How To Grow More Food In Less Space
For many people the dilemma of space is a real issue when it comes to growing a significant amount of food. There simply isn’t enough ground to break. When square footage is limited, you’ve gotta start thinking out of the box. Literally!
This is where vertical gardening comes in.
By expanding your growing area vertically, you can increase your food production by at least 100% in half the space it would normally take for those crops.
To give you an example… we’ve always had trellises in the garden, but this year we’ve added a new dimension: archways! The purpose is to allow us to grow more food in our raised beds by giving vining crops room to venture outside of their normal growing area. By doing this, I free up more space in the raised bed to grow crops which would otherwise be shaded out or taken over by sprawling vines.
Benefits of Gardening Vertically
There are four main reasons I believe everyone would benefit from vertical gardening:
1. Grow More Food
Vertical gardening is a great way to grow more food in any amount of space. By training your crops up you increase the square footage you can grow in exponentially.
2. Reduce Disease and Pests
Growing up instead of along the ground reduces chances of disease as it increases air circulation between the plants and foliage. It also provides less cover to garden pests who might otherwise go unnoticed hiding under the dense foliage on the ground.
3. Easier Harvesting
Training vines to grow up a trellis makes harvesting much easier, as crops are put within easy reach from a standing position. Anyone who has trouble bending or squatting for long periods of time would definitely enjoy the ease of harvesting upright.
4. Less Wasted Food
When food is up off the ground, there is much less chance of it rotting than when it sits in moist soil for too long. Also, ripe crops can often go unnoticed when hidden under sprawling leaves and eventually will either spoil or will be overripe by the time they are discovered.
There are so many benefits to training vines up off the ground. There’s no reason every garden shouldn’t have at least a few trellises!
Edible Plants You Can Trellis
Not all garden plants can be trellised. Some varieties grow on a short stocky bush, and some grow in long sprawling vines which need to be trained up. Be familiar with how your plant grows before deciding whether or not it will need a trellis for support.
Look for keywords on seed packets. If the plants are “bush” or “determinate”, they won’t grow very tall. If the seed pack says “vining” or “indeterminate”, you’d better plan on trellising that variety.
Plants you can trellis:
- Pole beans
- Vine cucumbers
- Indeterminate tomatoes (Amish paste are my favorite.)
- Garden peas, snow peas, sugar snap peas
- Melons (watermelons, cantaloup, etc.)
- Winter Squashes (Be sure the seed pack doesn’t say “bush” on it.)
- Gourds (Grow luffa for a natural bath sponge!)
- Sweet Potatoes
- Raspberries and Blackberries
- Hardy Kiwi
Tomato and Squash Trellis courtesy of Learning and Yearning.
There are so many options when it comes to getting your crops up off the ground. Have fun and get creative! Remember, you don’t have to spend a fortune on materials. DIY trellises made from natural materials, such as small limbs, bamboo, woven vines… even repurposed materials such as crib siding and old ladders… make unique and appealing structures with little to no money involved. Don’t let a meager budget hold you back!
Here are some inspiring ideas to get your crops off the ground and growing up…
Growing Tomatoes On A String Trellis
Whether you’re growing in a greenhouse or directly in the garden, a string trellis system is an inexpensive and effective way to train long vines to grow vertically.
Here’s a creative way to get cucumbers up off the ground and growing vertically on a trellis. Notice the plants aren’t planted directly in the ground, but are instead neatly arranged in 5 gallon buckets. Growing up and overhead makes harvesting much easier than squatting and picking from the ground. You can check out more details on how this PVC cucumber trellis was built HERE.
Training Cucumbers To Climb
Here’s another excellent example of how you can trellis cucumbers and other climbing vines to grow up a fence, with tips on pruning for best results.
We’ve always had the most success growing peas up a fence. I constructed several supports like this by hammering metal t-posts into the ground in my raised beds every 4 feet, then stretched goat fencing (which has large enough squares to reach your hand through) across the stakes. I actually weave the fencing over the stakes to attach it firmly from top to bottom.
I leave the fence trellises in the ground, and use them for different plants as I rotate crops each year. Not only are they great for climbing peas, they also work fantastically for indeterminate tomatoes, pole beans, and winter squashes.
Build A Bamboo Trellis
Here’s another simple and inexpensive way to build an eye catching trellis to train your peas (or beans) to climb.
My favorite way to plant pole beans uses the Native American “three sisters” companion planting method. By growing corn, pole beans, and squash together, you create a symbiotic relationship between the plants where each helps the other to grow better. The corn acts as a trellis for the beans to grow up, the beans add nitrogen to the soil which feeds the corn, and the squash shades out weeds which would compete for water with the main crops.
Build A Bean Teepee
Bean teepees are such a fun way to train climbing beans to grow vertically. Leave an opening for kids to crawl into for an edible fort.
Grow Cucumbers, Melon, and Winter Squash On A Trellis
Cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkins, and winter squashes all tend to have long sprawling vines which will quickly take over your garden and smother other crops in small spaces. By training their vines to grow vertically, and supporting large fruits with a hammock made of pantyhose or strips of cloth, you can grow more of these aggressive crops in much less space.
This Chayote squash tunnel is AMAZING!! Check out the incredible amount of food growing here from a single vine.
How To Trellis Grapevines
Grapevines will sprawl and climb anything they can get their tendrils wrapped around. You definitely want to provide a proper trellis for them to grow on. A cordon trellis is the easiest to maintain, and gives easy access to the grapes for pruning and harvesting. Muscadines are my favorite grapes to grow, ’cause they’re so darned hardy.
Amy at Tenth Acre Farm made a great trellis by attaching wire fencing to an already existing wooden privacy fence to provide support for climbing vines. What a beautiful way to enhance her yard while also proving food for the table!
Make Your Trellis Do Double Duty
Save money on your power bill by setting up a trellis to provide shade to your home during the hot summer months.
Build A Folding Pumpkin Trellis
This video gives a fantastic example of how you can build a strong trellis to support heavy crops, such as pumpkins and melons. I also love that this design can be folded up when not in use.
Again, there are infinite possibilities when it comes to building a garden trellis. Look around, see what materials you have available to you, and start creating!
I’d love to see pictures of trellises you’ve built. If you can, share a link in the comments section so we can check out what you’ve done!