much nutrients you should give your seedlings:  Keep rockwool moist to the touch but not drenched. When you see a sprout, you can add a tsp of kelp to your water and water the young seedlings while giving them bright light from a grow light.

Thinning out your seedling starts: As the seeds germinate and grow, you will want to pull (or also called “thin out”) the weaker seedlings from the rock wool. (Remember, this is not a wasted plant — you can simply enjoy eating it as a microgreen.)  You will want to leave leave 1-2 plants per rock wool to grow to maturity.

Transplanting your seedlings into your hydroponic system:  Seedlings should be ready to transplant to your Tower Garden or hydroponic system about 2–3 weeks after sprouting. Seedlings plants should be about 1-2 inches tall, with 3-4 true leaves, before they are ready to leave the nest and enter into the hydroponic / aeroponic Tower Garden or other related system.

Finally, remember that arugula plantings should be staggered in roughly 2-3 week intervals in order to ensure a continuous harvest. If doing a spring planting, your growing season will be longer than a fall planting. You can extend your fall outdoor planting season by adding a professional grade heater to your Tower Garden reservoir keeping water temps in the 50-65º F range for the root zone to continue to uptake nutrients — just be sure to cover your Tower Garden outside with a weather protection blanket like this when freeze warnings appear.


delicious pasta bolognese with arugula and pink salt
Photo by ready made on Pexels.com

Nutrient levels for optimal growth throughout the growing season for arugula:

Nutrients:
EC:
 0.8 – 1.2
(We recommend Tower Tonic Mineral Blend™ for a well-balanced nutrient solution to feed your plants the proper N-K-P and micro-nutrients. You can purchase a 1 gallon set of Part A and Part B here.)

PPM: 560 – 840
(We recommend Tower Tonic Mineral Blend™ for a well-balanced nutrient solution to feed your plants the proper N-K-P and micro-nutrients. You can purchase a 1 gallon set of Part A and Part B here.)

pH:  5.5-6.2
(pH is essential to help the plant uptake nutrients.)

Light: (Amount of sun or light exposure throughout the day)
Hydroponic arugula should get between 10 and 14 hours of light per day.

Arugula Temp Tips:
(Root zone temp is essential to help the plant uptake nutrients)

  • Maximum Temp 75º Degrees Fahrenheit
  • Optimal Day Cycle Temp  65º – 70º Fahrenheit
  • Optimal Night Cycle Temp  60º – 65º Fahrenheit
    (Note: arugula can handle some frost so long as the root zone stays above 50ºF, so use a water heater in your reservoir if you want to try pushing the limits on it growing in the cold.)
  • Seed Storage  40º to 70º degrees Fahrenheit
  • Germination  60º to 75º degrees Fahrenheit

Companion plants:

SOIL Growers: Note — Do not grow in soil with pole beans or strawberries. Good companion plants are bush beans, celery, carrots, nasturtium, mint, dill, lettuce, cucumbers, onions, rosemary, potatoes

HYDROPONIC Growers: See first chart on Cool Season Plants on this page for reference of what grows well at similar PPM ranges and pH ranges in a hydroponic / aeroponic system.


Harvesting your arugula:

Make a note of how many days to maturation on the variety of arugula you are planting and mark your calendar or in your gardening journal. When your plants have reached the baby leaf stage, take a sanitized clean pair of hand trimmers or scissors and cut the outer leaves of your arugula plant, leaving at minimum three center leaves to continue to grow. The plant will continue to produce leaves for you but will become spicier as the plant matures. If you don’t want spicier leaves, simply pull the mature plant at 5-6 weeks of age and replace the plant with a new transplant (see chart above). Ideally, your arugula should be eaten within a few hours of harvest; however, if storage is necessary, the correct conditions to prolong shelf life are rapid cooling down to 34°F (we accomplish this with an ice bath of water) and then spin the leaves dry and place between dry paper towels in a sealed lettuce container with and 95-98% percent humidity.

How to store arugula that is not consumed right away:

If you have more arugula producing faster than you can eat, there are a couple of options: dehydrating or freezing.  To dehydrate your arugula leaves, place on a dehydrator rack at 110º F for 6-24 hours. When the leaves are crunchy (you can break them in half), remove from the dehydrator and place in a tightly sealed pouch or Mason jar with an oxygen absorber. Dehydrated arugula can be used in soups and ground into a powder to add to pestos, soups, or even on meats for additional nutrients.

