If you've seen the youtube video Will Allen's Growing Power organization, then you probably wish you had something like this in your backyard, whereby you could make the most use of vertical space.

My goal would be to make a garden in a greenhouse using plywood planters, about 3-4 stories. I would grow anything that could grow in 6-8 inches of soil that would tolerate cold winters and humid summers.

I'm not concerned about the following things:

  • Aquaponics, but if it's necessary, then it's necessary.
  • Vermicomposting
  • Collection of compostable material from restaurants
  • @shane Yeah, that's a little bit bigger than my town. But undeniably awesome. I'm thinking more along the lines of a couple pieces of plywood and some plastic. I don't want a reference request so much as I want a nudge in the right direction. But a step by step one, something that is doable by 2-3 people. And the purpose is year round vegetable gardening like Growing Power, where the only electricity you need is a water pump, Aug 17, 2011 at 19:30
  • @Peter - my solution probably requires a heavy duty DIYer or carpenter, but I was thinking 4x8x1.5 or so and about 3-4 levels on each side...basically a raised bed on steroids. not sure if the greenhouse component is feasible on this scale, but it might be if you just build it around the planters...
    – wax eagle
    Aug 17, 2011 at 19:36
  • @wax eagle, that's similar to what my wife's uncle is doing with his Ag class (except he's got a layer of fish). He said he's trying to do the Growing Power aquaponics system. I really wanted a pointer to a howto guide, but barring that, your answer is a good idea. Aug 17, 2011 at 19:47
  • 2
    That video shows a farming system that maximizes space. The fish on the bottom don't need light and have a lot of synergies with the rest of the system. If you don't want to raise fish, then you need to look at an entirely different type of system.
    – bstpierre
    Aug 18, 2011 at 0:02
  • 1
    @Peter maybe this article or this one will give you some ideas for plant-only gardens. It seems as 'simple' as planting into a wall, e.g. with pots pointing to the southern sky. Aug 22, 2011 at 1:13

4 Answers 4


Obviously the sort of system pictured is not feasible for the average gardener, however, the use of vertical space is possible if you construct it properly.

The trick would be to construct a series of wooden planters that are offset so that the back edge of each planter gets sun while the sun is at a fairly low angle and then the next planter is constructed partially overhanging the lower one.

The key here would be to support each level well and probably to construct only a limited number of them across the sun's path in kind of a pyramid shape.

The other consideration would be to plant shaded or limited sun crops in the lower bins and full sun crops in the higher bins.

This may be too much of an eyesore for some neighborhoods, but if you live in an area with wide house spacing, or can do it on a rooftop then this seems like a setup that would work well provided it was constructed properly.

This is a crude drawing of what I'm thinking ofenter image description here. What I would do is use concrete in the yellow part in the middle then use cinder blocks or maybe even molded concrete blocks for the front end supports on each layer. This way I would not feel unsafe climbing up to the top of the beds (filled they should be heavy enough not to slide). I am unsure if I would build the top layer in my drawing or not.

  • nice drawing, that really sparks the imagination, I'd think you could probably suspend those planters from the roof of the structure as well, if it were solid enough - just make the interior ones thin enough to make room for chains going up to the ceiling from the lower ones. Do you have any idea what you'd use to line the bottom of the planters? Aug 18, 2011 at 14:43
  • I'm not sure. I haven't thought too hard about the actual planter construction yet. You don't water pooling up at the bottoms of the planters, so I would probably use something where drainage would be a possibility, but not sure how I would feel about trickle down. Maybe a perforated wood (or plastic?) bottom into a (plastic?) catch tray that fed a collection pool?
    – wax eagle
    Aug 18, 2011 at 14:56
  • Wood bottoms won't last long at all. Galvanized hardware cloth lined with some kind of fabric might work for a bottom. Keep in mind that 6" of moist soil will be heavy -- a full 14x11x6" weighs 45 pounds. If your 2nd tier is, say, 8'x14"x6", you're approaching 400 pounds on each side, and that's just the soil. With concrete building materials, you're also adding a good bit of extra weight.
    – bstpierre
    Aug 19, 2011 at 20:03
  • Is the idea to use the light blue square above the red but under the dark blue as a growing space? Or is this a filled/structural space?
    – bstpierre
    Aug 19, 2011 at 20:09
  • @bstpierre that is open space
    – wax eagle
    Aug 19, 2011 at 21:16

Plants need light. In that video they have shelves in the greenhouse at a height of about 6' with plants in trays. They also have plants in baskets hanging from those shelves. Underneath the shelf is the "second story", but that's where they're growing fish, not plants. I've never seen any greenhouses that grow plants in multiple "stories". (Sometimes you'll see a nursery where they have plants for display and immediate sale that are stacked, but this isn't a good growing environment.)

