"Last year, we grew tomatoes up to seven feet high," Gleason said during a recent interview. "This year I want to go higher and do a sort of tunnel that my daughter can walk through."
Gleason, his wife a biology professor at Weber Sate University and his 4-year-old daughter live in an average-size home, on a relatively small lot, close to downtown Salt Lake City. By using vertical gardening techniques, they were able to grow more than a dozen different vegetables last summer, including plants, like pumpkins and potatoes, that typically take a lot of space.
"We have a little place and the lot is not very big, but it's surprising what you can do in small spaces," Gleason said.
For the past 15 years, Gleason has been a full-time woodworker, building projects and cabinets through his business, Gleason Woodworking.
Several years ago, he began sharing his skills in how-to books, detailing how to build furniture from wood pallets and how-to make-over your kitchen. Last year, he released The Art of the Chicken Coop, which tapped into the interest in backyard chickens. Library Journal named it a 2011 "Best Book" in the DIY category.
Gleason decided to write Building Projects because of the rediscovered appeal of gardening, which has become one of the country's fastest-growing hobbies, and he wanted people to be inspired to try different projects.
He devoted a whole chapter of the 159-page book to vertical gardening, because it's an easy way for gardeners to see success. Plants can be placed closer together, which maximizes yield. The method helps eliminate unwanted bugs and pests because there are fewer places for them to hide. Gleason said gardeners also find it easier to harvest their crops with less waste because vegetables aren't hidden from view and accidentally left on the ground to rot.
Besides the seven vertical gardening projects (see accompanying list), Gleason's book gives step-by-step instructions for 14 other projects, such as how to build a rainwater harvesting system, raised beds, compost boxes, vermiculture (worm) bins and cold frames to extend the growing season.
In the book, Gleason also profiles four of his Utah gardening heroes, including the nonprofit Wasatch Community Gardens and Kyle LaMalfa, an avid gardener who helped launch the Sunday People's Market, and in January began serving as a Salt Lake City councilman.
All the projects in Gleason's book can be built with scrap wood or with materials that can easily be purchased at lumber or home improvement stores. He promotes easy and practical projects that will look good in urban yards.
"I make stuff that doesn't cost a lot of money," Gleason said.
Seven projects in one book
Chris Gleason of Salt Lake City explains how to build seven vertical gardening projects in his new DIY book, Building Projects for Backyard Farmers and Home Gardeners ($19.95, Fox Chapel Publishing)
In a nutshell
Bean leaner • Lean a trellis against a wall or fence. Plant beans at its base. The beans will climb the trellis as they grow.
Grapevine ladder • Use a ladder to encourage upward growth of grapevines. Make sure the ladder is sturdy as grapevines can become quite heavy.
Pea trellis • Create an upright trellis with chicken wire, mesh, lattice or twine for pea plants to climb.
Potato planter • Build a wooden box around a cluster of potato plants. As they grow, cover the plants with mulch and straw. Potatoes will continue to set below the exposed foliage.
Squash ramp • Similar to the bean leaner. Create a ramp using vertical posts and sturdy mesh. As the squash plants grow, the vines will climb the ramp and keep vegetables off the ground.
Tiered lettuce rack • Create a rack with tiered shelves, (top racks are set back, bottom shelves set forward.) Fill several shallow plastic containers (from the dollar store) with soil and sow lettuce seeds. Place the containers on the tiered shelves, which will allow for even sun exposure.
Tomato wall • Create a trellis by setting two vertical posts securely at either end of a row of tomato plants. Stretch chicken wire, concrete mesh, lattice or twine between the two posts. Be sure to select "indeterminate" tomato varieties such as Better Boys, Big Beef or Early Girls. Determinate tomatoes don't climb.
Plants that can be grown vertically
*Large fruit will need extra support
Source: Building Projects for Backyard Farmers and Home Gardeners, by Chris Gleason ($19.95, Fox Chapel Publishing)