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Micro Climate Change, Part II

Micro Climate Change, Part II

Microclimates are those areas around your home and garden with distinct temperature and moisture variations; exposure or protection from winds; and access to light. They create unique opportunities for variety in your garden plantings and the use of your home. In part I, we looked at the factors affecting microclimates (latitude, elevation, temperature, moisture, vegetation, and soil composition).

In this section, we’ll look at identifying microclimates. Then we’ll look at options to adapt to less than desirable microclimates or how to enhance positive areas.


1. Observe and interact. The first principle of permaculture according to David Holmgren comes into play here. Observe and interact with the microclimates in your space.
2. Once you’ve identified your microclimates, match those spaces to their best use for your home economy. Here is a simple worksheet to help you do that. 


In the home:

Growing or producing items can improve your home economy (turning old t-shirts into quilts? Or some other craft). Do you have space for a workshop or sewing corner? Gardens? Mushroom logs?


Right behind production in the home economy comes the question of storage. How much storage do you have in your home? With the growth of the consumer society in the 1950’s space for storage in the home decreased. In recent years, home designers increased the amount of storage. This is not because we are more productive in the home economy, but because we consume more. Some savvy people are using that space for storing away their harvests, materials and other resources.


I often have my permaculture design students sketch a map of their homes. Then I ask them to put the pencil down in their bedrooms—pretending to move around as they would in a typical day. They discover the areas they use the most often. Many identify a cold or hot room or a room they almost never use—and why. Use cold rooms as cool storage for items that need to be dry (root veggies through the winter?). Mitigate overly hot rooms (next to a stove or furnace?) to be useable by increasing ventilation and shading (from the inside or outside). They also might be helpful spaces for drying herbs or veggies in the summer. Insulated curtains or a spread of indoor plants to absorb the sunlight and humidify a room can make a huge difference.


Dry, warm rooms with good air circulation are excellent for storing tea, herbs, and other smoked or dried foods—like the mint or basil from your Garden Tower! Or dried tomatoes. [For a treat, dry slices of tomato with basil and a diced garlic on a cookie sheet in the oven or in an electric dryer. Stack them in a glass jar and use in winter sauces and stews—or just as a yummy snack!]


Cold and cool dry rooms are good places for winter squash, potatoes, and apples. Old-timers (and some savvy younger generations) use cool bedrooms (which are better for sleeping) for keeping produce in crates under the bed!


When you observe these areas and begin to match need to use, your home economy improves dramatically.



In the garden

Microclimates are everywhere! They are a secret to the theoretical unlimited yield mentioned by permaculture co-originator Bill Mollison.

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0906modcomp.jpgMicroclimates affect the placement and success of gardens. Situate your garden where plants can get 6-8 hours of direct light. This is the amount of light needed for most annuals and perennials to bear fruit. If your garden area gets less than the minimum amount of light, don’t despair! Play with plants that bear in partial shade or even deep shade. Use Plants for a Future to help you find good options for your space. Try greens, potatoes, and anything in the brassica (broccoli) family. These are more likely to yield a harvest in a shady spot. You might want to consider thinning the tree canopy if that’s your limiting factor.

The second generation Garden Tower is fantastic because the rotating design allows you to turn the tower and even out the amount of light each section gets. If the tower is on casters, then you can move the tower into just the right place for what is growing. 

If you live where there is too much light saturation—where intense light negatively affects plants--you need to change your growing area. They are usually areas with higher temperatures. Sometimes we find them at higher elevations (where the thinner atmosphere hits plants with more intense UV light). In these areas, light shade can improve your yields. An awning or a light over-story tree with dappled shade can be the easiest way to create a shade house. Shade cloth or placing your garden on an eastern wall can also help to get the right amount of light to your garden. Shading your garden has other benefits, too. It lowers temperatures. It limits light. And it eases the soil evaporation and transpiration sucking water away from these tender plants.


As ozone levels continue to change in our atmosphere and UV light intensifies, these strategies (common in the southwest US) will become more common throughout the continent. More of us need to experiment with growing under light shade. Your plants will tell you as they drop their leaves or slow productivity in the hottest parts of the summer.


