As published in the Weekender Herald on 24th January and 31st January 2019 with additional images.
I am an obsessive-compulsive gardener who is addicted to growing things, especially vegies. Blessed to have a large vegie patch of my own, I like to try different crops and different ways of growing things. As many gardeners have limited space, I think one solution is to look up and grow vertical vegies. Green walls are the latest buzz however in our harsh climate we also need to create green walls that work well and don’t cost a fortune to set up and maintain.
One easy way to create a green vegie wall is simply to grow climbing vegies on a frame, screen or wires against a wall or fence. You could use them as a living fence or screen, or have a series of poles which you grow them up. In summer these vertical vegies could be used to take the heat of hard surfaces such as brick walls and metal fences, and they could even be used to grow over arches or pergolas to create summer shade. Such solutions are perfect for people who are renting and are looking for a fast way to cool where they live. If you are wanting this cooling effect, planting in spring allows the plants to gain height and start the shading process before the worst of the summer heat hits, as establishing some of these crops in mid-summer against baking bricks and metal fencing can be too hard.
In my own vegie garden I have a number of arches which I grow vegies over and also have a number of panels of builders reinforcing mesh which I use to create green screens. While some of these panels have horizontal bases, a number are simply supported by long star droppers hammered into the ground. As with siting any vegie patch, always be aware of where the sun shines in summer and in the depths of winter, the radiant heat off solids walls, pavers or metal fences, and prevailing winds.
If you want to grow vertical vegies, you need to choose your varieties that climb and fruit well.
Here are some of my favourites.
New Guinea bean
New Guinea bean, also known as cucuzza or Italian edible gourd is actually a climbing squash and it is probably my favourite vegetable. It is loved by many different cultures and cuisines from Italian and Maltese to Indian, Vietnamese, Phillipino, Japanese and the list goes on. Its fruit is best picked when young at 30-60cm long when it can be used in savoury cooking or as we do, to make a delicious moist cake. It is even used to make halva in Indian cuisine! If the fruit is left on the vine it will grow to enormous sizes. Our biggest weighed 9kg at 1.1 metres long and at these sizes they can be dried to use as gourds or for seed collection. However, it is the fact that it is a vigorous climber that really has me wrapped and last year I had it get to 5m high and it covered the northern wall of our shed. I overplanted and had six plants which densely covered a 6 metres long sheet of mesh to over 2.4 metres high. The difference it made to keeping the shed cooler than it would otherwise would have been was profound.
Tromboncino is another favourite vegetable as this long zucchini can be eaten fresh when young or allowed to ripen on the vine and then stored for up to six months in the cellar. This allows you to enjoy zucchini, a traditional warm season vegetable in the middle of winter. Its shape is peculiar in that it has a long stem with a bulbous base and it curls readily as it grows so often forms amazing shapes over 1m long. The plant itself doesn’t stay neat and low like a normal zucchini, instead it grows rampantly and can easily climb and cover an arch. This year I am growing six of them on a mesh panel 6m long by 2.4 m high on the western side of our shed and we will see how well they cover.
Caigua, also known as Achocha, became a new favourite of mine last year after trying to work out how to grow it well for the past two years. The variety I grow is ‘Giant Peruvian’ and it produces pods which can be eaten as a cucumber substitute when young or cooked and stuff as they age. This plant has soft but rampant climbing foliage and seems to be highly productive. Last year I even added them to my morning vegetable juice and loved them so this year I am growing it over another of my bike wheel arches. Next year I might try it against the hot tin shed and we will see just how tough it is.
Tomatoes – Indeterminate tomatoes have the vigour to readily grow up to 2m high and I often grow them over low arches. While I have tried many different varieties, I keep coming back to Tommy Toe for arches and currently have it growing over a bike wheel arch between my wicking beds. Tommy Toe is a large cherry with fabulous flavour, a great producer and trouble free.
Pumpkins can also be grown up structures and people often find that they pumpkin vine rambles up fences and even old fruit trees. For singles or couples ‘Golden Nugget’ and ‘Bushfire’ are great varieties to grow which grows well to 1.5 or 2m high and produces small fruits around 600g each. I often grow them on a large tripod of hardwood stakes as I love the look of the orange orbs hanging on the structure.
Climbing spinach, also known as Ceylon, Malabar or Indian running spinach is something that I have grown here for the last few years over large tripods. For me it has grown 1.5m plus high and while there is a plain green form, I prefer the red forms with red stems and dark green foliage. The leaves re thick and almost succulent and they are crisp and crunchy when eaten raw, with a taste like spinach when cooked. This year I am growing them against the northern wall of our metal shed and I am keen to see just how tall they will get. Not that it is hot they are powering away and they seem to be loving the heat off the shed.
Last year I grew an heirloom vegetable called pimply squash, thinking it would grow like a zucchini. Instead it grew rampantly and made its way over an adjacent arch so this year I am growing it against an old pair of 2m high gates and will see how well it covers them. Its all about experimenting. My experiments with vertical vegies are certainly productive and while they produce giant harvests, between what my large tribe consumes, what we share with friends and what we cook for open gardens and public events here, nothing is wasted.
Climbing peas, beans and cucumbers
Climbing peas, beans and cucumbers can also be grown well over panels and arches however they do not like my salty water, so I am unable to grow them here. There are other things you could try which I haven’t yet been successful with like edible bottle gourds, bitter melons, cucumelon and even luffas (OK not edible but definitely useful) however I plan to keep trying until I am sure they won’t succeed with my salty water.
So, if you want to grow vegies but have limited space, look up!