Garden Towers Create Compost Tea to Grow Plants

You may have seen the barrels full of vibrant plants outside of Bloomingfoods, or perhaps on a friend’s porch or patio. These are Garden Towers, a local invention designed to make gardening easy and accessible for gardeners of all kinds.

Ramsay Harik, who tends the public display towers and does much of the company’s marketing, never expected to end up as part of an entrepreneurial business team.

“It sort of fell into my lap all of a sudden when I met Colin Cudmore when we were both volunteering at the community orchard,” he said.

Cudmore had invented the Garden Tower, a device he saw as a way to make gardening more accessible to the community, and he was looking to make a business venture out of it.

“He wanted a partner along with his other partner, Joel Grant, and since I’m a master gardener with a background in writing, and I was a teacher, he thought I could do this and it seemed like a worthy cause,” Harik said. The company got off the ground this past February.

Each tower consists of a 55-gallon food-grade plastic barrel which has been turned into a giant planter, with 45 slots for plants and extra room at the top.

Red wriggler worms are introduced into a composting tube which runs through the center. Once the tower has been filled with soil and plants, it can continue to be nourished from the inside out as the worms are fed kitchen scraps, leaves, and lawn clippings, and their leavings, referred to as vermicompost, invigorate the soil.

“You never really have to replace the soil because it’s continually being enriched by the compost,” Harik said.

Drainage holes collect any extra liquid from watering, which by the time it has filtered through the soil and compost, is known as  “compost tea” and can be used to enhance the tower or other plants the owner might have. Extra vermicompost can also be harvested for the same purpose.

One of Harik’s favorite activities since joining the company has been experimenting with the Garden Towers to find out what grows the best in them.One of Harik’s favorite activities since joining the company has been experimenting with the Garden Towers to find out what grows the best in them.

“The first time I planted, I made a flower tower, to see what kinds of flowers grew best, and the second one was mainly vegetables; squash, tomatoes, Swiss chard, peppers, basil, eggplant, and a few others,” Harik said.

The towers have been put to the test this summer during long periods of heat and drought. “We were anxious to see what would happen, but everything did very well because the roots are well established and they go deep into the core which stays relatively cool and wet,” Harik said.

Starting in late August and early September, Garden Tower owners can start planting fall crops, which will flourish well into the winter because the tower is well-insulated, Harik said.

As the company becomes more established, the team is looking for ways to make their product available to those who have the greatest need for such a device.

“With the recession, but even before the recession, a lot of people live hand- to-mouth and don’t have enough food to eat. They certainly don’t have the means to buy good quality, organic, fresh vegetables, and so if we can get this into their hands at reduced cost or through various philanthropic means, we’re giving them a chance to get a good chunk of nutrition that they wouldn’t otherwise get in their diet,” Harik said.

Accordingly, they are working on starting a philanthropic wing of the company that will focus on providing Garden Towers where they can do the most good.

“With the recession, but even before the recession, a lot of people live hand- to-mouth and don’t have enough food to eat. They certainly don’t have the means to buy good quality, organic, fresh vegetables, and so if we can get this into their hands at reduced cost or through various philanthropic means, we’re giving them a chance to get a good chunk of nutrition that they wouldn’t otherwise get in their diet,” Harik said.

Accordingly, they are working on starting a philanthropic wing of the company that will focus on providing Garden Towers where they can do the most good.

“Once we’re able to produce and ship them nationally, things will really take off and we’ll be selling quite a few of them, and a substantial portion of the income from that will be channeled into this organization,” Harik said.

Already, the team has begun providing Garden Towers to some local non-profits. “We’ve given away several towers; we’ve given one to Middle Way House, to cultivate self-sufficiency among the people they serve, and we give discounts on towers to those who need them,”  Harik said.

With every positive testimonial and piece of feedback the Garden Towers receive, Harik sees his hopes for the company manifesting. “My goal is the goal we all share, which is to make gardening more fun and easier for people who just want to garden, but also to give a real boost for those who need food security in their lives,” he said.

To learn more about the Garden Tower Project, visit http://www.gardentowerproject.com/

by Laura Gleason