No matter how green a person’s thumb, he or she usually needs at least one thing to grow a garden — a lawn. But for those who call cities, apartments and college dorms their home, lack of a lawn puts their gardening hopes to a halt before they can even pick up a shovel. Or does it?
Vertical gardening systems, or tower gardens, allow hopeful growers who find themselves sans yard to cultivate their own fruits and vegetables. Tower gardens can be placed indoors and outdoors, and minimize the space needed to grow your own grub.
The UCF Arboretum, in conjunction with the Health and Wellness Promotions Services and the Student Government Association, has installed these tower gardens all over the Orlando campus. They can be found at the Student Union, the Health Center and the Recreation and Wellness Center as part of UCF’s FreshU initiative.
“The purpose of [tower gardens] is to showcase and educate the point of urban agriculture and the ability to grow food indoors with less amount of space using less amount of resources, yet producing more of the crop that we need,” said Jacques Werleigh, program assistant for the UCF Arboretum.
Although UCF orders premade tower gardens through the company Juice+, Werleigh said that creating a vertical hydroponic gardening system at home is a simple and easy process that can sometimes cost less than ordering a premade tower. Additionally, building your own tower garden allows you to design it however you want.
“It can be made at home with just PVC and a water pump,” Werleigh said.
To explain how they work, Werleigh said that UCF’s tower gardens follow a hydroponic and aeroponic system to grow plants. The plants in a tower garden are suspended in the air with their roots exposed to a watering system, the base of which holds about 20 gallons of water. Nutrients are added to the water, which is pumped through the tower every 15 to 20 minutes to nourish the crops. In terms of light, indoor tower gardens should be placed near a window, or have light fixtures installed within them.
“It is very versatile [and] they can grow a lot of different things,” Werleigh said. “One of the best things is that they limit the amount of resources. It uses less space because the plants are grown vertically. It uses less resources, less water and less nutrients because all of it goes directly to the plant and nothing is lost.”
Though versatile and efficient, not all fruits and vegetables can be grown in tower gardens. Root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, turnips and radishes cannot be grown in these vessels, however, leafy greens such as lettuce and Swiss chard, in addition to tomatoes and herbs, flourish.
Maureen Hawkins, director of UCF’s Health and Wellness Promotions Services, said that the ultimate goal of the tower gardens and the FreshU initiative is to inspire students to grow their own food. The food that is grown on the tower gardens goes back to the students via Knight’s Pantry and to students who help with the harvesting.
“We’re finding that the closer you are to your food source ... the more likely people are to use the food, [so] we are reducing food waste,” Hawkins said. “Students are learning hands-on where their food comes from and the more hands on experience you have with your food, the more likely you are to integrate [it] into your diet.”
UCF alumna Taylor White of Palm Beach puts this idea into practice with an in-home tower garden of her very own.
“I wanted to grow my own food because I knew if I grew it, I would not want to see it go to waste and I would therefore eat more greens,” White said.
White started her tower garden after hearing about the success and seeing photos of her aunt’s tower garden. After failed attempts at growing a mini herb garden, White decided to try a different approach to growing her own food and gave tower gardening a try. She said that one the greatest benefits of her tower garden is that it saves time and requires little maintenance.
“You fill it and you are done, besides picking off your food,” White said. “I’m checking on them every day just to see how big they have gotten because they grow so fast.”
The UCF Arboretum and Health and Wellness Promotions Services offer workshops for students who wish to get involved with tower gardening.
“Some of our educational sessions can show students how to do it on their own. It’s actually not a very complicated process” Hawkins said. “No bugs, no dirt and no sweat.”
Through Juice Plus, a complete tower garden growing system costs $525, which can be paid in 12 installments of $45.25 a month. The kit comes with the vertical garden, seeds, seed starter enviro-dome, 20 rock wool seed starter cubes and net pots, a pump, timer and drain tube, plant food, a pH test kit and measuring cup. For more information, visit towergarden.com.
Eric Gutierrez is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @atticus_adrift or email him at EricG@CentralFloridaFuture.com.