Derek Fell didn’t start gardening because it was trendy to serve home-grown heirloom potatoes. At the age of 5, he grew his first peas up a makeshift trellis — with the help of a proud grandfather — in response to food shortages in England during WWII.
Today, he’s working the soil at Cedaridge Farm in Bucks County (when he’s not harvesting coconuts at his Sanibel Island outpost, that is). And even though space isn’t an issue, his latest book, “Vertical Gardening,” is dedicated to squeezing the most blossoms out of the least square feet. He shared why it’s best to think ‘up’ this spring.
No grass required
“A lot of people just have concrete. With that situation, you can actually make a raised bed and grow quite a lot of things — cucumbers, tomatoes and even climbing spinach,” says Fell. “With a trellis, you might only need, say, 12 inches worth of soil.” If possible, he recommends setting the trellis right up against that concrete wall — it will help keep the plants warm and can fight off a surprise frost.
Tiny space, bigger yields
“When you’re gardening horizontally, the plants very often are dwarfed and bushy. For example, with pole beans, you only get maybe two weeks of harvest,” says Fell. “But if you grow up, you get a longer period and 10 times the yield.” The same is true for even spaghetti squash — which climb just as elegantly as tomatoes on the book’s front cover — lettuces and melons.
Fewer pest problems
Not only will lifting your plants off the ground make for fewer rotten veggies, but you’ll be able to spot problems sooner — such as the beginnings of a pest problem. For insects, he recommends a homemade spray of pureed garlic and hot peppers.
As for your block’s resident raccoon? Try leaving a radio on at night — the sound of a human voice should keep it away.
Go really big
The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s “Plant One Million” initiative is looking to add more trees to the city’s skyline. A lot more. For info, visit: www.pennsylvaniahorticulturalsociety.org.
Follow Monica Weymouth on Twitter at @MonicaatMetro.