Methods to grow up, up, up

plot_thickens(8a)December 5, 2006

So in the tiny world of community gardening, vertical growing is very important to me (and my yield). So this year, there'll be no bush beans, just pole. And non-vining cucurbits are out: our melons, squash, and cukes will be going up concrete reinforcing wire. Tomatoes? 6 - 10 feet tall concrete reinforcing wire cages. Herbs will be corraled by those laughable round-with-stakes tomato cages, as will peppers, or some other way to make them go up, up, up!

In a plot that is 14 by 18 feet, in cinderblock raised beds with 220 square feet of growing space, this summer we will have:

4 summer squash, 1 cucumber, 2 watermelon, and 1 melon on 'humps' of braced wire concrete reinforcing wire

4 - 6 peppers, mostly bell, in cages

3 different kinds of beans, succession plantings, up a 6' trellis

6 - 8 kinds of tomato plants in huge cages

late-maturing winter crops until the summer crops take over

Garlic and radishes in the cinderblock's holes

Interplanted herbs, flowers, and pollinator attractants (nasturtums, pennyroyal, marigolds, hyssop, queen anne's lace, etc.)

So I guess we mostly use constructed wire cages and wire trellises. What do you use?

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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

I use a steel water pipe frame with twine supports for my cucurbits & pole beans. Sometimes I'll grow indeterminate tomatoes this way also, pruning the suckers. The twine used for the supports is cotton, therefore biodegradable, so at the end of the season I simply cut the supports down and compost them along with all the dead vines.

I've tried using the less-expensive aluminum electrical conduit for the frames, but they alway break within about a year. It's very disheartening to lose a bunch of very productive cucumber and bitter melon vines this way with 1-2 months of growing season left.

Next year I plan to construct the concrete reinforcing wire cages for most of my tomatoes. I've tried those infernal round tomato cages and most of them end up on the ground at the first strong wind. Now they're used to help keep the hollyhocks upright, or for other lighter plants like peppers. Sometimes I'll also prune a tomato plant into a "tree form" by tying it to a 6' t-post and cleaning up the lower branches.

Small clumps (one foot square) of bush beans or bush peas grown using the square foot method are supported with those collapsible wire cages that form a square. In the future I intend to try to grow vining peas between two pieces of 6' x 8' cattle panels or (preferably) a lighter plastic fencing material.

I;m really looking forward to trying the concrete reinforcing mesh--I've heard a lot of good things about them on these forums!

    Bookmark   December 7, 2006 at 12:37AM
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They work REALLY well. I make mine rectangular so they fit around two mater plants, it adds to the stability. Also works well for Earhtboxes. And then if it needs more anchored support, I get 4 - 6 foot bamboo stakes and weave them in a couple of squares and then deep into the ground.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2006 at 5:51PM
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So, leftover in my yard from the previous owner are about 60 linear feet of the aluminum posts used for chain-link fence. It's in three long, 20' lengths.

Can I use a hacksaw to cut this into, say, 8' lengths, sink them a couple of feet deep, and then use the fence connectors to run a long stringer (10' or so) between them... then drop cotton string down for tomatoes and &c in my sq.ft. garden? Would this work?

    Bookmark   December 7, 2006 at 7:29PM
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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

ill-mannered ache--

By stringer, I hope you don't mean anything resembling string or even rope. What exactly is a "stringer?"

I've had 8' lengths of 1/2" thin-wall aluminum conduit for the top frame collapse under the weight of cucumbers. I believe tomatoes to be much heavier. A 10' length would be unsupportable without some very solid construction, with preferably a cross-member to prevent the wind from blowing it over once it gets full of foliage. Also, if the top of the frame is not rigid, the weight of the mature plants will tend to pull the two side supports towards the center.

