Q: I have a few raised bed veggie garden beds. I was wondering if you had any ideas for diy trellises for tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, and small melons. I want to conserve space and grow up instead of out. ~Amanda Leuthy
The best way to squeeze more food into limited space is to utilize the vertical space in your garden. Peas, pole beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, summer and winter squash, and melons, all grow exceptionally well up trellises. You can fashion a sling out of stretchy material to support melons and winter squash as they grow (though squash often have sturdy enough stems that they don’t need support unless they get really heavy).
Trellises can shade crops around them, so be aware of where you place them. If they cast a shadow over a planting area, take advantage of it by planting crops that prefer a bit of shade during the heat of summer like cilantro and lettuce. Here are a few different trellises that I use in my own garden:
Tree and Shrub Trimmings
Branches provide a great climbing surface for peas, cucumbers, and squash because these plants have tendrils that prefer to twine around material with a smaller diameter. Simply push twiggy branches into the soil and plant seeds or seedlings at their base. I like to make teepees with the branches, but you can also just position them in a line directly behind a row of plants.
A few years ago we stapled welded wire mesh to the back of our ugly standard issue cedar fence. Peas, pole beans, cucumbers, and butternut squash all readily scrambled up the wire, saving a ton of space and disguising the fence in the process. The mesh is sold in panels at hardware stores as a concrete reinforcing material and only costs a few dollars a panel. Tomatoes also grow well against the mesh. You could either weave the plants through the wires as they grew or loosely tied the plants to the mesh. Don't forget that vegetables need full sun, so secure the mesh to a west or south facing fence.
A-Frames are easy-to-build with scrap lumber and they fold flat, which means they take up hardly any space in storage during the winter. In the A-Frame pictured, we stapled 1/2 inch hardware cloth (a galvanized metal mesh) to the frame to provide additional climbing surfaces. It works well, but if I did it again I’d use chicken wire because it is cheaper and has bigger holes. I grow bush peas, small pumpkins, and cucumbers up this trellis. Be sure to tie each corner of the frame to the ground with a rebar or bamboo stake, because it blows over easily otherwise.
Bamboo is a great material for trellises because it comes in a number of diameters and lengths, is inexpensive (or free if you can find someone with a patch that needs thinning), and looks great in the garden. I like to build bamboo teepees because they are super versatile. I’ve grown tomatoes in the center of them and trained pole beans, peas, and climbing summer squash up them. Use twine to make additional climbing surfaces—just be sure to use a biodegradable twine. When the plants are finished you can cut down the twine and toss it all into the compost pile.
Wire Tomato Cages
The flimsy little wire cages sold for tomatoes at hardware stores are completely inadequate for tomatoes, which grow big and heavy and eventually topple the cage. Instead, use these cages to support tomatillos, peppers, and eggplants. Or, turn them over, tie their legs together with twine and use them as a cucumber trellis (the cage will resemble an upside down cone). Be sure to pin the cage to the ground with those big U-shaped landscape fabric pins. Plant a cucumber in the center of the cage and train the plant up and around it. By mid-summer you'll have a mini pyramid of cucumbers!
Note: Many cucumber, squash, and melon varieties are “bush” types, which means they produce bushy, upright growth rather than a meandering vine. So be sure to choose a variety that vines. Just to confuse matters, "bush" pea varieties actually vine. But they only grow two or three feet tall and still appreciate some support.
Willi Galloway writes The Gardener column. She lives in Portland, Oregon and writes about her kitchen garden on her blog DigginFood. Her first book Grow. Cook. Eat. A Food-Lovers Guide To Kitchen Gardening will be published in January 2012.
(Images: All images by Willi Galloway)