I use vertical gardening as one of my methods for growing. This makes it super simple to grow many different plants in a very limited amount of space, such as that in an urban environment. Essentially, anything that produces vines, can be grown vertically, and even some things that don’t! The squash family falls into this category. This includes both summer and winter squash (pumpkins fall into the winter squash category). Zucchini, and similar non-vining squash, can also be grown vertically, however, doing so takes a little more work, but I think it is worth it. Cucumbers, of course, can easily be grown vertically, as can melons such as watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and etc. Pole beans and certain varieties of peas as well. And let’s not forget tomatoes of the indeterminate varieties.
That’s all well and good, but how do we grow vertically? Trellises, of course! There is no right way to make a trellis, nor is there a trellis that is right for everyone. I will talk about the method I went with, and why, however, I encourage everyone to explore the options (do an image search on Google for inspiration!) and find what works for you.
The trellises I decided to make, and use, are very similar to the ones described in the Square Foot Gardening book. Namely I used 1/2″ EMT (AKA electrical conduit) to build the frame. These pipes are more commonly used to run electrical wires throughout structures. They are very sturdy and fairly inexpensive. These come in 10′ lengths, and cost about $2.25. They can be cut to any size needed, depending on your specific need. You will also need two 90 degree couplers to join the two legs with the top cross-bar. These will be almost as expensive as one of the 10′ poles. There are also a few ways the trellises can be attached to the raised beds. I purchased 2′ rebar for this purpose. I measured with the trellis to find out where the rebar would need to go. Then I hammered 1′ of the rebar into the ground. I slipped the ends of the trellis on the 1′ sticking out of the ground. The rebar provides a lot of stability for the trellis, yet allows for easy removal at the end of the season. The final element to complete the trellis is the netting. I prefer, and recommend, nylon. It is incredibly strong, yet very light and flexible.
Last year I bought trellis netting, and it worked wonderfully. The spacing of the holes was perfect and adding it to the trellis frame was quick and easy. Some people thought the nylon would harm the developing fruit by possibly cutting through the stem. However, it has been my experience that Nature will adapt. 🙂 I had no issues with the nylon netting harming any of the fruits in any way. If a pumpkin or melon is getting that large, and you are concerned, you can use an old nylon stocking and make a “hammock” under the fruit to provide it a little extra support. I did not find that necessary last year, but then the fruit I had were not all that big. I will see if this is a necessity this year.
If you do not want to buy the netting (which is very reasonably priced), you can run nylon cord manually, and it really isn’t that hard. It is, however, quite a bit more time-consuming. Here is a video of a fellow gardener showing how to make a trellis the way I have, and how to manually add nylon netting:
Incidentally, Reaganite71, whose video that is, is a great channel to subscribe too. He has a lot of really helpful gardening videos. I recommend spending some time watching a few!
Last year I made all the trellises’ 5′ tall and 4′ wide. In the picture, you can see how I arranged my trellises last year (2013). It worked well for some things, but not everything. There were many plants that did not get the amount of sun they needed, and, consequently, they did not do as well as they could. Also, as you can see in the picture, I was attempting to run the zucchini up the trellis as well. That, also, did not work. I happened upon this interesting article that explains how to stake and trim the zucchini plants as they grow. I will be attempting this technique in this year’s garden. This year I am also going to make some taller trellises as well. 7′ and 10′ high trellises will come in handy. If you make trellises higher than 6′, I would also recommend purchasing 4′ rebar and pounding 2′ in the ground. Yes, it is spendier, however, the extra height warrants the extra stability.
Simply put, there really is not many reasons to not grow vertically. The fruit is easier to find and pick. It does not sit on the ground and will be less susceptible to rot, bugs, and other undesirables. The fruit produced will also be more uniformly formed, and there will be less of a tendency for crooked and twisted produce. And of course, less space used in your yard, thus allowing you to get more use out of the area you have.
Until next time, Happy Gardening!