Category Archives: Warm Season Crops

3 simple steps to help your decorative fresh pumpkins last longer

There are some fantastic faux pumpkins you can find at the craft store these days, but there’s nothing quite like having a fresh pumpkin for the front porch. If you’re heading out to your local pumpkin patch to pick out the perfect pumpkin, be sure to pick up three additional items from the store to help preserve your pumpkin (if you don’t have these already): bleach, dish soap and matte paint spray sealer.

Photo by Monstera from Pexels

When you return home with your freshly harvested pumpkin, before placing your treasure on the front porch, do this:

  1. In a large sink or tub, prepare a mixture of bleach, water and dish soap: one (1) gallon of water, 2 tablespoons bleach, and a two drops of dish soap. Soak the pumpkin(s) in the mixture for 15-30 minutes.
  2. Next, rinse the pumpkin(s) with cool water and dry completely.
  3. After the pumpkins have dried all the way around them, take outside and give it a coat of spray matte sealer which will help preserve them even longer!
Pumpkin patch at local farm ready for guests to pick out the "perfect pumpkin" for their front porch.
Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels

Have fun picking out your pumpkins! And be sure to share pics of your pumpkins with us on social media! Tag us at #gyhg or #growyourhealthgardening on Instagram, Gab, Google My Business, or Facebook.

Beauty Lottringa — stunning on the vine and on the plate

Beauty Lottringa growing on the vine. Such a pretty tomato!

We are loving eating BLTs (Bacon, Lettuce + Tomato with Mayo on a slice of bread) fresh from the garden with tasty hydroponically-grown heirloom tomatoes! (So juicy!)

And this rare variety from Russia called Beauty Lottringa makes a tasty AND beautiful plating! Can you believe that each tomato has less than five seeds in it?! WOW! I personally love how each slice looks like a red flower.

Slice of Beauty Lottringa on a BLT Sandwich.
This variety only has about 5 seeds or less on average in each tomato!
BLT Sandwich with Black Passion and Beauty Lottringa featured in photo above. To shop all our hydroponic-adapted exclusive line of seeds visit store.growyourhealthgardening.com

I’m still debating on whether to sell this variety because of the low seed count, but I may end up doing a giveaway, so be sure to visit store.growyourhealthgardening.com and sign-up for our email updates and tips to be the first to hear when our new hydroponically-adapted line of seeds release or if we do a give-away on this particular variety.

Do you love BLTs as well? What is your favorite slicer variety?

Happy Growing!

—Erin

Announcing our 2021 Tomato Seed Line Up

We have been busy seeding tomatoes this week inside in preparation for the 2021 growing season and we look forward to bringing you hydroponic adapted seeds once our trials have completed. I search far and wide for unique varieties that cannot be found at the grocery store or big box gardening centers and even from large seed producers. We even have some rare varieties we are excited to try and share with you if they do well in our trials.

Every season, I feel it’s important to have FUN while you grow food for you and your family, so here are some of my personal FUN goals…

In particular, this year, I think I’m going to try and tackle growing the largest tomato I’ve ever grown. I’m thinking like, state fair size. My seed stock for this challenge comes from a private grower in Italy and we shall see how it adapts to our growing region.

I’m also focusing on more plum varieties this year, so we can make some amazing sauce and preserve it for the winter to feed our family of seven. I did some extra research and selected varieties that were favored by other tomato connoisseurs.

I’m also particularly excited about our new line-up of micro-dwarf tomatoes that don’t require a trellis and have usually one or two flushes of tomatoes before they complete their growing cycle. Because of their compact habit, they are ideal for growing in the vertical Tower Garden and for those who want to grow in small spaces like in the Aerogarden, Farm Stand, or even in a pot on your back patio or deck.

Our seed is adapted to hydroponic growing conditions in Zone 7 just west of Atlanta, Georgia. I share this info not because tomatoes are a perennial (which is typically the reason for looking at growing zones), but instead to help our home growers know where their seed is grown, so they can match it to their own growing conditions for success. Our tomatoes are all grown outdoors in heat and humidity and hand-pollinated with the exception of our micro-dwarfs which are grown indoors to limit cross-pollination.

We give our mature tomatoes a PPM range of 1400-2000 and a pH of 6.0-6.5 for maximum nutrient uptake. We recommend using the Tower Garden Mineral Blend for healthy plants and maximum growth. If you’re wondering what grows well with tomatoes in a hydroponic system, we encourage you to visit this page on our Grow Your Health Gardening Web site for more information.

If you wonder why tomato seeds can cost more than other seeds, know that tomatoes are very time-and-labor intensive to grow and require a lot of personal management with seed starting, pruning, scouting for any pest pressure, or any efforts to boost immune system through foliar application of comfrey tea and molasses tea (which helps to bring out flavor).

