Many of our favorite vegetables in the Beekman Heirloom Vegetable Garden require some sort of trellising – tomatoes, beans, peas, melons, cucumbers. When we put in our raised garden two years ago, we were determined to devise a trellising system that was easy to assemble, and would last for years. We were sick of weaving together bamboo sticks, and snapping together plastic cages. We learned that if something was cheap, it wouldn’t last more than a month, and if it had any sort of moving parts, it wouldn’t last more than a week. (If we could figure it out in the first place.)
We think we’ve perfected the perfect solution – and it’s relatively inexpensive to boot. (especially considering that we haven’t had to replace anything in three years.)
Our secret weapon? Livestock panels.
These lengths of panels are 12′ long, and come in a variety of heights. Made of thick welded galvanized steel, they don’t get rusty or bent out of shape very easily. (If only the same could be said for us.) How do we use them? In many different ways…
Our most ingenious discovery was that if we inserted one end of the panel into the soil on one end of the bed, and then bent it over, we could insert the other end of the panel into the opposite end of the bed. This forms a sort of “hoop” over the bed. We call it our “Calistoga Wagon Trellis.”
We use this hoop system for our tallest vines – usually our beans. It allows six feet of growth on either side. To make the most of our bed space, we plant the beans at the base of the trellis ends, and lettuces and other greens in the middle. The lettuces get full sun while the bean vines are young, and as the beans grow to cover the trellis, they shade the greens underneath – keeping them from bolting in the increasingly hot summer days.
We employ another method using livestock panels for shorter vines (cucumbers, melons, peas.) For these, we cut our 3 ft tall livestock panels into 6 foot lengths using a bolt-cutter. They fit exactly in the length of our beds, and we use one on each side to form a teepee. Like with the Callistoga Hoop method, we also plant tender, heat sensitive greens underneath their shade.
One added bonus, we realized that first year, is that before any seeds have sprouted, the two panel segments can be laid over top of the beds to discourage cats and other animals from digging in the exposed dirt.
Another added bonus, we learned, was that the spare old windows we found in the barn can be placed on top of the panels to create a simple coldframe. These help warm up the beds quicker in the springtime, and keep them from freezing for another month or so in the winter.
Pretty ingenious, no? So where can you buy livestock panels? Check out your local Agway or farm supply dealer. Ask for cattle or hog panels (different heights) and be sure to purchase the heavy-duty ones. Each panel, if we remember correctly, cost us about $25. (from which we get three small trellis sections, or one large Calistoga hoop trellis.) Seems costly, perhaps, but when we step back to think of all of the cages, netting, broken stakes, and what-have-you we’ve thrown away over the years, we think it’s a pretty good value.
See what we do with what we pull out of the garden! Click here