• Kindra

From the Ground Up, Part II


a redwoods pergola in the growing dome

Once we settled on a garden bed configuration in our greenhouse, a geodesic dome from Growing Spaces, we looked for ways to grow upwards to get the most out of the space.

We chose to build a pergola over the center path in order to accommodate climbing plants, particularly tomatoes and beans. We used a combination of cedar and redwood for longevity and anchored the legs on concrete pillars made with concrete column forms. The pergola became a multi-functional piece with the addition of ladder-like rungs built onto the ends that allow us to reach the two overhead vents when necessary (which isn’t often, but when they do need attention it’s good to have access). Most of the time, the rungs serve as handy hangers for garden tools—tools for greenhouse use as well as for the outdoor gardens.

Eyebolts placed at 8-inch intervals along the top horizontal rails allow for ease in tying up vines. Hangers at the four corners of the pergola hold oil lanterns (from Lehman's) when we need illumination after dark.

an oil lantern hanging from the pergola in the growing dome

We have a very energetic Suffolk Red grape that grew up and over the pergola; it has been beautiful as well as productive. Its leafy cover at the top of the dome has provided cooling shade during the heat of summer and blocked overhead sunshine from reaching the water tank, which is the thermal regulator of the greenhouse.

Unfortunately, it also blocked light to the neighboring Hachiya persimmon tree. This year we used cattle panel sections to create an understory for the grape to grow on, with the hope that it and the persimmon can happily co-exist. We’ll have to keep an eye on the gregarious grape, training it to conform to the limits of the cattle panel. The persimmon is already showing its gratitude by reaching over the pergola--something it couldn’t do when the grape dominated the upper story.

Cattle panels are one of our favorite go-to resources when growing vertically in both the greenhouse and outside gardens. Using bolt cutters, an arbor takes form within minutes. This spring we used this technique to create a new bean trellis over one of the paths in the greenhouse. It replaced a long-used twig arbor, but twigs in soil eventually decay; we decided to replace it with a more durable cattle panel arch.

A 44-inch in diameter wire and twig wreath hangs from the ceiling to give vines in the open bed support. (The twigs here are for aesthetics; they aren’t prone to rotting because they don’t have soil contact.) Twine hung from the wreath gives peas something to hang onto and helps with the tying up of tomatoes. A tubular field fence cage on the soil directly under the wreath gives extra stability and structure for climbing plants.

We've placed eyebolts around the perimeter of the greenhouse above the growing beds for tying up vines and securing branches. The eyebolts are placed at two different heights, which has been a great help during the weekly--sometimes even biweekly-- training up of vigorously growing indeterminate tomatoes.

tomato vines are trained to eyebolts around the walls of the greenhouse

By adding cedar planter boxes to a cast-off wooden building form, we were able to create a tower for growing strawberries. They have shallow root systems, which makes them perfect for growing in containers. Though the tower is placed toward the northern side of the greenhouse, it still gets enough morning sun to yield plenty of berries. The floor space required for the tower is small; by going vertical, we have several additional square feet of growing space.

We try to grow upwards whenever we can, in the greenhouse as well as outside. Sometimes it isn't practical (we had a near disaster one year with heavy winter squash on a make-shift branch trellis), but, with the right plants, growing vertical is often the best use of prime garden real estate.

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