Vertical gardening aids

reddingJuly 21, 2011

I've just come from yet another look at the photos of Chandra's amazing garden.

As I just told him, I'm particularly impressed with his use of vertical supports to pack maximum use into a confined area. We've talked a bit about tomato supports on some of the other threads, but I wonder if we can devote on thread to just that sort of thing.

I know you'll laugh about this, but one of the things that has dumbfounded me since I began a veggie garden is simply the way that things grow in Oklahoma. And grow, and grow some more. I've never seen anything like it.

No matter how much room I allow for the plants, they promptly fill it up and keep right on going way past the edges of their assigned spots. For some reason, the thought of a French Intensive plan flashed through my brain as I was mapping out the garden this spring. I'm certainly glad I didn't use it, because I got it anyway. The garden is so dense that I can't even get in to reach the produce. I was so sure I had left plenty of space. Not! Good heavens. Clearly I need to revamp my plan and take a page from Chandra's book, to make the same amount of space more manageable.

This year we did put up T-posts and a cattle panel to support a shade for the tomatoes. This is also something new for me. I've never had to do that before. We have some more panels on hand and will be making a lot more adjustments for next year. I think I want to arrange for more shade and see if I can find some commercial shade cloth that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. I also want to train all of our vining crops on vertical supports. The way they are sprawled out now is just insane.

I'm not young enough to take on some of the big projects I used to do. I simply don't have the strength or energy I used to have, so my garden needs to use a design and materials that are durable and easily maintained. I don't think any wooden supports would be practical for me, given the conditions I have to work with. That particularly involves the clay soil and layer of hardpan that's less than 12" under it in a lot of places. T-posts are the only answer.

For those of you who have put in permanent structures (Diane, that amazing TomatoHenge is an example) how will you manage crop rotation?

Can some of you offer up your ideas, or examples of what you've done with gardening up instead of out? Can we talk about what has worked and what has not? Siting for wind resistance (or lack of it) and sun exposure? Materials and designs that have worked well, or even ones that have failed.

I have a lot of old chicken pens on this place we took on, and they are all corrugated metal and chicken wire. Clearly, what I had planned for their use is not going to work out at all because of the damage to the soil. I'm just glad I found that out before I did a lot of work with them. I had wanted to turn at least part of the gigantic barn into a greenhouse, but it's simply too daunting a task. However, I'm beginning to get some ideas of how some of the pens can be made to work for me. For instance, an old row of them that's completely enclosed so the sheep, chickens, and wildlife cannot reach anything inside (unless they are really determined to tunnel under), with shade from well-started elms, a southern exposure and protection on the north, and water available within only a few feet. Why not build potting benches in there and put those horrid old things to work?? The soil is useless, but the pens themselves are not. (At least, not as long as they are strong enough to deter my muscular sheep.)

This has turned into a much longer ramble that I had originally intended. I had better post it and see if we can start a discussion.


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I love five cattle panels and I plan to get more but it is hard to transport them.

I have three that run horizonily with long t-post at the end and a short one in the center. I grow beans, long beans, edible pod peas, tomatoes, etc.

I have one that is made into an arch but has a firm bend at the top instead of just being circular and it stretches across a sidewalk. I plant Zuchetta Rampacanti on one side and Tess's Land Race tomato on the other side and let them fight it out at the 8 foot point. This year the squash is winning and has come all the way over and I have had to turn it to the side to keep it from hitting the ground on it's way down.

The fifth one is cut in half and mounted with the 8 foot side going straight up. I have both halves together creating a wide tall trellis. It has 3 long t-post and I am growing pole beans.

I have quite a few tomatoes growing on mine this year but my DH made me a couple dozen tomato cages from CRW wire this year after most of the garden was planted. With what I already had, I am hoping to use those for tomatoes and free-up my panels in the future.

All the new cages are tall, but I have some short ones also that I use for determinate vines, cukes, melons, etc.

I also have a tower that was once one of those windmill lawn ornaments but is now only the tower part and I have an Armenian cuke growing.

I have dozens of cheap tomato cages from the big box stores and I use them for peppers. When the rings break (and they always do) I cut off the legs and use the shorter cages in containers.

I keep the broken rings to put in my seed flats in case I want to cover them and leave them outside when the wind is blowing too much for seedlings to handle. A ring in the center of the flat keeps the cover off of the plants.

I have chainlink around my garden so it gets a few things also.

In addition I have some small rubber things that I put 3/8 inch rebar in to make three foot teepees where I grow shorter peas. I think they are called 'tripod caps' or something like that.

