patent
pending
  

TowerPower

Blog produced by contributors on vertical gardening, health, and food!
(Register to become a contributor today)
Ryan T Conway

Food Freedom Experiment! Do Garden Towers Really Work?

Food Freedom Experiment! Do Garden Towers Really Work?

With seeds of hope and dreams of food abundance, my wife, Andrea, and I purchased a 4.5 acre homestead, in south-central Indiana, this Spring. For fun, we’ve gardened together a few times before, at the apartments we’ve lived in and at our city-house (where we were the neighborhood weirdos, killing our grass to build garden beds). But most of our days were spent as research-academics and science-writers (I’m a political-economist and Andrea’s a neuroscientist), so jumping onto acreage has been a real eye-opener about just how hard it can be, to try to grow our own food. But why would we try to do that, in the first place?

 

 Full disclosure: I’m on a serious weight-loss kick and really into smoothies. But, aside from that, and in all seriousness: we’re lucky enough to live above the poverty-line, most of the time, but it’s not like we can casually afford to stock our fridge from the Summer and Winter farmers markets, every week. We were both lucky enough to get scholarships for school but, of course, it’s becoming more evident all the time that degrees aren’t guarantees for jobs or, hence, income. And, a bit forebodingly, both of our parents suffered great losses during the late-2000’s Financial Crisis…and they’re never going to retire, because of popular yet truly-chaotic systems that failed, outside of their control and regardless of their meticulous financial responsibility.

 

So, sure, we’re aware of Tesla’s latest innovations in electric cars, home battery banks, and solar roofing tiles. And we both lead grassroots nonprofits that fight for community rights and community decisionmaking power: Andrea, as president of the Center for Sustainable Living, and me, as chair of the Bloomington Food Policy Council. We’re still, clearly, all-hopped-up on hope that humanity will turn this ship around, get itself together, and make a future we can all live in…But, as critically-minded people and data-driven scientists, we’re not exactly holding our breath, that’s for sure.

 

 

Simple facts: the State of California produces staggering percentages of America’s food supply…and it’s subject to drought, natural disasters, and supply-side struggles related to immigration and union politics far beyond the scope of this note. Also, if domestic or international crisis slowed or stopped the trucking industry, many towns have 3 days (or less) before significant food shortages begin to occur. And, just to add a global perspective to the mix, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that the Earth has about 60 harvests left, given the current methods and rates of agricultural production. If finding these facts unsettling somehow earns me my “tinfoil hat,” then somebody please take my money and buy me shares of stock in Reynolds Wrap’s holding-company.

 

Why try to homestead and grow our own food? Well…we have a handful reasons. How did we get a homestead, with meager means? Well, we have some steady income right now and interest rates on mortgages still make some sense. So why not go for it? Anyway…As fate would have it, the “perfect property,” just outside of town, came-up in an email listserv we belong to, so we “carpe”-ed the “diem” and took the plunge. After a month-long scramble to schlep our stuff to the small limestone house and seemingly-endless (4.5!) acres, we could finally get our food game going…But we were a little too late, in more ways than one.

 

We knew we needed plant-starts and we wanted to learn the whole process, so we kicked-off with some seed-germination. As green shoots popped through the loose potting mix, we knew it was time to prepare the crop-rows, both in the back-field and the greenhouse near the house. But, Holy Basil! We were in for a shock: the greenhouse hadn’t been used for years, so the soil had mineralized…and the watering system for the row-crop field had been shredded by a tractor and long-since grown-over with weedy grasses…all while the farm-tools, kindly left by the previous owners, were mostly rusted or busted. Our dreams were decimated and our game was gone, before we’d really begun. Fail! Panic! Chaos!

 

What to do? We busted out the measuring tape, calculators, and graph paper, and we measured the areas of the field and the greenhouse, to make rough estimates of the resources we’d need, to get things into working order…and, well, that would just about break-the-bank. So what now?

 

Well, in 2012, I’d seen a friend’s Facebook post about some foody-thing called a Garden Tower. Being a bit of a local food-freak, I helped back the project and got a Garden Tower 1.0 for myself, and one for my parents. I’d grown some greens and some herbs in it, before, but I was kindof lazy and didn’t put much thought into it, at the time…but, now, when “conventional” food-growing infrastructure was out of reach, despite going all-in on the homestead…what was this thing I had sitting in the carport and what could it really do? Could it grow the food that I needed?

