I experimented with the Ugly Lettuce Monolith back in February. My decision to grow lettuce vertically was based primarily on my adoption of a new, younger, dog. I really wanted to be able to harvest something from my garden and sometimes pets make that difficult. With layers of material to be composted and garden soil, I filled the wire mesh cylinder (lined with weed barrier cloth) almost to the top. Inserting a drain pipe down the center and filling it with bark before removal created a drainage tube. I cut holes into the weed barrier cloth and inserted the lettuce that I had started in empty 6-packs. I also planted a few strawberries.
The lettuce really took off. I think, in part, due to the weed barrier cloth keeping the soil just a tad bit warmer. Things I planted in the ground just sat in February, but the lettuce in the tower grew quickly. I started harvesting salads within a few weeks of planting. But I never got a strawberry. The dog sniffed out and ate any ripe strawberry he could find.
It’s now July and the lettuce has almost gone to seed. Up until a few weeks ago, I was still harvesting a salad a few times a week. Once lettuce gets to this point, however, it starts to get really bitter.
In the beginning I watered the monolith about once a week by running a hose over the drainage hole in the center and letting it run slowly. After the surrounding area was planted with herbs in front (That’s epazote just in front. It’s almost as tall as the lettuce monolith.) and beans and zucchini in the back, the monolith got watered when the surrounding area got water which was about twice per week.
Because lettuce bolts so quickly in the heat, there is no point in planting more right now. I’ll start new lettuce seedlings in about a month which should give these flowers enough time to open and set seed which I will save for future plantings.
After the initial set up (which honestly takes only a few hours) I found growing lettuce this way pretty easy and problem free. If I was diligent about ringing the monolith with some diatomaceous earth, I encountered no earwigs or snails. But once I got busy with the rest of the garden, this happened with less frequency. I encountered a few (three) earwigs at one point and snails were really easy to pick off. The lettuce itself was a pleasure to harvest in the evening. No stooping to pick it! And because it got no back splash from the soil, it was incredibly clean and just needed a quick rinse.
What you need to build it:
4 foot piece of 3″ wide PVC or Flex-Drain Drain Pipe, Perforated, 4-Inch by 8-Feet
Leaves to be composted.
In conclusion I would rate this experiment a huge success. A few things to note about my experience are:
- The weed cloth seems to keep the soil a bit warmer by absorbing the heat from the sun. This can be a great boon in getting the lettuce going. Once it’s filled in, the leaves cover the black fabric so it doesn’t get too hot.
- I’ve never grown lettuce that was so pest and problem free. The leaves stay cleaner and drier than they do on the ground. Diatomaceous earth can keep the bugs at bay all season if you reapply. If you don’t, it’s easy to spot the intruders.
- I never planted the back side. Because of the trees in my yard and the direction of the sun, I decided the back side would never get enough light to make it worth planting. I thought about making it smaller, but that would reduce the soil room and therefore it would dry out quicker. This is something to keep in mind when deciding on placement.
- If you read the original instructions, you will see that the filler is a mix of garden soil and material needing to be composted. That’s right, it also serves as a compost bin and that 4′ diameter cylinder holds a lot of leaf litter that didn’t make it into the regular compost. My expectation was that the dried leaf material would leave areas too dry and the process of composting would drain the surrounding soil of nitrogen. I had no die off of individual plants and I fertilized only once with a foliar spray of fish emulsion all season.
- The strawberries planted in between grew, but were quickly overtaken by the lettuce. I would do either one or the other in the future, but not both.
- I planted the top with a compact cucumber and it’s not as happy as could be. I now wish I had planted the same cucumber on the ground for comparison. Cucumbers have a tendency to struggle because of our long, cool spring weather. Next time I’ll probably plant a couple squash on top.
If you would like to try your own lettuce monolith, you can read the instructions here.