Yes, I grow up.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 4:23PM
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Wow. Some great ideas there. I love the one about splitting or bending the panel in half to make a giant tent. I think I've had some vigorous tomatoes, but yours are growing up and over it and down the other side?! Holy Toledo.

I agree that transporting the panels can be an interesting challenge. We only have my daughter's long-bed pickup, so we usually cram one end in at the front and then arch it to fit the back end down inside the tailgate. I don't think we can haul more than two of them at a time that way.

I also have 6' chain link across the back of the garden, but it seems to want to be a thicket of wild honeysuckle and polyanthas, no matter what we do to discourage it. Also, we have hungry sheep on the other side. Any leaves that manage to get through the fence are fair game for them. Things like melons would stand no chance at all against them.

Great, super ideas. Thanks!!


    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 4:44PM
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I love cattle panels too. Indeed it was recommended by Carol. Before to cattle panels, I had wooden lattices and completely destroyed in one season. I am sure cattle panels lost longer (life time!)

I replied to other post and linking those threads again here;
1. Building New Garden Beds
2. Building Vertical Trellis

Cheers -Chandra

    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 7:14PM
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Pat, This is an earlier year but you can get an idea. The panel is 16 feet long and bent in the center. I have since moved it and it spans a sidewalk and it is a little better contained than this picture.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 8:26PM
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Oh, wow! I was just going to send you a note and ask if you had any photos, but you already posted this. I can barely wait to show it to my daughter! Thanks!

Do you have a name other than grandma? I can't really call you that, since I'm a great-grandma several times over. Shall I call you 'kid'??. . . . Tee hee.

We need to get an album of this sort of thing on the G+ network. Chandra has posted some of his photos, and I imagine he'll put up more of them.


    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 8:37PM
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I use T-post and 1/2" re-bar most. I bought 4 cattle panels a few days ago and will be making trellises with them also. I extend the height of my T-post by drilling a 1/8 hole in a 5" piece of 1/2" PVC attached to the top of my T-post with wire into which I drop a 30" piece of 1/2" re-bar. This extends the top of my trellis to about 6.5 feet, which is about as high as I can reach.

Another thing I find handy is a drip irrigation system. Now I only have (18) 22' tubes made of 1/2" PVC. Today I moved (6) of my tubes from the south garden to the north garden and slide them in between the Pea rows, by making more tubes I hope to leave them in place year long.

I know you did not ask about irrigation, but now I am finding irrigation more important than support.


    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 8:41PM
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Larry, After this year I understand the need for your irrigation system. My DH has always wanted to set up a permanent system, but I could not decide on a permanent layout. I think I am about to get there tho.

I was just sitting her dreading the task of yanking hose around tonight eventhough it is just to connect to one of the soaker hoses. It seems like I am watering something everynight. I don't normally have this kind of dry summer.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 9:03PM
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Pat, My name is Carol. My 16 grandchildren all call me Grandmom, but you can call me Carol. /grin/

    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 9:06PM
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Hey, Carol. Howdy! I got to thinking about my great-grands and was horrified to realize that the oldest one is now in middle school!

Larry, I am an absolute hard-line drip irrigation person. I've been using it for years and years. It has been the saving grace in big gardens where it would just not be possible to maintain it without a drip system. I've used permanent hose bibs from PVC usually, and then run the main 1/2" lines off of that, with needle tubing attached to carry the water to whatever sort of outlet is most suitable. With the exception of the main PVC line, all the rest is movable if necessary, although it's rarely done.
The biggest system I've done had 8 main lines and bibs with 1/2" running off all of them, and well over 100 outlets that were micro-spinners, bubblers, or whatever. It covered roughly 1/2 acre of "European Groomed Woods". At least I think that's the term for it. When you leave the big woods but remove all the scrub undergrowth and then plant it to woodland things like ferns, native lilies, rhodies, azaleas, and so on. Anyway, drip irrigation is wonderful.
In a veggie garden, it's easy to install in-line shut-off valves so that it can be completely controlled and directed. Maybe I should also note that I don't use those high riser things. All of my risers leave the spinner head at only about 4" above the ground, and I almost never connect them directly to the 1/2" line. There's very little flex there, and too much room for trouble to develop. They are all fitted onto the needle tubing that is then put where I want it. It also means I can run one single 1/2" line down the center of a garden and then work off of it with the little needle tubing. For me it's faster and easier.
And cheaper.


    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 9:44PM
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Pat, that all sounds wonderful. I have a box of small tubing and different spinners and emitters that I bought at an auction a few years ago. I have been thinking about placing some spinners over my sweet potatoes. I have one row of sweet potatoes with 1/2" PVC tube down the center, the other area I just spray with a hose. I and thinking I might try to copy Diane's idea on a suspension system and hang my spinners and small tubing over my sweet potatoes.