 

Since I live in Bloomington, Indiana – the birthplace of the Garden Tower – I’ve been hearing stories from friends and neighbors, for years, that their Garden Towers are great food-growing planters: growing 50 plants in 4 square feet sounds pretty darn convenient (way more than I had tried, before) and lots of folks tell me they’re making their money back, in fresh-food cost-cutting. So, as a world-aware scientist and community-autonomy advocate, what am I to do? Test! Study! Experiment!

 

After talking it through with Andrea, we contacted the Garden Tower Project, to see if they had a bulk discount or something…but when we told them our story, it seemed that serendipity was at work: they were looking for a 3rd party to independently test their new towers and, here we were, two scientists-turned-farmers wanting to test-out some new food-growing infrastructure! It was a win-win: Garden Tower Project would donate some Garden Tower 2.0’s, if we would agree to share all the data from our experiments.  Hence, we got 6 Garden Tower 2.0’s and the first adventures of Fable Farms Indiana (the name we gave our homestead) truly began: 2 towers for 100 veggies, 2 towers for 100 artisanal herbs, and 2 towers for 100 of those irresistible summer-strawberries…and we’ll be measuring all the produce that comes off of them, right down to the gram!

 

And, thus, our Food Freedom Experiment was born…and Fable Farms Indiana got a fresh start.

 

I can’t pretend to know what’s next, but I can promise to let you know how it goes. I’m no Garden Tower expert, so if you’re just starting out, like me, we’re bound to make some similar mistakes and learn some lessons together. And for you folks who are still deciding whether or not to take the Garden Tower plunge, I hope the data from my experiment can be useful to you. If the rumors are true, we’ll be rolling in produce and cutting-back our grocery bill.

 

Who can say, for sure? All I know, right now, is that my towers are off to a good start: blooming with greens and herbs and berries…But I’m also hunting-down cabbage-beetles on my kales, deterring berry-stealin’ deer, bushing-out the bolting basils, and navigating local nurseries to be sure I keep our towers full, budding, and blooming, now and for months to come!

 

So, if you want to see what a Garden Tower can do in the hands of an amateur homesteader, then join me on the great adventure of my Food Freedom Experiment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

T. Tlusty

Vermicomposting Essentials - What you need to know about composting with worms!

Whether you live in an apartment in the city or an expansive yard or farm in the country, we can all make an effort to compost our organic waste. Composting in our urban and suburban areas is becoming more common, with local government councils getting on board with organic waste collection. Small-scale worm farming is becoming more accessible to city dwellers. There is no excuse for not disposing of your organic waste more responsibly. Adapting your behavior to reduce waste takes perseverance but habits change quickly. Once you commit to change, you will find that thinking twice before you throw your organic waste into the trash becomes second nature. This simple and rewarding positive change will leave the planet a cleaner, greener, and better place!

 

Getting Started with Red composting worms

Composting Worms

 

Worm composting (or vermicomposting), consists of transforming organic waste using worms. This creates fine black compost known as worm “castings” or worm compost. Rich in phosphorus, nitrogen, many vital nutrients and trace minerals, castings are an excellent all round organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. Castings are also a great source of water soluble, slow-release nutrients for your garden, houseplants or lawn.  Composting is a SIMPLE and natural process. It can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. Don’t get too hung up on “what the C:N ratio is” or “What is the PH of my bin?”, unless you find a need or *really* want to know. Just remember that… “Compost Happens!”

 

 

Biggest Challenges for the Newbie Worm Wrangler:

 

Over feeding: This is *The* number one problem for beginning worm wranglers. Remember that, too much of a good thing, is still too much of a good thing” and “Less is more” when choosing menu items for your squirms. 

     

Moisture:  Too much moisture is also a leading problem, especially for composters using plastic bins indoors (without sufficient drainage in most cases). Adding bedding is one of the answers for this situation. The others are, drainage and aeration (poke more holes above for air, below for drainage or turn and mix the pile for aeration. Add more bedding to dry a bin). 

 

 

Key Elements:

However you decide to start vermicomposting (bin, tubs, Garden Towers, etc.), remember these basics:

 

Bedding: Other than temperature, feeding, & moisture… Bedding is the number one area of importance. 99% of questions about different problematic issues are solved by looking at the bedding\food ratio. Build your pile with one part grass clippings, salad or kitchen leftovers, or other green matter to two to three parts dried leaves, grasses, cardboard and\or other brown matter to get the right mix. This is probably the most important factor of all, inside the worm composting bins. Bedding can make or break the farm. Bedding increases air flow, provides plenty of carbon rich supplements. It helps soak up nitrogen rich acids and brings balance to the system. It also helps to hold in moisture and increases your cocoon production (think, baby squirms, Yea!). The browner (more organic) the cardboard is, the better it is for the worms.  If you want truly organic compost, Stay away from bleached/processed whites and don't forget that you cannot add too much bedding.