In order to use the fence posts, could you perhaps use sections of the aluminum posts as top pieces also? If you cut a 20' length into three equal pieces, they could be the top pieces of three 6+ foot vertical supports. A gardening book (actually, Mel's original sq ft gardening book p. 149) I have suggests securing the top rail by leaving it several inches long and resting it on top of the vertical supports, then looping a garden stake around the top rail and into the vertical supports.

plot_thickens -- what size do you make your rectangular supports? Do you have to stack them to grow tall tomato plants, and are they indeterminates?

    Bookmark   December 7, 2006 at 11:01PM
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You caught me, ralleia. Yes, I have to extend them with bamboo stakes because here in CA my indeterminates get up to fourteen feet tall. So the concrete reinforcing wire comes in sheets or in rolls, the sheets are usually 4 feet wide, and the rolls are 3 1/2. I bend either into cages that are rectangles 2 feet long and one wide, then either tie them together with leftover grosgrain ribbon (which lasts FOREVER) or bend the remaining tines over to catch the first crossbar. Usually the cages are a little smaller at the bottom and wider at the top, and the seam overlaps/gaps. It makes them fit in Earthboxes and helps with letting you reach in to get the tomatoes.

Oh, and don't get wire mesh that has openings that are smaller than your hand can get through holding a tomato!

    Bookmark   December 8, 2006 at 2:33PM
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maineman(z5a ME)

Here in Maine, Home Depot has the concrete re-mesh in 5-foot wide rolls 50-feet long. The wires are spaced 6-inches square. For tomato cages, I cut off the bottom wire to form 6-inch "legs" to push into the ground. That makes the cages 4½ feet high. I make my cages about 2½ feet in diameter, and these have proved stable enough for tomatoes, even with some fairly high winds.

During one storm, one of the cages that I hadn't anchored very well did blow over. I righted it with no damage to the tomato plant, and carefully stepped on the bottom wire to drive the legs into the soil better. Some people routinely use short lengths of re-bar to anchor their cages, which lets them make the cages a full 5-feet tall.

If I need taller cages I can always wire on a half width to add an extra 2 feet of height. So far I haven't needed to do that.

I have also used those same cages for icebox melons, although they aren't ideal for that because the melons can easily exceed the 6-inch size of the openings. Then getting them out can be a bit tricky.

I developed an open cage that, from the top, looks somewhat like a rounded "U" or an "O" with an open "door" in it. They require re-bar braces at both edges of the door, but they let you walk into the cage to harvest whatever is hanging on the inside.

So far I have made only two of the open cages, but I plan to make at least two more for next year. One will be for Costata Romanesco zucchini squash. They have long vines. I'll probably also have small watermelons on at least two of the open cages.

Previously I had vining nasturtiums on one of those open cages as a "fort" for our little grand daughter. Nasturtium vines have no climbing sense at all and have to be trained and tied extensively. They did cover the open cage completely. Their flowers look good and make a spicy addition to a salad. Our little grand daughter ate them right off of the vine. I had a few myself.

In the last couple of weeks I've used my Merry Tiller to expand our garden by over 200 sq ft, so next year it will be a bit larger. But we still need to do all the vertical gardening that we can to get the most out of our limited space.


    Bookmark   December 8, 2006 at 11:53PM
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thanks, ralleia -- that's exactly what I'll do. Stringers, in construction, are the beams that run horizontally across the tops of the main supports in a house... (they run elsewhere, too, but that's the image i had in my mind's eye). so, i meant run the fence posts across the top of the vertical fence posts, just as you suggest. But I hadn't planned to use three vertical posts, but it's a good suggestion. I think I'll use the fence sockets that are made for chain link fences as the ties to hold the horizontal to the vertical...

What's the optimal height, in your estimation? I'm going to grow Seminole squash, cukes, indeterminate tomatoes, and Malabar spinach...

Anyone have strong feelings about string (per Mel) or wire? Mel insists string is easier, and I've seen it done -- looks easy enough.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2006 at 9:05PM
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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

The height really depends on who will be doing most of the harvesting. I'm only 5'4" tall, so anything much over 6' is too tall for to harvest, and too tall to maintain. Just measure how far up you can comfortably reach, and plan to make the supports that height. Keep in mind that you might be tying strings at that height for about 20-30 minutes each spring, which can be tiring unless you drag a step stool outside.

