Simple, Easy Trellises – for peas, beans and tomatoes
That’s “trellis” as in “utilitarian structure that holds up annual vines and comes down at the end of the season,” and the way we build them is with simple uprights and really a lot of untreated twine.
In Maine, we use saplings from the surrounding woods – they’re handy, they’re free, and because they’re nothing more than little trees they tie the riotous, colorful garden to its wild environment.
This bean trellis was created by Kristi, who had evidently gotten bored with just running vertical lines. Beans would rather go up but will travel horizontally if encouraged. The spiderweb was completely covered about 2 weeks from this picture.
In New York, where there’s no convenient sapling source and the garden is if not formal at least orderly, we use 8 foot oak 2×2’s.
(We use 2×2’s for tomatoes in Maine too, because we need so many of them.)
The proto tomato trellis in New York. Note the tomatoes are between the uprights. The string is woven from stake to stake around them, behind one stake then in front of the next until the vines are about 5 feet tall. Then, since our tomatoes are unpruned except for the bottom 2 feet, all hell breaks loose and we just keep roping them into staying more or less upright.
Of course, the most important thing about any stake is how firmly it’s seated in the ground. New York wouldn’t be sapling territory even if there were an ample supply of them because that garden is right on top of a former railroad bed.
Twenty years of combined soil building and rock removal have hugely improved the top foot or so, but everything below still fights back every time you insert a shovel. The only way to firmly set tall supports there is to use a post driver and for that – at least for the manual kind – you need the even top on a rugged stake that 2×2′s provide.
Maine on the other hand was no more than naturally rocky when I got there, so thirty years of stone removal have left me with soil that’s if anything too soft. Kristi and I make holes for the saplings by digging straight down with trowels. A post hole digger would be more efficient if it didn’t take so much brute strength to use accurately.
More Trellis Details
* Once they get going, peas have no trouble climbing strings run lengthwise about 6 inches apart. But the baby vines need support right away and are not yet strong enough to reach for the string. Twiggy branches about a foot long get them started.
* Pole beans begin twining around the nearest narrow thing ( often the neighboring bean vine ) almost immediately and never stop. Unlike peas they can’t reach to bridge gaps, so you’ve got to provide lots of sturdy verticals. We usually weave a crude – very crude! – approximation of 6 inch square netting. Beans near the poles will prefer the poles no matter what else you do, but the rest of them will twine round the net if reminded from time to time.
* The saplings last 3 (alder) to 6 (oak) years, depending on diameter and rot-resistance. The 2×2’s last 5 to 7 if stored dry over winter and would last longer if pressure treated but not in the vegetable garden, thank you very much.
* Used pea, bean (and morning glory) string gets cut up a bit and buried in the compost. Used tomato string is burned to minimize the spread of blight.
* Painting used tomato stakes in spring with a strong bleach solution ( 1 part bleach to 8 parts water) also helps keep disease from spreading. Be sure to do it on a sunny day and lay the treated stakes out where they will dry as soon as possible.
* Sometimes the saplings decide they’ve had it – usually right at the base - in midseason while covered with vines. We drive a 2×2 in beside the broken one, leaning slightly outward, then lash the two together. Not beautiful but it works.
* Bill uses saplings thinner than the stake kind to build decorative arches.