What Grows Vertically – Problems with Canal Water and Manure

Q.  I connected with your web site after admiring the beautiful garden west of Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City.  (my family was admiring the giraffes!)   I like the concept of vertical gardening.  My question is this:  Can you grow stuff like pumpkins, watermelons, squash, etc.  up a wire?  If you do, how do you support the fruit.  Even cucumbers seem like they’d be too heavy.   I’m excited to try the drip irrigation system this spring.  I feel like I’ve been knocking my head against a wall for 15 years because we water with canal water and fertilize with horse manure.  My kids and I could spend our whole lives in the garden and couldn’t begin to keep the weeds out of it.  This year we’ll be using well water and trying the Mittleider method. I hope we can manage to kill off all that grass and morning glory.  Maybe you’ve got some ideas for that as well. 

A.  we recommend fruits that are less than 6# each for vertical growing.  We grow indeterminate tomatoes and eggplant vertically, guiding them up baling twine strings that are fastened to strong wire strung between T-Frames.  Cucumbers are ideal for growing vertically, as well as any of the small indeterminate squashes. 

Any of the aforementioned plants need to be pruned, in order to have success growing them vertically.  You can expect to increase your yields by 3-4 times in this way.  Detailed instructions are included in several of the Mittleider gardening books and CD’s available at www.growfood.com.  Articles in this FAQ section also deal with vertical growing and pruning.  Look under Tomatoes for several.

Keep your fruits picked as they ripen, to avoid excess weight on the vines, which can sometimes drag the vines down if too many fruits are allowed to remain.

I’ve been “knocking my head against a wall for 15 years” also, telling people to avoid canal water (or filter it) and manure for the reason you cite, as well as the problems many have with pests and diseases.  Thanks for the testimonial.

Remembering that “one year’s seeds makes 7 years’ weeds”, I recommend you get a couple of 2-way hoes as shown on the website’s Store pages at www.growfood.com under Tools.   Follow the recommendations for “E & O” (early and often) weeding, and by leaving the aisles completely dry, you will get ahead of the weeds quickly.



Choosing What to Plant

Q. It is time for the annual sale of this year’s seeds in the US. Could you give some ideas on what would be good to buy for planting next year?  I would like high nutritional value if possible.  What would you suggest?  My goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible. 
A. The first rule is to buy and plant what you enjoy eating!  The second consideration should be what makes sense economically, and third, consider varieties that do well in your climate and at certain times of year.  The Garden Master CD, available at www.growfood.com, has a wonderful database of vegetables, with lots of information you’ll want to know to make a wise decision for your family.
My family eats almost no broccoli or cauliflower, so I won’t grow them for the home garden.  We all love tomatoes – both large (Big Beef is the favorite this year) and small (grape tomatoes have really captured our hearts!)  And spinach is great in salads as well as cooked, grows fast, and can be grown early and late in space not yet able to be used for warm weather crops, or after other crops are harvested.  Peppers and eggplant are also favorites, and we eat them at least once per week.  You get the idea. 
Some crops that produce the most “bang for the buck” include tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, peppers, eggplant, zucchini and yellow crookneck, and perhaps cantaloupe or other climbing squash or small melons.  The key is that these are everbearing, and most can be grown vertically, so they take relatively small space in your garden.  Single crop varieties like cabbage and carrots can also be good, but most of them should be harvested in a short time, before they become over-ripe and/or infested with pests and diseases, and this causes waste unless you have a good cool storage place, such as a root cellar.   If you enjoy red beets, I recommend Cylindra as one that holds in the garden for a long time without getting tough and woody.
I would avoid growing corn in the small family garden, because it takes so much space and produces very little.  For example, a single corn stalk takes basically the same space as a tomato plant, but only produces one or two “fruits”, while an indeterminate tomato plant may produce as much as 15 to 20 pounds of fruit.  And in many places in the western USA potatoes are about 1/10th as expensive as tomatoes, so if space is limited, that may not be a high priority.  However, potatoes (along with winter squash, cabbage, carrots, etc.) will store for many months if done properly.
The third criterion is finding things that grow well in your climate, and choose the right time of year.  For those in the cooler climates with shorter growing seasons, it is wishful thinking to try and grow sweet potatoes and peanuts.  And there are a few other crops that require long growing seasons and/or hot weather.  Look on the seed packet, or a catalog, or in several of the Mittleider gardening books or CD’s.  The large watermelons come to mind as examples.  And particularly for those of you in the hot climates, grow spinach and brassica’s at the beginning and end of your growing season.
The Mittleider Gardening books and Manuals teach all you need to know about this subject, and can be purchased in the Store section, or as digital downloads.

