By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener
I’ve just spent a rather pleasant afternoon looking through one of the many gardening catalogues, occasionally glancing out at my snow covered garden; trying out ideas in my mind to create more space. Having had a one acre garden for over fifteen years I am still trying to get used to a smaller space. No longer can I just go out and build new beds, or purchase trees or shrubs without having a space to plant them. No longer can I try out different pumpkin, squash, zucchini or cucumber plants without some kind of a plan. To create more space for all the vegetables and fruit I want to grow, I am going to have to get creative making use of all my available space.
Vertical vegetable gardening is a great way to grow vegetables when space is tight. Supports such as obelisks, trellises, fences, stakes, even other plants can be used as a support for many vegetables. Ensure that you select ‘vine’ varieties of specific crops instead of the ‘bush’ varieties. Certain vegetables such as beans will produce tendrils allowing them to climb up supports by themselves, others such as squash or zucchini will need a little help and can be tied at regular intervals. Supports do not need to be expensive; you can build many yourself using cheap materials or in my case left over materials I find in my husband’s workshop. If you don’t have the time or inclination, there are many different plant supports in catalogues or stores. Fruit trees can be espaliered to a fence, while fruit bushes can be grown either against a fence or up stakes; pruning to keep them from becoming too wide. I grow my currant and gooseberry bushes as double or triple cordons (a cordon is a single main stem growing vertical), which take up less space than a traditional bush shape and for me are easier to pick.
My mother loves scarlet runner beans which are vigorous climbers with beautiful clusters of red flowers. Last year I grew them in 2 raised beds side-by-side, creating a tunnel between the two beds using bamboo stakes. I only used up a 4 inch wide strip in both beds and was rewarded with beans for many meals. A lot of people grow beans on a teepee structure which also works well, with a side benefit of being able to use the space under the teepee for planting lettuce. Beans can also grow up other crops such as corn as in the Three Sisters Guild.
Fences and walls are ideal spots to create living walls, especially if located in sun or part-shade. They are ideal for growing leafy vegetables such as lettuce as well as herbs. There are many examples on the internet showing living walls, examples include using wooden pallets, window boxes and gutters. The photo below shows a gutter bed that I had in my last house that I used to grow lettuce and spring onions. The bed worked really well and was both weed free as well as pest free, and if you have difficulty bending down this makes harvesting pain free. The only thing to remember when creating a living wall is to add drainage holes and use a soil that both retains moisture and provides nutrients.
As you can see from the above photo, tomatoes are growing upside down in hanging baskets. This method worked really well for me, although I have heard many negative stories about growing tomatoes the wrong way up. Tomatoes work really well grown in pots as does asparagus and peppers, you just need to ensure that you are growing the correct variety when growing in a pot. You can also grow salad greens in pots which works really well if located on the patio outside the back door where they are easy to pick. Again you do not need to buy expensive pots, I have been known to grow many vegetables in recycle bins, see picture below or even in an old laundry sink. Again, you just need to ensure you have drainage holes and use a moisture retentive soil combined with compost.
And finally, one last space saving idea that I am planning on trying this year is a pillar of peppers. This idea is from a newsletter that I receive monthly called ‘Dallying in the Dirt‘. Peppers are grown in a pillar made of heavy wire and landscape fabric. The pillar is then filled with soil, holes cut into the fabric at intervals all around the pillar and filled with pepper plants. I’m not sure my pillar is going to be quite as tall as the example shown, but I like to experiment in the garden and this sounds like an interesting method of growing peppers.