I like sweet potatoes, but they are so hard for an old man with a worn out back to harvest.


    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 10:31PM
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Larry, you could probably get mister (as in misting) emitters for the ends of the needle tube if you wanted to. I've seen them is use in several nurseries. They're not hard to find. Would that work for the sweet potatoes if you hung the tubing up above them?

Carol, my daughter wants to know how you managed to bend the cattle panel into a nice sharp tent shape. Her comment was "well, that couldn't have been easy". Was it one of those jobs that takes 3 men and a boy to get it done? I really like the way it works. Nifty neat-o, even.


    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 11:25PM
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Well, I wouldn't exactly call it tent shape but it does have an obvious bend in the center and not just a curve. We put the panel on the ground and a 2x4 on top, and my heavyweight 6 ft 2 husband stood on it and pulled it as much as possible up toward him, then we took a hammer and tapped the wire to help it bend at the edge of the 2x4.

I tried standing on it first with him pushing the wire up and it just threw me off. You could probably put it over a saw horse and hammer it to start the bend, but we just used a 2x4 longer than the width of the panel, and pulled it up to make a bend.

To install it we anchored it to the ground with 4 short t-post and wired the panel to them. Once you get the shape you want, it is very permanent and rigid. I like the shape better than I do a curve. It looks a little more gothic or old world I think. I did have pictures of it with nothing on it but I guess I deleted them.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 12:16AM
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Ah-HA! I wondered how you'd gone about it. I tried to help my daughter load the panels into the truck and they about threw me off also. I don't weigh very much, and it's pitiful how feeble I seem to have gotten with advancing years. However, we have a large and sturdy friend that I think we can rope into helping with the bending. Or get out the big sawhorse and the short sledgehammer. Or both. Like you, I prefer the inverted V shape rather than an arch. I just think it would work out better for me.

I'm getting so many exciting ideas for the garden for next year! Something to look forward to while I'm busy watering to keep this years' garden alive.


    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 12:31AM
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Pat, I have two cattle panels trellises and an old and week body. One way you can bend panels is to place a 2x4 (1x4) if you have a concrete drive way) spacer on the ground, then place a 2x4 crosswise and park a car on each end of the 2x4. Be sure to leave enough space between each car so you wont scratch the paint. The spacer will let you slide the panel under the 2x4 and position it where you want to start your bend. Each one of you can get on the same end and lift, reposition and bend again. You can also use ratcheting tie downs to bend the panels, but I wont use the tie downs till the bend is somewhat like I want if because there is so much spring back. The tie down is better to hole tension on the panel while you work the arch with a hammer to get it just like you want it.


    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 2:12AM
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There was a great thread on the Bean forum last year called Show Me Your Trellis. Jimster rode herd on people to post pictures instead of describing them. You might get inspiration there as well. Here's a link

Here is a link that might be useful: Show me your trellis

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 10:42AM
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Pat, On the thread that seedmama linked you are going to see a lot of arches with tall t-post on them. That is not necessary and the short ones will hold it just as well and not be so obvious. I think mine are probably 3 feet. The cattle panel itself is the structure and the t-post is just holding it in the right place. It is a super strong trellis.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 2:11PM
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Hi Carol,

Yes, I did notice the tall posts, and I also saw that Chandra has mounted his panels up from the ground a ways, so that he gets maximum use from them. The posts we have on hand are 6'. Since I'm only 5' tall, if it's anything more than that, I wouldn't be able to reach the crop! Once our posts are buried, if I begin the panels at about 12" above the ground, it should turn out about even.

I was also reading about directional siting, since that's a question I have had.
My garden is in a full-sun area and runs E-W. Our prevailing winds are usually from the WNW, although not always. Sometimes it's from the SW. After the experience of losing the entire roof off the shop as well as a big chunk of the west side of the barn roof, I want to exercise a bit of discretion in putting up my panels. Both of those roofs lifted up from the west side.

Another question: has anyone used them as a support for an overhead shade? That's what we had to do as an emergency measure to save the tomatoes this year, but I'm thinking of maybe getting the right shade cloth (maybe a 50% one) and doing something more effective as a long-range project over certain areas of the garden. Any thoughts on that? I've rarely had my tomatoes top 6' in height. My varieties don't seem to turn into jack-and-the-beanstalk plants the way yours do.


    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 2:41PM
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Pat, Not all of my tomato plants are that big, but most of the cherries make big plants and Tess's Land Race which is a currant size is normally a huge plant. My largest plant this year is a greek tomato called Santorini, (thanks Lynn for the seed) but makes a small tomato. I am 5'6", and it is way over my head already.

