The following is a guest blog post from Chris McLaughlin.
If you’re interested in gardening on any level, it’s nearly impossible not to notice that vegetables are once again enjoying the gardening spotlight. Like everything else, the gardening trend has taken a twist. Large expanses of cultivated land have been swapped out for raised beds, containers, and one of the easiest and rewarding veggie gardening practices — vertical gardening. Take advantage of the prime real estate located above the soil! It just might be the perfect produce practice.
Naturally, the first reason that gardening vertically makes sense is that many of us are limited (sometimes drastically so) as far as gardening space and we’d like to make the most of our small-space gardens. In fact, when I lived in the suburbs, I started gardening vertically because most of my life was spent living in the suburbs and I had very few places around my home for a vegetable garden.
In my book Vertical Vegetable Gardening (Alpha Books, December 2012) I get into the nitty gritty on why those of us that have started growing vegetables and fruits vertically instead of horizontally have never looked back. In a nutshell, vertical gardening will have you:
Using Less Garden Space
Typically the first reason that gardeners consider growing up instead of out is due to lack of space. This may seem like a no-brainer when speaking in terms of urban, apartment, and condominium living. But you would be amazed at how little land suburbanites have to work with, too. Vertical gardening opens doors for almost anybody.
Spending Less Money
You’ll save money from the get-go on purchasing soil if you’re building raised garden beds. This is because your beds won’t have to be very large because the plants and fruit will be hanging around happily above the soil. You’ll need only enough soil to accommodate plant roots.
Smaller beds (smaller growing surface) means you’ll be watering less. Combine this with a watering system that delivers water directly to the root zone such as a drip system, plus rich, loamy soil (for moisture retention) and you’ll have a smaller water bill, too.
Doing Less Work in Less Time
I don’t have to have met you to know that you lead a very full life. We’re all moving right along at a fast pace just to stay afloat; so planting a garden may feel like a big endeavor. But I’m here to tell you that there’s less time commitment involved with vertical gardening.
First of all, there’s very little soil for you to deal with — especially if you’re using containers. Less soil, means less time watering and weeding. In fact, pulling the one or two weeds that pop up takes minutes or even no time if you’re planting in just enough soil for the vertical plants. Plus you’ll harvest vegetables and fruit in a flash when it’s at eye level and can be easily seen and picked.
Gardeners in wheel chairs or those with other physical challenges find that growing up makes their hobby that much easier — or perhaps even possible where it may not have been before.
Dealing with Less Weeds, Pests, & Disease
This perk is a biggie — you’ll have very few weeds and you’ll have those yanked out in seconds. It’s simple; less soil surface = less weeds, plus your soil will most likely have come bagged as opposed to outside soil that can potentially be riddles with weed seed.
Plants grown vertically have the advantage of excellent air circulation. More air circulation around plant foliage means less trouble with pests and disease than thus, creates a stronger plant and more unblemished fruit. Much less food wasted due to rotting, as well. Plants grown up instead of out limits their physical contact to neighboring plants (that might carry disease).
Harvesting More Crops than You Thought
Gardening vertically can actually increase your vegetable production and offer you a bigger bounty. All that air circulation and sunlight helps maintain healthy foliage and healthy plants (with little or no pests and disease) offer bigger yields — even if it is in a smaller space.
By the way, vertical gardening isn’t just about vining plants. Hanging baskets, stackable containers, and wall pockets are all ways to grow non-climbing crops such as lettuce, strawberries, and radishes up.
Beautifying Your Yard
If you haven’t noticed that vegetable plants can be downright beautiful, take another look; veggies can be botanical eye candy, too! Tomatoes not only come in bold red, but also yellow, orange, purple, white, green, white, and striped; Eggplant offers white, lavender, purple, and striped varieties; cabbages come in blues, grays, and greens; lettuce are red, green, purple, and all shades between.
Another ting that many gardeners notice is the leaves of vining plants such as zucchini or squash grown along the soil in the traditional way become yellow, sparse, and scraggly. Grown vertically the bottom of these plants are full with leaves. In fact, your vining and fruiting vegetables can actually be a surprising focal point in your garden landscape.
Along with the various colors the shape, size, and texture of plants and fruit will add to the view. Upright crops such as espaliered fruit trees and grapevines offer many months of structural beauty in the garden, as well.
Even today, on five acres and I can honestly tell you that I grow more vegetables vertically than I ever did when I had much less land. The space above the traditional garden bed is underused as a growing resource, yet it offers some surprising benefits! You just have to stop looking out and start looking up.
Chris McLaughlin has been gardening for over 35 years and became a California Master Gardener in 2000. She’s the author of four gardening books including Vertical Vegetable Gardening (Alpha, December 2012). Her work can also be found in Urban Farm Magazine, Hobby Farm Home Magazine, The Heirloom Gardener and is a staff columnist at Vegetable Gardener.com.
Today, Chris is working on her current book project for a spring 2014 release, getting ready to launch the Mother Lode Seed Library in Placerville, California, attempting to keep up with her own site, A Suburban Farmer.com, as well as practicing home ag in Northern California’s Gold Country.