I tend towards strong biodegradeable string simply because it's easier when it comes time to do garden cleanup. Before I came to that conclusion I used a large nylon mesh (re-useable for several seasons), and it was always a pain to clear and untangle the dead vines. They tangle in every direction, and once they get dry they're scratchy and stiff as well. If you try it before they're dry they don't want to break easily, so you often need a cutter to separate the vine. Any more I find it faster and more pleasant to use a strong biodegradable string and at season end cut the whole thing down and throw the mess into the compost pile. I'd rather re-tie strings every spring.

I suppose if the wire were sufficiently strong it might better withstand the tugging and tearing of removing the vines. You might try one trellis of each and see which you prefer. I do use wire for supporting clematis vines, which are never removed.

Maybe I'll try one trellis of wire for veggie crops this year also. I'm always interested in better techniques!

    Bookmark   December 10, 2006 at 4:33PM
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I use a 1.25" copper plumbing tubing frame around the beds, plus with tomatoes usually there is a strong stake next to them as well.

I use army parachute cord -- the stuff is virtually indestructible and slightly stretchy to tie from the frames, to stakes, from frame to stakes, or whatever works for the moment at hand. I bought like 500 yards of the stuff on eBay once in dark green.

We have superhigh straight line winds in NE OK and so far it's worked fine. The frames allow a clearish plastic tarp to be tossed over it and tied down in case of emergency (like potential major hail).

But the bulk of my vertical gardening is done with 4'x16' cattle panels with 4" squares, bent over into arches that are about 6' high and 4' wide.

I use 32gallon rubbermaid (dollar store :-)) containers as big planters at the bottom outside of each side of each arch. (I'm told they'll [the containers] crack in freeze but so far they haven't and I'm not sure it'd matter unless it was extreme. Well maybe they have in this coldest winter since I built the garden, but I haven't looked yet.

You can see some pics at the blog I just started for me and my little girl for the coming season (so not much on it yet!), not real close pics alas but I'll get more and better this season.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2006 at 6:34PM
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Sorry I didn't realize this forum doesn't autolink...

    Bookmark   December 20, 2006 at 6:37PM
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Can you tell me a little more about the tall loops of CRW? How did they hold up to the weight of the squash? How did you anchor them? Any tips N' tricks you could share?

    Bookmark   December 21, 2006 at 8:49PM
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brendan_of_bonsai(4b AK)


You have three 20 foot pieces of fencing, why not cut to 10 feet rather than 8 feet? Its not like those four foot segments wil be good for anything when you are done, and you may find that that extra two feet can come in handy if you ever grow some really tall pole beans on the set up.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2006 at 5:38PM
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ninjabut(USDA z 8,CA)

I found some 1 inch plastic clamps that I have used the last 2 years for my climbers. I got them at the flea mart and don't know what they are called.
I was thinking, though, that they are very similar to the clamps to hold xmas lights onto the house. Just a thought! NANCY

    Bookmark   January 2, 2007 at 11:53PM
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lantanascape(z6 Idaho)

I like to use 3/4" electrical conduit, with bird netting hung on it, for trellising pole beans and cucumber. At my last house, I just anchored these to some lightweight metal posts, and sunk them in the ground a bit, so I ended up with about a 7' tall trellis, which was about right for a long season of bean-growing. At my new place, I've set the beds up according to the Jeff Ball system, with 1 1/4" PVC pieces anchored to the inside of the 4 raised beds at 4' intervals. I'm thinking I'll just make up the conduit frames so that they set into the PVC "receivers." I will probably experiment with the concrete wire for trellising melons and winter squash this year, and perhaps upgrade to a larger metal conduit. Using the correct connectors, these should break down quite tidily for winter storage.