It seems to me that when I lived in southern Oklahoma the prevailing wind was normally from the SW and when we saw a storm brewing in Texas in Montague County we prepared for the worst because it always seemed to come straight for us. The big tornado they had there seemed to follow that same logic.

In my area now, the wind seems to come from the south, although Kansas does share a few storms with us, but high wind is not the norm for us here, . I also live in a rather congested lake community and have a lot of buildings near my garden, both mine and neighbors. Since I live on a slight curve, I pretty well have a building providing protection from all directions, plus tall trees everywhere. So when I mounted my arch, my thought process went to sunshine availability rather than protection from the wind. At the time, it was the gateway to my garden so I just angled it so both sides got sunshine. After extending my garden and putting in a walkway, I decided to move it. Since nothing could be planted under it because of dense foliage, it just made sense to me to put it over the walkway. This does limit the sunshine a little, but shade doesn't seem to be a bad thing this year.

It is hard to know what to plan for since my Spring weather is normally very wet. I have a few raised beds which I had planned to use for spring crops because of the excessive Spring rain keeping my garden too wet to plant, but changed my mine and planted asparagus in one and strawberries in another. The third will probably be used for onions next year, since mine had to tread water for a few weeks this Spring. However, when the rain stops and the heat is excessive those raised bed dry out too fast and require more water. I can't win.

If I had a tomato henge like Diane and Steve have built, I would probably have welded a ring to the top of each post and run cable from one pole to the other across the length of the row and have those rings with a clip on them on the cables. When conditions were normal I would have nothing on the clips, but for hail threats, I would clip on a big tarp (probably many sewn together), and for excessive heat I would have fabric ready to go on. I wouldn't worry about it being shade cloth since sheets sown together from the thrift shop would serve the same purpose. I would probably hit the thrift shops all winter so I could find all white ones. Of course I don't know how I can fix mine. Maybe I need to hire Steve to weld me four posts like his for my outside rows and I can use my cages in between. LOL Diane tried to pass it off as someone elses idea, but I have compared the two and I would easily choose Diane's.

I am laughing as I type this because I am trying to improve on an already great system which is always what I accuse my husband of doing. He always waits until I have finished something then tells me how I could have done it better. Even his friends ask for his advice after they finish something, then sometimes make the changes. I tell him that he is one of the best managers that I have ever known but that he never had an original idea in his life. (grin)

At our house the garden is mine, but Al does seem to enjoy playing with it a little in the Spring when the weather is still cool. He will till, move trellis, pick up compost, shovel it all out of the truck and put it where I want it, all those things to get the garden ready, but each year he SUGGESTS that I put things like trellis and such in a permanent place and run irrigation to it. Maybe...some year. With old age creeping up on me (not here yet of course), I know that would be a good idea.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 4:10PM
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Carol, I'm laughing about the sheets from the thrift shop. If you could just see mine right now! I used an old blue knit sheet that had been over the parrot cage until he promptly ripped holes in it, and the other end is a discarded white tab-top curtain. Talk about using whatever is handy! It's embarrassing, but it's also doing the job. I just came in from the garden where I was rooting around among the tomatoes. As soon as I step under that shade, the temperature drops at least 10 degrees . . . maybe more.

Age seems to have come sneaking up on me in the past couple of years much more quickly than I would have liked. I've hit a point where I need to create efficient, workable spaces that are going to be productive, not to mention being as low-maintenance as is reasonably possible. Chandra's garden is a huge inspiration, even though I can't take on anything quite that extensive. Still, his planning and foresight was fabulous and the effect is easy to see.

I'm no stranger to drip irrigation systems, and I began teaching my grandson how to put in a system years ago. Luckily I now have him here to fall back on. I take care of his baby and he does my irrigation for me. I think I'm coming out ahead in the bargain.
My poor daughter gets caught doing a lot of the heavy muscle work on the place when she's not busy being a nurse by profession, and I hate to load her up with anything more than is absolutely necessary. She lifts a 75# patient all day, and I can only imagine what her back must feel like. Whatever work we do, I'd like to get it right the first time and then have it last. I haven't figured out the scheme of crop rotation if I do the vertical panels, but I'm sure we'll get to that.

One thing I do know: next year I'm going to give myself room to move around. Nice wide pathways, I hope, so I can actually walk through it. I don't even care if it's neat and geometrical or winding and curvy, just so I can actually get into it. The thicket that started as a veggie garden is simply ridiculous! The only things that can get in there are bugs and snakes.

