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Container Gardening: Vertical stacked containers

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Jaywhacker
Kerrville, TX

August 18, 2007
8:20 PM

Post #3871822

I have trouble posting links but you can just google these systems up by name. Not being much of a photo journalist or computer whiz, Im sorry that I dont have any pitchurs to show of my vertical growing system.

EZgro
stack-a-pots
hydro stacker
agrotower
verti-gro

Or you can just google Vertical Growing Systems and get a lot more info.

If you are new to gardening, dont let the term "hydroponics" scare you off these growing systems. They are just pots stacked vertically and watered and fertilized (soluable fertilizer) thru the top pot. The fertilize/water solution drains down through all the pots and drips to waste or you can devise some system of catching the overflow and use it to water and fertilize other plants. The overflow can also be recirculated and re-used but when you do that, you are getting into a more technical version of hydroponics. It aint necessary to go there. The best way to start out is the simple "drip to waste" system. And the simple way to start out is to manually pour the fertilizer solution into the top pot. A more expensive and elaborate system uses an electronic timer and pump and a large container to hold the fertilizer solution such as a 32 gallon rubbermaid trash can. I recommend starting simple and manually pouring the solution untill you become familiar with this growing system. If you like it you can add stacks and go automated later.

I have both the verti-gro and the EZgro systems. The verti-gro system uses styrofoam pots with very small planting areas in the four corners of each pot. The EZgro has very solid hard plastic pots with four much larger planting areas. Between these two systems, I recommend the "original" EZgro system as it comes complete as a basic system with a vertical pole system (1/2 and 3/4 electrical conduit), 5 pots, a gro mix to fill all pots with some to spare, and enough soluable fertilizer to last one growing season. That cost me $80 including the $20 freight fee here to central Texas. The EZgro growing mix looks to be 80% perlite and 20% vermiculite and in my experience, it is impossible to drown your plants with this mixture. After it absorbs all the water it can hold, it still contains plenty of air space so your plants can breath.

The pots, stacked 5 deep, provide 20 plant sites. I presently have 7 of these stacks in production which provide me with 140 plant sites. I am watering them with an electronic timer and pump which comes in handy if I have to leave home for a couple of days. My 32 gallon tank does have to be refilled after two days though so even the "automatic" watering system is not labor free. The 32 gallon tank would be fine if I were only using four stacks but with 7 stacks, I really should have a larger tank.

I use the hydroponic fertilizer that comes with the system and I do not "re-circulate" the liquid that drips out the bottom of the pots. I have devised my own method of catching that solution and I use it on other plants in my garden. This drip solution has lost some of its elements which are being absorbed by the plants in the stack but it is still has some effective as a fertilizer. This system is called "drip to waste" but I dont waste it, I catch it and use it. Yeah, so im cheap.:) EZgro has a simple one page of instruction on mixing and using these hydroponic fertilizers and if you are using the drip to waste method of operation, no great technical knowledge is required. It is simple. That is why I tell you not to let the word "hydroponic" scare you away from experimenting with this type of gardening. We have had a tremendous amount of rain here in the hill country this year. When I know its going to rain, I just turn off my automatic system and let mother nature do most of my watering for me, just like a regular garden. I do, however try to put the fertilizer/water to the plants at least once a day when its raining so the plants still get a sip of fertilizer. Im sure they could go for quite a few days on water alone but a long period of rain will flush out the fertilizer from the pots so I am just playing it safe and giving them a shot of fertilizer along with the rain water.

When I first planted one of these vertical stacks of 5 pots with small plants (you can go from seed or small transplants) I was only pouring about 3 pints of water thru the stack twice a day. As the plants get larger or the weather gets hotter you will wont to increase the amount of water/fertilizer, maybe going to 3 times per day. Whatever. It is a judgement thing. If the plants appear to be a little pale, not bright green like they should be, you can increase the calcium/nitrate part of your fertilizer solution. Whatever. Again, its a judgement thing, just like Granny used to do it. I have a little $5 moisture meter that I stick into the bottom pot now and then to see if I am providing enough moisture. The old eyball measurement works good too. Check about 15 minutes after you have watered and some waste water should be dripping out of the bottom pot, not too much, but enough to indicate that the whole stack got watered. I dont really need to use the moisture meter but it makes me feel all technical just like the big time gardeners. This aint rocket science, folks. No college degrees necessary.

