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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Self-fertilizing Garden Tower Rises to Encourage Home Gardening and Fight Hunger

Self-fertilizing Garden Tower Rises to Encourage Home Gardening and Fight Hunger

February 26, 2013 |

Photo Credit: The Garden Tower Project.

Colin Cudmore, the inventor of the Garden Tower, a garden container with perforated tubing technology that facilitates the movement of worms and nightcrawlers within it, says he does not consider himself a gardener. Yet, Cudmore, and his two business partners, Tom Tlusty and Joel B. Grant, are preparing for full-scale production of a new gardening container concept that includes the worms, in a self-contained mini-ecological system.

Cudmore germinated the idea one weekend, as he volunteered to man a booth for a local farmer’s market in Bloomington, Ind. He noticed a couple of Amish farmers, who were selling seedlings and starter plants, but had few customers, despite the bustling crowd in the marketplace.

Curious, he asked the two farmers why no one had bought their starter plants. The answer surprised him. The farmers told him customers did not buy the plants, because the market’s patrons had no knowledge of how to grow their own food.

That revelation inspired Cudmore to dig deeper into the subject of home gardening, and he later attended a lecture by Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power.

What he heard inspired the inventor to find a way to make container gardening more accessible to people all over the world. He subsequently nurtured a vision: Turning patios, balconies, and decks into self-fertilizing gardens that would give food-deprived areas of the world a new weapon to fight hunger and poor nutrition around the globe.

Soon, the idea germinated, and a vision took shape in the form of a garden container that would provide habitat for a healthy worm culture. What began as a desire to encourage gardening, would eventually lead the inveterate tinkerer to devise a completely self-sustaining gardening container that creates its own compost. The technology needs no electricity, so it may be used around the globe, Cudmore says.

Neither a gardener, nor an environmental scientist, Cudmore recalls he wasn’t sure how well the concept would actually work. So, he networked with permaculture experts, gardeners, and advanced master gardeners in the Bloomington area, asking them to test the process. As it turned out, it worked far better than he had ever expected. He tweaked the process further, “and it performs incredibly well,” he says.

The Garden Tower, a garden container with perforated tubing technology that facilitates the movement of worms and nightcrawlers within it. Photo Credit: The Garden Tower Project.

The innovative breakthrough was inserting verma-compost tubing. This provides a compost highway, through which worms and nightcrawlers spread worm castings throughout the gardening container. The end result works so well, and creates so many worm castings, there’s enough rich organic fertilizer to spread over the neighbor’s garden beds, too, says Cudmore.

With the Garden Tower, a hobbyist may grow 50 plants in one container, without using even one kilowatt of electricity, Cudmore says.

“I was mulling around with using fish waste as a flow-through byproduct to fertilize the soil. There was no easy or simple way to do that. And, I’m certainly not the first one to come up with the concept of vertical gardening, nor am I the first one to come up with a round barrel as the vertical garden. But, no one really had done the compost within the garden container,” Cudmore says.

Tlusty spent five years working at the Chicago Board of Trade, and through that experience, he gained an understanding of the disparity effects caused by market speculation, in what he calls a “capitalist” agricultural system. He says market dynamics have crushed small farmers.

“The beauty of this design, is that it’s self contained, in that the plastic covers the majority of the soil, so there’s very little evaporation. And all the water that’s not needed by the plants, drains out of the bottom, and it’s reintroduced back into the soil [through the verma-compost tubing],” he says. “So it’s extremely beneficial for areas of the world that are suffering from water scarcity, or poor or sandy soil conditions, or toxic soil.”

Cudmore says the reason the design works so well is that roots have access to water and nutrients for the majority of the day.

The worms, and night crawlers, which are easily obtained in most areas of the world, travel through holes that run down the entire length of the tube. As the critters move in and out of the tube into the surrounding soil, those passageways become oxygen pockets that also revitalize the soil, says Cudmore. A nutrient-rich tea from the leachate settles at the bottom of the container. During testing, The Garden Tower container produced 41 pounds of tomatoes from just two plants.

The Garden Tower Project is raising startup capital through the Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing vehicle for financing innovative projects or endeavors, says Grant, who is currently involved in the management of numerous conservation lands around Bloomington.

“That get’s us to the next level, where we can produce a barrel that’s actually shippable for a reasonable cost,” Tlusty says.

The gardening container is currently available for sale, through the company’s website, and the team is working on a slightly smaller container to reduce shipping costs.

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