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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

 

 

Jen Owen

Eat Your Weeds

Eat Your Weeds

Here in Indiana (Planting Zones 5 & 6) our lawns are returning to green and we are getting excited for gardening season. This also means the inevitable return of “weeds” to our lawns, containers, and gardens.

 

 Did you know that some of these so-called weeds can actually provide nutrition and other health benefits for you? So before you trash or compost these little blessings, take a moment to learn about some of their wonderful benefits.

 

Dandelion is one of the first spring green plants to arrive. Yes, that pesky plant that seeds so easily and many work very hard to eradicate. Dandelions are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron and manganese and full of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C, and K. Their bitterness increases bile flow from the liver and gallbladder helping to improve digestion and relieve whole body congestion. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in olive oil.  You can also try adding them to your green smoothie, or infuse the leaves for tea.

 

 

Violet is another plant that grows abundantly in this area. The leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A and C. Violet is thought to be a blood purifier and cleanser for the lymphatic system. This system is a network of tissues and organs that rid the body of toxins and wastes. After winter, consuming violet may assist the body to cleanse any leftover toxins for a more energetic spring. You can use the whole plant, or just the leaves and the top of the stem. The thin roots are known to be especially powerful for lymph cleansing.

 

 

 

Cleavers is another plant often considered to be pesky weed. Historically, cleavers have been used to drain swollen glands and cleanse the lymphatic system. They have been used to treat skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema and as an external poultice for sores and wounds. Cleavers have also been used to soothe irritation in the bladder. They are known to have a mild diuretic effect; so can help with inflammation in the body from winter foods.

 

This makes cleavers another great herb to add to your Spring diet!

 

 

Don’t spray your yard! Always be sure to harvest from a clean, toxin-free area. I let my dandelions grow like crazy and use them all season long. In fact, I blow the seeds around my garden. If you don’t have a yard, bring home a fluffy seed top from a dandelion and dedicate a container to this nutritious plant. I also let the violets grow. They make a great ground cover around other herbs. They take off easily, so you only need a small one to get started. Cleavers tend to be found in wooded areas and also grow plentifully when transplanted.

 

So much fun and freshness for free!

 

 

Please note: Be absolutely sure of the identification of plants before taking them internally and see your physician for health issues. This is not meant to be medical advice, simply thoughts about additions to your diet. 

 

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Amy Rhodes

How To Plan A Garden #2: To Sow or Not to Sow?

How To Plan A Garden #2: To Sow or Not to Sow?

It's an age old question...Is it better to start seeds indoors and transplant later or to sow seeds outdoors directly into the garden? And what about just skipping seed starting all together and purchasing transplants from a local farmer or garden center? Which is better? Where should I start?

 

Indeed! The uncertainties of life's big questions are enough to keep a would-be gardener from ever getting started! The good news is, just like in life, there are no hard and fast rules in gardening. The short answer to these often challenging questions is...

 

It depends.  

 

Choosing whether to start your garden from seeds or transplants depends on a number of factors - time, experience, and budget to name a few.  The type of vegetable or herb being grown also makes a big difference. Some plants prefer being directly sown into the garden, while others prefer to be nursed along indoors before being transplanted.  

 

Outlined below are some benefits and drawbacks of starting seed indoors or in the garden. The benefits and drawbacks of starting with transplants are also considered. Knowing these factors will help you determine the best way to get started and on your way to growing a happy, healthy garden. 

 

Starting From Seed

 

Benefits

  • All ages enjoy sprouting and caring for life!
  • If you're planning a large garden, starting from seed is more affordable. 
  • You control the source of the seeds and the varieties grown.
  • Start early indoors, transplant, then seed in succession throughout the season.
  • Root crops - carrots, turnips, parsnips and beets - prefer to be directly sown.
  • Beans, corn, garlic, and peas also prefer to be directly sown and grown in one place.

  

Drawbacks

 

  • Time – Waiting for soil temperature to rise and night air temperatures to be above 50°; Waiting for seedlings to mature for transplanting; Monitoring young sprouts 2-3 times per day
  • Weather – If you sow direct outdoors, drought, heavy winds, flooding and insects can destroy young seedlings. 
  • Equipment – The cost of protective covering, seed trays, germination heating pads, and indoor grow lights can add up.

