Grow a Garden Skyscraper

A vegetable garden can be prime real estate in an urban setting, given the small size of many yards and lack of areas with full sunlight. What’s the aspiring urban gardener to do to grow more food within a limited square footage?

Grow up!

Seriously. Many vegetable crops are capable climbers, as long as you can provide them something sturdy to climb on.

Pole Beans

Get those sprawling vine vegetables off the ground. Not only will they increase their yields by reaching more sunlight, but the efficient space utilization will allow you to grow more plants per square foot.

At our “Vegetable Mining Operation” Community Garden in West Valley City, Kay Robison and her gardener buddies have engineered a cityscape of garden skyscrapers, some standing over 8 feet tall, and bursting with ripe vegetables. Their trellises were built with many cheap and readily available materials, and were designed for quick assembly and disassembly.

Their tomato trellises are living walls of Cherokee Purples, Green Zebras, and Yellow Paste tomatoes. The structures use wooden 2×4 posts that are connected to each other with metal tubing, while the tomatoes are guided by nylon string spaced every 6 inches along the metal tubing.

Their lima bean trellises are high-rise legume lofts. They created a single row of sunflower stalk posts down the middle of this plot, connected by netting, and supported by curved metal supports. Lima beans were planted in the middle of the plot, while bush beans were planted along the sides.

4And their cucumber trellises are full-production pickle factories. This design was an A-frame made out of bamboo posts and netting. The Armenian cucumbers that covered it were nearly 2 feet long!

While each structure is slightly different in its construction, they all have the same basic components.

1. Poles – You can use scrap wood, T-posts, bamboo, or even the dried stalks of giant sunflowers.

2. Netting – Nylon rope, garden netting, or wire fencing can be attached to your poles to provide plant support. You’ll need to train the plants up the netting as they grow, particularly with tomatoes.

3. Supports – Don’t forget this component! Without adequate support, your garden skyscrapers will become dangerously leaning towers of pizza toppings. It’s important to anticipate the serious weight that the plants and wind gusts will apply, and then brace the poles. Kay’s structures incorporate curved metal rods and other supports, such as nylon guy ropes that are pulled from posts at multiple angles and anchored into the ground. This keeps the structure solidly vertical over time.

So chuck those flimsy tomato cages, and grow up!

giles_larsen_garden_cruise_new_roots_2013_8e325c31a89860f82ad1f97566613510Commentary & photos by Giles Larsen, WCG Garden Coordinator for the Parks for Produce Garden Program.


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