It sounds like you want to make more efficient use of space and seasons in your small backyard garden.

Some strategies to maximize the use of the seasons:

  • Use a cold frame or low tunnel to extend the harvest season of hardy plants like greens (spinach, lettuce, kale) and root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, turnips).
  • Use a hot bed to kick start your late winter / early spring planting.
  • The cold frame and low tunnel are removable so that you can use that space in the summer without baking your plants. And they're inexpensive versus a greenhouse which is fixed in place and requires a bit more care.
  • The season extenders can also be rotated from bed to bed so you don't get a buildup of pests and/or disease like you can with a greenhouse.

Some strategies to maximize the use of space:

  • Trellis everything you can possibly trellis:
    • Tomatoes
    • Cucumbers
    • Melons
    • Winter squash
    • Peas
    • Beans
  • Plant bush varieties of space hogs like zucchini...
  • ...or don't plant the space hogs
  • Plant fast-maturing cultivars and relay plant so you can harvest multiple crops from the same bed. As an example: start spring peas early in the hot bed, harvest in May/June, pull them out on July 1, plant 65-day carrots that you harvest in early September, and then transplant three-week-old spinach that you can harvest all fall/winter.

At this moment in time I'm not exactly sure what it is you're after achieving. Sorry.

But below are a few thoughts, which I will expand on, as and when it becomes clearly to me, what it is you wish to achieve and how you wish to go about achieving your goals:

  • A Greenhouse or Polytunnel, even the smaller sized ones can be productive nearly all year round.

    • Keep in mind, it's considered good practice to "clean" them out at least once a year. Doing so helps in the battle to keep the "enclosed" environment "disease/pest free".

    • If planting directly into the ground that the Greenhouse or Polytunnel sits on, you will probably be best served by rotating crop types to help reduce the build up of soil based "diseases/pests", or physically move the Greenhouse or Polytunnel to a new location every 3 to 4 years.

    • Successful growing within a Greenhouse or Polytunnel takes planning and a small amount of almost daily work to look after, care of crops within. Some of the workload can be "automated" eg.

    • Installation of some kind of self-regulating temperature/ventilation system.

    • Installation of some kind of self-watering system.

  • Cold frames may offer another possible solution, or used in combination with the above.

  • Depending on your location and local growing environment, there are probably at least a few crops that can be planted outside with no protection, or minimal protection (eg Mulch layer or a simple hooped covered system) for Winter harvest, or early Spring harvest.

  • Using clothesline in the garden - what needs the most support?, have included as it references crops that do well on some sort of trellising system ie Grow vertically, thus allowing other crops to be planted below (maximise the space being used).

  • Today (2011-09-01), reading this, Pretty edible gardens - a guide, I thought you might find "Forest gardening" an interesting concept worth further investigation.

Forest gardening is a food production and land management system based on woodland ecosystems, but substituting trees (such as fruit or nut trees), bushes, shrubs, herbs and vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans. Making use of companion planting, these can be intermixed to grow on multiple levels in the same area, as do the plants in a forest.


You may want to consider some vertical gardening kits. They make the construction a lot easier. If you use a material like plywood you could run the risk of having your wall rot which will destroy your work over time. With the effort that goes into making it, it may make more sense do use one of the kits.

This vertical garden panel is of a synthetic felt which is rot-resistant. Also the pockets are about 6" deep which meet your requirements.

  • Hello Gavin, I see that you have plugged in your products from your website in two different answers.Please note that you must disclose your affiliation with the said company in all your answers if you're promoting them. See the faq for more details. Dec 2, 2011 at 23:34

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