You can also freeze your crop in an air-tight bag or container and use in smoothies or defrost and use in recipes that may call for herbs.

Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below and happy growing!


Sources:

7 things you should put on your seed labels

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. Here’s what we include on our labels and some tips that help along the way:

  • 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)
  • Use a non-fading permanent marker
  • Point the label away from the sun.
  • A best practice to do a back-up label as well

The Foundation: Your Actual Choice of Label Style

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 alcohol to soak and process them (clean hem) during the winter months. This strips off the writing when you rub with a paper towel and apply a little bit of pressure.

For those growing in soil, if you have access to an old white 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 markers using a permanent marker or wax pencil.

Some Tower Garden or Farm Stand 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.

Tip: If you use plastic labels like the ones shown above and a permanent marker and you make a mistake, simply use 91%-94% isopropyl rubbing alcohol to remove marker.

Use rubbing alcohol to remove permanent marker (Sharpie).

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 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 will save you time in the long run.

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.

https://www.timeanddate.com/date/dateadd.html

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).

red flower fields
Photo by Magnus D’Great M on Pexels.com

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!

Happy Growing!
—Erin

how red can boost your production by 20% percent + two ways to enhance flavor in your tomatoes

I was listening to a podcast by one of my favorite market growers from Alabama, Noah Sanders, and he had a guest on from Kaleva, (Northern) Michigan, Craig Shaaf, from Golden Rule Farm who mentioned that he put red dye in an empty soda bottle and it helped his tomatoes mature earlier than anyone else’s tomatoes in the area while also sighting a Clemson University Study.

So, being that we drink a lot of sparkling water in our house, I had an empty liter lying around (we typically repurpose these for terrariums in cold hardy annuals but that’s a something to discuss for another day), so I filled it with some water and added several drops of red food coloring to it and sat it on my indoor Tower Garden near some micro dwarf unripened cherry tomatoes I was growing. Low and behold, two days later, the cherry tomatoes closest to the red-colored water began to ripen from the bottom up!

Red reflective Far-Red light encourages tomatoes to ripen.

Studies using Red Plastic Selective Reflecting Mulch (SRM) Show Increased Yields for Certain Plants

Research originally started during the 1980s and led to development of SRM-Red, a selective reflecting mulch that has been available commercially since 1996. Plant physiologist Michael J. Kasperbauer, who retired from the Agricultural Research Service‘s (ARS) Coastal Plains Soil, Water and Plant Research Center at Florence, S.C. found that plastic colored-mulch’s controlling factor is not the colors themselves, but how the colors adjust the amount of blue light and the ratio of far-red (FR) to red light that plants receive reflecting from the ground upwards.

The studies used a red plastic mulch (also referred to as Selective Reflecting Mulch, or SRM for short). It is similar to black plastic mulch used frequently by growers to help warm the soil, prevent erosion, and retains moisture. The red plastic mulch is often thinner than most black weed block and allows more light (and sometimes weeds) through it.

But red plastic mulch’s true strength is in its ability to reflect certain red light waves back onto the growing plant, thereby accelerating fruit production and increasing overall yields. Past ARS work showed that red plastic mulch produced larger tomatoes and produced 20% more than black plastic mulch counterparts and the red plastic mulch also sweeter-smelling, better-tasting strawberries.

Similar results were found on peppers and eggplants as well as with lettuce.

ARS’ also tried the red plastic mulch with cotton, carrots and basil. They found that color of the plastic mulch can affect the roots, stems, leaves and seeds, as well as the fruits, of many other food and crop plants.

Research on cotton showed that cotton fibers grew longer in bolls exposed to increased FR-to-red light ratios. Another study, on carrots, showed that concentrations of nutrients and compounds such as vitamin C and beta carotene in the roots of food crops could be changed by reflecting the right waves of color onto the plants’ leaves.

What’s more, in studies with basil, the amounts of blue, red and FR light reflected onto developing leaves affected their size, aroma and concentration of soluble phenolics. The phenolics are natural compounds, including tannins and pigments that can induce color, some flavors and odors, and antioxidant activity.

