Growing beans on poles or tomatoes in cages is hardly anything other than normal gardening behavior; but these and other labor and space saving methods are applied to a wide range of crops to increase production and efficiency. Whether the space is small or large, the inclusion of vertical gardening techniques helps to get the most out of garden time and space
Plant supports fit three categories: stakes, cages, or trellises. Staking works well for plants with single stems and fruit close to the stem (like beans or tomatoes kept sucker free). Cages are a good option for multiple plant groupings (squash, cucumbers), multiple stem plants (raspberries, blackberries), or suckering plants (tomatoes) that will be allowed room to grow in all directions. Trellises are helpful for training plants to a two-dimensional space. When considering trellises, don’t think just about tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and squash; these methods work extremely well for fruit as well: apples, peaches or grapes on a trellis are an excellent addition to the menu and make a beautiful screen.
Containerizing plants makes them mobile, or in certain cases, stackable. Two helpful space savers are strawberry planters and window boxes. Strawberry planters are good for strawberries, but great also for herbs. Window boxes can be mounted to a fence in rows one above another and are a good location for small greens, herbs, strawberries, radishes, etc.
Hilling is simply mounding soil around a plant as it grows. Potatoes are particularly benefitted and production increased by this process. To expand on this practice, consider building a framework above ground that will support the hill so that it can go even higher. This can be anything from a wood frame to a bottomless bucket to an old tire. Put the framework in place over the normally planted seed potato and add soil and compost as the plant grows, keeping the growing tips 8-12” above soil. The production will greatly increase in the same square footage. (Check out “Build Your Own Potato Growing Box” on vegetablegardener.com. Mine is similar, but the frame is external and the sides held by gravity instead of screws.) Keep in mind, the extra soil has to come from somewhere: compost pile, excess from other planting projects, the store… To date I have done this with potatoes but not yet with sweet potatoes, although it should work.
Intercropping takes advantage of the sizes and growth habits of various combinations of plants. Plant tomatoes among carrots and the carrots will grow in the mildly shaded area below while the tomatoes grow and produce their fruit above the carrot tops. Squash will grow between double rows of corn in the same manner. Read the book Carrots Love Tomatoes for these and other companion planting ideas. Pairing taller and shorter crops can help to squeeze another row or two into the planting area while possibly benefiting both of the crops.
There are lots of ways to make wise use of space, but you cannot make more space. What have you done to get the most out of your garden?