Growing Vegetables Vertically
Growing vertically is an excellent option when your space is limited and you are looking to increase your yield. There are some plants that naturally grow vertically, but there are also planters where you can “stack” your crops to save precious space. Let’s take a look at some of these.
Why Grow Vertically?
Well, there is the obvious point that I have already discussed about saving space. But, believe it or not there are other advantages to growing this way as well. Harvesting is easier. You do not have to bend down the entire time you are picking. Plants are healthier and give higher yields. There is greater air circulation around the roots and greater exposure to light.
Probably my first exposure to growing vertically was a strawberry tower. I used one of these about 30 years ago to grow my herbs. I totally enjoyed it. Today there are so many different type of vertical planters.
There are pouches with pockets sewn into them for individual plants, similar to a shoe holder. In fact I have even seen articles where people recycle and use their old shoe hangers for this. I think I would be careful with this, you want the holder to be of a breathable fabric. In my mind I see old style shoe holders made out of rigid plastic.
There are planters where it appears that pots have been strategically stacked on top of each other. A nice feature to look for in this type of planter is to see if there are any wheels or a cart below it. You may need to turn the container to get all of your plants the needed sunlight. If you are growing indoors you can probably set up your lights so that this is not a problem.
You can take an old set of stairs and add planter boxes to each step. This is a picture of a herb/flower garden combination I did a couple of years ago.
My Herb Garden
Yet another way to recycle pallets. You can close off the back, sides and bottom of the pallets with landscape fabric. Put your soil between the exposed slats and plant your plants. I would leave this lay flat on the ground for a week or so allowing the plants to become rooted and established. That way they will not droop or potentially fall out when you hang the planter.
Growing with trellises, supports
There are some plants that want to grow vertically naturally. These would include tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, etc. You should supply them with support whether you are growing in a container or in the dirt. Make sure that your support is sturdy and securely fastened. You can purchase trellises or you can recycle and make your own. I have watched my husband go into our woods and come out with three sticks of the approximate same size. He placed them in a tepee type configuration and wound this together with rope. He says this is something he learned in the Boy Scouts. I am not sure of that, but I am sure that it was virtually free (the rope was laying around but it had been purchased at one point) and the plants loved it and did well.
If you are growing these types of plants in containers make sure that you have a large enough container for the job. There are some tomato planters out there that are all set up except for the dirt and the plant. Some of them even have lights so you can use them inside.
There are quite a few hydroponic systems out there that have multiple layers. These can be purchased, but I sure that they can be a pretty easy diy project as well. These systems are great because you get more food in less space as with all of the vertical systems. But, hydroponic systems have a tendency to have an increased yield over some other growing systems. Plus, crops will grow faster, harvesting is easier, you have less pests and disease with these systems. And you will have less problems with pets and wildlife with the systems, especially if you are growing them indoors.
Be sure to plant your bigger plants, or plants that tend to droop toward the bottom of “stacking planters”. You do not want these bigger plants hanging down and shading your smaller, more upright plants.
Use potting soil that is not as heavy as regular soil. You want to use the same type of soil as we recommend with any container gardening. You want a soil that will not dry out too quickly. You need something with peat moss, perlite, etc. Something fluffy.
Be very careful about how you set up your water. Of course with hydroponic systems or stacking systems watering is usually an integral part of the set up of the system. Let’s say that you are hanging pouches and planters from a fence wall or an exterior wall on your house. You want to make sure that you have the watering set up so that it does not lay on or run down the wall. You do not want to cause any water damage or leave water streaks on the surfaces.
Plant crops with similar needs such as having the same growth rate. This will ensure uniformity in your vertical garden. Also, consider plants with the same needs regarding sun vs shade. Make sure that your containers are not shaded by another structure if they are outside.
Make sure that you hanging planters are securely fastened. Also, check roots periodically to make sure that they are not growing into siding or just becoming a problem in general.
