We do a lot of “experimenting” on the farm. What will be more efficient? What increases the health and productivity of our crops? What have others tried? What’s worked or not, and why? We’re always trying something new (or old, as the case may be with sustainable farming.)
There has been an addition to the landscape at the farm – trellises. Many plants benefit from trellising: peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, and peppers to name a few. Any plant with a vine like stalk can be trellised. Trellising is also good for humans; it takes up less room for those with smaller yards and an urge to garden, and it makes picking the fruits a little easier on the knees and back!
This is our third foray in trellising. Our first experiment was based on one that we read about in a book by Shepherd Ogden. He recommended using lengths of bamboo leaned against and tied to each other, to make a sort of elongated tee-pee, with twine tied into a net. We chose to do this because we had a free supply of bamboo from a friend’s backyard. We grew beans on these. They were picturesque and worked well until about two-thirds of the way through the season. The trellises started to collapse because they were rotting through in places. While wondering why that might happen, we noticed that Mr. Ogden resides in Maine, where the growing season is cooler, dryer, and much shorter – and we live in the middle of a swamp. As with so many things about farming, moisture is key!
We used a second variety of trellising for tomatoes last year. This approach was one that Thera had used on a farm on which she had interned. In this version, t-posts were spaced every few plants, and twine was tied horizontally between the posts on both sides of the plant to support it by sandwiching it between the strands of twine. That worked, but required frequent attention: the addition of more twine, the tightening of old twine, and the weaving of errant tomato vines between the strands.
We’re trying this year’s design, which we hope will be an improvement, because it should last for many years, and be much easier to maintain. Each trellis is composed of two 4′ pieces of rebar, two 10′ pieces of ½” EMT electrical conduit, bent into shape, a 5′ piece of ½” EMT electrical conduit, and two set-screw couplings (to join the 5′ piece to the two 10′ pieces), and twine.
As with all new approaches, we sometimes have to learn as we go. To make the trellis frames, we used a conduit bender, a “cut-off saw,” and a metal grinder. We thought it would be an easy matter to fit the conduit over the rebar, but were frustrated in this when we discovered rebar often has a burr at the point at which it was cut. About half the pieces of rebar couldn’t be used, and the other half had to have the conduit forced over them. To respond to this, we borrowed a grinder, to grind the burr off one end of each piece of rebar, and now the conduit fits neatly over just about every piece of rebar.
Once the plants are sufficiently mature, a piece of twine will be looped over the plant, wound around the main stem, and tied to the conduit above. Each plant will be trimmed back to one or two main growing stems which will climb up this single line of twine. It’s very exciting to see what will result!
For more on how to trellis various types of plants, see: http://www.gardenguides.com/79086-vegetables-can-grown-trellis.html
From E, I , E, I …OH! the Omnia Humanitas Farm Newsletter
vol 3 issue 2 / June 2011