Basil leaves developing above red mulches had greater area, succulence and fresh weight than those developing above black mulch. When grown above yellow and green mulches, basil leaves developed significantly higher concentrations of aroma compounds and phenolics than did those of plants grown above white and blue mulches.

The concept of colored mulch sprouted when Kasperbauer wondered whether phytochrome was equally distributed in leaves. He became curious about what would happen if light impinged on the leaf’s lower, rather than upper, surface. “The plant response was the same, no matter which surface received the light,” says Kasperbauer. “Although that experiment seemed somewhat unconventional in 1962, it became highly relevant about 22 years later, when we determined that red and FR reflected from the soil surface could act through the plant’s phytochrome system to enhance yield and quality. That led to our colored-mulch work.”

Red Plastic Selective Reflecting Mulch (SRM) helps to Deter Nematodes

What’s more, tests done by USDA’s plant physiologist Michael J. Kasperbauer and Clemson University nematologist Bruce Fornum showed that nematode damage can be lessened by red plastic mulch. They did an interesting study where they planted tomatoes into sterile soil — some rows covered in black plastic mulch and some covered in red plastic mulch. They then inoculated both rows with 0-200,000 nematode eggs. Their findings showed the black mulch produced 8 pounds of tomatoes whereas the red mulch produced 17 pounds! That’s roughly a 113% increase in yield battling the same conditions.

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service found that red plastic mulch suppresses root nematode damage to tomatoes because the light reflection keeps more of the plant’s growth above ground. The plant’s energy goes into developing fruit and foliage, rather than roots. Nematodes feed on roots. The far-red light reflection to the above-ground plant draws away nutrients from the roots – and nutrients away from the nematodes. Fewer roots mean less food for nematodes. Less food = fewer nematodes.

Things to Consider When Using Red Plastic Selective Reflecting Mulch (SRM)

  • Carefully secure red plastic selective reflecting mulch underneath your plants so that there is at least a foot on every side of the plant in it’s mature stage of growth.
  • Do not place the red plastic selective reflecting mulch in walking paths as it is thinner than other weed blocking materials.
  • Consider placing a weed block material underneath your red plastic SRM to help limit weeds from growing underneath.
  • Drip irrigation will be necessary underneath

Two other Bonus Tips for Boosting Flavor in Tomatoes:

  1. Place 1-2 TBSP of pure natural Molasses in a gallon of water and stir well to dilute it down and place into a spray bottle and spray your leaves. This will aid in bringing out flavor in your tomatoes.
  2. When your tomatoes are about 18″ tall, a little bit of stress at times can really boost flavor as well. Spray your plants about every 2 weeks with 1 standard strength 325 mg uncoated aspirin tablet mixed in a gallon of water and mix well until the aspirin is completely dissolved and then spray the tomato leaves with the aspirin solution (Salicylic Acid) to trigger tomato defenses. This will especially really beef up your Beef Steak varieties and boost the flavor profile as well.

Find Red Plastic Selective Reflecting Mulch for your Tomato, Pepper, Eggplant, Basil, Cotton, and Lettuce (and more) Crops

Better Reds Red Mulch for Tomato Growth

4′ x 100′ Roll of Grower’s Solution Red Plastic Mulch
[Click to Get]
4′ x 50′ Roll of Grower’s Solution Red Plastic Mulch
[Click to Get]
3′ x 24′ Roll of Red Plastic Mulch
[Click to Get]

Sources:

• “Colored Mulch Can Help Cotton, Carrots—and Basil, Too” by Luis Pons
September 5, 2003 https://www.ars.usda.gov/news-events/news/research-news/2003/colored-mulch-can-help-cotton-carrots-and-basil-too/
• “Review: Red Plastic Mulch for Tomatoes –Does It Make a Difference?http://www.tomatodirt.com/red-plastic-mulch.html
• “More than Meets the Eye: New Findings on How Mulch Color Can Affect Food PlantsUSDA ARS Online Magazine Vol. 51, No. 9
• “Color of Light Reflected to Leaves Modifies Nutrient Content of Carrot Roots” by George F. Antonious* and Michael J. Kasperbauer USDA
• “Colored Mulch Starves NematodesUSDA agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/ar/archive/1997/oct/mulch1097.pdf

Grand Opening of GYHG Seed Co!