 

 

Starting with Transplants

 

 

Benefits

  • Get a head start on the growing season! 
  • Start broccoli, chard, and kale indoors and move them outside soon after your plant hardiness zone’s frost-free date.
  • Planning a small garden? It may be more affordable to purchase transplants.
  • Transplants are stronger and more resistant to weather conditions and pests.
  • Celery, eggplants, leeks, onions, peppers, and tomatoes do well as transplants.

 

Drawbacks

  • Transplants can go through shock when moved from their original container.
  • If you start seeds indoors, you will need to harden off your seedlings before transplanting them into a permanent location. Hardening off your seedlings means moving baby plants outdoors (a few hours each day) then back indoors, over a period of a week, while they adjust to sun and wind.
  • Transplants purchased from other farms or greenhouses may introduce pests, diseases, or weeds into your garden. 
  • Plant varieties at nurseries and big box stores are limited. If you prefer non-GMO, organic, or heirloom varieties, it may be best to start your own transplants from certified seed sources

 

 

When beginning your garden from seed, sowing directly into the garden or starting in trays, be sure to pay attention to the temperature of the soil. The number of days for seed germination is related to the warmth of the soil. Seedling flat heating mats are great for moving sprout times along more quickly and predictably.

 

Here’s a handy chart to help you with timing:

 

If starting from seed isn’t for you, search your local farmers’ market in the Spring and Fall to purchase transplants. These are usually reliable, often heirloom varieties accustomed to growing in your local climate.  You can also learn a few secrets of gardening success when buying from local growers.   

 

Odds are, if you're up for the learning curves and fun of growing your own food, you will end up combining all these ways of starting your garden - buying transplants, starting your own indoors, and starting seeds directly in the garden.  For more detailed information about when to start specific varieties, check out this 2017-Planting-Chart.pdf from High Mowing Seeds

 

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, How To Plan A Garden #3: Preparing for Pests.

 

Amy Rhodes

How To Plan A Garden #1: Create the Design

How To Plan A Garden #1: Create the Design

Lengthening daylight hours and hints of springtime signal the time to plan your garden. This Tower Power blog post is the first in a series of three to guide you in planning a successful year of gardening.  We've crafted an infographic of the basics to get started!

 

(Click on infographic to enlarge)  (Click here to download a pdf of this infographic)

Planning a Garden Infographic Guide and Diagram

 🔗 USEFUL LINKS FROM THE INFOGRAPHIC ABOVE: 

1) Plant Hardiness Zone Lookup: 

http://www.gardentowerproject.com/news/gardening-ideas-recommendations/veggie-scheduling-when-to-start-seeds-plant-harvest

2) Companion Planting Infographic and Database: 

http://www.gardentowerproject.com/news/gardening-ideas-recommendations/why-how-to-companion-plant

  

A Garden Journal or Sketchbook - This doesn't have to be fancy. It can be as simple as putting blank pages into a binder or use card stock or repurposed cardboard as the cover. This is a great activity to do with kids! 

 

In your Garden Journal, you will record temperature and weather patterns, your garden designs, when and what you plant, as well as, your discoveries, successes and failures.  This post has specifics on what to include in your journal.  If you prefer going paperless, online options are available for a fee, like this one launching this Spring 2017 from GrowVeg.com.  

 

No matter how you decide to collect garden information, the most important thing about a Garden Journal is that you keep one. Once you have your journal ready, you are ready to begin planning your garden!

 

Location, Climate, and Weather

 

Begin by observing and taking note of the largest patterns present in your location such as the climate, seasons, and movement of the sun during different times of year. On this grand scale, Plant Hardiness Zone maps can help you determine the length of your growing season and which types of plants will thrive in your geographic area.

 

These zones are based on weather patterns and the average lowest temperature.  If you live in the United States, enter your zip code here to find your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone.  If you live outside the U.S., BackyardGardener.com provides helpful resources. The Old Farmers’ Almanac will help you find the range and number of frost-free days with the Frost Date Calculator.

 

Record in your Garden Journal:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone
  • Average lowest temperature in winter
  • Dates when frost-free season begins and ends 
  • Number of frost-free dates

 

Space and Tools

 

On a smaller, site-specific scale, the amount of available space and microclimates on your property will help determine the best place for your garden or gardens.  Microclimates are small areas or habitats determined by variables such as surface type, walls, wind, water, trees, or other physical features.  Answering the following questions will provide a clearer idea of where and how to create your garden.

           

Record in your Garden Journal:

  • Do you have full sun, partial sun, shade, or a combination of these?
  • Where are your available spaces? Patio, balcony, on concrete, in the yard?
  • How many hours of daylight do these areas receive?
  • Which areas are easiest to access?
  • What kind of tools do you need? Containers, shovels, tiller, hose, watering can?  