 

Proper temperature range: Ideally a worm compost bin should be located in areas where the temperatures are between 40 to 80°F. Red Wigglers generally prefer temperatures in the 55 to 77 degree range (4.5 C – 26.5 C).  Most worm bin systems do not provide significant insulation or thermal mass to buffer temperature changes like a Garden Tower does.  If you live in an area that has harsh winters, you'll need to move your bin inside during the winter months, compost on a seasonal basis or you may add protection through burying, mounding or applying a heater of some sort.

 

 

What’s on the Menu?

Worms do not actually eat the veggies. Worms exist on the (aerobic) bacteria that break down the food in the bin. Food can be broken or cut up into 1” chunks. Smaller is better to increase surface area to benefit the bacteria and encourage good growth, which will help the process along. Blending or chopping it to mush has diminishing returns as it prevents air circulation. Overfeeding pulp has been known to attract fruit flies, compacting and contributing to anaerobic conditions. Bedding eventually becomes food. Do not add more food if you see a lot of un-processed food.  Allow your squirms time to work through the food they have, before giving them more.

 Browns:

• Straw - It is thought to have less viable seeds than hay

• Grasses - Lawn clippings or grasses (well dried)

• Leaves - Dried, brown & shredded are best. Full leaves can be used but they tend to compact 

• Cardboard/Paper - Torn into squares, strips or shredded in a paper shredder

• Sawdust -  Tends to compact when used in excess

• Wood chips - small amounts act to hold moisture in the soil

Greens:

• Kitchen scraps (vegetable and fruit scraps)

• Coffee, filters & Teabags

• Yard & garden waste - Old vegetables, flowers, or trimmings from trees and shrubs

 

Manures:

NO dog, cat, pig, or human manure should be used (risk of pathogens).

Rabbit manure can be added as is, as long as it is mostly urine free. Horse, cow and other manures should only be added in relatively small amounts unless composted first to avoid overheating the bin.

 

Supplements:

Worms need Grit in their gizzards. Sand or eggshells (finely crushed or ground) provides grit for the worms. This keeps them healthy and digesting well and helps with reproduction (Babies again, Yea!) Diatomaceous Earth (DE) can be used for pest control for mites and also add some needed minerals and grit for diet as well.

 

What not to add: Items that don't belong in your compost pile. While hot compost piles will kill many diseases, weed seeds, and insects, the temperature does not get high enough in vermicomposting and some of these nasty guests may survive to invade your garden. Certain materials can also invite unwanted critters to the pile or spread human diseases.

Avoid adding the following to your compost bin:

• Kitchen scraps like meats, oils, fish, dairy products, and bones.

• Weeds that have gone to seed or that spread by their roots

• Diseased or insect-infested vegetable or flowers

• Herbicide-treated grass clippings or weeds

• Dog, cat, pig or human feces.

• Beware of pesticide laden fruits and vegetables as they can harm

  your worms and leave undesirable residue in the castings

 

Websites: wormfarmingrevealed.com - unclejimswormfarm.com - redwormcomposting.com

     natureslittlerecyclers.com - Wikipedia on Vermicomposting

 

Facebook: Vermicomposting - Wormfarming - Red Worm Composting - UncleJims

      Garden Tower Project - GardenTrainingProject

Kristi Armes

Introducing Native Hole-nesting Bees to Your Garden

How to support your garden and your bee community without the effort of raising honeybees – This is the first of three useful guest blogs by our pollinator-supporting friends over at Crown Bees of Woodinville, Washington.

 

Planting a food garden is a labor of love. Gardeners put so much time and effort into the work of creating and maintaining a garden, but we don’t always give much thought to pollination. We tend to take bees and their work for granted because bee populations have historically been robust and thriving.

 

Many gardeners wish they could raise honeybees to ensure their garden’s pollination but raising honeybees takes a lot of time, money and training. And some communities don’t allow honey beekeeping because of safety concerns. The problems facing honeybee populations are well known and honeybees are not the only bees suffering due to habitat loss, pollution, disease, and climate change.

