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Upshur couple explores vertical gardening

June 23, 2012
By John Clise Staff Writer , The Inter-Mountain

Tallmansville residents Chuck and Nancy Smarr have taken gardening to the next level through vertical planting and growing of crops.

Vertical growing has been around for many years. It utilizes upward spaces, rather than spreading out horizontally in traditional gardening. In the vertical method, growing pots are stacked on top of each other.

Chuck Smarr got the idea to develop a vertical garden after seeing strawberries being cultivated in a vertical style in Florida. The Smarrs spend their winters in the Sunshine State, as they own 5 acres there.

Article Photos

The Inter-Mountain photo by John Clise
Chuck and Nancy Smarr stand in their vertical garden near Tallmansville in Upshur County.

"I thought it could be converted to vegetable growing," Chuck Smarr said after seeing strawberries being grown in vertically stacked pots.

Now he is growing two different types of lettuce and cabbage in his vertical setup. Red sails lettuce is his favorite, he said.

The Smarrs placed cabbage plants at the bottom of the vertical pots to capture water from the self-irrigation system set up to water and add nutrients to the plants. With the cabbage plants at the bottom to capture the runoff, no water is lost for crop use.

The four vertical rows set up by the Smarrs hold 200 plants, but they take up a little less than one quarter of their garden space.

They also are sharing this gardening style, as the Smarrs recently set up a small vertical garden at the home of Jodi Light.

Chuck Smarr said he uses ground-up coconut shells in the pots instead of soil because the shells hold water more effectively.

The garden, which he said hadn't been used for 40 years, is undergoing a rebirth as nutrients are pumped into the ground and a variety of gardening techniques are being utilized.

The garden is surrounded by a 10-foot-tall highway fence that has smaller openings toward the bottom to keep out woodland creatures, such as rabbits.

The garden also includes hanging tomato baskets made from 5-gallon buckets.

He said he got the buckets from a local business and drilled holes 1 1/8 inches in width in the bottom, to hold the roots in the pot to plant the tomatoes. He then hung them from posts set in the garden.

Chuck Smarr said once the plant is stabilized, the growth rate is very successful because of the nutrient-enriched soil.

He has planted Salem potatoes, which are a West Virginia invention, in 84-foot rows placed 8 inches apart.

He also planted 160 kohlrabi greens plants, egg plants, onions and sweet corn.

This longtime gardener also is trying other new things. In 60 years of gardening, this is the first time he has tried his hand at drip gardening, which is a style of irrigation.

He uses two irrigation drums with two pumps to push water through hoses placed along the rows of the garden.

Chuck Smarr, a retired Air Force veteran and Walkersville High School graduate, teaches agriculture techniques to students in Florida during the winter months through a volunteer effort.



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