Vegetation and buildings (and landscape features) also determine how wind moves throughout the landscape. Excessive exposure to wind tends to dry out the soil and place stress on the plants. Plants like being in a sheltered, sunny spot. Windbreaks make a big difference. At the same time, a light breeze can confuse or discourage pests. To create a windbreak, try to install something (a perennial planting or wall) that gently lifts the wind over the area you are using and sets it back down. To direct wind, use perennial plantings in a V shape with the V pointing towards the window or garden area you want to cool and the wider part of the V pointing toward the direction from which wind tends to come.


Even a hood to keep pests away will provide some insulationI’ve mentioned keeping plants cooler with shade, but keeping them warm enough to be productive is the other side of temperature and microclimates. It is THE key strategy for season extension in spring, fall and winter. The keys to passive heating are: (1) to create a barrier that traps warm air (like a hoop house or greenhouse); and (2) to use thermal mass to warm an area through the night. If this is not enough, you are looking at using a heater, which requires expense, maintenance and fuel of some kind. It is much simpler to insulate the greenhouse well and use thermal mass to absorb the sun’s energy from the day—re-radiating it out at night. You’ve all enjoyed a warm stone or brick ledge on a cool day. That is the one way of benefitting from thermal mass.


In greenhouses, people use stone, brick, gravel, and tanks of water to store away solar energy. Usually the tubs of water are black to be the most effective. With the Garden Tower, a wonderful thing happens as the core mass of compost and soil (which is also moist) absorbs a good deal of solar energy and stores it away—just where the plants want it. This is a win, win, win when the tower is in an enclosed area in the cooler months.


As you practice observing microclimates; become more familiar with the techniques to modify them; and learn about different productive plants you can include in your garden, your system will become more resilient and unique to your interests. Enjoy discovering your microclimates! Don't forget to put a hammock or other relaxation spot in your favorite microclimate! Please share what you learn with other gardeners on the Garden Tower Facebook page!


Casters on the GT2: Supporters have great solutions!

Casters on the GT2: Supporters have great solutions!

The new Garden Tower 2 has been getting rave reviews this spring.  In February we changed the plastic formulation to eliminate the possibility of cold-temperature shipping damages from heavy impacts during transport. We've learned that the HDPE plastic formulation we switched to has too much stretch and flex to use directly with casters long-term. Essentially, the softer (but more durable) food-grade HDPE plastic will slowly warp if caster wheels are used directly under the tower's feet without the proper support for more than a day.


*CAUTION: Caster wheels cannot be left inserted into the feet of the Garden Tower 2 (beyond temporary use when moving the tower to a new location).*


Garden Tower Project recommends stationary objects under the towers, or the use of a platform with casters attached. For full-time caster-wheel use, we recommend a platform or dolly.  Many of these platforms have inboard wheels that reduce the stability of the tower. Please use them with caution.


Three supporters offered their solutions below. The first is the easiest and an out of-the-box solution requiring no skills, know how or tools. The second one--which builds on the first--is the most accessible for most folks with some time, tools and minimal DIY skills. The third is more highly engineered and for the experienced DIY’er with the proper skills and tools. A big thanks to our three supporters for their contributions!!!!


General suggestions on casters: 

  • Do not use only a spindle caster through the feet (for more than 12 hours). The base must be supported at least in part.
  • The platform needs to be a minimum 29”, inside diameter for (round) drum dollies.
  • The larger the wheel, the easier to negotiate uneven surfaces.
  • Polyolefin wheels will resist getting flat spots, and/or marring surfaces.
  • Treated (or marine grade) or painted plywood will last the longest in all weather conditions.

AGAIN: Many of these platforms have inboard wheels that will reduce the stability of the tower so please use them with caution.




#1  This first offering from Raymie Emslander is the easiest and an out of-the-box solution requiring no skills, know-how or tools.