If you are growing inside be sure to set up your system in a sunny area, or supply them with the proper type of lighting. Options available are LED (light emitting diodes) lights, HID (high intensity discharge) lights and fluorescent lighting.
“I don’t have enough room to grow my own food” is definitely not an acceptable response anymore. Take advantage of one or a mix of these vertical growing systems to grow food for you and your family year round. Tammy
Top Ten Gardening Tools
Top Ten Gardening Tools
Whether you are a seasoned gardener, or just getting started, you will need a few tools to help you along the way. These tools make our life as gardeners easier. Here is my top 10 list of necessary items.
If any of you are surprised by this I don’t know why. I absolutely love greenhouses. Now, this may not be in the budget for some, and actually it may not even be an absolute necessity. But, a greenhouse is valuable in a couple of different ways. You can start your vegetable seeds for your garden in a small greenhouse. But, if this is not viable for your circumstances you can start your seeds indoors. If you have a large enough greenhouse you can grow your own vegetables all year long if it is set up properly.
2)A mini cultivator or small roto tiller:
You may need to rent or borrow a large tiller for the first time through your garden. I highly recommend a rear tine tiller for this job. It is smoother to run and just seems to get the job done better and faster than a front tine tiller. But, once you get your garden established I find that a mini tiller will do the job for you. They will aerate your soil and remove weeds at the same time. They are lightweight and easy to maneuver. Also, these are great to use working in raised garden beds. You can get them turned in a tight space.
This is pretty self explanatory. If you are going to “dig in the dirt” you just have to have a shovel. Try to get one that fits you best. I am only 5′ tall and find that many of the shovels have handles that are just too long for me to handle easily. I would recommend going to a local garden center and trying them on for size!
You absolutely must have your ground leveled before you plant your garden. Once you have done your digging or tilling level it out with a rake. This also helps to remove any stones or debris that you may have missed. I recommend this Bully Tools rake. It has a fiberglass handle and steel tines. Besides that, these are Made in America. Talk about a win/win.
5) A set of hand tools:
These should include a cultivator, a weed fork, a transplanter, and a trowel. The cultivator will break up the surface of the garden bed. This will aerate, help in the conservation of moisture and will help control weeds. The weed fork will help by loosening, lifting and turning over the soil in your garden. The transplanter will help you find the correct depth for planting. Garden trowels are used for digging holes for bulbs, small plants, etc. They can also be used in weeding.
Of course you will need something to transport all of your lovely vegetables once your garden is growing. This trug does double duty as a carrier and as a colander to rinse off your veggies.
7)Frost Free Hydrant:
You will need a water source close to your garden. We use frost free hydrants for all of our outdoor watering needs. These are buried to a level below your local frost line. No need to worry about faucets freezing and breaking. Of course you will want to disconnect any hoses in freezing weather. A sprinkling can is a nice tool to have as well.
This is the perfect way to preserve many of your crops. We have owned our 9 shelf dehydrator for about 20 years now. We have tried many different things, some successes, some failures. One thing that I love to dehydrate is strawberries. I cut them in slices (too thin according to my husband). Once they are dehydrated I eat them like candy. And just think how much healthier that is than grabbing a chocolate bar. We have dehydrated bananas (bought on sale, not grown), carrots, parsnips and tomatoes with huge success. We actually take our dehydrated principe borghese (Italian heirloom) tomatoes and grind them in a coffee grinder.
We then put the powder in our tomato sauce to thicken it. Actually for our tomato sauce we just put our tomatoes in our Vitamix and pulse. Failures in dehydrating were eggplant (it just kind of dissolves when you reuse) and zuchinni (it doesn’t really have any taste although we tried salting them and eating them like chips which wasn’t too bad).