 

Alternative bees to the rescue:

Blue orchard mason bee

Mason bees and leafcutter bees are alternatives to honey bees that gardeners can rely on and they are better pollinators, easier to raise, cheaper, and most importantly, safer for children.

Blue orchard mason bees (Osmia lignaria) are one of North America’s 3,600 native bee species (honey bees are from Europe). Alfalfa leafcutter bees were introduced in the 1940’s in order to save and maintain the alfalfa feed industry. Alfalfa leafcutter bees are now naturalized across North America. Both mason and leafcutter bees are solitary, hole-nesting bees that are superior pollinators and we can raise in our gardens and farms.

 

Female blue orchard mason bee covered in pollen. Photo by Jacob Dunphy.

 

 

Why are they superior pollinators?

Honey bees carry pollen packed wet onto special hairy plates on their hind legs. Mason and leafcutter bees don’t have these special structures on their legs, instead they have special hairs on the underside of their bellies. Pollen is carried dry and loose on the large surface area of their hairy bellies and pollen falls off easily at every flower visited. One mason bee can carry out the pollination action of 100-200 honeybees!

 

 

Mason bees emerge in cooler, wetter, and windier weather than honey bees. Mason and leafcutter bees have a short flying range from their nests to flowers of only 300 feet. Mason and leafcutter bees are not picky about the flowers they visit. Because they are generalists, you can be assured that they are staying close to their home and pollinating your gardens and orchards. Almost every bee, except for a social queen, has a flying life span of about 4-6 weeks. Each solitary mason and leafcutter female bee has a feeling of urgency to get their parenting duties done and this makes them wake up earlier, stay out later, and fly in worse weather.

 

 

Are they really gentle and easy to raise?

Because they don’t have a colony and stores of honey and pollen to protect, solitary bees are typically much less aggressive and don’t mind you watching them come and go to their nesting house.

 

Solitary bees overwinter in cocoons, making them easy to handle and move. The steps for raising mason and leafcutter bees are really simple: set up the bee house and nesting materials, release cocoons, wait as they work, protect filled nesting materials, harvest cocoons, repeat! There’s no need to feed and upkeep honey stores in the winter since the bees are sleeping in cocoons.

 

 

 

Male leafcutter bees have green eyes and golden hair. Photo by Demarus Sandlin.

 

 

What are solitary bees?

Honey bees and bumblebees are social bees with only one fertile female bee in the colony. We all know social bees pretty well and we grew up learning about how they live. But actually, almost 99% of the world’s 21,000+ bee species do not live in social structures. Non-social bees are called solitary bees and every solitary bee is fertile. Each solitary female bee lives and works on her own and she has all the responsibility to take care of her young.

 

 

What are hole-nesting bees?

About 70% of bee species build their nests underground and individual bees can share a main tunnel entrance. About 30% of bees nest in holes like an old grub tunnel in dead wood or the hollow of a branch or stem. We can’t raise ground-nesting bees very easily but we can raise hole-nesting bees because we can recreate their nesting holes, harvest their cocoons, and move them to where we need them. Solitary bees do not live in hives, instead we call the structures we build for them bee houses.

 

A female mason bee rests in her nesting hole, a natural lake reed. Photo by Tim Krogh.

 

 

A female bee claims a nesting hole as her own and starts building nesting chambers in the very back of the hole first. Each nesting chamber is made up of a mix of pollen and nectar (called a pollen loaf), a single egg, and a protective wall. Mason bees use moist clayey mud to build walls between nesting chambers. Leafcutter bees build protective leafy cocoons, all in a line, with

each cocoon separated from each other with a layer of leaves. When the female is done with one nesting hole she protects the nest with an extra thick layer of nest building material called a capped end. These capped ends let us know that the bee house was used.

 

 

Which bees are right for me?

Mason bees emerge in the early spring when weather is consistently warmer than 55*F. They are great pollinators of fruit and nut trees and blueberry and strawberry bushes. Leafcutter bees emerge in early summer when the weather warms above 70*F. Leafcutter bees pollinate melon, squash, pea, and summer vegetables and flowers.

 

You can raise both bees in the same bee house, just swap out nesting materials from mason bees and replace it with leafcutter materials. Mason bees prefer 8mm nesting holes and leafcutter bees prefer 6mm sized nesting holes.

