Upwardly Mobile – Or vertical Gardening By The self sufficient Guru Nev Sweeny

Nev Sweeney the self sufficient guruLike many who would be self sufficientish, I live in an urban area and a perennial problem is to find enough room to grow all the things that I want to. Some years ago I decided to squeeze more produce out of the yard without creating too much congestion. I did a bit of reading and came up with a few ideas that I thought were worth a go and in the manner of such things, some ideas worked, some didn’t. All of them involve gardening vertically rather than horizontally so that the minimum space yielded the maximum produce. Warts and all, here are the results.

THE TANK GARDEN

Not so much a garden growing in the tank, but over it! We have two water tanks behind our garage and the northern edge facing the house tended to look a bit scrappy, so for years I have been promising myself that I would put up a planter to cover up the area. Originally my plans were for brick, but as a bricklayer I make a good manager so I cut up and old railway sleeper I had lying around. This fitted the bill remarkably well and was much easier to cut up than I expected, it was hard as iron but my bush saw made short work of it. Having now formed up the walls of the planter with the cut up sleeper, I filled it up with potting mix and proceeded to plant into it – a passionfruit vine, a number of climbing bean seeds and a strawberry plant.

The passionfruit and the beans were to climb up some wire netting that I had tied to the tank and the strawberry was to grow over the surface and provide a mulching effect. So much for the theory. The passionfruit has done well and grew strongly for many years enabling me to harvest quite a few passionfruit before passing on to a better world.

The strawberry plant proceeded to pump out two reasonable berries and has done very little since- no fruit, no mulch, so there is a bit of work needed here, I suspect not enough light. As for the beans, after a good start they seemed to sit there and do nothing until I realized that the potting mix had been sterile so the rhizobium bacteria needed by the roots to fix nitrogen were not there. After the small addition of some veggie garden soil, well watered in, they were well away.

The harvest of the beans was excellent and they produced hugely for quite a while, but this brought in turn another problem. I do not eat beans, I grow them for my family who love them and in my unsophistication I assumed that “beans was beans.”  I usually grow dwarf varieties but saw no problem in changing to climbers.  Unfortunately, I was informed early on that beans were not beans and that while dwarf beans were most welcome the new climbers tasted different and the kids at least would not touch them.  Thusly was the population of bean eaters in the family reduced to one!  Well at least the chooks, neighbours and rabbits appreciated them and I had learned another valuable lesson about growing our own food.

THE ROOF GARDEN

Between the two previously mentioned water tanks is another piece of waste land that doesn’t get enough sun to do anything with. So I made up a large pot of sorts, about a meter in diameter by a meter high, by making a cylinder of old chook wire and lining it with a load of dud pool liner left over from when the next door neighbours replaced their pool.  As luck would have it they were digging in the new pool so I was able to fill the ‘pot’ with the sand and soil mixture dug out from the soon-to-be pool.  Then all I had to do was mix through a bit of rabbit and chook poo and throw on a bit of hay mulch and I was ready to go.

The point of all this rigmarole was to try and make some use of the flat roof of the garage to grow some vine crops by planting them in the pot then training them up over more old chook wire up onto the roof.     The vines that I chose were pumpkin and watermelon.  The pumpkin was a self-sown one out of the veggie patch and the watermelon was grown from bought seeds.  Both started off okay, but it took a while for me to realize that the pumpkin was, in fact, a bush variety so it didn’t make it up to the roof until the sun made it a bit unpleasant up there.  The watermelon made it quicker, but the coverage of the roof was a bit too sparse and we lost some fruits to the heat.  All things considered though the harvest wasn’t too bad, but next time I’ll start with guaranteed Queensland Blue pumpkin seeds and get an earlier start.

Two problems with this idea were that chook wire is not really strong enough for this sort of job, but it was all that was available at the time so that is what I used.  Also, because of the nature of the setup it dries out rapidly in hot weather and so you need to water it regularly or all that you grow is dried fruit!

CHOKOS (Custard Marrows)

These are another wonderful vertical producer, I planted one underneath our big Granny Smith apple tree and another next to the fence near the lattice that the next door neighbour (not the ones who put in the pool, the other side) put up. It was there to grow bougainvillea on but I thought I could pinch a bit of space. Since that particular choko had a close encounter with a whipper snipper it has been looking mighty average, but the one under the apple tree is going great guns and I expect a bumper crop this year.

In the intervening years since this was written we have had many a choko from the apple tree, or as it is more correctly known now – the choko tree. Every year they regrow and provide us with multiple chokos until killed by the frost. This year I reckon we must have gotten 200kg or more of them.

SCARLET RUNNER BEANS

Out the front of our house is an iron railing that I put a few years ago to keep people from falling of the front porch, just the thing to run some scarlet runner beans over.  Scarlet runner beans are a perennial climbing bean that produce very decorative bright red flowers so there was no complaints from the flower garden of the team. Again I got away a bit late and by the time the beans got to flowering stage the weather was a bit hot for them to set seed pods, so although  the show was attractive there was no produce. Unfortunately, all plants died from causes unknown before the weather cooled down enough to crop, so I had to write this one off as a flop.  Mind you, if my other experience with the lack of ‘consumer acceptance’ of climbing beans is anything to go by, this may not have been such a bad thing!

CUCUMBERS

I have grown cucumbers of both types (apple and long green) first on a lump of discarded trellis, then on some old wire fencing draped over the wooden fence. Both worked well but you still have to thread the vine through or tie it on when it first grows, until it takes the hint and twines around the trellis by itself.

SNOW PEAS

This is a terrific legume that is great in stir fries or soup noodles and adds nitrogen to your soil. I start them off in a punnet, just to make sure that they sprout and then plant them out once they get to be a couple of centimeters. I have my veggie patches surrounded by a wire fence to keep pets, chooks and bunyips out (OK, OK  the bunyips can just step over) and that is what I use to grow the snow peas up.

So there you have it, another growing season passed and some more lessons learned, whether the ideas work or not they are interesting and fun, but I still wish I had more land.

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