Lo and behold, I opened today’s Herald-Times to find son Colin’s Garden Tower Project subject of a front page feature. YES! And the reporter did a much better job of explaining what they’re doing than I did here.
This story about an Aquarian experiment comes out during today’s Full Moon in Leo/Aquarius. Colin is himself an Aquarian, the sign of inventors! The story also demonstrates his (Aquarian) group orientation. Colin knows in his very bones that each and every human being has something uniquely wonderful to bring to our common table. YES! We are, inherently, all creative (Leo) and all equal (Aquarius).
That’s the basic belief that has led the people who created the Garden Tower to begin a pilot project to test low-tech solutions for sustainable food production at Nature’s Link on the south side of Bloomington. The project began earlier this month, just before arctic temperatures dipped into south-central Indiana. Five 10-foot-by-12-foot greenhouses were set up. Each greenhouse contains five of the Garden Tower structures with plants already growing in them and compost in the middle section of the towers.
The Garden Tower is a compact plant growing system that uses a stack of rings organized around a central compost tube to grow a variety of vegetables, herbs or flowers.
Colin Cudmore, inventor of the Garden Tower, and company co-founder Joel Grant joined others in adding compost, soil and plants to the Garden Towers as well as building the greenhouses and getting all the pipes, water containers and other items needed to create the five different greenhouses.
“We have four different designs we’re looking at and a control greenhouse,” Grant said, adding that the goal is to discover what system produces the most heat. “It’s our first stab at creating an outdoor lab,” he said. The hope is to be able to provide information on the best way for people to create their own naturally heated greenhouses without the use of fossil fuels.
“We’ve developed various designs that are very simple to build,” Cudmore said. The basic concept is that heat generated from the compost inside the greenhouses will heat the greenhouse and allow it to be used year-round, even when it’s very cold outside.
There is a “control” greenhouse that was built without any attempt to use the heat from the compost to keep the greenhouse warm. The other greenhouses use different designs and materials to try to capture heat and maintain a warm environment inside the greenhouse. Some of the items used include wood debris, sawdust, grass clippings — all items that would be readily available to many Americans.
“You don’t realize there are sources of biomass that people can get in most communities,” Cudmore said. “What we’re really focusing on is what people can use.”
Cudmore said adding a little bit of manure to wood chips, mulch or grass clippings “kicks off” the composting process, which produces heat. That is the basis for heating the greenhouses, although some of them contain pipes and containers filled with water because water is better at keeping and storing heat.
“We’ve not invented the concept of heating a greenhouse using compost,” Cudmore said. What he and the others hope to do is make community agriculture more sustainable for average people so they can use the materials around them, provide themselves with food they grow themselves and be able to maintain their greenhouse, whether it’s 70 degrees outside or in the middle of a blizzard.
The size of the greenhouse was chosen because it’s not too large for most homeowners — many people could find a place on their property to set it up. The Garden Towers, with about 50 plants or more, have a footprint of about 4 square feet of space. More plants or more rings to the tower can be added to increase the number of plants grown in the greenhouses, said Cudmore. “It’s easily big enough to supply food for a family.”
All the materials used in building the greenhouses and their internal structures are readily available at local hardware stores, so anyone will be able to build them, Cudmore said.
Now that the project has begun, the Garden Tower folk and some volunteers will be watering plants and checking the moisture content, temperature and other data. What’s needed now, Cudmore said, is a couple of months of data to show which systems are producing the most heat inside the greenhouses.
Once that’s determined, probably in the spring, a new tutorial giving the specifications and building instructions for the best greenhouse will be compiled and shared by mid-summer, Cudmore said. All the information will be open source on the Garden Tower website, so others can use it and possibly even improve on it, he said. “I’m just one inventor. Somebody will probably come up with a better system. I’d like to encourage that.”