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Aerial Pumpkins and Wrinkled Tomatoes

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm Contributing Editor

Friday, July 30, 2010

Pumpkin stand on trellis

Photo by Rick Gush

My pumkins, which are planted on a trellis, need extra support as they grow, so I built this pumpkin support system.

Gardening on a cliff presents some amusing problems.

I really like growing squash vines, but there’s no way I have enough horizontal space for these sprawlers. So what I do usually is grow the vines on the edge of a terrace and let them spill down across the terraces below. I have four winter squash vines that have grown down the 20-foot face where I have some wild asparagus plants and a half dozen other squash vines that are starting to crawl across the lemon tree on the terrace below where they are planted. My trombetti squash are already about 16 feet long, and a few of the vines look like they might be able to make it another 20 feet down toward the street level. All the big green squash leaves look very attractive with the bright yellow flowers on the vines. 

For my pumpkins this year, I dug some big pits at the back of one bed and filled them with the compost from my organic refuse collector. I planted the pumpkin seeds in water wells at the back of the bed in such a way that the plants would have almost 10 feet of open dirt before they reached the edge of the terrace. With pumpkins, I like to bury the first five or six nodes of the vines in order that each node can develop its own set of roots. This multi-rooting system seems best for supporting the huge growth spurts that big pumpkins go through when they are growing the pumpkin fruits. Once a pumpkin fruit sets, I can see it get bigger every day for about a month before the enlargement slows or stops.

This is all fine, except the pumpkins are now covering an overhead trellis on the terrace below where they’re planted. It was pretty clear that while the trellis could support the vines and leaves, big heavy pumpkins hanging in mid air at the top of a 70-foot-tall cliff above our parking lot was a recipe for messy disaster.

So now I’ve built some tall cane supports that have sturdy baskets about 7 feet above ground level.  The baskets should be able to support the weight of a big, mature pumpkin, but if the fruits keep getting bigger, I may have to think about adding reinforcements.


Photo by Rick Gush

i grow Costoluta tomatoes in my garden.

Today’s second photo is of some of our Costoluta tomatoes that are fruiting like crazy these days. Costoluta tomatoes are pretty common here, and each region seems to have their own varieties that the locals grow. Here in Liguria, a lot of gardeners grow Cuore di Bue, which means “Ox Heart.” We’re growing Cuore di Bue ourselves. My wife isn’t nuts about them, but I like them sliced in balsamic vinegar and my sister and mother in law take everything we send them.

These monsters develop in clusters of six or seven fruit, and the weight of all that fruit means that these plants also need extra support from canes, even though the sturdy trunks of these tomatoes are an inch and a half thick. With all the plants needing support, I calculate I’m using about a hundred Arundo canes, and there a few areas where I should have used more. Obviously, cutting a bunch of new canes will be one of this winter’s projects.

Read more of Digging Italy »

Give us your opinion on Aerial Pumpkins and Wrinkled Tomatoes.
Submit Comment »
a', Houston, TX
Posted: 10/24/2013 6:07:34 AM
Can you share with me a design for a trellis for growing tomatoes aerially--the roots are at the top of the trellis and the plant grows down. This to limit endless staking. Would greatly appreciate this.
Jennifer, International
Posted: 5/17/2013 12:46:02 PM
Where there is a gardener there is a way, thanks for sharing
Carl, Livermore, CA
Posted: 4/25/2012 10:34:19 AM
you must be cleaver, I couldn't imagine of troubles a cliff would pose
Kristin, upper sandusky, OH
Posted: 11/19/2010 9:38:05 PM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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