Saturday, March 10, 2012

Growing Up is Easy: for vegetables, anyway

Small space gardening is awesome- who doesn't want to get more produce from a given spot?  Once you're up and running, it may actually be easier and more efficient to maintain than traditional garden plots.  In fact, some small-space-friendly principles are just as useful to people who have a lot of room to grow stuff.

Growing vertically is a major theme in small-space gardening.  While it is not exactly rocket science, I still want to devote at least one blog post to it, since it is one of those simple things that often provides the best results at the smallest expense of time, effort, and money.  And it is overlooked far too often.

Vertical gardening takes advantage of the fact that most plants are really happy to grow upward if they are provided with some kind of structure to climb.   That's my main point; I could stop writing now, but I won't, so stay tuned for more detail.  Lots of plants can do fine when they are left to sprawl across the ground, and if this approach works for you in a particular situation, then that's great.  Move along and enjoy the rest of your day!  If you're interested, however, here are three reasons (there are more, of course) why vertical gardening makes sense:

1) Healthier plants
Some plants will be healthier when they are kept up off of the ground- this approach helps ensure a good airflow around the base of the plants, which can help excess moisture to evaporate rather than provide a breeding ground for mold, disease, and who knows what else.  It also provides less nooks and crannies for mice, insects, and other pests to hang out.

2) Larger yields
Some plants will grow and grow and grow when they're given the opportunity, so if you build a simple trellis (it can be quick & dirty or fancy, or somewhere in between.  Whatever works.)... your plants will get bigger and you might just get more produce.  Logical, right?

3) Better produce with less waste
I got sick of finding over-ripe, mushy, maybe even inedible tomatoes that I missed the first time because they were buried under tons of foliage.  I hate to waste food, and I'd rather pick stuff at its peak- this is easy when plants are grown up high and trellised out so you can easily see how things are ripening.  A good trellis makes  it easier to monitor the health of your plants and the ripeness of your coming harvest.

For example, I started out growing tomatoes in the ubiquitous wire cages that are about 3 feet tall.  I did this for years, because that was the only way I knew how, and it worked out ok.  But then I heard somebody- local superstar (in my book) Carly Gillespie, from Wasatch Community Gardens- talking about her tomato plants getting to 7 or 8 feet high, and I was blown away.  Seduced by the promise of growing such whoppers, I came home and built a simple trellis- I mean really simple, just using scrap wood and about 20 minutes of my time.  I built it 6 feet high, and when I planted my seedlings, it looked just ridiculous.  "These plants will never get tall enough to need all this height," I thought.  Boy was I ever wrong (I guess there's a first time for everything).  Our plants blew past the 6 foot mark and I had to add on another foot of structure to the top of the trellis.  This year, I'll be building a trellis 8 feet high.    

In addition to looking awesome, our three "walls" of tomatoes provided far more produce than the old cages allowed for, and they made it easier to keep an eye on the ripening fruit so that they could be picked at their peak.  While I didn't weigh the total amount of tomatoes we produced- I'm curious, but far too lazy- our 25 plants kept us in fresh tomatoes through December, and the gallons of fresh salsa I consumed (yes, gallons) were fantastic. 

If you have any questions on building trellises or other supports, just ask!



  1. I can't wait to try some of these amazing ideas! Thank you so much for posting about small space gardening- I have always been inspired by 'wall gardens' and you make it look achievable and so rewarding : )

    Are there different styles of trellises that do better with some vegetables than others? I'm now wondering if there are different styles of trellises that you've had experience in building.

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  3. It is TOTALLY achievable and rewarding. Stuff like this fits solidly into the category of "its easier than you think"... once you get excited, then get some momentum going, things will come together pretty easily.

    There are as many kinds of trellises as there are gardeners. There are two categories to things to think about here: aesthetics and practicality. My wife, ever the pragmatist, gave up the former and settled for the latter when she married me. But I digress...

    anyway, in an ideal world, we'd all have a perfect combination of trellises that look nice by our own individual standards, and are also practical, i.e. cheap (or free), easy & fast to build, and strong. That said, that's the ideal: people who are established in a given location may put more time into the looks department because they want to build something that will last for years and they're going to have to look at it every day so they want it to be nice. Makes sense, right? Now, that's not always the case: I pretty much always go for quick & dirty option when I build trellises, because I am using whatever materials I can get for free or cheap (yes, I'm thrifty, but let's just use the word "resourceful"). This materials choice, combined with the fact that I have limited time and lots of things going on, means I build trellises that are "good enough": they'll support the weight of the plants as they grow, and they're not total eyesores. Once the plants grow in, you often don't even see a whole lot of the structure, anyway.

    For more details, do a Google images search for trellises, or get a signed copy of my new book Building Projects for Backyard Farmers and Home Gardeners. For $15, I can provide the book to folks in Salt Lake City... this is less than you can get it for anywhere else if you factor in the shipping. Out-of-towners, I love ya, but you'll have to pay shipping so just go through Amazon or wherever else you like to buy books. For more info on the book, go the Shelfari widget at the top right corner of the blog.

    All proceeds from books that I personally sell will be funneled into Seeds and Sawdust Media, which is my new publishing company. Oh, and I guess this the first public announcement that I have a new publishing company. There'll be a bigger whoop-dee-doo later, but hey, this is a start. Who wants to write a book?? I can help.

  4. Hi Christopher. I'm Erin and I just processed your blog in Blotanical. I just wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying your blog, actually I am loving it, so I am going to kick back and read til it's done. Enjoy Blotanical, and if you have any questions, just ask. You will find an automated message from me in Blotanical that you can connect to me. Do take the time to fill ion the personal information like garden style, fave plants...we all like to read that about the new guys!!