 

 

Ensure your garden’s pollination

Raising mason and leafcutter bees will help your garden grow more and grow better fruit and vegetables. Many flowers need to be visited many times in order to grow fruit at all. For example, a pear flower needs to be pollinated 30 times to make fruit! A flower that is properly pollinated will grow fruit that is rounder, fuller, and healthier. Adding a different bee species to your garden or farm can increase your yield by 24%! All of the effort that you put into your garden will be rewarded when you raise gentle solitary hole-nesting bees.

 

 

Want to get started?

 

See our native bee keeping supplies and pollinator kits at this link:

 

(Click here)

https://gardentowerproject.com/shop/product-category/pollinators-native-bee-supplies/

 

 

 

 

Kristi Armes

How to Successfully Raise Mason and Leafcutter Bees

How to Successfully Raise Mason and Leafcutter Bees – This is the second of three useful guest blogs by our pollinator-supporting friends over at Crown Bees of Woodinville, Washington.

 

Mason and leafcutter bees are solitary hole-nesting bees that are effective pollinators because they carry pollen loose and dry on their hairy bellies. Both are easy to raise, fun to watch, and safe for families and pets. The steps for raising both bees are fairly similar and each bee is active during a different season. Mason bees emerge from their cocoons in the early spring and are superior pollinators of apple, pear, almond, cherry, blueberry, and strawberry plants. Leafcutter bees emerge from their cocoons in the early summer and are great pollinators of squash, melons, peas and other summer fruits and vegetables. Both bees are generalists and they will visit lots of different flowers in your garden!

 

Setting out leafcutter cocoons only takes a few moments!

 

 

The steps for raising mason and leafcutter bees are pretty easy:

  1. Install the bee house and place out cocoons.
  2. Bring in filled nesting materials and protect them from pests.
  3. Harvest cocoons in the late fall or early spring.
  4. Return healthy cocoons to your garden for more pollination.

 

All of Crown Bee’s products arrive with detailed instructions. You will chose dates for shipment of your bee cocoons. The bees need consistent daytime temperatures: 55*F for mason bees and 75*F for leafcutter bees. Remember to think about when your plants are blooming and pick your dates so the bees arrive a little bit before flowers start to open.

 

 

 Garden Tower Bee Cabin Leafcutter

The Bee Cabin with reeds. 

 

 

Here are more details about the steps and some great tips for success!

 

1.     Install the bee house and place out cocoons.

 

Chose a south-east facing wall that gets morning sun and some afternoon shade. Bees are cold-blooded and they need the sun’s warmth to get going. Install the house at eye-level so that you can easily watch activity. Installing the bee house is easy, like hanging a picture or putting up a birdhouse. Mason and leafcutter bees have a short flying range of 300 feet, so ensure that your Garden Tower is nearby the bee house.

 

Place out nesting materials: mason bees prefer the larger 8mm sized holes and leafcutter bees prefer 6mm sized holes. You will use the same bee house for both bees since they are active during different seasons. Just swap out the nesting materials for each bee species.

 

Once nesting materials are in the house, place the cocoons on top of everything and towards the back. We want the bees to crawl over their new homes as they emerge so that they know where to come back. Make sure you don’t place cocoons into direct sunlight!

 

Female mason bees require moist clayey mud for building their protective walls between nesting chambers. If your soil is too sandy or has too much humus you should supplement with the dry mud mix included in your BeeWorks kits. You are looking for a texture of soil or mud that sticks to itself when pinched with your fingers.

 

2.     Bring in filled nesting materials and protect them from pests.

 

Female mason bees are only actively flying for 4-6 weeks. Once a female is done filling her nesting hole with next year’s bee eggs, she caps the end of the hole with an extra thick layer of mud. You want to protect filled and capped nesting materials from ants, birds, and parasitic wasps. Protect the filled materials by placing them into a fine mesh bag called the BeeGuardian. Store in a warm garage or shed that has similar temperatures as the outdoors. The mason bee larvae need summer warmth as they feed and develop.

 

 

The BeeGuardian bag protects against ants and parasitic wasps.

 

Female leafcutter bees also only fly for 4-6 weeks but because leafcutter bees are able to sometimes develop quickly and emerge in the same summer they were laid, their season of activity is much longer. At the end of summer is when you can be sure they are no longer flying and that is when you will remove filled leafcutter materials and store in the fine mesh BeeGuardian bag through the fall and winter. Store in a cool garage or garden shed. Because of their delicate nature, you will not harvest leafcutter cocoons until early spring.