 

Plant Selection

 

Gardens serve many purposes. Food, medicine, beauty, therapy, habitat and wildlife restoration are a few general themes. What is the primary focus of your garden?

 

For inspiration, check out this list: 

 

(Click on graphic to enlarge) 

 

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension also has great Garden Themes for Kids. 

 

Explore different types of garden plants, herbs and flowers.  Select varieties that will work with your available space and chosen theme.  If you will have a small space or vertical garden, look for bush or container varieties.  These are smaller in height and grow better in containers.  

 

These sites provide great images and information for plant selection:

             

     

Plant companions are helpful friends that benefit others. For instance, marigolds are friends with many plants in the garden due to their ability to repel pests. Surrounding tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbage) plants with marigolds to defend them from nematodes and leafhoppers. These charts will help you discover which vegetables, herbs, and flowers grow well together and which ones should be separated.

 

Time

 

Cliché as it sounds, timing is everything in gardening!  The successful growth of your plants depends on the season, length of time for seed germination, and days to maturity.  Pay close attention to these factors as you decide when to start your garden. 

 

The amount of time you have available to spend gardening is also something to consider.  Are you working full-time, a full-time parent, or both?  Are you retired? Do you travel a lot?  Think about how much time you will be able to commit daily to tending your garden. 

 

Garden Tower Designs

 

If you are planning to grow in a Garden Tower 2, check out these tools:

 

 

 

Aiyo A. Jones

Beginning Urban Gardener

Beginning Urban Gardener

I’m from New York City, having little gardening experience. All I used to know about gardening was that if you planted a seed in the ground and watered it, then something was supposed to happen. 


Now, I’ve grown so much food, I've had enough to give away! 

 

Bowl of Banana PeppersBack in 2015, my wife and I purchased the Garden Tower II (GT2). My wife wanted to purchase this vertical container garden mainly because you can grow root vegetables in it. The GT2 has 50 pods to plant in and a vermicomposting system. It didn’t take much for her to convince me that we needed to invest in this product, so after getting our tax return money, we bought the GT2. 

To start growing, we purchased seedlings. Growing from seed hasn’t been my strong point, and we wanted some quick results. I had already done lots of research on growing plants, but I wanted to test some of the conventional gardening wisdom to see what was true and what wasn’t. Being willing to experiment on my garden was a big eye-opener.

For starters, we discovered that we didn’t need to spray our garden with anything, not even with organic sprays. I spent a few moments every morning inspecting the garden for pests and picking them off. I later discovered that wasps loved to eat cabbage worms! So, instead of looking at wasps as my enemies, I saw them as my allies. Whenever the wasps raided my garden, I just stepped inside the house and let them do their thing!

 

Comparing Garden Containers

Eggplant growing in GT2 next to eggplant growing in small container

2 large eggplant fruit next to 2 small eggplantsAnother discovery was seeing how important composting was for the plants. I did an experiment using eggplants in the GT2 and eggplants in conventional pots. The eggplants in the GT2 grew much larger and healthier than the ones in conventional pots.

 

The eggplant fruit produced by the eggplants in the GT2 were actually edible and nearly free of blemishes, whereas the eggplants in the conventional pots produced small, hard, and ugly fruits. The eggplants in the GT2 had access to compost, whereas the other eggplants did not.

 

 

Discovering Compost Critters

Perhaps the biggest discovery was the black soldier fly larvae. For a few days, I noticed that the compost contents were quickly reducing in size. Then I’ve discovered these maggots in my compost tube. After researching about them and seeing them in action, I fell in love with these guys! Unlike red wigglers or European night crawlers that eat veggies and fruit scraps, the black soldier fly larvae ate almost anything, including meat and cheese (two of which would usually be forbidden to add in a compost pile).

 

Success!

Because of my success with the GT2, I started a Facebook page called “The Back Deck Harvest.”  The page has a ton of photos of my experience with the GT2. I simply post what I’m doing in the garden. No silly memes, no articles, nothing but my work in my vertical garden.


The GT2 was a great investment. We have grown tomatoes, lettuce, eggplants, squash, peppers, basil, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, cilantro and parsley, and have even revived a few dying marigold plants I bought. We have eaten the fruits of our labor and have shared our fruits with others. We went from growing barely anything to growing a big crop of food on a small deck of 90 square feet. 

 

                      

 

Additional information