Vertical "Victory Gardens"
By Bob Chapman
In these times of economic uncertainty many people are thinking about growing their own vegetables as we did during World War Two. Millions (including this writer) raised their own food in “Victory Gardens” so that our armed forces had enough food. Growing your own Victory Garden vertically makes good use of space in the smaller gardens that people commonly have these days. Vertical Victory Gardens make harvesting easier as there's no stooping to cut the vegetables from the vines. The architectural interest that these plants add to the vegetable garden brings a design out of the ordinary and utilitarian into the sphere of the well-thought-out perennial border. Why shouldn't your Victory Garden be as attractive as the rest of your landscape?
Look at some of the vegetables that can be grown vertically. At the end are some tips on placing, planting and construction techniques that will help you go vertical with vegetables.
Pole beans will climb up just about anything, including other plants. Witness the traditional "Three Sisters" method employed by Native Americans. They planted beans with corn and pumpkins. The corn stalks provide support for the beans to climb while the pumpkins (or other squash) sprawl on the ground beneath as living mulch.
Sow pole bean seeds around bamboo tripods, along a netted trellis, or on an arbor.
In very small gardens, try spacing single poles in a row at the rear of the garden or even bordering a back walk and let the beans grow on them and produce beans for the table.
Pole beans produce longer than bush beans; they continue to grow, flower and fruit as long as you keep picking the pods.
For an old-fashioned change of pace, try scarlet runner beans. They have pretty red flowers and produce large snap beans (or later use as shell beans). They grow nicely on a fence, trellis or arbor.
Gourds and Winter Squash
Members of the same family, these cousins form very long vines. Gourds will grow to 25 to 30 feet. Winter squash is less overpowering, with vines up to 9 or 10 feet long. Both take a long growing season to mature. Gourds, in particular, look really attractive growing on a trellis, where the tendrils carry the vines up while the fruits hang down, showing off their interesting shapes. Support the heavy fruits of gourds and winter squash, such as butternut, with individual cloth slings tied to the trellis or fence.
Cucumbers, in containers or in the ground, produce straighter, cleaner fruit when you grow them vertically. Sow seeds along a cage, netted A-frame or flat trellis and guide the plants up onto the netting in the beginning; the plants' tendrils will naturally curl around on their own when they get going, thus supporting themselves.
Relatives of cucumbers, melons also climb by means of tendrils, but their heavier fruit requires some buttressing when you grow the plants vertically to prevent the weight from pulling the vines down. Use the same kind of slings you use for winter squash.
Many edible-podded peas and snow peas produce longer vines that readily climb string attached to the fence or nailed to a sturdy stake driven into the ground. Some gardeners like to use netting fastened securely to the fence. Training them vertically definitely makes harvesting easier. Because peas grow best in cool weather, combine them with later maturing vegetables, such as beans or cucumbers, or with a flowering annual vine to take their place during the hot, midsummer months. Consider resowing peas in early fall for a fall harvest, doubling the use of the vertical space in your garden.
Tomatoes that sprawl on the ground tend to range widely over a garden bed and the fruits get marred by dampness, fungi or insects. You can train them to grow and spread on wire or slat frames, thus keeping the fruit off the ground. You can plant leafy vegetables, such as chard, leaf lettuce, radishes, beets and cabbage underneath to get maximum use of the space.
Trained on stakes or grown in cages they bear cleaner fruit and, of course, take up much less space.
Look for indeterminate varieties, those with stems that keep growing through the season and, therefore, produce a larger crop. (Seed packets and plant labels tell you whether a tomato is determinate or indeterminate.)
No matter what kind of fence encloses your garden, you can train tomato plants to grow up it by using hooks (for wooden fences) or ties (for wire fences) to hold the tomato plant vertically.
Staked tomatoes grow as well in a large container as they do in the ground.
Readily available, commercially-made cages of 4-6-inch wire mesh are the easiest method to grow tomatoes vertically. You can also make your own cages with hog wire. Place the cage around the plants soon after planting. Drive stakes into the ground to support the cage. Cages save time because you do not need to pinch off the tomato suckers that form on plants where the leaf stem joins the main stem. Suckers grow quickly into full-fledged flower- and fruit-producing stems, not a problem when a cage surrounds the plant, but a potential jungle if you stake plants.
You need to help tomato plants grow vertically, so tie them at intervals to a support with soft twist-ties or cloth strips.
If you prefer more decorative supports than simple bamboo poles or redwood stakes check out the offerings at garden centers and mail order companies for attractive alternatives.
Leave the first (lowest) sucker that forms and remove all the rest as they appear during the season.
If using two stakes, tie the main stem to one pole using strips of soft cloth, plastic twist-ties or coated wire and the tomato sucker (when it is large enough) to the other. Use a figure-8 configuration and tie stems loosely to the poles so growth can proceed unrestricted. As the stems grow, continue tying at intervals.
Tips on Placement, Planting and Construction Techniques
- Combining vining plants, such as beans and cucumbers or peas and squash, on the same A-frame trellis gives you double the harvest for the space.
- When you grow vegetables on trellises and other supports, set them on the north side of your plot and towards the back of a row or bed so they do not block the sun from other, low-growing plants. Most A-frame trellises take up a space about 5 feet in length and 3 feet wide; tepees require a 3- to 5-foot-diameter space; single stakes and cages need 2 to 3 feet.
- Make your own trellises with bamboo poles, or pressure-treated redwood stakes, and bird netting. Use 2 poles for each end, tilt them towards each other and tie together about 6 inches from the top; then lay a fifth pole across the top and tie it securely to the trellis legs with twine. Insert legs a few inches into the soil, separating them at an angle for stability. Drape netting over the top and tie it to the legs in a few places. Sow seeds of peas, cucumbers and pole beans, along the length of both sides of the trellis; guide stems up onto the netting as they begin to grow.
- Create tepees by tying 3-5 bamboo poles, or pressure-treated redwood stakes, together at the top with twine. Spread the legs out and set in the ground a few inches deep. Sow 3 to 5 seeds of pole beans around each leg. Consider planting squash, pumpkins or melons at the base.
- In small, fenced gardens, sow seeds for vining crops, such as peas, cucumbers, melons and winter squash in rows near the fence, handy if your fence is chicken wire or cyclone fencing. Guide the vines up onto the fence as they grow.
- On wooden fences you can train peas or beans to climb up bird netting, tough nylon cord, or string. If using cord or string, drive nails about 6 inches apart on the bottom of the fence. At the top of the fence you also drive nails in, but place them about midway between the lower nails. Thus your strings will be strung from top to bottom at a slight angle but it saves the amount of string used to go across nails at the top and bottom. Fasten bird netting as needed to keep it vertical and thus support your vegetables.
Watering, Using a Water-Conserving Drip Irrigatin System
In order to achieve the most growth of your “Vertical Victory Garden” using far less water than conventional systems, consider installing a drip watering system. Drip irrigation waters ONLY the desired vegetables and not a wide, unused area beyond. You’ll be pleasantly pleased with the ease of installing and using a low-volume drip irrigation system.
Growing Your Own Veggies Can be Prifitable
You’ll have the pleasure and pride of growing your own Victory Garden vertically all season long. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when the grocery bill is lower and your family raves about the tasty, nutritious vegetables served at dinnertime.