We are excited to announce our Grand Opening of Grow Your Health Gardening (GYHG) Seed Co.!

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!

— Erin & Jesse + Joshua

3 strategies for extending your FLEX Tower Garden growing season

There are several ways to extend your growing season when growing in a Tower Garden by Juice Plus+ FLEX outdoors. Consider this your friendly “heads-up”, so you’re ready when that first freeze warning comes and not left panicking about plants not making it through the night. Here are our Grow Your Health Gardening three strategies for managing the cold that will inevitably come…

Green Leaf with first signs of frost showing

Strategy #1: Weather Blanket + Water Heater

Okay y’all — you want to get NOW in order to extend your harvests another 4-6 weeks into the growing season this fall. With the pandemic still being an issue, everything is selling out early, so think ahead and get your weather blankets ordered now. Like today.

For those of you who need a little more info before deciding if a weather blanket is what you need or not, read on…

You’ve gone through the effort to plant a crop, the last thing you want to do is see it all come to an abrupt end the first time you get a cold frost at night. Enter the weather blanket. This light weight “blanket” protects your plants from frost. Even our warm season jalapeños lasted well into November last year here in Zone 7B when we covered the Tower Garden with weather blankets.

They’re made of a quality space-age metallic -type light weight material that holds in warmth and deflects the cold. Technically its made of UV-resistant blanket made from metalized HDPE. Think of it as thermal underwear for your plants.

I typically cover my plants early evening before temperatures drop before sunset. The weather blanket is extremely light weight, but even still, if I have larger plants towards the top of the tower that could get their leaves crushed, I’ll add a heavy clay pot to the top of the Tower and drape the Weather Blanket over the pot to take off any pressure on those upper level plants. Works like a charm. In the morning, when temps raise to around 60ºF, I’ll uncover the Towers and set the blankets to the side and replace them at evening if another Freeze Warning occurs. There will come a point where the day time temps are just too cold to grow outside, so bear in mind that these are not a year-round solution — they will simply extend your growing season by several weeks to a month (depending on what your weather patterns are in your growing region.)

Pictured above right: Tower Garden Weather Blankets covering plants on a Tower Garden vertical hydroponic aeroponic growing system.

The weather blankets are also weighted at the bottom and have grommets on the corners if you need to tie down and secure your crop. (In five growing seasons, I have never had to tie mine down here in Georgia, but if you live in a windy area or have a storm threatening, those grommets could come in handy for sure.) The grommets also enable you to suspend your blanket tied to poles or trees in the summer heat of positioned above the Tower Garden acting as a shade cloth of sorts for extreme heat waves that could damage plants. The weather blanket is in the shape of a circle so it also fits perfectly over a Tower Garden with enough to reach the ground in case any plants spill over into that region.

And remember, you are not limited to using the weather blanket solely on the hydroponic Tower Garden. You can also use these elsewhere in the garden. For example, I used one to protect my large Gardenia Bush from a freeze and it didn’t get any damage one cold winter, because I used the blanket.

My weather blankets come out in early spring and late fall/autumn and are wonderful workhorses in my garden. When not in use I simply roll them up (like you would a sleeping bag) and wrap a bungy cord around it and store it on my shelf in the garage until needed. I’m going on my fourth season with my weather blankets and they’re still going strong. But if you have any additional doubts, Tower Garden offers an easy one-year limited warranty.

If you don’t know your first frost date, I like this one on Dave’s Garden. Begin by entering your zip code and then you will get several reference charts based on weather stations that are near your zip code along with probability percentages of when the freeze or frost will occur based on cumulative data. Here’s an example of the results I get in my growing region…

Find Your First Freeze or Last Frost Date


For those of you in Zone 7 or higher, here’s a friendly countdown of how many days you have left to grow in this region (think cool season crops) before possible frost hits.

2020-10-24T19:44:00

  days

  hours  minutes  seconds

until

Days left in Zone 7 Growing Season

So to sum up, grab your Weather Blanket now. It’s a tool that will allow you to keep growing food on your Tower Garden beyond the date listed above.