Leafy crops like lettuce grow unbelievably well...and fast. Mesclun mixes are producing from seed to bowl in about 4 weeks and so is radish. Tomatos can be grown from the top pots and allowed to droop down (I havent tried this yet). I have had mixed radish, mesclun mix and flowers in the same stack, no problem. Calundula (pot marigold) from seed to flower in about 2 months. Verbena from nursery transplants started flowering in early spring and are still going strong. Stock really grew strong and put out a lot of sweet smellers right up head high where you could just prop your nose on them and sniff away. Carnations looked healthy for about 3 months but are just now starting to bloom. Basil got so big and lush that it broke off. I pulled the marigold's out of the stacks cause they were getting just huge and much bigger than they were advertised to be. I think they put the wrong seed in the wrong package. Old age has fuzzed up my memory so that I cant recall all that I have tried this first summer but everything has grown fine in the stacks so far except some snapdragons. But the same snapdragons aint doing too well in the ground beds either so...whatever.

Old age has crept up on me. In fact, at 75, it has not only crept up on me, it caught up to me and just flat run over the top of me and left me somewhat battered and bruised. I dont bend, stoop, and kneel as well as I once did and I have really learned to appreciate this vertically method of gardening. I can stand eyeball to eyeball with most of the plants Im raising or, for the lower ones, sit on a 5 gallon bucket. Old bucket bottom finally got a garden up to his level.:)

Deer are a problem in the Texas Hill Country so I have all seven of my vertical stacks inside a dog pen which is 6 foot high, 7 foot wide, and 13 foot long. Thats 140 plants I can grow in that area plus various other plants sitting at ground level in pots. That dog pen came from Tractor Supply Company (you can google it up) and cost about $200. So if space is a problem, vertical stacks are the way to go. If animals are a problem, even pet animals, using a dog pen like I have described can solve that problem. You can grow a heck of a lot of plants in a small area with these vertical stacks.

You do not have to go the so called hydroponic route that I have been describing. You can mix osmocote type granular slow release fertilizer into your growing mix and then all you have to put in the top of your stacks is just plain water. Maybe add a little miracle gro or other type of soluable fertilize now and then as needed. You can set a system like that up with a simple cheap timer designed to water your lawn from a faucet. If you are into the organic way of gardening, VertiGro has organic fertilizers to sell you for use with their system. The VertiGro site on the internet can explain that to you.

I have one stack set up under some large cedar trees in dappled shade. I walk around the garden taking various types of cuttings and stick them in the pots on that stack. I usually have something growing in all 20 plant sites on that stack. I can easily have 100 cuttings in that stack. Thats only 5 cuttings per site and actually I can put more than that there. Right now I have quite a few ornamental oregano cuttings rooting there and they will form roots in about 4 weeks. Pineapple sage and mexican bush sage roots faster than that. A sucker from a tomato plant is good to go in about a week. I also planted all kinds of seeds in that same stack thru the spring and summer. I recently transplanted some stock, nicotina, and snapdragon (started from seed) from that stack to my 7 main growing stacks. The EZgro mix of perlite/vermiculite is ideal for growing from seed or cuttings. I have never had any problems with damping off with any seed planted in that stack. I simply pass by that stack a few times a day and mist it with a garden hose. It would be simple to automate a misting system around it but most of the stuff I grow is not too persnickety and my sloppy methods seem to work well. It is amazing the amount of things I have grown from seed and cuttings on that stack this summer in spite of all the rain we have had. You just cant overwater anything in that grow mix. It is in the shade so the hot weather doesnt slow it down much either.

I may try some of the Stack-a-pots in the future. They have devised a system where each pot in the stack has an internal area which holds water and is a self watering system. But you can still water from the top rather than each individual pot. They also have larger pots, called Stack-a-tubs if you think you need something larger for certain type plants. Their stacks can also be hung on a chain over the patio and they have another design that sits on a porch rail.

Some old guy in the history books was always advising "Go west, young man, go west." I guess what Im advising is "Go vertical, old gardeners, go vertical." Errrr, and young folks too.

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