Tags: beans, cucumber, gourd, peas, trellis, vegetable gardening
Most of us think we need more garden space. But once we have carved out a garden and removed the grass from the lawn or field, it is often difficult to find more space – or the energy – to expand. But growing plants on vertical supports will help you save space in the vegetable garden. Bean tripods are well known, but have you thought about a trellis for your cucumbers or gourds? I recently designed and installed 24 wood-sided raised beds for a demonstration vegetable garden at Home Hill Inn, in Plainfield, NH. Each bed is 4-by 8-feet, and although that may sound like a lot of space, it gets used up quickly. I built some trellises to help grow more vegetables and save space.
The first trellis I built for was for cukes. It is an A-frame built using conventional 1- by 4-inch pine lumber. I bought pine boards that had already been sanded and primed, then applied a coat of exterior latex white paint. I used 8 boards, 4 on each half of the A-frame (2 legs and 2 cross pieces on each side). I also bought a pair of inexpensive door hinges and some 1-inch galvanized dry wall screws.
On a flat piece of lawn I began by laying out 2 boards, end to end. I attached the boards with the hinges so that later I could stand up them up to make the legs for an A-frame. I repeated with another 2 boards. Then I placed the 2 sets of legs 6-feet apart and connected them with cross pieces on what would become the inside of the A-frame. Using a cordless drill, I attached them with 1-inch screws 18 inches from the bottom of the legs of the A-frame and 18 inches from the top.
I set up the A-frame in the garden bed and attached plastic netting I had bought for the job. The netting is 78 inches wide, and has openings 6 inches by 7 inches. To attach the net I used 1-inch screws on the inside of the A-frame; I put the screws in just half way so that the head of the screw could be used to hook the netting on to, pulling it tight. It took a little experimentation to get the spacing right, but worked slick as a bean.
The next trellis was a bit more work. I wanted to build a trellis for gourds that would allow the vines to go up 6 feet or so, then range across cross pieces like a grapes on an arbor, hanging down inside the arbor. I bought 10 pieces of 8-foot long bamboo, each almost an inch and a half in diameter. They make good sturdy poles.
Using a post hole digger I dug 6 holes, each about 16 inches deep. The arbor is a rectangle approximately 6 feet by 3 feet, fitting nicely inside the 4 by 8-ft bed. Each end of the bed had 2 poles about 6 inches from the end and side of the bed, and 2 were place equidistant between the end poles. I held the poles vertical as I added soil back into the hole, checking it for plumb with a small level. I tamped down the soil in the holes with a shovel handle, then mounded the soil up around each pole.
With the 6 pieces in the ground, I added cross pieces (a foot down from the top of the upright poles) on each long side. I attached the bamboo with copper wire I had stripped out of 14-gauge building wire (I was an electrician in an earlier life, and had some in the cellar). I wrapped the wire around the vertical and horizontal pieces and tightened them up with a pair of pliers. Lastly I added 4 cross-pieces on the top to support the vines and allow the gourds to hand down from.
I also built a bean tripod. I went into the woods and cut down 6 maple saplings about 2-inches in diameter at the base; I trimmed each to be 8-feet long. I pushed the poles into the soft earth of the garden bed, and, standing on a step ladder, brought them together and tied them near their tops – where all 3 were touching. I used garden twine, but will go back soon and add some copper wire – I fear the string will rot before the end of summer.
Another way to make a bean trellis is to use four 6-foot (or 8-foot) grade stakes. These are 1-inch by 1-inch hardwood stakes. Drill a hole 2 inches from the top of each that is big enough to insert a length of metal coat hanger. Cut a 6-inch straight piece of the coat hanger, insert it though the holes, and bend the ends. Then stand it up and spread the legs – two on each side.
Peas are traditionally trellised using chicken wire and posts. My only suggestion is this: put in a post every 4 to 6 feet. That will keep the wire from sagging and flopping as the vines get heavy. You can’t put up a sturdy trellis that spans 8 feet or more between posts, though I drive by gardens that try to.
So if you’re short of garden space, think about getting your veggies up off the ground. In other words, grow up!
Henry’s new book is Organic Gardening (not just) in the Northeast, a Hands-On, Month-by-Month Guide. His Web site is www.Gardening-guy.com.