One Weather Blanket runs $44 and that includes shipping (tax additional and varies by state). You can purchase here: https://erincastillo.towergarden.com/shop/weather-protection-blanket


And don’t forget about your water temp… Even cool season plants have a threshold with how cold those roots will go and things still grow, so you may want to order a water heater before that first frost date as well. It’s best if you keep your root zone around 65ºF or warmer and as temps drop, a water heater will keep your cool plants happy. This is the one that I use… I got mine off of Amazon for $24 (free ship with Prime).

Water Heater for Tower Garden

In my first growing season I used a glass-based aquarium heater and by December, I remember going to check on my plants outside and a snow had come and it had shattered — the glass heater just couldn’t keep up and it made it tricky to clean all that glass out of my reservoir. (If you can believe it, my tomatoes were still fruiting that year until that snow came thanks to the water heater!) I also like this one shown above, because it is designed for up to a 60 gallon system. Even though the Tower Garden has a 25 gallon reservoir, for a few extra dollars I have a waterheater that can handle the rigor that outdoor temps throw my way. Remember, it’s not going to make the water into a sauna — it’s designed to warm temps up to a point. There will be a threshold where your outdoor growing environment temps may exceed what even this water can handle. I typically use it to extend the season another month or two here in Zone 7 and then around the end of November, I pull my Towers inside my garage and attach their Grow Lights. I have a water heater for each of my Tower Gardens that move into our garage as a way to keep water warmer as the garage floor and ambient temp gets colder than the rest of our house. (Another quick tip to keep water temps in the right zone… I keep all my indoor Tower Gardens on a rolling dolly so it’s not sitting directly on a cold concrete floor in the garage.)

Tower Garden Time Interval Tip for Cold Weather

Strategy #2: Dolly + Garage + Water Heater

And for those of you who have your sunny patch near your garage, you could also forgo the Weather Blanket and just do a rolling cart base and roll it into your garage before the sun sets and roll it out in the morning when temps are above 60ºF. The one thing to keep in mind with this option are your existing cords that run your pump. They will need to be out of the way so that you do not jar your Tower Garden when rolling it in and out of the garage. Rolling over the cord creating a jaring effect could cause damage to plants that are growing in the system — for a rolling dolly method to work, you need a smooth glide in and out of the garage. The wheels on the Tower Garden custom-fitted base are definitely able to handle the weight of the Tower Garden and move the tower with ease. I also like how on this rolling cart it custom fits the base of the Tower Garden and the wheels can lock the cart in place. These ship for $90 (price of shipping included in price, tax additional).

I’ve also seen some growers use this dolly off of Amazon for $37 which is cheaper, but it doesn’t have the lip and custom fit like the Tower Garden dolly, so bear that in mind when choosing your options. I can not vouch for if this would be tippy or not — just sharing another cheaper option in case others are looking for a cheaper option. Remember, cheaper does not always equate to better. I DO LIKE the ability to move my Tower Garden as needed indoors and I like having it up off the ground — especially cold cement in a garage. Whatever you choose for a dolly, just make sure it has a flat surface. The weight of the water in the reservoir needs a flat surface beneath it to support the weight. Any uneven stressors beneath your reservoir can put pressure on your reservoir and cause it to crack for the weight of the water and plants above so I can’t stress this enough — keep a flat base under the entire reservoir and grow system. Also make sure your wheels on your dolly lock. You don’t want any run-away Tower Gardens rolling down the driveway. 😉

Strategy #3: Bring Tower Garden Inside + Grow Lights + Water Heater

For those of you in colder regions that get snow and don’t want to mess with a Weather Blanket, you may want to find your frost date and prepare to clean your Tower Garden shortly after that date and then move your Tower Garden inside and put a set of lights on it. They are currently selling a lot of lights right now, so order them even if it says it is back ordered and you’ll be next in line for getting them as soon as they come off the production line. I recently had a customer order a set and they were only on backorder for a week. With that said though… order early to ensure availability when you really need it. The Grow Lights work on both the FLEX and HOME systems and come with a built-in timer where you can “set it and forget it” to come on and off automatically (remember, price listed on Grow Light ordering page includes shipping, but not tax).

I like how these lights adjust to move in closer to younger plants and move out further away from plants as they mature. Some folks do have light sensitivity to these bright grow lights, so be sure to consider that when placing your Tower Garden in your home.

