It’s Vertical Lettuce For Me!

organic lettuce planted in a vertical tower Scroll down past the photos if you just want a quick list of what you will need.

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 Weed Barrier Fabric

2 Inch x 4 Inch Mesh 14 Gauge Galvanized Welded Wire Fence,

2 CUFT Medium Bark

4 foot piece of 3″ wide PVC or Flex-Drain Drain Pipe, Perforated, 4-Inch by 8-Feet

Twist Tie

Espoma PLA1 Organic Planting Mix, 1 Cubic Feet

Leaves to be composted.

Farmers Market Cut and Come Again Lettuce Blend Seeds 2000 Seeds

Alpine Strawberry plants

In conclusion I would rate this experiment a huge success. A few things to note about my experience are:

  1.  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.
  2.  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.
  3.  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.
  4.  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.
  5.  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.
  6.  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.

 

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37 comments for “It’s Vertical Lettuce For Me!

  1. Roberta
    at 9:06 am

    Fabulous Idea! So many plus factors!! 🙂

    • Kat
      at 6:55 pm

      Hi Roberta. I honestly was expecting a couple of problems along the way, but the entire projects went really well.

  2. Kari
    at 9:12 am

    Keeping the lettuce up away from bugs and dirt splatter sounds good.

    • Kat
      at 6:54 pm

      Hey Kari, thanks for stopping by!

  3. Elizabeth Barrow
    at 2:21 pm

    Love it! Was thinking of doing something like this with sweet potatoes but got sidetracked. Maybe next year!

    • Kat
      at 12:10 pm

      Elizabeth I was going to do the potato version of this too, but that never happened either. But I will be more motivated next year since this worked so well. Then again…

  4. Michelle
    at 8:46 am

    Beautiful! I found your blog via Pinterest and I had to click on the picture. Do you think this could work for a patio garden? We live in townhouses and can’t have actual vegetable gardens but we do have a large deck in the back that get partial sun. Very exciting!

    • Kat
      at 3:16 pm

      Thanks for stopping by!
      It really depends on what time of day you get sun and how much. I find that lettuce won’t do well if it gets less than 4 hours of good strong sun (midday-afternoon) or bright but partial sun all day. Also, keep in mind that it will drain. If it’s OK for it to drain on your deck, no worries. If not, you might have to improvise on the design a bit. Hope you find a way to make it work because it sure can be productive.

  5. ombelina mata
    at 10:26 am

    Love the idea can’t wait to try. We have chickens and ducks and this would keep them from my plant. Thank you.

    • Kat
      at 9:04 am

      I’d love to hear how it works for you. I’m testing out a new version next spring with growing bags. Might be a little quicker and easier.

  6. Whitney
    at 5:58 pm

    This is a great idea- I wonder if you could plant some sort of bean on the back side… they generally enjoy the shade… Hmmm… Interesting, I’ll have to try this setup this year!

    • Kat
      at 9:39 pm

      Whitney I would love to see photos if you try it with beans. I think that would be cool.

  7. Nellie
    at 2:43 pm

    Great idea. I had a thought that if you shaped it more like a triangle, there would be more sun exposure than just the circle. Good luck this next year.

    • Kat
      at 10:17 am

      Nellie you might be on to something with changing the shape. I’ll have to give that some thought. If you give it a try, I’d love to know your results.

  8. Geoff
    at 6:58 pm

    Love the idea, I wonder if you could have something like a vine crop (cucumbers, squash, etc) growing so when the salad is done, you have the cucumbers or something).

  9. Sarah
    at 3:19 pm

    Great way to save space. I would never have thought about growing lettuce vertically. Love it! Do the lettuce heads have different shape when grown like this?

    • Kat
      at 3:23 pm

      Hi Sarah, I have leaf lettuce growing in there, not head lettuce. You can harvest more, over a longer period of time with leaf lettuce. I have not tried it with head lettuce but I’m guessing the heads would be slightly misshapen because of the direction of the sunlight.

  10. Barb Melrose
    at 7:01 pm

    I’m a little confused…..You insert that 8 feet long tube into the middle, put in the medium chips in the tube and build everything around that….Then you take that tube out????What will keep the dirt from collapsing into that space? Thanks for your help.

    • Kat
      at 7:25 pm

      Hi Barb, I think the reason that soil doesn’t collapse into the space in the center is that the bark is packed pretty tight in there. Plus since the tube is 4″ wide, you get a good thick layer of bark. Also planting mixes generally have a coarser texture and more bark than potting mixes so they tend to pack together and stay in place. At the end of about a year, when I took down one tower, there was still a pretty solid layer of bark down the center with very little soil in it. Hope that helps.

