Spring is in the air, and that means gardening at our house. Like many folks out there, gardening is part of our annual ritual. Also, like many folks, we enjoy raising our food and believe there are many health benefits in doing so. Even though we try to grow as much food as we can, our annual production never seems to be as high as we’d like. We always ask the question, “How can we grow more?” One approach we are taking this year to boost our harvest is to incorporate more vertical gardening.
Vertical gardening has become a favorite growing method as many people face the same dilemma that my family and I do. We all have limited space and want maximum return. Although you can’t necessarily have it both ways, you can increase your production by getting creative with your space. Vertical gardening is a creative way to create more space in your backyard, community garden, or even a patio. Take a small 10’x10’ patio for example.
If you only used the 10’x10’ patio for growing, you would have 100 square feet of space to work. Not much. If you use vertical gardening, however, you use the square footage above the patio as well. For example, if you used the space eight feet above your patio, that could transform your small patio into a decent garden. By doing so, you would potentially create an additional 700 square feet of space to grow food. Essentially, vertical gardening is looking at your garden as a 3-dimensional ecosystem, rather than as a 2-dimensional piece of flat earth. Vertical gardening opens up a world of possibilities.
Although there are many ways to achieve a vertical garden, you can start by selecting crops that are best suited for vertical growth. If the idea of growing more food in a small space sounds intriguing, you might look at these five crops that excel in vertical gardening.
Of course, pole beans are the first crop any vertical gardener has to consider. The upward reaching vines have been used for centuries to climb up other plants. They are one of the famed vegetables in the three sisters gardening philosophy . Beans, of course, don’t need to grow up corn stalks to utilize space. Many folks use a variety of structures to grow pole beans upon. If you get creative, you can use fences, lattice, cattle panels, or even upside-down tomato cages. All they need is a frame of some kind to grow on. If you are looking to use vertical space, pole beans should be one of your very first choices.
While planning our vertical garden, we were surprised to learn how many people are using vertical space to grow strawberries. Although you might think this ground covering plant wouldn’t be ideal for hanging in the air, you’d be surprised to learn otherwise. People use all sorts of bags, crates, and other containers to grow strawberries  exceptionally well. One popular method is to build a milk crate tower  for strawberries. Even if you only plant on three sides, an average milk crate offers over 500 inches of growing space. When stacking these crates, the sky is the limit regarding how much space you want to create.
Since we were surprised to learn how well strawberries grew vertically, we were skeptical that we could produce watermelons in the same fashion. It didn’t make sense that you could have substantial melons suspended in the air. Little did we know that watermelons can conveniently be grown vertically  as well. As long as they are given adequate support and trained, this ground blanketing crop will crawl up sturdy support. This method helps to overcome one of the biggest downfalls of watermelon. Usually, watermelons take up too much space for a person with a small garden. You just can’t devote the required area to a plant that won’t produce that much food. Grown vertically, though, you might be able to justify having some of these tasty melons in your small garden.
The cucumber is another crop that people are successfully experimenting with in vertical gardening . Cucumbers have the same downfall that watermelons have, in that they take up a great deal of ground space. However, like a watermelon, if you give adequate support to a cucumber, it will also grow up into space. Many folks who are growing cucumbers vertically do seem to be spending more time training this crop to develop upwards. If you have a panel or fence, just tie it off at a few points, and the plant will reach up and up, saving you space on the ground.
The final member of this list of vertical gardening crops is a tomato. Tomatoes have been a favorite crop to grow vertically for years now. In order to meet the needs of gardeners, companies have been cranking out a variety of hanging bags to grow tomatoes in. You can watch this corny infomercial  featuring a hanging tomato bag to see the basic idea. Although the infomercial is pretty cliché, it does highlight the fact that tomatoes can be grown vertically to create more growing space.
Let’s face it, most of us wish we had more space to grow things. In reality, though, a more extensive growing area is not always an option. We have to get creative with our approach if we want to maximize our harvest. One way to get creative is through vertical gardening. Personally, my family has already made plans to vertically incorporate several of these crops into our garden this year. We’ve had to think creatively about our property, what we want to grow, and what is a good fit for us. By doing so, we hope to maximize our space and get more produce this year. Vertical gardening can cost a little more if you have to buy supplies. Over time though, those costs should dissipate. In the end, if you believe that growing your crops is the healthiest and best way to eat, the gain is worth the price. As spring marches onwards, take the time to see if any of these vertically-growing crops can help your garden produce more.