9)Gloves, Nail Brush and Lotion:
Ladies, you will probably appreciate this more than the men. I have a tendency not to wear gloves to garden. They just seem to impede me. So, my new best friend is my nail brush. I have come out of the garden too many times with dirt under my nails and gotten some really weird looks. Yeah, I wash my hands, this is honest dirt. Anyway, I find that non gardeners just don’t understand, so to my nail brush I go. Also, nothing will smooth out your hands like Bag Balm. I found this by mistake when I was raising Nubian Goats. I loved my girls and guys. This was an essential for the new mommas. But, as I was smoothing it on them, I found that my dry hands felt really great. They even have it in tubes now. I haven’t tried them yet, but I am going to get some and try it. I have always used the product in the tin.
10)A Garden Cart:
I love working in my garden just as much as the next person. But, there are times when you just need to sit down for a minute. These rolling tractor seats are perfect with their under the seat storage. They are good for picking, planting, weeding or just contemplating life in the garden.
These are my top ten. Of course everyone will find that their own top ten is probably a little bit different. A lot of what you need depends on how you garden. Raised garden beds will have different set of tools than a standard garden bed. Just experiment with different tools until you find the one that works the best for you. The most important thing is to get out there and get digging in the dirt and have fun!
Planning Your Garden
Planning Your Garden. You can’t start too early.
That’s me and my Dad. I doubt if we were doing much planning at that point. Looks like we were just trying to get our shovels in the dirt. Dad is gone, my hair is gray, but he has instilled a lifelong love of gardening in my soul. I have pretty much always had a garden, even at houses where I rented. I had great landlords. I think we should all go out and motivate a child to get started gardening…..today. Yep, let’s do this today. It will be the best gift we could give them. All of that being said, let’s get into the subject of planning a garden.
1) Keep it simple.
If you are just getting started, keep it simple. Don’t burn yourself out with too large of a space. Or, plants that need special care. Stay with the standard veggies that you see in your small hometown grocery store…lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, onions, beans, herbs etc. If you go too big at first and get too many plants with special needs, you are heading for failure. If you are experimenting with new veggies, try a few plants at first. There is no sense having a bumper crop of tomatillos to find out that you don’t like tomatillos. Then what do you do? Throw them out? Give them to your neighbors? Just try one or two plants of new vegetables.
2) Learn Your Zone
This should really be first. It is THE most important piece of knowledge in gardening. This dictates what you can grow and when you should grow it. If you are a first time gardener you will have to learn that carrots and tomatoes grow at different times of year. Learn your zone, learn when to plant. Here is a link to the USDA zones chart.
3) Figure out how many plants you need. If you are going to start your own tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, herbs, etc start them about 6 – 8 weeks before you will plant them in the ground. If you are new to gardening, it is probably a good idea to buy your plants at least the first year. No sense adding an extra layer of stress.
4) Pick your perfect garden spot. This should be an area that has at least 6 – 8 hours of sunlight a day. If you only have a shady spot you will probably not be able to grow some of the crops you want. Make sure that you have enough space to plant the plants that you have calculated that you need.
5) Decide on what type of garden you are going to plant. Are you going with raised beds? Maybe a lasagne garden, maybe vertical gardening, or maybe just a good old fashion dig in the dirt standard garden bed. Maybe you are in a limited space and will need to start with container gardening. They will all work. Just figure out what is best for you.
6) Gather your tools. If you are doing a standard gardening, or even raised garden beds, you will probably need a tiller. We have been using a rear tine tiller for years. They are a lot easier to operate that a front tine tiller. Or, you may have a space small enough that you can dig it up with a good shovel. You will want a rake, a trowel, a hose or irrigation system, a timer for your irrigation, garden trellises or support for your climbing plants. Make sure that you have a water source nearby. You don’t want to be carrying buckets of water to your garden. And, nobody likes to drag water hoses hundreds of feet, especially me. (That is a pet peeve in case you didn’t notice. I can’t stand dragging a water hose behind me.Grrr)
7) Work your soil. You need to work your soil when it is moist, not wet. You want it to be dry enough that it will crumble easily when you squeeze it. Turn it over at least 12″ deep. Add 2 – 3 inches of compost and turn it into your bed. Cover it with a thick layer of natural mulch, or with plastic garden mulch if that is the way you are going to garden. Be sure to put your irrigation system down first if you are using plastic garden mulch. You may want to have your soil tested. To do this you can go to your local extension office and get a container. You then take a sample and return it to them. They will give you a report with recommendations on what amendments you need to add to your soil.