 

Harvesting cocoons from lake reeds is easy and ensures your cocoon’s health.

 

 

 

3.     Harvest cocoons in the late fall or early spring.

 

In the Pacific Northwest, mason bees spin their brown waterproof cocoons by the beginning of October. Harvesting cocoons helps maintain bee health by removing three big pests: pollen mites, chalkbrood (fungal infection), and parasitic wasps (typically a species called monodontomerus). Mason bee cocoons can be washed in a mild bleach solution to remove chalkbrood spores.

 

Leafcutter bee cocoons should not be harvested until early spring, around the time that mason bees are placed out. Leafcutter cocoons are not waterproof and leafcutter bees hibernate as larvae so their cocoons are more delicate. Harvesting leafcutters in the spring can help give any mason bees that had somehow nested interior of leafcutter cocoons a chance to emerge.

 

To learn how to harvest cocoons from all nesting materials and how to wash mason bee cocoons, see this page for photos, instructions, and videos.

 

4.     Return healthy cocoons to your garden for more pollination.

 

Mason bee cocoons should be stored in your fridge to ensure that they spend the winter in a consistent temperature. Crown Bee’s Humidibee container (included in BeeWorks kits) is designed to keep mason bee cocoons humid but not too wet.

 

In the spring, when daytime temps are consistently above 55*F and your spring flowers are blooming, set your harvested and cleaned mason bee cocoons out.

 

You will need to incubate leafcutter cocoons in your home. Plan for it to take about 6 weeks at indoor temperature of 70*F. For more tips on leafcutter incubation see this page.

 

Raising mason and leafcutter bees really only takes about an hour per year and you’ll probably end up spending more time standing next to their bee house watching them come and go. You can sign up for Crown Bee’s monthly newsletter called BeeMail for tips, advice, and reminders for what to do each month.
 

 

Ensure your garden’s pollination

Raising mason and leafcutter bees will help your garden grow more and grow better fruit and vegetables. Many flowers need to be visited many times in order to grow fruit at all. For example, a pear flower needs to be pollinated 30 times to make fruit! A flower that is properly pollinated will grow fruit that is rounder, fuller, and healthier. Adding a different bee species to your garden or farm can increase your yield by 24%! All of the effort that you put into your garden will be rewarded when you raise gentle solitary hole-nesting bees.

 

 

Want to get started?

 

See our native bee keeping supplies and pollinator kits at this link:

 

(Click here)

https://gardentowerproject.com/shop/product-category/pollinators-native-bee-supplies/

 

 

 

 

Frank Tecklenburg

Pathways to Food Security

Pathways to Food Security

Earth Connections Garden Centre is about 20 minutes west of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada, on 40 acres of land mostly made up of natural prairie grasses. Although beautiful to look at, the land is mostly sand (89%) which makes growing a variety of vegetables very difficult. 

 

As our community was looking for a way to grow healthy food, one of our members came across the Kickstarter campaign for the Garden Tower 2. We placed an order for 3 Towers and eagerly awaited their arrival. They arrived in April of 2015, and within 5 weeks of starting our Garden Towers we were harvesting fresh food. It was amazing!

 

 The Garden Tower 2

 

Holistic Mission

My background includes working with First Nations and organic gardening, as well as, 25 years as an Executive Chef in the hotel and restaurant industries. After seeing the wonderful results of growing with the Garden Tower 2 (GT2), my partners and I contacted Garden Tower Project and enquired about becoming a Canadian Distributor. Our timing was right, and in May of 2015, Earth Connections Garden Centre was established as a holistic business integrating social impact for all our members and clients as part of the model. 

 

From the beginning, the focus was to incorporate the Garden Tower 2 in First Nation communities, schools, food banks, seniors residences, health care facilities, community groups, and in individual homes in urban areas. We had both successes and failures as we embraced the 3-dimensional, vertical growing in the Towers.  As we learned, we became better at the method and began to look for like-minded groups to try the Garden Tower, or as we say, "Give it a spin!"

 

 

Increasing Availability

 

In October 2015, we were given the opportunity to present at the Indigenous Ag Summit. This opportunity led to a wide variety of others. One was making contact with the Regina Food Bank who, in February of 2016, piloted 2 Garden Towers and later went on to secure generous funding through a Co-op Community Spaces Grant.  With the grant, the Regina Food Bank purchased and installed 48 Garden Towers! Each Tower was set up with two extra rings, casters*, and the Aquajet watering system*. Lighting* and stands for each Tower were also installed. 

