A few years back I made a kind of bold household decision; I decided to grow as much food for my family as I possibly could on the postage stamp-sized yard that our old home is situated on in the downtown Pottstown Historic District. For years we maintained a small veggie garden in our back yard that my daughter and I created together and it always gave us a pretty decent yield...but, I always found myself wanting more!
Luckily, my husband is supportive of my food
growing endeavors (more vegetable gardens =
less grass to mow, after all), so with the help of one of my fellow gardener friends I came up with a rather elaborate urban farming plan for our little Francis homestead, now affectionately referred to as “Little House In The ‘Hood” by family and friends. Almost as soon as I got into this rather grandiose gardening adventure of mine it became clear that part of the plan would need to be forfeiting most (okay...all) of our traditional front and backyard flower beds and converting them into vegetables and fruits gardens, and I found myself giving my veggies homes in some rather unusual places. However, even with my most cleaver of plot schemes, crop space was extremely limited. With every new growing season, in my efforts to find the most efficient and compact ways of producing more food in such tight quarters, I discovered other gardening spots - nooks and crannies, really - all of which eventually lead me to the inevitable: growing up.
Vertical garden [r]:
A newer gardening concept
used where there is minimal
space, plants are grown upright
on walls, poles, columns.
Yep!! Vertical gardening! Vertical gardening, along with companion gardening (a topic for another discussion), has proven to be the single most helpful technique for me in maneuvering around (I won’t dare say conquering!) my urban farming space limitation dilemma.
Now, personally I’m not so sure of how “new” the concept of vertical gardening is in actuality ... I mean ivy, roses and grapes - just to name a few - have been trellised for ages. But, I will say that the technique does seem to be a newer one to the world of veggie gardening, to which it has proven to be a brilliant solution for the urban farmer. There are so many different types of veggies and fruits that do phenomenally well when grown vertically...too many to even mention. I have found from my own experimentation that if the plant has even the slightest inclination to climb (and many do), then it’s very likely worthy of vertical gardening. Once the idea of vertical gardening is embraced by the space-challenged urban farmer, like moi, a whole new world of homegrown food opens up to them. Plants that would have easily gobbled up the majority of a standard backyard kitchen garden, if given the opportunity, become a possibility again for backyard planting.
A few examples of plants that have thrived for
me when moved off of the ground and onto a trellis, fence, arbor are zucchini, squash, heirloom tomatoes (as they continue to grow upward vs becoming bushy, like many common varieties),
cucumbers, and melons. I have used obvious trellising devices, such as cages and chicken wire, as well as re-purposing old ladders, shutters, doors, bed and crib frames, towel hooks, etc. I also mounted a street sign post that I found at a junkyard horizontally to my fence, placed “S” hooks on it and tied up large sunflowers, beans and tomato plants to them. Basically, anything that you can tie a plant’s stem/vine on with some garden string will do the trick. I have hung baskets and racks on our fencing and used them to plant herbs, leaf lettuces, nasturtium and strawberries
- plants that don’t have a deep root structure/ need for depth - and like to climb or hang down. The coolest thing about vertical gardening to me is that I haven’t come across any concrete “rules” to the technique other than observing the natural inclination of a plant and working with that. So, while peppers and eggplants don’t typically want to climb, they can become rather tall and top heavy, depending on their variety (I find this to be especially true of many of my heirloom vegetable plants, which my garden largely consists of), in which case I often utilize my vertical growing devices - hooks, bed frame, etc - to tie up the plants by their stems vs. using a more traditional staking method.
One additional awesome feature of vertical gardening is that you don’t necessarily need a piece of ground in order to do it - a container of some sort is typically fine, if not better. Whoa!!
That part was/is so appealing to me (not to mention so dang liberating!). So, let’s say that you want to grow Sugar Baby watermelon (yep, watermelon!!), you just need to get yourself a large container (5 gallon or more, depending on what you’re growing), plant your seeds and put a tomato cage around it for it to climb on. Nice, right?! (Tip: have some kind of support system ready for your melons when they come, like cheesecloth, mesh or my personal favorite, old cut up tights and/or pantyhose, that you can loosely wrap under the melons and tie to the cage, expanding them as they grow, so that the vine doesn’t break from the weight of the fruit.)
Vertical gardening is really such a cool and interesting
option for the backyard farmer...it opens up a plethora of growing possibilities that, as an urban farmer, you may think you don’t have the space for. So, if lack of garden space is a trouble that you can relate with, go ahead and give vertical gardening a try. I think you’ll find that “growing up” is a pretty cool thing!