8) Figure out how you are going to use your vegetables. Are you going to only eat fresh? Or, are you going to preserve some vegetables for the winter? We do a lot of preserving, so our garden is way bigger than necessary for 2 people. We can, we dehydrate, we freeze. We keep and use our veggies all year long. I will discuss how we do this in later posts. Or, if you want fresh veggies all of the season you may want to do succession planting. This is waiting a couple of weeks and planting the same crop in a different spot in the garden. Once the first crop gives out you will be harvesting from the new plants. Be sure to allow room for this if you are going to grow this way.
9) Network. Go to the garden shows. See if you can find the booths manned by the Master Gardeners. They will be able to answer all kinds of questions for you. Go to your local extension office. They may have fliers and information for free that you will find useful.
10) Have fun. This is not a do or die situation. It is a learning curve. Remember, we all have our failures. Even seasoned gardeners. I lost all of my zucchini plants last year after harvesting one or two plants. My neighbor lost his also. We still don’t know why this happened. Sometimes things just aren’t going to work. And don’t forget the bugs that are not on your side. This is just part of gardening. When we run into an obstacle we try to overcome it. Don’t let this be a deterrent to you. Get out in the sun and get a garden planted. Your mind and soul will thank you. Not to mention your body being grateful for real honest to goodness food. Get out there and get growing.
Hydroponic Growing – It’s All About the Roots
There is a lot of interest in hydroponic growing systems. We had a try at this several years back. We had a 18′ x 24′ greenhouse full of different hydroponic systems trying to decide which systems we liked the best. Our greenhouse was covered in 8mm twinwall Polycoolite and had a steel frame. Unfortunately, since then we have moved, but the greenhouse did not come with us. Tom read all kinds of books on hydroponic systems and how to maintain them. I think most of them were written by PhD’s and were very technical. Even though Tom and I both have a science background we were a bit overwhelmed. Fortunately this has made it into the mainstream and a lot of people have tried simpler methods and have been kind enough to share their results with us.
• What is a hydroponic system?
A hydroponic system is basically a system where you grow your plants in a liquid nutrient solution rather than soil.
• Components of a hydroponic system
A hydroponic system basically consists of your reservoir for your liquid nutrient solution. Pots or rafts to hold your plants. Air stones to raise the oxygen level and pumps to keep the water circulating. For your growing medium we recommend coir or clay pebbles. You will need a Ph test kit and solutions to adjust the Ph. Nutrient solutions to keep your plants growing. A thermometer with humidity reading in helpful. If starting your own seeds be sure to do it in a hydroponic system compatible seed starting plug or the like. You do not want to start your seedlings in soil and then have to wash the soil off before you plant.
• Setting up your first system
Keep it simple. Start with one small system and get the hang of it before venturing out into multiple system types. You will need to learn a few things that may be new to you, but just approach this from a learning curve type journey and you will soon be an expert on hydroponic gardening.
• Types of systems
1. Lettuce Raft or DWC (Deep Water Culture) – This is used for green lettuces and leafy greens. These basically consist of a reservoir with a raft full of your plants. The nutrients are in the reservoir below the plants. You also need a bubbler and air stones to keep the water circulating. This is probably the simplest system to manage.
2. Ebb and Flow – This has a large flat basin with large pots for your plants. The pots have holes in the bottom to allow the nutrient in and out. This will be on a timer and will basically flood the tray for a certain amount of time. Then it will ebb or recede. This is repeated 2 – 4 times a day. You can use these for a variety of plants including tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, lettuce, we even grew edible flowers in this type system.