A digital copy costs 30-40% less, and is available instantly!  I HIGHLY recommend you look here https://www.hightechhomestead.com/Products.htm for the best gardening books available anywhere!  Get one NOW and be gardening TODAY

Last year I had two Grow-Boxes in my greenhouse planted with eggplants. There were an equal number of plants in each of them, all of the plants produced flowers and I dusted them myself with a little brush to pollinate them. But one box gave me a lot of eggplants and the other produced nothing! Why was this so? And what I can do to prevent it from happening again?

(Eggplants & tomatoes belong to the same family and these answers apply to both.)

1) Were both beds of plants healthy? Were they the same variety, and do they look and grow the same? The bed that failed to produce fruit – were the plants continuing to be healthy, or did they stop growing and show signs of disease, etc.? Only if they were sick is there a problem with the soil, in which case you may need to treat or sterilize the soil.

To sterilize the soil, the best thing is methyl bromide, which takes 24 hours and kills everything, so use extreme caution! However, to use it in a greenhouse you must have a full body suit with outside supplied air. It can be fatal in even small doses in enclosed areas. Otherwise you could use steam, if you can get enough to hold the temperature at 200 degrees F for 2 hours. Either way, you must cover the bed tightly with plastic.

If the two beds of eggplant looked the same you do not need to sterilize the soil. Methyl Bromide is a chemical that is very effective at killing everything – but it is getting harder to find, and very expensive. And in the USA it requires a Pesticide Applicator’s license to even buy or use it. Steam equipment is also expensive, and unless you have a steam-heat source that you could tap into, it probably isn’t practical either. With the extremely cold winters you have (-30 C), many bugs and disease pathogens are killed, so I will be surprised if your problem is a disease in the soil.

2) If the plants were healthy, but just did not produce fruit, then the problem is most likely in the pollination somewhere. Eggplants are self-pollinating, so you do not need to help them, and you could have actually caused the problem – if the brush was too wet, or if it was diseased or something. If it was too wet – either the brush or the environment – that could inhibit the transfer of pollen also. Were you using the same brush to pollinate both rows? And were you pollinating both rows the same day? If so, then it isn’t the brush, but some environmental difference. Try just shaking or vibrating the plants to make the pollen transfer if there is no air movement in your greenhouse.

3) What about the light factor? Did both beds get the same amount of sunlight? Fruiting plants must have uniform, sustained light all day – otherwise they produce greenery, but no fruit.

4) Eggplants like warm temperatures also, in addition to lots of light. Was one bed subject to more cold air than the other – such as being planted closer to the greenhouse wall? If the temperature goes below 60 degrees, sometimes frost-sensitive and frost-intolerant plants won’t produce fruit. Was there any difference in temperature at critical times between the two beds?

5) Also, some insects will eat the pollen, such as ants. Is that a possibility? However it would be unusual to have insects attack one bed and not the adjacent one.

6) Were the two beds planted at the same time, so that the plants were the same size? If not, conditions might have been different when the second one was flowering (although the flowering continues for months – so that isn’t likely), or the taller row was shading the shorter row.

7) What time of day did you pollinate? If it is done before the male flower is fully open, the pollen is green and won’t fertilize. Also, after the female flower starts to collapse it is too old, and won’t accept pollination.

8) Is there a possibility your one box had nematodes in the roots? If the plants are carrying nematodes, they may look healthy, but they can’t support the nematodes and bear fruit at the same time, and since they can’t get rid of the nematodes, they abort the fruit and just keep on trying, without success.

9) If you pollinate using a male from the same plant, you have more risk of not getting good fruit – it’s better to use a male from a different plant and cross-pollinate.

You really have to become a detective to discover what happened, don’t you! Let me know the answers to the above, and maybe we can narrow it down and find the most likely cause of the problem.