15 Slicer Tomato Variaties:

  • Apricot Brandywine Tomato
  • Black Passion Tomato
  • Big Rainbow Tomato
  • Delice De Nevilly Tomato (Rare)
  • Genovese Tomato (Rare)
  • Great White Heirloom Tomato (Low-Acid)
  • Green Elf (Tom Wagner Variety)
  • Merveille Des Marches Tomato (Rare)
  • Nostrano Grasso Tomato (Rare)
  • Orange Orangutan Tomato
  • Paul Robeson
  • Pineapple Tomato
  • Pomodoro Gigante Farina Tomato (Rare)
  • Thornburn’s Terra Cotta Tomato (Rare)
  • Wagner Blue Green Tomato (Tom Wagner Variety)

8 Paste Tomato Variaties:

  • Black Plum Paste Tomato
  • Cancelmo Family Ox Heart Tomato
  • Cassidy’s Folly Plum Tomato (Tom Wagner Variety)
  • Cream Sausage Plum Tomato (Tom Wagner Variety)
  • Dwarf Sneaky Sauce Micro-Dwarf Plum Tomato
  • Goatbag Plum Tomato
  • San Marzano Plum Tomato
  • Speckled Roman Plum Tomato

8 Cherry Tomato Variaties:

  • Black Cherry Tomato
  • Blue Cream Berries Cherry Tomato
  • Brad’s Atomic Grape Cherry Tomato
  • Green Doctor’s Frosted Tomato
  • Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomato
  • Red Pear Cherry Tomato
  • Sweetheart Cherry Tomato
  • Yellow Pear Cherry Tomato (Low Acid)

24 Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomatoes:

  • Annie’s Singapore Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Bonsai Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Dwarf Suzy’s Beauty Tomato
  • Gold Pearl Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Fat Frog Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Florida Petite Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Hahms Gelbe Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Hardins Miniature Micro-Dwarf Tomato
  • Inkspot Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Kookaburra Cackle Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Little Red Riding Hood Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Mo Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Monetka Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Olga’s Round Chicken Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Peachy Keen Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Pigmy Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Purple Reign Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Regina Red Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Regina Yellow Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Snegirjok Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Vilma Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Wherokowhai Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Willa’s Cariboo Rose Micro-Dwarf Tomato
  • Yellow Canary Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato

What do you look for in a tomato? What are your tomato aspirations for the upcoming growing season? Drop us a line in the comment section below!

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

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).

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.

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!

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When Your Harvest Feeds Your Family

Frozen heirloom tomatoesIt’s on cold wintery days like this that homemade tomato soup hits the spot. These heirloom tomatoes were from our 2019 season. I was short on time the day this bag (and another bag like this) came off the hydroponic Bato Bucket system and so I just threw it in a gallon size freezer bag for the Instapot this winter. Feels great knowing it’s pure unadulterated good food for my family.

I have four sons and a daughter and we like to watch the History Channel television show called Alone. Today we rewatched the last episode of season one. As we paused to thank the Lord for His provisions, my 10-year-old blessed the meal and I had to grin when he referenced the last episode of Alone saying, “…and thank you, Lord, that we didn’t have to struggle to find food or eat any bugs or slugs today.” Indeed. We are so blessed to be able to grow our own food. And every year we do it, we get better at it and more efficient.

Learning to grow food started when I was a little girl, helping my grandma to pick beans and bring in what would be served at supper to the farm hands and our family. I remember snapping peas into threes and dropping them kerplunk-kerplunk-kerplunk into a metal bucket. It was in Grandma’s kitchen standing for hours canning cherries harvested from her pie cherry tree for her yummy homemade pies.

And my parents had a garden for a few years. I can remember planting long rows of strawberries and we would put a fish head in the hole, fill it with water, and then plant the strawberry plant in the middle of the hole gathering the earth around it and gently pressing the earth down. But they got so busy with both working that it was difficult to keep up with the garden. I remember on Saturdays I got stuck with the inside cleaning jobs while my brothers got to go out and weed the garden and mow the lawn. Eventually the garden became grass and the grass got covered when Dad’s garage was built.

In both situations, gardening was disguised as “work” to me as a child, but now, looking back, I see how it was instilling the value of self-reliance, the importance of growing food — at least until our family got caught up with eating out and running from event to event. Beware of the busyness of life…

Fast forward almost 17 years … It wasn’t until my children were being homeschooled that I realized I had taken my experiences and what knowledge I had in gardening for granted and that we all needed to be better at knowing how to grow food. I was curious about hydroponics because I was tired of fighting the Georgia clay, so we dove into learning about hydroponics together as a family while also covering biology of plants / botany. I learned so much about hydroponics that I wanted to keep going even after the kids had moved on to other subjects. And year after year, we continue to learn and grow. (Hence the name “Grow Your Health Gardening”.)  I’m proud that one of my sons has become the youngest Master Gardener in our county. He was my one child that watched me save a seed and began saving his own seeds. I love his passion!

So remember, it may look like work and seem like work, but it’s good work. And when you enjoy a meal eating the very fruit of your effort, well, it’s a great feeling.

Planning a garden does take some time and financial resources to get going, but just start with what you can manage and every year try one new thing. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just start with what you already like to eat and

Tomorrow, I’ll post my heirloom line up for 2020 and more on why I chose them for those still planning their tomato 2020 season. 🍴👍

That’s all for tonight –

Erin