Garden Grow Towers

Garden Grow Towers - with basil

Garden Grow Towers can be an easy alternative for anyone who is space limited or just wants something unusual and eye-catching in the garden

I love my barrel gardens. Grow towers, or whatever you want to call them. They are my babies in the garden. Several years ago, I found a YouTube video on grow towers. It was a tutorial on making a garden planter out of a 55-gallon barrel. It was really interesting. Until the lady got out her propane torch IN HER LIVING ROOM and lit it to soften the plastic to make the planting pockets. As the wife of a retired firefighter, I couldn’t watch anymore.

I found another guy making the barrels, and he used a heat gun and recommended all the normal precautions. I was hooked! So, for Mother’s Day, I asked Dennis to build me a barrel. And he did. We worked on it together, and it was beautiful! We could plant 49 plants around the barrel in the pockets and about five on top.

The Original

The barrel was on legs, lifting it off the ground. It had a tube down the center for composting. The theory was to add worms to the barrel, and they would crawl through the holes in the tube and eat the vegetable matter we added. That winter, we had a long cold spell, and the barrel froze, and so did all my worms. We decided after that first season that the tube down the center wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Watering was a bit of a challenge. As you watered, the water drained to the bottom of the barrel, keeping that part of the barrel damp, but the top parts needed more frequent watering. Watering in the pockets sometimes caused waterfalls of mud flowing out of the pocket. But I loved my barrel.

Second Generation

The next year, Dennis built me another barrel with another irrigation idea. It worked fairly well but still had some of the same problems. We also tried a soaker hose. Again, some improvement, but still needed refining.


Last year I was cruising YouTube again and saw a Canadian with 22 blue barrels in his backyard filled with strawberries! What a strawberry barrel! His answer to the watering question was to use an olla. An olla is an unglazed terra-cotta pot filled with water and buried in the soil. The water wicks out into the soil and delivering moisture directly to the roots of the plants. They are widely used in arid climates to conserve water. Genius! He also had a new method for making the pockets. His pockets were larger to make planting easier. The way he cut the barrels also made the barrels much quicker to construct.

Third Generation

Dennis made me another barrel! He added an olla, and it works great! We have added ollas to my other barrels. We replaced the old one that has been in front of the house for a couple of years. It is planted in basil and is lovely. People ask if I use that much basil. No. Mostly I walk past it as I come into the house and touch the beautiful leaves and smell it. I do use it, but the entire 35-gallon barrel is planted in basil. The barrel alone could supply a couple of small restaurants with basil.

A lot I do give it away. Sometimes I post online offering basil for anyone who wants to cut it. I have been known to take bouquets of basil to appointments or book club. I freeze some. And I make pesto. I love pesto, but Dennis tires of it before I do, so I don’t make it as often as I would like.

Garden Grow Towers with newly planted basil

I have three barrels now. One is my showpiece out front. Two are in the garden. I plant a variety of herbs in one and spinach in the other. In the summer, I plant hot weather spinach that tolerates the heat better than traditional spinach.

Small Space Options

Barrels can be a wonderful option for apartment dwellers or others who have limited space to garden. You can plant a variety of vegetables in the pockets. We have had some success with squash and tomatoes. Last year I planted flowers in alternate rows of the barrel. It was lovely. This year with the addition of the ollas, I look forward to easier water management. I am already able to walk past my basil barrel and touch and smell the wonderful scent of my lovely basil. I love watching it grow and flourish.

More Opportunities

Dennis would like to offer a class on making the barrels sometime this summer. It takes several hours to make one, but they last for years and can provide a lot of produce and beauty in your landscape. If you are interested in learning how to make a barrel, contact Dennis at West Texas Organic Gardening.

We are currently producing a video on how to make a simple olla, so check back soon!

Links and Resources

For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.

If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.

Container Gardening

Potting Soil Recipe

Vegetable Container Gardening

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