Spring is around the corner, and so it is time to start considering what vegetables we want to try to grow this year. While we are at it, we ought to also consider how and where we are going to grow those veggies. The days of needing a large plot of land to be productive are over. New ideas have come up, and gardening has become all about the vertical.
Vertical gardening is a great way to gain larger harvests in smaller spaces. Thirty years ago people might have seen a few square yards of garden as almost not worth the bother, but these days people are learning to stack their veggies, to take advantage of the fence, the wall, the posts, even ceilings as valuable space for the opportunistic home food producer.
What once could be grown in a tiny space is being doubled, tripled, quadrupled…what comes after quadrupled…by utilizing more than just the ground, but rather cultivating on railing, dangling produce from rooftops, and creating multi-leveled gardens.
Small Container Vertical Gardens
Likely the most popular of vertical gardening methods is the small container vertical garden. These are often constructed with a series of upcycled plastic bottles, repurposed pallets, or even a collection of classic plant pots. The basic idea is that up and along a wall, fence or rail, we can attach many, many containers in which we can grow productive plants, especially shallow rooting options like different lettuces, herbs and tomatoes. Rather than occupy our ground space with these, we can grow vertically and get more salad on the table, saving our precious square footage for the plants that need it.
High-Tech Hydroponic Vertical Gardens
Hydroponics is popular for its involvement with marijuana production, but it is also utilized quite a bit in commercial farming, especially — once again — for those with shallow roots, as well a thirsty disposition. Most hydroponic systems are run through a series of special food-grade (Be sure of this. PVC is not safe for growing food.) tubing. The tubes are arranged to have a slight tilt that runs one way in one tube and then back the other in the next and so on. A nutrient solution is cycled through them via gravity and then pumped back to the top to repeat the process, all the while allowing roots to grab what they need. This is definitely the techie method for vertical gardening.
Vertical Tower Vertical Gardens
Vertical towers are yet another way of growing upwards rather than outwards. In this case, a large (again, be sure it’s food-grade plastic) tube or stack of five-gallon buckets has a separate smaller tube fixed into the middle of it. Both the large and small tubes have holes in them, the bigger for plants to grow from and the smaller for water and compost material (for composting worms) to be delivered to the plants. Then, the space between the small and large tubes is filled with potting mix, and things like strawberries, herbs, lettuce, and so on are planted up the tower rather than along the ground. Put in a row, these can increase productive space exponentially.
Trellis-and-Vine Vertical Gardens
Lots of fruit and veg like to grow on vines, and when this is the case, we can supply them with the structure to keep them from taking up our square footage. For example, a grape vine can spread over an area of several square yards; however, the vine itself is but one little trunk-like stem in the ground. And, there are many vegetables that can behave this way as well: Scarlet runner beans, chayote, and many things from the squash family. Give them the means to grow upwards, and they’ll go that way rather than gobbling up ground space.
Layered Food Forest Vertical Gardens
Food forest are the ideal way to grow a vertical garden, and truthfully, most suburban lawns are enough space to get some version of one. Here we combine tall fruiting trees (apple) with small productive trees (dwarf plums) with vines (squash or beans) growing up them while soil-enriching shrubs (Siberian pea) huddle beside delicious herbaceous plants (basil, parsley, dill, kale) that fit comfortably over groundcovers (strawberry, nasturtium) that are growing above edible roots (Jerusalem artichoke). In this case, we have layered our garden so that something productive is happening at every available level of vertical space. It’s a bio-diverse, exciting mix of food to enjoy, and there are many combinations besides the one listed above.
Choose one or choose them all. Most vertical growing done in containers is intensive gardening, requiring more consistent attention with regards to daily watering and frequent soil amending. But, options like trellised vines and food forests can be largely made of perennial plants that are highly productive without a lot of fuss. But, when space is small and efficiency the call, vertical gardening is the best of them all.
Lead image source: Nattapol Sritongcom/Shutterstock