3. Dutch Bucket Systems – This is a recycling system of sorts. There are large buckets with tubing between them and the reservoir. There is a tray beneath the buckets. A pump will come on at a specific time and pump the nutrient solution to the pots. The solution then drains into the bottom tray and is returned to the reservoir to be reused. This repeats 2 – 4 times per day. This system is great for larger plants such as tomatoes and peppers.
• Benefits of growing in hydroponic systems
1. You can plant your plants closer because the root system is smaller
2. You can grow with these indoors, outdoors or in a greenhouse
3. No weeds, no tilling
4. Go will get higher yields with a shorter growing cycle
5. They use less water and less fertilizer.
Simons Simple Hydroponic Plans
You will need to spend some time each day with the system checking lights, containers, solutions, checking for bugs, etc.
• When to plant
Growing in a hydroponic system is just like growing in a garden in the fact that you must plant each crop in conditions to meet their needs. In other words, we plant carrots, lettuce, beets, radishes, broccoli, cabbage, etc in cooler weather. You need to simulate this with your hydroponic system. You will need the daytime temperature to be 60 – 70 degrees with a minimum of 40 degrees.
For warm weather crops, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc you will need a daytime temperature of 70 – 80 degrees with a maximum of 90 degrees.
• Optimal growing conditions
1. You should aim for a relative humidity of 50 – 80%
2. There should be a circulating fan running continuously. This should be a low speed fan that will keep the air moving for best plant health. You should just see the leaves moving slightly.
3. Lighting – If you are growing in a greenhouse or outdoors you will be able to take advantage of the natural sun. If you are growing indoors you may need artificial lighting unless you are in a position to take advantage of a sunny location in front of a window. The best lighting for growing anything but lettuce is the HID lights. For lettuce you can use fluorescent lights. These should be on 12 – 14 hours.
4. Protect the systems – You should never set up your system outdoors in an unprotected area. Rain will dilute your solution and flood your trays. Also, let’s not forget the electrical components of the systems. You never want to leave them exposed to the rain.
5. pH – This is a test for the acidity/ alkalinity of the solution. The best range is slightly to the acidic side at 5.5 – 6.5. You can test this with a swimming pool kit and adjust it with chemicals up or down.
6. Shade – Don’t place the units in direct sunlight. This may overheat your water and end up eventually killing your plants. If you are in a greenhouse you can use a shade cloth.
7. Solutions – Your growing solutions will have instructions on how to add the nutrients to your water. You will need to follow the directions. Also, you will occasionally need to drain the entire system and start over with fresh solution.
• Fighting disease proactively – The easiest way to prevent disease and pests is to keep it clean.
1. Wash your hands before you go in and between crops
2. Remove all dead leaves and plant debris
3. Clean up any spilled media or nutrients
4. Remove dead or dying plants
5. Use a separate set of hand tools. Don’t bring your tools in and out of your garden
6. Disinfect your tools in a 10% bleach solution
7. Keep your humidity at 50 – 60% and your temperature cool at 75 degrees
8. Have proper ventilation and air movement. This will help prevent mold and fungus.
9. Do not go in after working in your yard or on your compost pile
10. Don’t bring in other plants that are in dirt.
• Get organized. This will help you ensure the best, healthiest crops you can get. Make a daily, weekly, monthly and between crops to do list. Hang it where you can see it every day. Stick to your ritual religiously. It will not take that much time per day and it pays to keep ahead of any potential problems. Let’s face it. You are going to be checking your progress daily anyway. We are all patiently (not really) waiting for our first taste of our new crops.
We highly encourage you to try hydroponic growing. Just remember to start small and don’t get overwhelmed by the new terms and the new way of gardening. For complete plans to build mini and full size systems, check out this ebook. There is also a complete set of instructions on how to set up and maintain your hydroponic systems.