    • Kat
      at 7:27 pm

      And yes, that is correct. You put the tube in, build the soil around it, fill the tube with bark and then pull it out.

      • Greg
        at 4:16 am

        If the tube is perforated, why wouldn’t you fill it with compostable material from the kitchen instead of filling it with bark?

        • Kat
          at 4:35 am

          Hi Greg, thanks for checking out the post. The purpose of the tube is to ensure that water gets down to the lower layers and filters out. The tube isn’t that large and if you fill the tube with kitchen scraps, they can pack down as they compost fairly quickly and block the drainage holes. However, what you are talking about is a basic principle of the keyhole garden which is more like a raised bed with a center composting area. With the keyhole garden you aren’t planting vertically so you can simply water from the top down. And although the bark does break down, it takes about a year at which time I find I need to redo the planter anyway.

  11. Farmer Joe
    at 5:23 am

    Just an idea about not planting the backside. Place the planter on a large lazy susan and rotate it once in a while. No use in letting a foot of space go to waste

    • Kat
      at 6:02 am

      It actually becomes quite heavy when it’s filled. I’m sure somewhere they make them but I think a lazy susan of this size would be cost prohibited. Also, I can’t be trusted with too many things that require me to do something on a regular basis. Now if it were motor operated and on a timer… 🙂

  12. at 5:53 am

    Kat, I’m always looking for new ways to increase my food production. This method is at the top of my “try it” list for this year. I’m a big fan of walapini gardening and this will triple my growing space. Thanks.

    • Kat
      at 8:05 am

      Hi Bob, thanks for the comment. I’m always interested in hearing about how others garden. I personally love this method now and won’t do my lettuce any other way.

  13. Kim Lambdin
    at 10:05 pm

    What if you put DE at the outside baseline to keep bugs from accessing the lettuce at least from the base…no?

    • Kat
      at 4:55 am

      Hi Kim, That’s where I put it, but with rain and overhead watering, you do have to reapply. If you keep up with that, you will probably have no bugs at all.

  14. Julie
    at 7:56 am

    Love this idea! Looks like it is fairly easy to build! I learned about key hole gardens a year ago, which is alot of work, garden bed is roughly 4′ off the ground with a hole in the center where you put all compost and water. Your idea is very similar, but on a smaller scale. I think I would like to try your idea but to make the center hole larger like the key hole for compost.
    Happy gardening,
    Julie

  15. Scott
    at 4:14 am

    It might be worthwhile to try some sort of legume on top to help introduce/fix some Nitrogen. I’m thinking a bush variety or Peanut. Might be the easiest harvest of peanut ever.

    • Kat
      at 5:19 am

      Sounds like a great idea!

  16. Christine
    at 5:41 am

    Hi Kat, thanks for sharing your lettuce growing tips.
    What are your thoughts about trying lettuce in one of those topsy turvy vertical growing containers for tomatoes? They aren’t as big as your container but I have a couple on hand and I’m a tad construction challenged. I’ve done fairly well using the pocket shoe organizers, but learned the hard way those can disenegrate or fall from too much weight. Thanks for any advice.

    • Kat
      at 5:33 am

      Hi Christine,
      You probably could do some lettuce in a topsy turvy. Keeping in mind each lettuce plant will need a minimum of 6″ ball of soil for root room you might have to alternate planted pockets and empty side pockets so the roots have room to spread out. If you’ve already got them, I say try. Let us know how it works.

  17. Richard
    at 8:04 am

    Your idea on this seems to be a good one, However, I was actually expecting instructions on assembly of this. Did I miss something while reading? Thanks in advance.

    • Kat
      at 4:43 am

      Hi Richard. There is a link to the original post near the top of this one about the set up of the lettuce tower.

  18. Suzanne
    at 3:13 pm

    I’ve been wanting to do one of these and was considering PC pipes but this is better as it can be made any size. Have you ever considered a vimiculture inside the middle instead of bark? The worms eat the compost and fertilize the soil. I think this is going to be my new garden! Tks for the share.

    • Kat
      at 11:43 am

      Suzanne I have seen keyhole gardens done in a way that you describe. I’m not sure how it would work. I have separate worm bins that are closer to my kitchen for convenience so I haven’t really thought of doing it that way.

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