Tag Archives: gardening

Garden Poetry | “The Seven Of Pentacles” by Marge Piercy

The Seven Of Pentacles

Under a sky the color of pea soup
she is looking at her work growing away there
actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us 
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
the planting,
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.

Marge Piercy

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— 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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Our Son’s Journey Becoming a Master Gardener

I wanted this space here on Grow Your Health Gardening to be focused on how to grow food for the gardening novice, but today I wanted to pause and just reflect on something (or should I say someone) that is near and dear to my heart.

Last night, our family attended a beautiful catered banquet through our local County Extension Office Master Gardener Organization where our oldest son, Joshua, received his official Master Gardener Certificate and official name badge. He is the youngest Master Gardener in our county of 164,044 people (at the time of writing this post.) It was definitely a proud moment for me, his Mama, having watched him grow (pun intended) over the years in his passion and skills.

Joshua receiving his Master Gardener Certification

Of my five children, Joshua is the one that noticed me saving a seed every now and then. Soon, I was finding other seeds next to my collection and now he is a better seed saver than I am! He gets it. He understands that within that seed is life and the potential to keep giving life-giving food to others he loves.

I sometimes call him “Farmer Josh” out of love because he loves to play in the dirt and grow things. We come from a long line of wheat farmers. Joshua’s middle name is fitting, because he is actually named after his Great Grandfather who was a dry land wheat farmer. (Growing wheat definitely isn’t Joshua’s future because we learned he was allergic to wheat dust one year while helping out with the harvest.) Every summer, my family would help bring in the wheat harvest. My grandmother had a large garden and instilled in me from a young age the value of a garden. My parents continued to teach me through growing our own family garden for years and then the busyness of life demanded the need for convenience over preparedness and the garden fell to the wayside and eventually our plot of dirt became grass and then a garage was built over the location.

copyright 2020 Erin Castillo
Our boys in the wheat field as 2 year olds during harvest. Joshua is pictured on the left and Jason is pictured on the right.

When my twins were three years old, my husband got a consulting job in the Southeast, and we moved 3,000 miles across country to Atlanta, Georgia. Our soil profile changed from grey-ash-like soil to red dirt full of clay. I would put rich compost down into my garden beds only to find them return to hard clay by fall. My growing mojo had come to a screeching halt. (I would later learn what to do to re-build the soil profile thanks to new friends made in Georgia and other Master Gardeners.)

Feeling discouraged, I kept thinking there had to be a better way. That’s when I stumbled across a video of a guy on YouTube who was growing tomatoes hydroponically in Bato Buckets. I was fascinated by his methodology and soon I was pouring myself into any resource I could find about how to grow food hydroponically. It was also about this time, that my oldest two sons were studying the difference between human cells and plant cell structures. Since we were homeschooling, I decided to dive deeper into teaching them more about plant biology (botany) and together we were going to learn about hydroponics and how to grow food. My husband helped me guide the boys in building a Bato Bucket system like the one I saw on YouTube and I went down to my local nursery and bought 10 different tomato plants and we transplanted them into our new system. The boys would monitor the pH level and nutrient level of the plants and write down observations. It was a lab of sorts for us to learn from and boy did we learn!

The following year, my husband had a heart attack. It was then that I realized we were not doing enough about eating wholesome vegetables. In my research the previous years, I had narrowed my next hydroponic system to two options. But when our need became more urgent, I knew I didn’t want a DIY system — I needed something out of the box that would just work. (My last DIY system cost as much as the one out of the box.)  He agreed to getting three Tower Gardens by JuicePlus+. Here was our first year’s crop (pictured below).

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I was amazed at how easy it was to fit it into my busy lifestyle. No weeding. No effort to build up soil. No nematodes to eat my crop. No irrigation system to monitor or standing there day in and day out to water plants for a half hour while our water bill took a hit. I would just watch the reservoir every week and check pH and nutrients — it was right up my alley. I needed low-maintanence gardening. Joshua dove in with me and helped monitor the growing system as well.

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I also learned of our local Master Gardener program through our Extension Office that shared space with 4H. I took the kids to any free program they had to offer on growing things or even one was on bee keeping. In fact, Joshua won the door prize at one of these meetings and he and my youngest son walked away with some free plants! It was around this time (I think Joshua’s Junior year) that I turned to him and planted the seed-thought of him becoming a Master Gardener. He had the time now to make that happen and then could use the skills he learned for the rest of his life instead of waiting to the end of his life when he retired to enjoy it. He was excited by the thought of that idea and inquired only to find that you had to be 18. He wouldn’t be able to do it as his senior year project. But he didn’t give up on the goal.  He applied for the Master Gardener program that was to begin around the time of his 18th birthday.

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What probably many don’t know is that during this time, our family went through a difficult time. My mother, who lived 3,000 miles away, needed help getting through a situation she found herself in and I had to leave for several weeks to help her. This unfortunately coincided with Joshua starting his Master Gardener training. He took an Uber each day and paid $20 out of his own pocket to get to his classes until other arrangements could be made on his behalf.

One of the great things that I love about the Master Gardener program is the wisdom of those who are involved. I’ve tried to teach my children to reach out to those with grey hair as they are a library of untapped resources. Joshua was blessed to have these amazing individuals come along side him and help him. They loved him because with his youth brought much needed muscles! lol I really wish there could be more young people involved because they are missing out on such a great resource. I want to see what can be done to bring these two groups of people together.

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Joshua juggled working his required 50-hours of volunteer hours around with working a job. I saw him increasingly frustrated when he would miss a Master Gardener meeting (often held during the day) because he had to work. But it showed me what he truly enjoyed. Thankfully, he came to realization himself and asked if he could work for me and help me instead of continue in the electrical program he was pursuing. I really needed his help knowing that my own goals included the possibility of growing our crops to the point where we could take it to the local farmer’s market to sell. So here we are today, working on our upcoming growing season and it is such a joy to work alongside my son. He’s smart and helps things get done when I don’t have the bandwidth to get to it. Currently, he’s helping me clear some land to do an herb garden installation. He is put in charge of his younger siblings who help him clear out ivy that has overrun the space we plan to utilize. He also is good at cleaning out Tower Gardens and sanitizing them (as well as our cutting tools). We hope to also propagate some of the beautiful resources on our property to sell at the upcoming Master Gardener event this spring. And his favorite thing to grow indoors — orchids!

Joshua Master Gardener

So, last night’s award dinner was truly special and I felt so proud of him for pursuing what he loved. And I feel so blessed to be his Mama and thankful that we have something in common to share over the years. I am praying for Joshua and that the Lord will continue to direct his steps as one day he will have his own family to provide for (and possibly me in my old age, Lord willing!)

Thanks for letting me share from my heart. And if I can encourage any of you with children… learn together! You don’t have to have all the answers or be an expert to be qualified to teach a child. It’s through the process of learning together about something that your children will come to understand that anything is possible to learn about if you just pursue it.

Happy Growing —

Erin

PS: If you ever read this post, Joshua, know that I am proud of you and can’t wait to see what you do next! Never stop dreaming and learning! Love you, Mom