I will also be building 2 3' wide beds up against a south-facing 6' tall fence. The two beds will be separated by a bench and arbor; I expect the arbor will be handy for trellising melons and other veggies that require sturdy supports.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2007 at 1:30AM
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maineman(z5a ME)


"Can you tell me a little more about the tall loops of CRW? How did they hold up to the weight of the squash? How did you anchor them? Any tips N' tricks you could share?"

The concrete re-mesh wire is very thick. In fact, regular wire cutters usually can't cut it. Instead, I use some small bolt cutters. Because it is so strong, as long as it is curved in a cylinder or part of a circle, it has no difficulty supporting the weight of a heavy Costata Romanesco zucchini squash or icebox watermelon.

As a tip, I use the rolls of light green Velcro tape, available at garden centers, as a convenient way of securing the vines to the re-mesh. I usually cut off a 6 or 8 inch piece for each attachment. Watermelons and some squash have tendrils, but they still need a lot help guiding them up onto the heavy wire trellis, and securing them to it.

The squash, cucumbers, and smaller watermelons have strong enough stems to stay on the vines without support slings to help bear their weight. But for watermelons over 8 pounds, you might want to devise a support sling to be on the safe side. Cantaloupe and muskmelons have weak stem connections that release when the melon gets ripe, so they will definitely need support slings. I've never had a squash stem fail, so I don't "sling" them. I suspect that smaller pumpkins would hang on as well, but I've never tried pumpkins on the re-mesh. Maybe I will this year, for a few edible-seeded pumpkins.

Occasionally a melon falls off and hits the ground without breaking, but they frequently break on impact, so the slings are a good idea for them.


    Bookmark   February 19, 2007 at 12:32PM
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    Bookmark   February 19, 2007 at 1:33PM
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You can also trellis your watermelons.. When you see it setting a watermelon, suspend it with a pair of panyhose... you can also trellis vining zucchini.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2007 at 7:23PM
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I checked my local hardware store today and the steel pipe would cost 2.25 a foot for 1/2 inch. So the project would cost about 126 dollars. I understand that this would last a lifetime but I dont know if I want to spend that kind of money this year.

Will PVC pipe work as well? If i drive it in deeper will it be as sturdy?

I plan on having four legs connected in a square on top. Either a 5 or 6 foot square about 5 feet tall.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2007 at 11:40PM
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PVC pipe will eventually rot in the sun. We used welded fencing (similar to concrete reinforcing wire mesh and cattle panels) bent into an arch, and then staked at each corner with regular plastic-coated steel stakes. Cost for two six-foot arches and eight stakes: $80. They're sturdy, they're durable, and they're really pretty!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 4:49PM
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maineman(z5a ME)


"Will PVC pipe work as well? If I drive it in deeper will it be as sturdy?"

Besides the Ultra-Violet degradation, PVC pipe doesn't drive in very well. In fact, if you encountered a rock or something, driving it in could simply damage the PVC pipe, while leaving the rock in place.


    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 7:10PM
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beeziboy(z5 IN)

I use 1" PVC pipe for my trellises and they work fine.

PVC pipe has a UV inhibitor added in the manufacturing and is stored outside so isn't affected by ultra violet degradation according to the manufacturerer's web site.

I also use PVC pipe to join the corners of my raised beds.

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Corners.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 9:48PM
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I purchased four 6 foot line posts for a chain link fence at Home Depot for 28 bucks. I bought welded wire as suggested and covered it. Total project about 40 bucks.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2007 at 1:53PM
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Here is picture of the structure I spoke of.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 26, 2007 at 11:37PM
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What type of nutrients are recommended for container grown plants like tomatoes, beans? Thanks, Rosemary

    Bookmark   March 14, 2009 at 7:42PM
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imstillatwork(8-9 Oregon Coast / Ca Border)

I start with dynagrow foliage pro (9-3-6). it has all of the micro nutrients that are generally lacking in containers with soil-less or bark based mixes. I have started using dynagrow pro-tekt also. it's got silicon and is a 0-0-3 fert.

working very well so far.

Here is a link that might be useful: My Container Gardeing Blog

    Bookmark   May 12, 2009 at 1:29AM
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