So there you have it — three strategies to extend your growing season using the Tower Garden hydroponic / aeroponic growing system. Remember, once you have any of the above tools you can grow, and grow, and grow food! That means food security for you and your family… that means clean eating with no chemicals sprayed on your food to ripen them early or kill pests… and that means the best nutrients for your body because you are picking the plant when it is at it’s peak and it’s going straight to your table to enjoy.

Have a question on how to make the most of your growing season? Leave a comment below and we will help in any way we can… in the meantime, Happy Growing (and make a plan now to order what you need before the rush hits!)

—Erin

July growing tasks (Southeast – zone 7B)

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.

https://erincastillo.towergarden.com

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).

Never miss a facebook live video again with our learning library of archived videos

Grow Your Health Gardening Facebook Live Video Library Archive

Now you can find all our Facebook Live Videos on one page for easy reference and learning.

To view visit https://growyourhealthgardening.com/facebook-live-table-of-contents-learning-library/

If you have a specific question that you would like to ask, feel free to add in the comments below and we will be sure to answer them in the next Facebook Live Wednesday Walk Through Event mark your calendar for Wednesday, June 24 at 7 am Eastern (Atlanta, GA).

Here is the direct link if you want to add it to your Facebook Event reminders: https://www.facebook.com/events/588882825369499/
And be sure to visit our Facebook Page on that day and time to view the Facebook Live Video! Be sure to like and share with friends who are interested in growing their own food to grow their health!

Thanks y’all!

— Erin

Growing Lettuce Hydroponically

Whether it’s on a sandwich or in a salad, the refreshing crunch of lettuce is unmistakable. And there’s nothing quite like walking over to your Tower Garden and harvesting a crisp leaf to munch on.

Lettuce is a great starter plant for those new to gardening because it’s:

  • Fast-growing, and can be ready to harvest in as little as 3 weeks.
  • One of the healthiest vegetables you can eat, offering vitamins A, K and other nutrients.
  • Easy to grow—a perfect choice for new gardeners.

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.”

Foodborne Illness | Growing Your Own Salad Greens
Source: Fix.com Blog

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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.)

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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:

Heat Tolerant Lettuce | Growing Your Own Salad Greens
Source: Fix.com

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.

Here is a good starting point of specific seeds to get if you are just starting out:
Click here to view seed recommendations for a hydroponic Tower Garden

How much will I need to grow?

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.

Tower Tip:
To learn when you should grow lettuce in your area, try
this planting scheduler.

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Starting Lettuce Seeds

For leaf lettuces, plant 2–4 seeds per rock wool cube. And for head lettuces, plant only 1 seed per cube. Lettuce seeds need light to germinate and usually germinate within 1–2 weeks.
       
Keep under bright lights and use a warming pad (we like this one). Can’t stress enough how much a warming pad and a good full-spectrum LED grow light will help your success rate.

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.

Lettuce Seed Starting Guide

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.

Hydroponic Lettuce Growing Guide

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 |

Front view of seed storage ideaBack view of .jpeg

Tower Tip: For step-by-step instructions on starting seeds and transplanting seedlings, reference page 7 of the Tower Garden Growing Guide (PDF).

Common Lettuce Pests and Disease

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.

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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.

You’ll want to eat lettuce within a few days of harvesting. Need ideas for how to use it?
Browse recipes shared by other Tower Gardeners »

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More Tips for Growing Lettuce

If you’re hungry for more lettuce growing advice, we have a comprehensive guide available in the Resource Center.

Download lettuce growing guide »

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.

Seed Organizer – Lettuce »

Front view of seed storage idea

Happy Growing!

Erin

Grow What You Know: Planning your upcoming Tower Garden

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:

PPM Chart for Hydroponics Tower Garden

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, ZucchiniTower Garden Beginner Plants
  • 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).Salad Tower Garden Tower Planting SchematicPlanting Schematic for Chef Tower Garden
  • 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.

Kid Friendly Plants to Put in Tower Garden

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!

Assorted Green SaladKeep 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.

CC03128C-B0D7-4148-BC1E-A8C7B454653DTomatoes 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.

Bowl of Jalapeño Peppers Hydroponically Grown

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.

Happy Planning!

— Erin

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.

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