Furbert paves the way for vertical gardening in Bermuda
In November 2020, government announced it was finalising plans for a new vertical farming facility that could potentially produce 30 per cent of the island’s leafy greens.
While nothing concrete has yet come of that proposal, horticulturalist Aaron Furbert is ahead of the game.
In April, Mr Furbert launched Furbert’s Vertical Gardening, a business selling 3ft X 2ft gardening towers, allowing people with limited space and time to grow fresh vegetables and herbs.
“Before the stay at home order in 2020, a friend sent me an article about vertical farming,” Mr Furbert said.
He was intrigued by information about using old barrels to create gardens.
“I did more research into it,” said Mr Furbert, a groundskeeper at Willowbank Resort in Sandys. “Then subsequently, I made my first one out of a repurposed 55 gallon barrel. It only had 15 slots. That did not seem like room for a lot of plants.
“Also it was a challenge, once you put all that soil into the barrel, keeping all the side pockets open. But through trial and error and a lot of cutting and measuring, I figured it out.”
In the end he had a prototype with 30 different slots for plants. It also had a PVC pipe running down the middle with holes in it. Through that pipe he could feed compost and beneficial worms to the tower plants.
“Once you incorporate some earthworms in there, they can help break down that material a lot faster and help to aerate the soil,” he said. “Their deposits help to improve the soil as well.”
He was so pleased with his tower that he decided to sell it. Soon orders were coming in. A friend kept him supplied with barrels, in exchange for plants.
“At first it was just a hustle,” Mr Furbert said. Then he started thinking about turning it into a proper business.
“It’s really not about the money,” he said. “I thought other people could benefit from it. A lot of people are getting into gardening now, for various reasons. They could save money in the long run.
“It is sustainable and environmentally friendly. There are no harmful pesticides and herbicides being used with my gardens.”
Mr Furbert officially launched last month. He sells the equipment and soil for the garden as one package, and also installs and maintains it for a monthly fee that depends on the clients needs.
“If they want to maintain it themselves, that is fine,” he said.
One of his early customers was Willowbank. They now have a vertical gardening tower outside of their restaurant kitchen growing romaine lettuce, mint, oregano, cilantro, kale, chives, arugula, cherry tomatoes, parsley, thyme, onions and basil.
Willowbank executive chef Ronald Virgil said it came in very handy last weekend when the hotel was busy catering to SailGP guests.
“We used the heirloom tomatoes as a garnish for some of the plating,” Mr Virgil said. “The guests loved it. We told them we grow some of our own herbs right here on this property.”
He found it very convenient to just pop outside when he needed a few sprigs of thyme instead of slogging to the grocery store and wasting valuable time.
Mr Virgil said Mr Furbert handles the maintenance for them.
“He will come in and look at it and throw in some things,” Mr Virgil said. “It is very cost effective. If you don’t have land then this just works for you.”
One tower costs $350, and Mr Furbert is selling them with a ten per cent discount until the end of September.
Clients can maintain the garden themselves or pay him to do it. It costs $140 a month for weekly maintenance, but there are other packages.
Mr Furbert said you could put flowers in the towers instead of vegetables, but so far his clients have mainly been interested in growing food.
He backed any plans the government has to explore vertical gardening.
“With this there is not much maintenance,” he said. “You could have maybe 20 to 25 towers to really get a good yield.”