Gardening isn’t always easy. Here are three vertical gardening tips that help you row more food in less space.
There is nothing quite like biting into a freshly picked tomato while it is still warm from the summer sun. Or creating a salad from just-picked greens. When you grow your own vegetable garden, you can experience this little piece of heaven all season long.
Extend the season with some simple techniques and you can enjoy it even longer.
However, growing an abundant supply of fresh vegetables year after year takes some practice. It’s really not as easy as it looks! For most people, becoming a consistently successful vegetable gardener comes after years of hands-on experience. I want to share some tips that let you much more quickly implement a bit of vertical gardening and grow more food in less space.
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Vertical Gardening Requires That You Amend Your Soil
Few gardeners are blessed with an abundant supply of beautiful, rich topsoil. Depending on where you live, you may find yourself struggling with heavy clay, rocky, sandy or other less-than-ideal soil conditions.
Each of these soil types presents different challenges ranging from retaining too much water (or not enough) to being devoid of the essential nutrients plants need to survive and thrive. For example, if you have heavy clay soil and you just dig a hole in the ground and drop a plant into it, chances are very, very good that plant won’t make it. The heavy clay around your plant will act like a bathtub whenever it rains, which means your plant will be forced to sit in a pool of water with nowhere to drain.
Here in the Canadian Maritimes, we get rain, rain, rain and where you find a damp, rainy climate you will almost always find acidic soil. Amending our soil with lime every year or two is not really optional– unless we raise the pH, we can grow nothing except blueberries. (Blueberries are wonderful, but you certainly can’t live on them!)
So your first step will be to identify the type of soil you have so you can take the appropriate steps to amend it. Once you know what you are dealing with, you’ll be able to determine which specific amendments are needed to amend your type of soil.
However, don’t forget the power of compost. Yes – simple, old-fashioned rotted organic matter.
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Any garden benefits from compost, which you can make at home with your own kitchen and yard waste. Make use of worms to turn your garbage into compost even in a small space.
While mulch isn’t necessarily a soil amendment, I urge you to make lavish use of it. There are many options, depending on what you have available. I mulch everything very heavily with old barn hay, which holds in the moisture, provides habitat for predatory insects and prevents soil erosion.
My children know that “hay around a plant helps it but hay on top of a plant kills it” so that they will give the vegetables a cozy bed but smother the weeds.
Vertical Gardening Means Growing Up!
Your plants, not you personally! Whenever possible, make sure you take advantage of vertical space in your garden by utilizing fences, trellises, and other structures to keep your plants off the ground.
There are many advantages to growing your vegetables vertically. For starters, you can grow more food in a smaller area, which is great for urban gardens or those with limited growing space. Not only can you grow food up a trellis or other support, there are containers like the Garden Tower that let you grow up to fifty plants in a compact area.
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Plus, growing vegetables on structural supports makes harvesting and weeding around your plants a lot easier. This is especially true for older individuals or those with other physical restrictions because less bending and stretching is required to perform these tasks. And don’t overlook the benefits of raised beds. They can be as high as necessary (just fill the bottom with drainage material instead of garden soil).
Growing vertically benefits your vegetable plants, too. Raising the plants off the ground leads to better air circulation around them, which is associated with fewer fungal infections and pest infestations. Isn’t it great when something is better for us and it’s better for the plants, too?
When You Do Vertical Gardening, Give Your Plants Friends
Companion planting is a smart way to increase the yield of your vegetable garden. Learning which plants work well together is an important step towards maximizing the efficiency of your vegetable garden.
It’s not just on your stovetop that tomatoes and basil go together – tuck basil plants around your tomato vines.
Some plants are particularly beneficial to one another, so it makes sense to group these plants together in your garden. These beneficial plant combinations may add needed nutrients to the soil, deter unwanted pests or attract beneficial insects into your garden.
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You may have heard how Native Americans planted “the three sisters” – maize (corn), beans and squash – together because each plant benefitted the others in some way. For example, the corn stalks provided structure for the beans to grow upon, while the squash provided an effective weed barrier as it spread out along the ground. This is one example of companion planting, but there are so many more. I like to plant lettuce around the base of tomato plants – the lettuce provides a living mulch while the tomato shades the baby lettuce. After I remove the lettuce, I add hay.
Vegetable gardening is an acquired skill that evolves over time and I’ll admit that I am always learning. I figure I will be for years to come! However, applying these three must-know vegetable gardening tips will lessen your learning curve significantly.