Tower Garden ® vs. Raised Beds
Well a few weeks back I wrote a post about how I was “diversifying” my veggie gardening efforts by adding a Tower Garden® right alongside our raised beds. On that post I provided the reasons why I WASN’T going down this Tower Garden ® (TG) path…although some people do it for these very reasons…
- to save money.
- to make money.
- because the TG is the best, easiest, & cheapest way to do vertical/aeroponic gardening.
I also explained why I WAS adding a TG to our garden…
- the flexibility the TG offers in terms of location…allowing me to put it in a spot that’s both convenient and a bit sunnier.
- another way to educate our girls about food…which would hopefully result in their having a healthier approach to eating.
- complementing our raised beds…in hopes of getting a bigger, better harvest.
And being a student of all things ground redeeming, another reason why I’m Tower Garden’ing is, well…I just wanted to see, side-by-side, how the two stack up – the Tower Garden ® vs. Raised Beds. And since we’re well into the fall growing season, I thought that there’s no better time than now to give you my opinion on how I think things are looking so far.
Below you’ll find my comparative thoughts on: Set-up; Maintenance; Cost; Pests & Yield; Appearance; and Experience. If you’re considering the TG for other reasons, my write-up may not be that helpful.
SET-UP: Advantage Tower Garden ®
- Although nice, the design of my raised beds is not that complicated…they were fairly easy to construct.
- It took me the better part of a weekend to build my entire garden (designing, purchasing supplies, and building). However, my raised beds are quite a bit bigger than what I would need for 28 plants (the # of plants you can have in a TG with the extension).
- It did take several trips back/forth to Home Depot and a good bit of time figuring out what and how to best amend the soil.
- Putting the plants in the ground was clearly very easy.
Tower Garden ®:
- Buying our TG was a cinch…made a few decisions, filled out a few forms, and paid for it.
- Then…within a week, all 73 boxes appeared on our doorstep (…well, maybe 6 or 7 boxes).
- The actual set-up was a breeze for me because I had the help of friends and fellow TG gardeners (thanks James & Severin!). It only took us an hour or so. But if I didn’t have any help, I’d say it would have taken me at least twice as long…so I’m guessing about 2 to 3 hours. You might be able to do it more quickly…but that’s what I’m guessing for me.
- Note, there were a couple tricky parts to putting our TG together…so make sure you read the directions and have all your parts laid out.
- Once the TG was standing, the water pumping and the nutrients added…dropping the plants in was very easy. And since there’s no dirt, it was a lot neater of a task than the raised bed equivalent.
Summary: All in all, although building raised beds is not that difficult (and I’m a woodworking novice)…I’d still have to give the advantage to the TG in terms of set-up. The folks at Tower Garden ® offer an easy-to-put together design with a fairly intuitive set of instructions.
MAINTENANCE: Advantage Tower Garden ®
- I’m not very particular when it comes to my raised beds…I really don’t do much to maintain them. I weed when I feel like it…or when they start looking a bit too embarrassing.
- Before I put my plants in the ground, I do what is minimally required in terms of tilling and amending the soil…which takes some time buying (or composting) what you need and a little bit of elbow grease.
- We’re going on 4 years now with our raised beds and I’m starting to see definite signs of needing to replace some rotting boards…which will take time and money.
Tower Garden ®:
- Since I’ve only had my TG for a month or so, I don’t have much to say here. However, given that the TG is constructed of a type of plastic (that is “food grade”), I don’t anticipate having to replace anything any time soon.
- As for the TG equivalent for “amending the soil”, all you do have to do is check the water’s pH levels and then add the appropriate amount of nutrients with the Tower Tonic Mineral Blend (which will be an additional cost once I finish what I received in the starter kit).
- The plastic baskets that the seedlings are placed in don’t need to be replaced, but if you are starting from seeds (vs. buying seedlings from one of the TG seedling providers), you’ll need to purchase “rock wool” cubes (the medium that the seedlings/plants grown in).
- From an ongoing maintenance perspective, my fellow Tower Garden’ing friends tell me that:
- Water and nutrients need to be added as needed.
- Every once and awhile they’ll have to reach into the water tank and cut back roots so that they don’t clog up the pump.
- Between each growing season they take their TG apart and clean it.
Summary: Again, given its design, the materials used, and the fact that there is nothing touching the ground, maintaining a TG is easier to do than maintaining raised beds…at least it has been so far.
- I’ve spent quite a bit of money (and time) building my raised beds…initial construction, initial and subsequent years’ fill dirt/compost mix, pea gravel between the beds, irrigation, fencing, fertilizer, etc.
- But just like I didn’t start Tower Garden’ing to save money on our grocery bill…I didn’t build my raised beds for that reason either.
- Regardless, your cost of having raised beds will be largely dependent on your design, the size, and the materials you choose.
Tower Garden ®:
- I spent $700ish on my TG…but I went all out – with the dolly, tower extension, and tomato cage.
- It also included the starter kit and some Tower Tonic (which should last for over a year).
- And that should be it from a cost perspective – besides having to buy additional Tower Tonic and the rock wool cubes when I run out (if I decided to start from seeds vs. buying seedlings).
Summary: Again…the cost difference between investing in a TG vs. building and maintaining raised beds is going to depend on the choices you make on both sides of the equation. For me, I’ve probably spent more on my raised beds…and will need to spend more money to maintain them (and time) going forward.
PESTS & YIELD: Advantage Tower Garden ®… but still a wait and see
I combined my comments on pests & yield because for me…they seem to be closely correlated.
