Want to expand your growing space, or you don’t have growing space?!
Vertical gardening in a 55 gallon barrel is a great solution! Cost-efficient, space-efficient! One barrel can be virtually an entire garden in itself – plant the sides in strawberries, lettuce, potatoes, herbs, carrots, beets, and hundreds of other plants, and a tomato and pepper in the top! In fact, an average 55-gallon drum can hold 72 plants in the sides alone, or fewer as you wish, depending on smaller or larger plant choices. Either way, it’s a good return per square foot.
No gophers, moles, or weeds, and few soil insect pests. Water usage is less because the system lowers evaporation since it’s enclosed. Water not used at the top trickles down to water plants below. A drain at the bottom collects any excess nutrient dense water, that is like a compost/worm casting tea, that you can pour right back on top of your barrel garden. Plants grow faster!
Here’s the barrel building process! Select a clean barrel, make the pockets, set up a manual or automatic watering system, mix the fertilizer, plant, harvest, maintain.
Get a food grade plastic barrel (if you are ok with plastic) from any food processing company, used on craigslist, from your local honey processor!
DIY! Mark and make slits in the side with a buzz saw, open the slits with a soldering iron to soften the plastic, hammer a wedge in to open the slits to the dimension you want. OR, a jig saw, heat gun, crowbar, two by four. Use what you got. Some places you buy the barrels from will cut them for you for a little extra. Worth it for the long term investment you are making and the amazing production you will get from it.
The number of slits might be 48. If you are doing bigger plants, leave more space between the rows of slits around your barrel.
In the center install a 4 to 6″ worm tube! Put your worm food in there, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, stuff safe for them to eat. Drill holes into the tube so the worms can come and go, aerating your soil, leaving their castings as they meander. At the bottom of the barrel, make a hole that you can screw a plug into at the bottom of your worm tube. Put your barrel up on cinder blocks so when you remove the plug, the worm castings fall down into a container below. Put a cap on top of the tube to keep out critters like mice, and rain.
If your barrel will have a permanent location, sunny on all sides, you can attach legs, or put it up on cinder blocks. If you need to move it around or turn it for sun and shade, pop your barrel up on a plant dolly. Put the drum in its permanent location, or on your dolly, before filling the container with soil and plants because then it may be too heavy to move afterwards.
Check out Half-Pint Homestead’s video on how to make your own barrels! How to install automatic watering, a drip system in your barrels. John Kohler shows you how to set up a Garden Tower and plant your plants in it. He is a strong advocate of super soil with powerful amendments! And why not?! Makes a lot of sense. Lots of healthy plants in a small space are chomping up those nutrients right and left. What you put in is what you get back. The video is done in his inimitable way, quickly with lots of animation!
If you don’t want to build one yourself, get one in from a small company in Bloomington Indiana called Garden Tower Project! Their new custom terracotta colored, USDA food grade, UV-stabilized v1.1 Garden Towers are $269 (Feb 2014), versus the Tower Gardens, the tall white skinny towers, that start at $525 for a structure that grows only 20 plants. The foot print is about the same, but these don’t have to be anchored and your plants whipped about around a small diameter when there is high wind. And there are certain plants, like peppers, with vertical stems, that don’t do well in Tower Gardens. Garden Towers recycle your kitchen scraps, do worm composting, and your plants are grown in soil.
If you are planting on a deck, balcony or rooftop, be sure the weight of either one can be accommodated safely. Be sure your water source is convenient and there won’t be water damage to your space or neighbors below or near you.
Plant placement! Smaller plants to the top, vining plants at the bottom. Put upright plants like tomatoes, peppers, bigger tall plants, carrots that need to grow straight, in the top of your barrel. Or plant the whole thing to strawberries! Perennials are not your best choice because they can become root bound.
Maintenance is pretty simple. From time to time, you add some of your collected castings, and replenish your compost as soil settles, gets used. Replant when space becomes available.
In Eugene OR, the students are making start up barrels to sell, and getting a community garden going this year! Perfect!
Alex at Garden Tower Project tells the story pretty quickly and makes the big points! It’s way less expensive and complicated than hydroponics. You can put them anywhere. Perfect for seniors, no weeding! Oh, and the barrels come in different colors – green, red, white and blue, and now, that lovely natural looking terracotta!