I have no problem at all with sunshine in my garden, since the whole thing is in full sun all day long. The only thing that could happen would be if I were to create a shady section by planting something really tall in the path of the sun, and it would still only be for half the day, no matter how you look at it.
Unless I create a tunnel for beans, I'm going to have sun, and a whole lot of it.

After saying all of that, I've managed to forget what I originally meant to discuss. Talk about a senior moment!


    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 5:35PM
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We once had a factory that we drove by quite frequently and I think they mostly made curtains, cushions, and bedspreads. I almost always stopped there if they were open when I went by which was every couple months or so. One day I went in and they had the wall lined with tall, very heavy, black plastic bags of something and they looked like body bags. They were all grab bags and had low prices on them, but you weren't allowed to look inside. I picked a couple of the tall ones, which I think I paid $5 each for, but they were so heavy I couldn't get them to my car and they had to help me. When I got home and opened them, there were rolls and rolls of ivory colored curtain material. Some had only a yard or two on the roll and others had yards and yards. Some of it was an open weave knubby fabric which is great for curtains so about everyone I knew made a curtain out of it when they moved into a new house. Some just to cover the windows until they found a permanent one, but it made pretty nice curtains. I think there were three different kinds.

The other bag was all ivory sheer curtain fabric. After using what I wanted to use, and giving some away I made 2 dresses (haha) to fit down over cheap tomato cages to cover eggplant to keep the beetles off of them until they were big enough to fight off the attacks. I am still using them for that purpose. I also made another cover that fits over an arched metal frame that covers a long raised bed. I needed it this Spring to keep the neighborhood cats out of my new strawberry bed, but couldn't find it. I guess I washed it and put it away last year in some really good place. Anyway, I am still using that sheer fabric for the garden. I still have a few yards left, so I don't have to shop for sheets. (grin)

I usually know where things are, but we have been doing some heavy remodeling and everything was torn up at planting time. It is better now, but still not perfect. I saved less than a fourth of my strawberries so I will be doing that again in the Spring. Everyday I would find the roots laying on top of the ground and already dried out by the sun. I found a grey cat in the bed more than once, but I think he finally got the idea after I almost hit him with my weeding tool that I threw across the garden at him. He made it to the fence and started over but it hit right below him and shook the fence and made a loud noise. He seems to have found a new place to dig. Some renters had moved off and left him here, so I felt bad for him, but I liked my strawberries. He was pretty resourcful though and found he could go through the doggie door of my neighbors and eat the cat food when no one was around. They kept getting glimpses of a grey cat zipping across their house and their cat is black and white. They tried hard to find him a new home, but finally gave up and took him to the vet and kept him.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 6:30PM
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What a great deal on that fabric! maybe I need to start watching some of the sales at Hancock. Pick up some of their remnants. We lost a ton of stuff in "the great roof lift-off" last year. A whole bunch of stored bedding, curtains, and other assorted fabric went out. We had to leave everything the way it was until the insurance man could come out to see it, and then photograph all of it, an item at a time, and naturally, the day after the roof left, the rains came. It poured and poured. The it heated up and poured some more. Everything was a nasty, rotted, smelly or rusted mess by the time we were finally done sorting it. Yecccccchhhhhh!!!

I just pulled the bird netting off the strawberry bed so I could really weed it. Well, actually I got half of it done before it got too dark to work. One of the things I've learned this year is that my old back does not like the 4' wide beds any more. I don't mind them being long, but any new ones we put in will only be about 30" wide, so I can actually reach the center.

Animals can be pretty resourceful, can't they? I've seen skunks and raccoons come in through a dog door if they think there's food inside. My parents had a door for their little 40# GSP mix, but my brother-in-law next door had a huge Airedale that he used to go off and leave outside in the snow. The poor old thing would come over and wedge himself through the little door and we often found him curled up on the mudroom floor where he could be warm. We felt so sorry for him that we never sent him home, and we were more than a little irritated at the BiL that he'd treat an animal that he'd owned for years in such a way. Jerk!! I guess it takes all kinds, but that kind I can do without.

I had to include this photo just to show my respect for the OK climate. We still have big chunks of roof lying in the pasture. We've found a few people who say they can come and get it, but they they walk out and see it, shake their heads and walk away. We never see them again.

What it did to the barn was even worse. Whatever I install in the garden, I want it to be people-friendly AND weather-tolerant. I'd just as soon not have it end up in Arkansas.


    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 10:31PM
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owiebrain(5 MO)

I'm leaving on a weekend trip this morning but, when I get back, I'll post some pics of our stuff.

Note to self: Holler at Carol about TomatoHenge ideas.

Happy weekend, everyone!


    Bookmark   July 23, 2011 at 7:38AM
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