- The veggies in my raised beds definitely seem to be more susceptible to pests and disease than the veggies on my TG are…which negatively impacts the yield.
Tower Garden ®:
- I’ve only been at this for about six weeks…so I’ll have more to say once the season is over. However, I can already tell that my TG veggies are a lot healthier looking than those in my raised beds…with very few signs of pests or disease.
- There are some airborne pests that have gnawed at my veggies…but that’s it and they’ve done minimal damage.
- It also looks like my plants are really liking whatever nutrients are in the tonic.
Summary: Although not magic (i.e., you still have to check on and work with your TG veggies), it appears that the success rate for growing veggies in the TG is greater than those grown in raised beds.
APPEARANCE: Advantage Raised Beds
- I was very intentional when I designed my raised beds. I wanted them to provide architectural interest and to look good, or at least interesting…in and out of season.
- So my design reflects that…and I love how they’ve turned out…definitely an attractive element in my yard.
Tower Garden ®:
- I’m not a fan of anything that looks too man-made in my garden. And if it is man-made, I want it to look aged…to have a story.
- Because it is, the TG couldn’t looks man-made…bright & shiny…plastic & metal.
- Although my TG plants still have time to fill in, I can still see a good bit of the white PVC…and since there is still a good bit of shade where I have it, I probably always will.
- I understand why the TG is designed the way that it is…and with the materials that are used…I just don’t find it very attractive. But this is just my opinion based on the aesthetic I’m looking for in my yard.
Summary: Call me old-fashioned…but for me, I’d much rather look at a raised bed full of veggies than a TG proudly standing at attention in all its glory…albeit it green. So I guess this comes down to personal preference. (BTW…I have a plan on how to camouflage the TG base…stay tuned for a post on that.)
EXPERIENCE: Advantage Raised Beds
- I love walking through my garden…in the morning and in the evening. I love seeing things in rows. I love digging holes and watching earthworms squirm. I love smelling dirt and feeling it between my fingers. Oddly enough, I even appreciate how my hands and back feel the day after working in my garden –tight, sore, and scratched up…reminding me of all that I had accomplished the day before.
- There’s just so much in the experience of being in my raised bed veggie garden.
Tower Garden ®:
- I very much appreciate the science behind the design of the TG…and recognize that because of the convenience the TG offers, I’m able to more fully experience other aspects of my life. It’s clean…it’s easily within reach…it’s efficient. And that’s all very good.
- I do enjoy being able to cleanly and easily gather my veggies…although I sometimes feel like I’m in a scene from Logan’s Run…which for some, that could be a really cool experience.
- But that’s just it…I know that we’re all wired differently…but part of what I love most about gardening is that you get a little dirty and there’s a good bit of work involved. But again, that may just be me.
Summary: From an experience perspective, good old-fashioned raised bed gardening is hands-down the winner for me.
There are pros and cons to growing your family veggies in either a Tower Garden ® or raised beds. But at the end of the day, it all just depends on what you’re looking for. And once you’re clear on what that is…you should just make a decision that most closely aligns with that and do it.
As for me? I guess I ascribe to what Jim Collins writes about in Built to Last…why settle for the “tyranny of the OR” when you can embrace the “genius of the AND”? That said, for the foreseeable future…you’ll find me experiencing all that my raised beds have to offer AND enjoying all the conveniences that come with my Tower Garden ®…and eating healthy veggies, regardless of where they were grown.
Take care friends,
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Doug, great job outlining the pros and cons of the traditional gardening (raised beds) vs tower gardens. I love how you broke the analysis down by setup, maintenance, appearance etc. You certainly have stated the facts well. Thank you for your willingness to go “outside your box” and try a Tower Garden! We love to learn from you and your experiences of redeeming the ground!
Go play in the dirt…my friend!
Thanks Severin…for your comments and for introducing me to the Tower Garden! I look forward to ALL my veggies! Take care, D.
I saw the Tower Garden at a Home and Garden show and was intrigued, so when I saw that two side-by-side neighbors had set these up, I started talking to them about the tower. Both houses have south and west exposure and this is near Phoenix, so heat and sun exposure are both forces to be reckoned with. Neighbor #1 chose the west exposure with little to no shade. Her vegetables grew extremely well from fall to spring, When she packed it away last May (she summers in a northern state and the tower didn’t fit in their motor home), she was enthusiastically planning this year’s winter garden. I don’t like chard, but the rainbow chard she was growing had me drooling. And the white wasn’t at all visible after a short time
Neighbor #2 chose the southern exposure under an overhang. As he puts it “I was the one who told her about this thing and she started 6 weeks AFTER I did, but look at hers and then look at mine. I wish I knew her secret!” His is sitting outside with a For Sale sign on it. So far, no takers.
Now me. I’ve just ordered a Garden Tower (not a Tower Garden) and I’m really looking forward to it. In the sense that it is also a vertical garden, they’re similar. However mine will hold 50 plants (up to 70 with two additional rings), and is a vermiculture base rather than an aquaponic one. The inner cylinder holds the ingredients for compost and the worms, which eat the compost and deposit castings in the dirt that fills the outer cylinder. The inner cylinder has worm-size holes so that the worms can migrate from one cylinder to the other. There are removable pans that collect compost and compost tea. And with a 2’x2′ footprint, I expect I may be getting more of these, and if I move, I can pack my garden up and move it with me. And no monthly nutrient system to buy!