 

*Products listed & linked above are through Canadian distributor, Earth Connections Garden Centre. See here for U.S., here for U.K., and here for Australia.

 

     

 

 

Over 9000 people access the Regina Food Bank on a monthly basis. During the winter months, the availability of produce is inconsistent. The Garden Towers are already creating a positive result helping to fill the gaps. The Food Bank is now working on a six week rotating schedule and is supplying produce to both their hamper and culinary programs. 

 

 

Education, Nutrition, and Therapy

The benefits of Garden Towers in schools around Saskatchewan are threefold. First, when used with STEM curriculum, teachers are able to use Garden Towers to assist hands-on learning of science and math. Second, students prepare and taste food they have played a part in growing on site . Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the students experience therapeutic effects when working with the plants.  The Garden Towers allow preschool/kindergarden to high school students unwind and focus on the nurturing of the soil, worms and plants. I have witnessed the wonders of this "horticultural therapy" first hand!

 

    

 

Earth Connections is also working with the Ottawa Network for Education in Ontario. Our goal is to have 2 Garden Towers in every school over a 3 year period. We have also partnered with Challenge Disability Resource Group in Whitehorse, Yukon. They are using the Garden Towers, as well as other mediums, in educational programs and workshops. Our most recent partnership is with Athabasca Health Authority as part of the Nutrition North program. The ability for the residents to empower themselves to grow fresh produce themselves allows for better health outcomes, as well as, the satisfaction of knowing exactly where their food comes from. It's a win-win!

 

One other area we see significant impact is among senior citizens. Many seniors are making their way to live in urban areas. The Garden Tower allows them to still have access to gardening.  We have also placed several GT2s in senior care homes and assisted living facilities. Those with mobility issues are especially pleased that the Tower rotates and is easily accessible. Again, these opportunities provide folks the chance to put their hands in the soil which has profound therapeutic effects. 

 

 

Supporting Others

We have found that it is not just the Garden Tower 2 that people want, it's also support through first-hand experience and knowledge sharing. Three-dimensional growing is a little different from typical gardening and raised bed methods. We have had numerous plants die and that is all part of the learning. To share our knowledge and achieve our mission, Garden Connections Garden Centre provides Canadians a complete package of tools and support - Garden Tower 2s, seeds, germination stations, and on-site education and follow up through Skype and email.  

 

 

As many communities are remote and have limited access to quality produce throughout most of the year, Garden Towers can make a significant impact. Working with so many groups and individuals, discussing food security and implementing the Garden Tower 2 as a part of a plan, has been amazing! We are very proud and honored to have been recently recognized by the Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development for our work.  

 

   

 

We are very happy to have discovered the Garden Tower 2, and even happier to be serving Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast, shipping to the Yukon, British Colombia, and Newfoundland, and helping to change lives!

Aiyo A. Jones

The Protein Salad Diet

The Protein Salad Diet

As a fitness trainer, part of my job is to help people lose weight. People are generally good at exercising, but when it comes to diet many people fail. In order to lose weight, you need the right combination of exercise and good nutrition.

One type of diet I recommend to my clients is what I call the Protein Salad Diet. Instead of a wimpy, rabbit-food salad with nothing but iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and low-fat dressing, the Protein Salad is a heavy salad consisting of greens, protein and fat. This salad is so heavy (literally) you'll struggle to eat the whole thing. It has a good combination of leafy greens, fruit, and protein. You can eat this salad all day and get some great nutrition! It's a great meal for bodybuilders and those trying to lose weight.

The best part is, you can easily grow many of the ingredients yourself!

Easy plants to grow for your salads are highlighted in sections below.

 

 

Leafy Base

To start, you'll need a leafy base. Growing leafy vegetables are perhaps the easiest vegetables to grow. They sprout quickly and, depending on the variety, can produce a harvest in a matter of weeks. If you plan ahead and stagger start these leafy vegetables, you could have at least one salad a day for a week.


Leafy vegetables are best grown in the Spring and Fall as they are cool-weather plants. Growing leafy greens during the summer is possible, as long as they have plenty of water and a bit of shade. Since leafy greens have high water content, be sure to water them at least once a day.

 

Leafy Greens: Lettuce, spinach, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, Swiss chard, leaves of beets.

