This year in my garden, I focused on growing “up” rather than “out” and spent a lot of time finding and using trellises. Last winter, I purchased and read a book called “Vertical Gardening” by Derek Fell; after reading it, realized that I could get a lot more out of my garden with better trellises (and plant a heck of a lot more beans!) One of the basic things a trellis does is provide support–support for further growth. Some plants, like beans, grow much better when they can climb; other plants, like squash, take up so much space that if they aren’t trellised, they are harder to grow. In this post, I’ll discuss six kinds of trellising that I attempted this year and the success of each.
Before getting into the “how-to” of trellising, however, I want to step back and reflect upon the spiritual dimension of the concept of a trellis. If we think about our own growth, that growth needs to be supported in various ways, usually with a strong underlying structure. Without the support we can bear fruit, but our full potential cannot be reached. With a support structure in place (mentors, resources, and spaces) we are able to grow to our fullest potential and to bear much more fruit. We also need to make sure that our support structures are appropriate–they are not too weak to bear the weight of our burdens. I have found that planning for trellising in my garden, in helping my plants find their trellises and watching them grow, has taught me much about mentoring others and about the supports that I, myself, need. I think that we, as people, have much to learn from plants!
And now without further delay, six methods for trellising!
The Bed Frame Trellis
One of my favorite trellises I put in this year is an old box spring. A friend gave me an old bed, but it got so wet and muddy on his drive to bring it to me that I wasn’t able to use any of it for the purpose of sleeping. So I tore the thing apart to see what else I might do with it, and once I had it apart, it looked like a great trellis! Now it supports some Black Krim tomatoes (one of my favorite varieties) and some cucumbers (that didn’t do very well because of our cold weather).
Here’s the process of tearing apart the bed frame!
In the box spring, I also found this cool pad that looks like it was made from recycled material/fabric (behind the box springs in gray). I put it down in my art studio as a kind of rug, which will keep my feet warm in the winter.
The “found it along the road” trellis
A lot of stuff I used for trellising are things I found along the road or got otherwise for free. Here are some wooden lattice pieces that someone threw out–now they are holding up beans. I found a number of tomato cages (probably about 12 total) that are now holding up tomatoes. I also was given this wooden rack with a dowel rod–I *think* it was meant to be a clothing rack. I purchased some acrylic rope trellising and added it to the rack and now some malabar spinach is enjoying the climb. Its amazing what a little repurposing and some careful attention to your neighbors’ curb will get you!
The “Built from Sticks” trellis
Another simple method for trellising is to build some out of sticks. I found that if you are going to do this, natural twines, like hemp, don’t hold up well for a whole season. Wire seems to work quite well, however, and I found a bunch of that and some acrylic string at a yard sale that I used to build most of these trellises.
The “Homegrown” trellis
Another trellis is the one you grow–in my case, I’m trellising using corn (with squash, as the Native Americans did) and sunflowers (for beans). I’m growing a variety of Indian Popcorn (I purchased seed from local farmers, so I can’t tell you much about it beyond that its an heriloom “Indian popcorn” adapted to this region) and that is holding up well with the squash.
The sunflowers are also doing nicely with the beans. I planted a variety called “Mega sunflower” and I have sunflowers in my garden that are close to 12′ tall! They are very strong at this point in the year and hold up the beans quite well. I think I’ll use their dried stalks next year for more trellising if I can (if not, I have one stalk that a friend gave me from last year that makes an excellent chicken herding tool, haha). They also look beautiful in the garden!
I will say, for this approach, you have to be careful of the ratio of climbing plants (or the weight) and the plants that are supporting. In my friend Debbie’s garden, she planted a LOT of beans and didn’t plant enough sunflowers and the two sunflowers that came up were pulled down by a bunch of bean plants.
The Sheep Fencing Trellis
This is probably my favorite trellis, just because of its versatility. I took a friend’s truck to the Tractor Supply store, and there, I purchased what is known as “sheep fencing” or “Livestock fencing.” It usually comes in panels that are either 16′ or 20′ long. I purchased two 16′ panels of livestock fencing at about $22 each. One I turned into a trellis for tomatoes for my friend’s garden using some metal stakes. As the tomatoes grew, she just worked them into the trellis.
The second sheep fence I put in my butterfly garden and made it into an arch. To do this, I bent the trellis over and staked both sides with metal stakes, holding the trellis in place with wire. I sunk the stakes 16″ into the ground so that they were well below our frost line (14″). I planted hardy kiwi on this trellis (they are now two years old and growing well, but I haven’t gotten a yield from them yet). This fencing is really versatile–and compared to how much I’d pay for an “arch” trellis online or at a garden store, the price is really reasonable!
I want to point out that the only new thing that I paid for in terms of trellising my garden this was the sheep fencing–literally everything else was either made, found, or given to me. The key to enacting permaculture design principles and minimizing one’s impact is to use what resources already exist–don’t think about going to the store and purchasing trellising (for one, its incredibly expensive) but rather see what you have around and available. Ask around and always look for opportunities!