Vertical Gardens - Lettuce Trees

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Growing more food in less space is what vertical gardening is all about. This simple and inexpensive project is fun to make, and gives you months of fresh lettuce in as little as one square foot!

This year I'm planting six varieties of lettuce and two types of spinach. Mostly from seed, but I did get a couple of seedlings from the nursery too.

I have been making these vertical tube gardens for a few years and have had great results. In this instructable I'll show you how to make a simple tower and give you a few ideas on how to make others. I'll also let you know what to avoid and how to keep your crops producing!

Step 1: Materials List & Tools

Tools:

  • Drill
  • Utility knife
  • Scissors,
  • Caulk gun
  • Poking stick - I use a wooden chopstick & a tweaker screwdriver

Materials:

  • Plastic grate cover
  • Old coffee container
  • Vinyl placemat - mine has a lenticular 3-D design
  • A length of 1" PVC pipe
  • Construction adhesive (glue)
  • Vinyl shelf paper
  • Zip ties
  • An old sock
  • Clay pebbles
  • Soil
  • Lettuce seedlings

Step 2: Building the Base

Starting out with a solid structure can avoid a lot of future trouble. Previous planters have had trouble holding the weight or simply tip over when it gets a little windy.

This drain cover works perfectly because it has the extra wide base and is almost the exact size as an old coffee container I had.

The first thing to do is cut the bottom out of the coffee tub. I left a little bit around the edge to hold the glue.

Step 3: Glue It Together

  • Put a liberal amount of the clear construction adhesive on the top of the drain, the bottom of the coffee can and cover a strip of the shelf mat.
  • Once the two pieces are together, run another bead of glue covering the seam all the way around.
  • Then wrap the sticky strip of shelf mat to further strengthen the connection.
  • Finally, put a gallon of water on top to give some pressure while it dries.

Step 4: Make the Watering Tube

Next I make a watering / wicking tube to conserve water and to evenly water all the plants at once.

  • Drill holes through the conduit.
  • Cut the sock into strips and tie a knot in each strip.
  • Using a poking stick, push each knot into the center of the conduit.
  • Glue to the center of the base.

Step 5: Glue on the Placemat

Now that the base is dry it is time to put on the placemat.

  • Cover the back of the placemat with a liberal amount of the adhesive.
  • Wrap the placemat around the base and secure with zip ties, string, tape, etc.
  • I found an old plastic nursery pot that was the right diameter to give the top of the tower a little extra structure. I cut out the bottom and glued it into the tower at the top. again using zip ties and string to keep it all together while the glue dries.

Step 6: Adding the Soil

It's time to fill the planter with soil. You don't want to get a bunch of dirt in your watering tube, so it's a good idea to cover it during this step.

  • Add a bottom layer of clay pebbles. This helps drainage and keeps the roots from rotting.
  • Fill the rest of the way with the soil mixture of your choosing.
  • As you add your soil, make sure to spread your wicks out at each layer.

Step 7: Preparing for Planting

Now we add places to plant. Be creative with your design. I recommend planting in phases, starting with the bottom of the planter. If the top plants get big quickly, it shades the lower section of the planter.

  • Take your utility knife and cut a hole in the planter. We are cutting through both the placemat and the coffee can underneath to get to that sweet, sweet soil.
  • Make your hole nice and large to accommodate a larger sized plant once it grows. Make sure to remove any extra pieces of plastic.
  • Squirt some water into the hole - getting that area muddy.
  • Using your poking stick, create a space behind the hole for your roots to go.

Step 8: Preparing Seedlings

Depending on the size of your seedlings, you will need to remove some soil from the root structure.

  • Remove your seedling from it's container
  • Gently shake to remove any loose soil
  • Dip roots into a cup of water and gently shake
  • You don't need to get it all off, just enough to fit into the hole you made.
  • Keep a few spares. This is a little rough on them. They might not all make it....

Step 9: Planting

This part can be tricky you may need your poking stick.

  • Gently slide the roots of your seedling into the cavity you prepared.
  • You will need to fill back in some soil to make sure your seedling is not drooping.
    • It is important that none of the leaves are touching the side of the planter. I have learned the hard way that if a wet leaf sticks to the side of the planter - It will be completely dried out and stuck to the side the next day.

Step 10: Add More Plants

  • Repeat these steps and plant all the way around your tube.
  • Depending on how often you harvest, leave room for your lettuce to form a decent sized head.
  • They make pretty nice planters even if you don't use them for vertical gardening.

Step 11: Planting Tips

  • Smaller sturdy seedlings are easier. I like to make a "plug" of the roots and soil with the spray bottle.
  • Plant in waves. Let the lower section grow a little before adding plants in the middle and let those ones go before adding plants toward the top. This keeps your plants in the sun and out of the shade. Rotating your planting also keeps a steady rotating harvest of fresh vegetables without too much waste.
  • Think about placement based on variety. For example, I tend to plant Romaine on the last round toward the top because they grow BIG and also grow UP. I have had a sturdy Romaine knock out the plants above it by sheer force. I plant bushier lettuces below - like a Buttercrunch or Little Gem.
  • Rotate your planter occasionally. Give it a quarter turn when you water it.
  • Consider adding a handle to hang it. Suspended Lettuce trees look cool and are fun to harvest. Don't forget that full of water, these things can be quite heavy so use or make a GOOD handle and properly secure it. I have simply scavenged handles from all sorts of pails and buckets that I had laying around

  • I have had many gardens fall over or get knocked over. I was pretty bummed when my garden fell off the balcony. When you build your planter consider options to keep it vertical:
    • Have a super sturdy base like the one in this instructable. This guy isn't going over without some effort.
    • You could put weight in the base of your planter. Just be sure it does not impede drainage.
    • Hanging it keeps it from accidental knock overs.
    • Of course you can also tie it to something more sturdy.
    • Keep it indoors. Mini lettuce trees work too!

Step 12: Harvesting

Lettuce grows fast! Within a few weeks it will be time to take your first harvest.

  • With scissors, cut the outside leaves of each plant. I toss them straight into my salad spinner for washing.
  • Leave enough leaves to let the lettuce continue to grow for the next harvest.
  • If one of your plants looks like it is about to bolt, you can cut off the majority of it, just leaving enough green for it to rebuild. You might get another few harvests out of it yet!

Well, that's it! I hope you enjoyed my first instructable. I'm off to make a salad.

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    8 Discussions

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    hometheaterz

    Tip 5 weeks ago on Step 12

    UPDATE: It has been 13 days since I made this new instructable lettuce tree. All the plants survived and have really started growing! You can barely even see that bunny!

    update 2.JPGupdate 3.JPGupdate 4.JPG
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    dragon flyer

    5 weeks ago

    This is so cool! One more thing to try to find time for, groan...

    1 reply
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    hometheaterzdragon flyer

    Reply 5 weeks ago

    Maybe for my next instructable I should do a stripped-down 10 minute table-top version.

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    cfs0527Penolopy Bulnick

    Reply 5 weeks ago

    I was going to ask about spinach. Great! I can see a trend in my gardening going 3-D. I just planted a potato tower. I will try others too and see what works. Maybe I can do my first instructible based on the results.

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    hometheaterzcfs0527

    Reply 5 weeks ago

    Please do and post a link here so I can see!!

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    hometheaterzPenolopy Bulnick

    Reply 7 weeks ago

    Not just lettuce! I also have a spinach tree and a few succulent experiments. :)

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    OutofPatience

    6 weeks ago

    Quite creative for a "small space" garden...thanks!