From Raymie Emslander An 85 gallon drum dolly is the right size for the GT2 without a plywood platform. It has small openings on the sides to let the excess water out. The lip is low enough you can still get the drawer open.


Ours looks red because we gave it another coat of paint.




#2  Jeanne Warner posted this solution:

    I just ordered a 29" internal diameter, cross deck dolly from McMaster-Carr for $78 that is load rated at 900# and has 4 rotating polypropylene casters. It will cost about $90 dollars with shipping, delivered in two days. Once I add a plywood circle over the cross, this is the perfect solution to having a stable deck for your GT2. You should still be able to move it when you want to. According to my brother, a mechanical engineer, the polypropylene casters will assist in distributing the load so that the weight of the properly watered and growing GT2 will not overly burden your flooring if you are growing indoors


  My dolly is 29" and you can see by the photo that it is just big enough. I recommend flipping the dolly over onto the plywood and tracing around the inside of the rim so that your cut matches whatever imperfections exist in the used dolly. Also, I suggest using treated/marine grade plywood, so that it weathers well.



  The treated plywood will be absolutely fine for a LONG, long time—years and years—especially if it is painted with something like Rustoleum. The main danger point is not the top, however, it is the cut edges. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am solving this by running caulk around the edge to seal it to the dolly ring. This will prevent water from getting to the edges, where it wicks in and wreaks havoc. The additional issue (with treated plywood) is that it needs to be dry when any freezing takes place, as that will expand the layers and then degrade the lamination.     

   I would strongly recommend that anyone who is using this set up outside—in other words, most everyone—paint the treated plywood deck with a weather resistant paint and not caulk around the rim like I am. Because I am using it indoors, my main goal was to prevent overflows from hitting the floor of my mud room. When working outside, I should think the main point of the plywood would be to support the GT2 and that drainage around the edge would be optimal to prevent deterioration of the plywood



#3 Duane Benson sent us this great DIY option to us:

My landlord requires any planters be movable. So I began planning on how to put wheels on my GT2 before it ever arrived. Using a barrel dolly never even occurred to me. So I proceeded to do my own dolly concept. A barrel dolly would have been easier, but would not have had the size, quality or locking ability of the wheels I have.


Looking at the feet, I felt it was designed to rest the entire foot on a solid surface, not just a caster carrying the weight. Even though on the website I saw a suggestion a caster cold be inserted, I decided a rigid dolly with platforms to support the entire foot of the tower would be the solution I was after and what it really needed. The tower would be bolted to the dolly. I wanted a large wheel diameter so I could move the tower from the back patio after the growing season, to the garage for the winter without catching on cement seams and handling a transition from grass to cement.


I ordered three high-quality, fully-locking 5 inch casters made of polyolefin, so they won’t develop a flat spot sitting in one place long term like rubber and other plastics and soft casters do. Fully locking makes the GT2 very secure when parked and braked. The fully-locking caster locks both the wheel, and swivel. I got the casters from They cost me $47.50 shipped.


I already had a scrap piece of unistrut. It was just enough. If you don't know what this stuff is, here is a link to it on Home Depots website. $16.50…/202714280


The fasteners were a little pricy ($37 from Home Depot) but after about 40 minutes with the Sawzall, I had a working rigid dolly with my GT2 securely mounted.


So my total cost of the dolly would be right around $100 if I had to buy the parts I didn't already own. I'm into it about $84.b2ap3_thumbnail_Duane-Benson-2.jpg


If you buy a barrel dolly for $65 (heaven forbid what shipping would cost) and have to buy a sheet of pressure treated 3/4" plywood, your going to be into it at least that much, or even a little more. Finding free or recycled dollies or plywood is the key to cutting cost. I am very happy with the result.


As an added benefit, I think I am going to go ahead and plant my peppers and other plants that can freeze since I can easily roll it in and out of the garage each morning/evening.


I am keeping my eyes open for a scrap piece of plastic lumber I can replace the plywood platforms with. The plastic lumber is made from recycled pop bottles and never rots. Those can reasonably be replaced with a loaded tower at a future date.


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