Tower Power: Vertical Garden

Forget about your ho-hum garden on the ground and reach for the sun with our vertical garden of trellised tomatoes, squash and cucumbers.

| February/March 2001

The way to better cukes, tomatoes and a host of other veggies — is up.

It wasn't just the cucumbers that had him surprised. A good percentage of my garden grows upward, instead of outward. Indeed, my vegetable patch is a virtual forest of stakes, wire towers, trellises and other supports. In fact, it's always a shock to me to see gardens that do not use vertical supports. Toward the end of this season, for instance, I visited a friend who was very proud of his garden, especially his tomato patch. "I've got five varieties growing," he exclaimed, "each a different color. What a beautiful display they make."

When I got there, however, I found his tomatoes running wild, with no supports. The ground was a jungle of vines, with a lot of half-rotted fruit lying on the damp ground. Nearby, where he'd grown his tomatoes a previous year, there was a mass of volunteer plants choking out his wife's flowers.

Of the many reasons to grow crops vertically, the biggest is space. By training vegetables upward, you can plant more in the same area. This method also frees up ground for other crops.

Keep in mind that most plant spacing recommendations are based on the use of mechanical cultivators, but in a vertical garden, you can grow veggies surprisingly close to one another.

Take those cukes Pat admired so much. I grew them on a plastic mesh trellis, 8' long and 6' high. Seeds were planted in rows four inches outwards on both sides of the fencing, and the plants were thinned to 4" apart — that's right, only 4". The end result is a wall of cucumber vines whose flowers are fully exposed to bees and other pollinators, which results in a higher crop yield.

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