Food is expensive, and that’s probably why many of us have been wondering if it’s cheaper to grow our own. While that’s okay in the summer, what about the rest of the year, especially here in Canada? The solution may be to try one of those cool tower gardens you often see online. But while they look cool and automate everything, they’re stupidly expensive. After watching a number of videos on vertical gardening, I decided it wouldn’t be that hard to build a tower garden of my own. In the end, it wasn’t hard and I was able to find everything I needed (delivered right to my door!) on Amazon. If you’re wondering how to make a hydroponic tower at home, here’s how I did it, and how you can too.
How to build a DIY tower garden
The general principle behind hydroponic growing is that instead of having soil to provide the plant with nutrients, you add water-based nutrients and grow in water. This works fine for a horizontal setup, but when we want to grow vertically, we need to get the water to the top of the tower.
That requires a pump as well as some way to disperse the water at the top. the first thing you’ll need to consider is how tall you want your vertical garden to be. you’ll need to ensure whichever pump you buy has enough vertical lift to move the water to the top of that height. so deciding on the height of your garden is an important first step.
Next, you’ll have to consider what type of plant you’re planning on growing. This will affect the spacing in the openings that you’ll placing in the tower. Smaller plants like basil will require less spacing, while if you decide to grow lettuce or something with larger leaves, or tomatoes, you’ll need to space them further apart. if you want to split the difference, you could put the holes closer together and then just close off a few of them should you decide you need something with larger spacing.
How do you make a Tower Garden? Supplies
You’ll be able to find everything you need for your Tower style Garden on Amazon. For my garden, I ended up buying a 10-ft section of 4-inch PVC pipe as well as a 10-ft section of 1 3/4 in PVC from my local hardware store and everything else from Amazon. Apart from the PVC, you’ll need a 4-inch end cap, a 4-inch Y-trap (though this is optional an adapter to screw the 1 3/4 inch PVC to your pump), and some kind of shower head or other device to disperse the water at the top of the 1 3/4 inch PVC (your pump may have something like this included). Apart from that, you’ll need nutrients, net cups and some kind of growing medium (like Hydroton), and possibly a water timer if you don’t want your pump running all day. You’ll also need a 5-gallon bucket or Rubbermaid bin to use as a water reservoir.
Shopping list at a glance:
- PVC pipe
- Shower head or dispenser
- Drill with Hole saw cutter
- Netcups or pool noodle cut into chunks
- Growing medium (Hydroton)
- Bucket or tote bin
Building your own garden tower
The first step will be to cut your PVC down to the height required (keep in mind if you’re using the y-trap, that will add a bit of height to it as well.) You’ll need to ensure that your Tower is stable, so if it’s out in the middle of your yard and not up against something, you’ll also want to consider some kind of guide wire or another way to keep it from toppling over in high winds. I cut my PVC using a small hand-held hacksaw. (There are also PVC knives and PVC saws that you can use.) I used a Y-trap (a piece of 4 inch PVC with an extra opening that allows you to access the pump without taking the whole tower apart) to provide easy access to my pump, you can decide if that’s necessary for your own setup. Fit your Y-trap and your 4-inch PVC together to get an idea of how tall you’ll need to make the interior pipe of 1 ¾ inch PVC.
I found my pump did not fit inside the main tower, so I left enough extra 1 3/4 inch PVC so that the pump could sit below the entire tower. Once you’ve measured out how tall you need for the 1 3/4 inch PVC you can go ahead and cut that. Make sure you leave a bit of headspace at the top of the 1 ¾ inch PVC so that there’s room for the water to flow without hitting the top cap.
Next, get out your favorite hole saw and drill and begin to drill holes in the 4-in PVC. Remember to leave enough spacing for whatever style of plant you want to grow, and if you’re doing more than one row, which you probably are, make sure that you stagger between the rows so that all the plants aren’t growing at exactly the same horizontal level.
Adding the pump
You’ll also want to make sure that the holes are large enough for you to insert a net cup if you’re using those but not so large that the entire net cup goes right inside. Once you’ve cut all the holes, you can clean out the inside of the pipe from the plastic debris, give it a hose down to make sure there’s nothing left inside, and go ahead and start assembling your Tower. connect the 1 3/4 inch adapter to your pump and your 1 3/4 inch PVC. connect the fountain or shower head disperser at the top of the 1 3/4 PVC, and then add the 4-inch cap to the top.
With your tower now fully assembled, you can start thinking about assembling the tower. Measure a hole in the lid of your 5-gallon bucket or reservoir and cut that out so there’s room for the tower to go through it.
Next, place the tower inside your Reservoir and fill it up with water and plug in your pump to give it a quick test. The water will probably start splashing out as there are no plants to stop it from doing so. When you have your net cups prepared, they will keep the water from coming out. For my tower, I ended up using bits of pool noodle rather than net cups to block the holes.
Once you’re sure everything is how you want it, you can place the entire tower and its final location and add your seedlings or plant cuttings. Depending on how large your plants are, use the proper amount of nutrients, add those to the water, and turn your pump back on. It may take a few days or even a week to start seeing some noticeable growth in the plants, but you can always pull out the net cup or pool noodle piece and look and see how your roots are doing. Again don’t forget to make sure that your Tower is stabilized against high winds; in my case, I placed it against the fence, cut holes in the sides that were still facing out, and used a bit of garden tie to secure it to the fence.
Can I make my own Tower Garden? What I learned
By building the tower this way, my cost was somewhere in the range of 100 to $140, and that gave me a tower that was just over 6 ft. I could have used the remaining PVC to build a smaller 4-ft Tower. Your biggest costs here are going to be the PVC itself and buying the pump. The nutrients can also cost a bit more off the top, but it will take you a long time to go through them. By building the tower yourself, you’ll also be able to troubleshoot and replace a piece if something stops working, rather than having to deal with shipping and returns.
My tower has been up for about 2 and 1/2 months now, and we’re already enjoying some pesto from the basil that I had planted on it, and it’s growing very well. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out and will probably look at making a smaller one that I can grow flowers with for next year.
If you have any thoughts or comments, or suggestions post them in the comments since we’d love to hear from you. Good luck with building your own vertical-style garden, and let us know how it goes.
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