Tag Archives: tips

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!

Donate via Venmo

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).

9996B4F9-1DC7-4CC4-95E9-269B7B12AF98

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.

7230F528-A8DE-4B1E-B00B-42E324602593

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.

908C0205-974C-404D-8426-DCE1736A5E5E

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.

1C7A7BC7-4352-4F17-88D0-44CFBD04E776

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

 

How to process your Hydroponic Jalapeños Harvest (say that fast 7 times) & more importantly… How to Fix a Jalapeño Pepper Burn!

The jalapeños are coming on strong with the harvest right now on the hydroponic Tower Garden by JuicePlus+, so naturally I’m finding ways to take advantage of this bounty with three recipes in mind: jalapeño jelly, candied jalapeños, and good ol’ pickled jalapeños. (Spoiler alert: fav’ recipe links at the end of this post.)

You should be eating Jalapeño Peppers — home grown Jalapeños… 

Jalapeños are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, and vitamin B6 and common consumption of jalapeños may reduce cholesterol, triglycerides and platelet aggregation and partially improved liver damage due to the properties of capsaicin (the spicy part of the jalapeño). (You can read more about the study here.)

Be forewarned….

1AA04F66-6630-4C2F-94D0-999163D87288

As I went to slice and dice my jalapeños, the thought crossed my mind to put on some gloves, but since I didn’t feel anything as I was cutting the jalapeños, I ignored the thought and kept right on processing my crop — processing it without gloves on. I rinsed the cuttings in a sieve and proceeded to wash my hands and that’s when I began to feel the heat on my finger tips. Within 15 minutes my fingers felt like little flames had been lit. You guessed it — I had a jalapeño pepper burn on my left hand. Over the course of the evening I tried seemingly everything… scrubbing with soap and hot water, soaking in cold greek yogurt (which did feel soothing at first believe it or not), Biofreeze, pain meds, lavender essential oil, coconut oil, more scrubbing with hot water and soap followed by my black salve… no relief.

So at the stroke of midnight, as I’m laying in bed with my hand in the air hoping to catch a bit of breeze from the ceiling fan and contemplating my options in how to endure pain, my husband and I decide to do one more internet search for ideas to remove the oil from the recesses of my skin cells. I clumsily type one-handed into my phone’s internet search, “How long will jalapeño burns last?” Answer seemingly comes back in article after article that I could be suffering for several weeks if not a month! Aaaccckkk! And then I found Kendra’s post from newlifeonahomestead.com and sharing how she treated her jalapeño pepper burn. Her story seemed to match mine in trying everything the internet threw her way, but she found a solution that worked. And I shrugged my shoulders, looked at my husband and said, “Why not? Let’s try it.” So he went to the fridge and brought me… yellow mustard.

What I found to end all Jalapeño Pepper burn misery...

That’s right. Yellow mustard. We lathered it on like my fingers were hot dogs celebrating the Fourth of July. And the cold condiment felt amazing! Immediate relief! Like ice water hitting hot burning coals. I left the lather of yellow goodness on there (with a few more squirts of reapplication) for a good 35 minutes and then rinsed off with cold water. Were my fingers a little yellow? Yes. Was I in excruciating pain? Praise God, no. So I trotted off to bed.

How to treat jalapeño pepper burn on hand

Lesson #1: Never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever cut jalapeños without wearing protective food grade gloves. Gloves should be worn while handling hot peppers and make sure you definitely don’t touch your eyes, nose, and mouth areas with your hands if they’ve come into contact with the Capsicum oil from Jalapeño Peppers.

Lesson #2: If by chance you do encounter jalapeño’s Capsicum oil — reach for your handy-dandy yellow mustard.

01925BF2-B2AD-4D50-B324-BE12EBCC0EAB

And my jalapeños that I grew on my Tower Garden? They taste AMAZING! A million times better than anything I’ve found in the grocery store.

Remember, if you eat a pepper that is too hot, don’t drink water or milk to try to extinguish the spicy flames. Liquid only spreads the heat around. Instead, it is recommended to eat some sugar or honey and/or something starchy, such as bread, crackers or potatoes.

C24EFCDA-6B04-4E04-B122-7AED93A1272A.jpeg

How to grow Jalapeño Peppers hydroponically…

Here’s what jalapeño peppers need to succeed in the Tower Garden or similar hydroponic system (like a bato bucket).

EC/PPM: 3.0-3.5 EC / 2100-2450 PPM

pH: 6.0 – 6.5

Temperature: Hot peppers grow best in daytime air temperatures 65° to 80°F (18-26°C) and night temperatures above 55°F /13°C (nighttime temperatures between 60° and 70° are best). In addition, daytime temperatures above 90º F inhibits fruit formation, but fruiting will happen once temperatures drop back below 90º. If growing into the Fall, be sure to have a weather protection blanket on hand for evenings that have freeze warnings.

Light: 10 – 12 hours daily (outdoors). If growing indoors, the grow lights should be for flowering plants and placed 6 to 8 inches over the pepper plants. Any closer could cause scorching, any further away and the plants will not get the full benefit of the light. As the plants mature, adjust the height of the lights to maintain the 6-8 inch distance. (It is important to note that the Tower Garden lights are not rated for growing flowering plants according to the Tower Garden Juice Plus+ website, so if growing Jalapeño Peppers on the Tower Garden, grow them outside in full sun.)

Days to Harvest: Transplants will begin to bear ripe fruit in 70 to 85 days, depending on cultivar. 70 days Green; 93 days Red Ripe.

Other helpful tips to note:

  • Jalapeño Pepper plants will need support. The Tower Garden‘s support cage will work perfectly for holding up these plants. Plant them on the lower three tiers of your hydroponic vertical Tower Garden as they will grow to about 3′ in height (remember, things grow faster and typically bigger in a hydroponic system because you’re giving the plant everything it needs to thrive.)
  • Peppers don’t continue to ripen well off the plant (like tomatoes), so harvest when they are ready and process immediately if possible.
  • Peppers can be kept in the refrigerator, but avoid moisture. Avoid washing the peppers before refrigerating them, and dry them if they have dew or water from the irrigation system. Store them in a paper towel towards the top of the refrigerator.
  • Bacterial Spot: Bacterial spot can be seed borne. Purchase seed from a reputable source like Johnny’s Seeds or Seeds Now (100% Heirloom/Non-Hybrid/Non-GMO). Johnny’s pepper seed lots are tested for bacterial spot.
  • If planting for a fall crop in the Atlanta, Georgia (zone 7) region, the following are average freeze dates:
    Earliest Occurrence Latest Occurrence Average
    October 11, 1906 December 18, 1998 November 13

    Plant between the dates of August 1 and August 15 to ensure a fall harvest. Cover your Tower Garden with a weather protection blanket should there be a freeze warning.

  • Growing in soil? Here are some additional tips.

85993BB8-9E18-4C43-AA78-1537FACCA4DA.jpeg

Even with a thick stalk like this, they still need support.

5D801D53-B296-4B11-A419-4BFF18868BF5.jpeg

FCDE30FE-848D-4013-9BDC-01B468CF8690

In summary…

Grow jalapeños for their health benefits, but be prepared when it comes to processing these little gems of nutrition as they can cause serious jalapeño pepper burns on your hands if you don’t wear gloves.

Here are a few recipes I’ve personally tried. Maybe you and your family will enjoy them as well:

Enjoy!

— Erin