In Red Rock, Texas (pop. 2.818), near Austin, techie-turned farmer Larry Johnson’s farm is turning out bushels of fruit and vegetables in an area no larger than a tool shed. He is the founder of the EZGro Garden company. Rather than seeking a pastoral setting with fertile soil, Johnson found a few acres and designed a farm that looks more like a circuit board. Strawberries grow up, not out, in the high-density layout. “We manufacture vertical garden systems,” Johnson says. “The system is designed to grow 700 plants in 15 towers in a footprint two feet wide by 18 feet long.” The closed irrigation system uses a nutrient-rich water solution that comes in through the top. Water is pumped from the floor level and comes up inside the towers, and then cascades back down through the pots, bringing nu- trients back to the tank. It takes five gallons of water about a minute to go from the top pot to the bottom, so nutrients flow equally through each pot.
Johnson consulted with vegetable specialist Dr. Joe Masabni, of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, to evaluate the EZGro Garden system. “The research we will do, in addition to proving that the system works, will also aim to show growers that a closed system is safe and does work,” Masabni says. “The common misconception is that if one plant is sick, all the rest would get sick, because the disease will move in the water and in- fect everything else. We want to prove that that doesn’t happen..”
Because the strawberry is a high-value cash crop, they want to know if they can grow the plants more densely than might be expected. “Instead of putting four plants in a pot, let’s put eight plants, for example, and compare that to produc- tion from a pot with only one plant,” says Masabni. He notes that he sees that the
towers of plants are not showing signs of foliage stress, plant stunting or smaller fruit, but expects his research to take two years.
For more information, visit ezgrogarden.com.