 

Peppers Growing in GT2

Fruit

Salads often have leafy greens and fruit, typically tomatoes and the non-sweet fruits like peppers and cucumber. If you want to eat these Protein Salads on a regular basis, I recommend growing indeterminate grape tomatoes. I once grew more than 70 grape tomatoes on one plant! If you do grow cherry or grape tomatoes, you’ll need to keep them trimmed so they don't get out of control.

If you want to make Mexican-based salads, grow some hot peppers. I've had a lot of success with growing Hungarian wax peppers in my Garden Tower 2. I planted my hot peppers on the top of the GT2 so I could stake them. Hungarian wax peppers taste mild when green, but hot when red. You could use them to make a Tex-Mex Protein Salad (Recipe below).

 

Fruits: Apples, avocados, berries, cucumbers, peppers, oranges, pumpkins, summer squash, tomatoes

 


Basil growing on top of GT2

Herbs

 

What better way to reduce high calorie dressings and flavor up your salad than to grow and add your own herbs?


Basil has been among my most successful herbs to grow. It grows fast and abundantly. It’s an ideal thing to add to a salad if you have a taste for something Italian. We've grown so much basil in our Garden Tower we’ve had to give it away!

 

Another herb that I've successfully grown is cilantro. If you have a taste for something Greek, Italian, or Persian, use cilantro to make a Mediterranean Protein Salad or Persian Salad (Recipe below).

 

Herbs: Arugula, basil, cilantro, thyme, oregano

 

 

 

Fat

If a salad has left you miserably hungry, it's because it had no fat. Fat will give your salad some substance and, believe it or not, fat actually signals your brain to make you feel full when a hormone called "leptin" is released.

Now, you're thinking, "But it’s fat!" But it’s not the fat that makes you fat, it's excessive carbs. I lost 12 lbs. in 8 days by reducing carbs and increasing fat and protein content in my diet. I didn't even need to lose any weight! This Protein Salad, depending on how you make it, will be naturally low in carbs. It’s perfect for you diabetics out there.


Fat Sources: Cheese, sour cream, whole-fat yogurt, olive/avocado/flaxseed/coconut oil, nuts, seeds, avocados



Protein

Unlike fat, protein doesn't really make you full. Instead, it is used to maintain and build muscle in your body. In fact, protein is the building block of your body. If you were to strip away all the cells in your body, you'd be left with connective blocks called protein. Yes, you are simply a statue made out of protein.

Protein Sources: Red meat (yes, red meat!), chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, quinoa

 

 

How To Construct A Protein Salad


This salad is ideal for those who want to lose weight and for those who want to build muscle. The fat and protein will make you full for a lengthy period and also supply you with important vitamins and minerals. 


1. Start with a base of 1 cup chopped leafy greens - lettuce, kale, chard, bok choy, etc.
2. Add protein - 1/2 cup meat, chicken, fish, egg, beans, nuts, or seeds
3. Add fruit - 1/2 cup chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, etc.
4. Add fat - 1/2 cup oil (olive/avocado/coconut)
5. Add toppings such as herbs, sour cream, cheese, etc.

Mix everything together. If the amounts I've given are too low, just increase them, especially if you're a hungry lion!

 

 

Protein Salad Examples

These are general guidelines. Play up the ingredients however you like!



Tex-Mex Protein Salad

2 cups chopped Romaine lettuce

1 cup meat, chicken, shrimp or black beans (if vegan)

1 cup chopped tomatoes and hot peppers 
Alternative: 1 cup of salsa (grow your own salsa garden)

1/2 cup sour cream or guacamole (if vegan)

1/2 cup shredded cheese or rice (if vegan)

1 handful of crushed tortilla chips

Photo Credit: https://eatrunwritelove.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/img_6851.jpg

 

Persian Protein Salad (no leafy base)

2 cups chopped cucumbers

1 cup meat, chicken, or chickpeas (if vegan)

1 cup chopped tomatoes and peppers (hot or mild)

1 cup feta cheese or olive oil (if vegan)

1/2 cup parsley or cilantro

1/4 cup onions or garlic

1 teaspoon of black pepper

 

 

 

Asian Stir-Fry Protein Salad


2 cups chopped bok choy

1 cup steak, chicken, shrimp, or edamame (if vegan)

1 cup chopped broccoli

1/2 cup chopped mild or hot peppers

1/2 cup rice or quinoa

1 minced clove of garlic

Pinch of salt

2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil (to sauté)

2 to 3 tablespoons of additional olive oil to use as a dressing

1 or 2 tablespoons Asian sauce of your choice

 

 

Additional information