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Vertical gardening is a term that is cropping up more and more often as cultivating food at home has become a growing trend in urban and suburban settings. Using vertical spacing allows growers to expand the area in which they can plant things by not just planting horizontally at ground level, as we have traditionally done, but making full use of walls, rails, stairs, posts, fences, and other things that are common in these settings.

As innovators have set out to design productive home gardens in city dwellings, they’ve discovered that it’s possible to grow much more on an apartment balcony than previously thought. As ingenious suburban farmers have let loose and pushed for increased production, they’ve maximized space by getting off the ground. The experiment has proven wildly successful, and it’s time for us to get our respective seeds rolling in this direction.

Why Is Vertical Gardening So Awesome?

Vertical gardening can be achieved in many ways. It can be recognizing that vines are climbers rather than clamberers, so if we provide them with a post and a place to go, then, from just a pot or patch of ground, they’ll grow into something huge with a grand harvest (see: grapes, kiwis, akebias, cucumbers, melons, etc.). It can be a clever set of open-ended drawers with edible plants (see: salad greens and culinary herbs) poking out. It can be suspended in plant pots full of produce (see: peas, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, beans). The point is that the amount of square space we have is only a fraction of the amount of growing space we have.

And, now, just to be a little bolder about it, vertical gardens are a step towards a better future. Growing food at home is something that will lessen our need for commercially grown produce, reduce our demand for shipping things from far away, and clean up the air quality in our homes. While doing this, we can cut our grocery bills, start a healthy hobby, and seriously beautify our surroundings with greenery, flowers, fruit, vegetables, butterflies, bees, and color.

It’s easy to envision really – take that bare balcony on the second-floor apartment across the street, the one with two dusty plastic chairs and coffee-stained table between them, and fill it with life. Suddenly, it becomes a space where neighbors are waving back and forth over daily waterings and harvests – people snipping greens for fresh salads, plucking tomatoes for homemade sauces, and sharing the year’s grape harvest (or some of the wicked homemade wine they make). This can all happen because of that four-by-four foot patio that has been converted from a concrete pad into a vertical, edible piece of the urban jungle.

How To Do It For Next to Nothing

The best design advice for this sort of project is to simply take on one piece at a time. Take a moment to consider the space and design a garden that makes effective use of the nooks and crannies, the banisters and walls, and whatever else might be available. Then, put one part together, the next and so on. Start with something that’s almost instantly useable, such as salad greens, and go from there.

The biggest cost for most people will be the potting mix, which is of utmost importance. Look for something compost-like, rich in nutrients, light (not compacted), and organic. Cut it with some coconut coir to make sure it stays airy and keep it mulched with some leaves or wood chips so that it doesn’t dry out. It’s entirely possible to start creating compost at home to keep the plants well fed in the future.

Otherwise, the two major material considerations are seeds and places to grow them. For seeds, check into local seed banks, look at farmer’s markets, as well as the harvest from the organic fruit and veg from groceries. Buy a few packets of seeds and from there, start harvesting new seeds from the plants. For grow pots, we need only turn to recycle bins and garbage cans. Old tin cans work. Plastic containers work. Tossed gutters, discarded tubes, drawers from broken dressers, an old set of shelves, stacked crates — start to look at things with the mindset of how they might work in the vertical garden. Recycled containers can all be spruced up to look nice.

To be completely honest, gardening can sometimes be challenging, especially for beginners, but those with “green thumbs” are simply those who persist. Sometimes this means literally sticking with the watering regiment or continually paying attention to the plants. Sometimes it means trying again when something doesn’t work. If we keep experimenting, keep playing with the plants, we can all discover a place and means for food production at home. With vertical gardening, we have the opportunity to produce much, much more.

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