Whenever I lecture about Vertical Gardening, the audience quickly recognizes the space-saving advantages of growing vegetables vertically up garden netting or a trellis, and they are surprised at the number of varieties that can be used to create a vertical garden.
Here is my list of 10 favorites—and the reason I turn to them—for crops you’ll harvest in the fall:
#6. ‘Malabar’ Heat-Resistant Climbing Spinach. Regular spinach is one of the earliest crops to harvest in spring, but it cannot tolerate high heat and soon goes to seed from an early spring sowing. I am always wary of vegetables that are promoted as a “spinach substitute,” like beet tops and chard, because for me they don’t have the sweetness of spring spinach as a salad ingredient or a cooked side dish. A delightful exception is a fast-growing annual vine native of India called Malabar spinach.
In flavor, it is not only hardly distinguishable from spring spinach raw or cooked, but it is heat resistant, too, and the more you pick the succulent, dark green heart-shaped leaves, the more the vine will keep producing.
Bonus Tip: Since the seed has a hard coat and likes a high soil temperature to germinate, I prefer to start the seeds indoors after soaking them overnight. I then set 4- to 5-week-old transplants into the garden after frost danger to climb up trellis, teepees, or garden netting. The stems have a natural twining habit and will climb unaided. Also, the tight clusters of pink flowers are edible and can be cooked as an asparagus substitute. When shopping for seed, be aware that there is a green-stemmed variety and also one with purple stems, with no difference in flavor.
For a Fall Harvest: Soak seeds overnight and direct-sow seeds after spring frost until midsummer. In frost-free areas, direct seed in mid-September so plants mature during cool winter months. Space plants at least 12 inches apart.
#7. ‘Better Boy’ Tomato. There are many kinds of tomatoes that can be trained to climb, especially those classified as “indeterminate,” meaning they produce a tall vine that keeps growing until fall frost. ‘Big Boy’ used to be the favorite, until along came ‘Better Boy,’ a derivative of ‘Big Boy’ with improved disease resistance and added vigor. The world record for a ‘Better Boy’ vine is 25 feet high, yielding more than 300 pounds of fruit.
Bonus Tip: The vines can be tied to a strong bamboo pole or set into the middle of a “tomato tower,” a cylinder of chicken wire. As the vine grows, it pokes its side branches through the mesh and becomes self-supporting. The fruits are large, meaty, and delicious, up to a pound in weight each. Developed by Petoseed, a California plant breeding establishment, this seed is best started indoors 8 weeks before setting plants outside after frost danger into fertile soil. Keep watered during dry spells and expect to begin harvesting ripe fruit within 72 days.
For a Fall Harvest: Set out transplants in spring after the last frost date. Keep the vines picked, and they will continue bearing until fall frost. In frost-free areas, set out plants in mid-September so plants start bearing during cool winter months. Space plants at least 3 feet apart.
#8. ‘Sungold’ Cherry Tomato. Tomatoes are so useful it’s not enough to have just one variety. Of course, the large-size kinds like ‘Better Boy’ tend to be most popular, but an advantage of growing a cherry-size variety like “Sungold” is its extra earliness and sweet flavor.
Bonus Tip: ‘Sungold’ is golden yellow when ripe and so sweet I have sometimes eaten it like a dessert fruit with ice cream. The vines are vigorous and should be trained to climb so the fruiting stems hang down like a curtain. ‘Sungold’ was developed in Japan and came to the United States by way of the UK. If you prefer a red cherry tomato, then try ‘Sweet 100’ or ‘Sweet Million.’ Both are suitable for vertical growing.
For a Fall Harvest: Six-week-old plants can be set out into the garden by midsummer. Once the plants start bearing, they will continue until fall frost. ‘Sungold’ can also be grown indoors in a hanging basket or a pot, providing the plants receive eight hours of direct sunlight. In frost-free areas, plant outdoors in mid-September for a harvest during cool winter months. Space plants at least 3 feet apart.
#9. ‘Trombone’ Zucchini. This heirloom vining vegetable from Italy resembles a gourd, but anything you can do with a zucchini squash you can do with the ‘Trombone Zucchini.’ The vines are vigorous, similar to ‘Vegetable Spaghetti.’ But given support, they have tendrils that allow them to climb. They are amazingly productive, soon setting beautiful yellow flowers that are self-pollinating. The fruits can be more than two feet in length with a long, slender neck and a bulbous base where the seeds are concentrated.
Bonus Tip: It is the neck that can be sliced or diced to eat raw like a zucchini squash or cut into rectangles to bake like courgettes. The flavor is exactly like a tender zucchini, with a tender skin that does not need to be peeled. I have produced as many as 300 slices from a single fruit. A favorite way for me to cook them is sautéed with sliced onions. Delicious!
For a Fall Harvest. Direct-sow seed in spring after frost danger and until midsummer, spacing plants at least 3 feet apart, using garden netting or strong trellis to allow the vines to climb. Once the vine starts bearing, it will continue until fall frost. In frost-free areas, direct-seed in mid-September for a harvest during cool winter months.
#10. ‘Charentais.’ Melon Many kinds of melons can be grown vertically up garden netting or a trellis, since they have tendrils that allow them to climb. I prefer the sweet, perfumed, French heirloom variety known as ‘Charentais’ because the fruit is not much larger than a grapefruit, so it easily serves two people when cut in half.
A problem with heavier melons is that as soon as they’re ripe they tend to slip from the vine and crash to the ground, splitting open, whereas the ‘Charentais’ melons will hang until over-ripe or need just a light support, such as a length of nylon stock, to cradle the fruit.
Bonus Tip: Melons are best grown through horticultural fabric or black plastic to ensure high yields and earliness, since any fluctuation in temperature below 70 degrees Fahrenheit will stop them from growing. The flavor of a ‘Charentais’ can be described as honey-sweet. Moreover, the globe-shaped fruits are heavily ribbed and turn orange when ripe, but for perfect ripeness pick when the rib segments are still green.
For a Fall Harvest: Direct-seed after frost danger in spring. The vines will remain productive until night temperatures consistently fall below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In frost-free areas, direct seed after mid-September so plants start to bear during winter months. Space plants at least 3 feet apart.