Here’s a Secret to Producing More Food Locally

The vertical pallet garden

What is the one thing we can do to make ourselves better at producing food locally? The simple answer is to think “vertically.”

Here’s why.

Most of us don’t have much land (space) to work with since we live in close proximity to other people.

This proximity comes with considerable benefits as long as it’s not too close.  Benefits like security, collaboration, mutual action, local markets, diverse skill sets, wide knowledge base, low travel/transport costs, etc.  Many of these benefits are going to be critical to our future success building a thriving resilient economy at the local level.

However, the big disadvantage with this configuration is that we don’t have much land/space to work with.  We can’t just throw away land like those of us living in rural settings.

That means that we need to be smarter about how we utilize the space we have available. So, to maximize local production and fully utilize the limited land we have available, we need to think vertically.

What people don’t know is that most plants max-out their use of solar energy through photosynthesis in as little as three hours of direct light a day.  Further, plants also have a photosynthetic rate, which limits how much they can absorb even when exposed to direct sun.

That means all of the additional light that falls of them is not only wasted, it could damage them.

How do you take advantage of that insight?  Go vertical, particularly in the areas closest to where you live (for ease of gathering/use).

Permaculture techniques suggest layers of solar collection like you see in a forest.  Forests are optimized to take advantage of solar energy through a combination of filtered sunlight and graduated solar coverage.

Another approach is to build structures that allow vertical gardening.  We see lots of examples of this popping up today in impossibly dense modern urban environments.

Here’s a simple example of a pallet garden.  For complete instructions, head on over to Fern’s “Life on the Balcony” for a step by step. These are getting pretty popular.

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Completed pallet garden

Here’s another from Kate Djupe. Visit her site for more pictures and instructions.

Hopefully, these give you a feel for how to think vertically.

I expect these designs will seem pretty tame in comparison to the intensively productive vertical food gardens we will be seeing in the years ahead, as thinking evolves.

Onward and Upward,


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  • andy

    Cattle panels are even better…..and oddly, cheaper. Hog panels ($22 at Tractor Supply) are around 34″ tall, where cattle panels are 54″ tall ($19 at TS). We used them for the first time this year for pole beans and peas, and plan to use them from now on. Put a 6 1/2′ metal T post at each end, and one in the middle ( panels are 16′ long ), and tie them with re-bar tie wire. Panels and posts removed at season end to til garden for a winter cover crop ( winter wheat or rye ).

    What I’m REALLY wanting to try are some “sorta” hyroponic deals a company in Florida sells…(Hydrostacker)….they are a styrofoam cone deal that has cup deals built into each layer, then the layer stack, and the whole thing revolves on a center pipe axis. You can stand at each one, rotate it like an old post card rack, and pick your produce. They look especially nice for strawberries ( which is what I want them for ). They claim you can grow on 1/8ac of these they same number of plants as conventional row of 2 acres.

    I plan to build a small hoop house (unheated) and set these up in it. I plan to try about 10 of them to begin with.

    • John Robb


      I’ve heard the same thing about cattle panels. If you do try it out, write a short review.


    • c.

      ROFL. ’round these parts cattle panels and hog panels are the same thing by the “city” listing at Fleet Farm. 😀

      Up north they’re very different items.

  • Plug Nickel Outfit

    I’ve been growing all my melons, squash, and cucumbers vertically for a couple years now – in addition to the usual suspects like tomato and peas. Works great for multiple reasons: better air circulation, easier to spray the bottoms of leaves for pests and infections, easier on the back, and it takes up less horizontal space. This year I used 2″ by 4″ wire fencing – 5′ high and 18″ off the ground (6.5′ total height) in a 40″ diameter hoop – 3 vines evenly spaced around the circle. After a month and a 1/2 I’ve got vines over 10′ long – not counting those coming off the main vine. Plenty of fruit set already – and I haven’t had any problems with the vines not supporting the fruit (I use sisal or jute twine to assist and guide them – inexpensive and it goes right into the brush/compost pile at the end of the season) – large butternut and casabas included. I’m even raising yellow squash vertically though it’s not a natural climber – it’s a lot easier to tend when it’s not trailing along the ground with half the leaves touching the ground and providing a vector for pests, etc.. I wouldn’t willingly go back to raising cucubits on the ground after seeing how well this works.

    • John Robb


      Nice summary:
      Better air circulation
      Easier to spray on the bottoms of leaves for pests/infections
      Easier on the back
      Less horizontal space.

      Take pictures please and send it in>


      • Dave Trowbridge

        Foundation wire, which comes in 7-ft-width rolls and a 6″ mesh, is the ultimate vertical-garden material for me. A six-foot length forms a cylinder, easily anchored by two pieces of rebar, that will support just about anything.

        I also use what’s called a VSP trellis (which I put in for a small vineyard that failed due to shade) to grow a variety of crops, but that’s too expensive to do on purpose.

        However, one problem with a vertical garden is that they consume more water. Squash plants (cucumbers in particular) thrive on the the micro-climate they produce when grown close to the ground (and suppress weeds).

  • Lacy Thompson, Jr.

    Also Will Allen at Growing Power is a Big proponent of using vertical space. You can see multiple examples in this video and about half way through he specifically comments on the importance of multiplying your floor space vertically.

    • John Robb

      Thanks Lacy.

  • cavtrpr

    Don’t forget a crop rotation mechinsm. Verticle + hydroponics + rotation should increase yeild per yard if certain crops only need 3 hours per day.

  • Biophile

    Vertical designs abound. Check out also the concepts for hugelkultur, berm and swale (permaculture), and of course vertical hydroponics. But with even less hard work, we can grow crops far more densely in many cases if we have highly fertile, moist soil that is well areated and are using humans to power cultivation and harvest rather than animals or machines with set row widths. One of my neighbors who is 92 and a master gardener who sells at the tailgate market almost all year (!) walks through my permaculture and very experimental suburban landscape often and said the other day, “I’ve never seen things planted so close together.” I said, “That’s how nature does it.”

    Here is one of the MOST excellent and thought-provoking videos I would encourage everyone to watch (skip through the string/history part if you’d like to about 9:45):

    Toby Hemenway – How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth, but Not Civilization

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