Friday, May 8, 2009

Vegetable Garden Update - The Vertical Supports

The tomato plants in the raised beds were beginning to get pretty tall last weekend and it was time to get the vertical supports up. I have used a multitude of methods with vining types of tomatoes in the past - tomato cages are the most popular but with vining tomatoes they hang over and go everywhere, but I've also tried different varieties of stakes, or just plain lettin' 'em vine on the ground. This time with my new square foot raised bed gardens I thought that I would try the vertical supports outlined in the square foot garden book. These use 1/2-inch electrical conduit, 1/2-inch rebar (yes they do fit together) and nylon trellis netting. I'll be anxious to see how the nylon netting holds up as the plants grow and climb it and whether it will truly survive to be reused for many seasons to come.

We have two 4' x 4' beds and one 4' x 8' bed so we made 4 supports in total. I used two of the structures on my long bed because I thought it would be much more stable than trying to do one long vertical support.

We picked up 12 five foot sections of 1/2" diameter conduit pipe from Lowe's. Four of those will be cut down to 4 feet for the top bars. The rebar was in already in 18" sections, which since our dirt is pretty hard is all we really needed. We need 2 of those per bed, for a total of 8. They don't usually come in 18" sections from what I understand, but it appears that somebody cut some of them and we got lucky and found the ones left!

It was the elbow connectors that gave me a fit. We needed 8 of them and Lowe's wanted almost $6 a piece! Hubs ended up stopping by Home Depot and found them at half that price, so that was still pricey, but much more reasonable. Clearly the elbow connectors are the most expensive part of this project! The guy at Lowe's say that most folks who need elbow connectors buy the straight ones and bend them themselves, but we didn't have equipment to go bending on pipe!

You'll also need a hammer, a hacksaw and a screwdriver. Grab a tape measure and a marker while you're at it. A level is handy too for when you go to drivin' in the rebar, but you can probably eyeball it just fine.

And oops... forgot to include the picture of the netting in with the rest of the stuff. I used a 5' x 30' bag of netting to do all 4 of my supports. Which means I'll have to cut it at each support to use the remainder on the rest of them.

I let Hubs do the sawing. He just measured it off and then used a regular old hacksaw to cut down 4 of the 5' sections of pipe into 4' sections. That means we'll have a 4' section across the top and two 5' pipes for each side. Take that piece to measure up against the other 3 pieces and mark where to cut it with the marker.

Then attach the elbow connectors to each end of the 4 foot pipe section and tighten the screws. You'll use this to mark where to drive your rebar in.

Lay the 4' pipe with the elbow connectors attached on the ground where you want to put up your vertical structure. You'll use this as a marker for where to drive the rebar into the ground.

Since the rebar we used was 18-inches long, we drove that into the ground 9-inches, or halfway. So measure out the halfway mark and use the marker to mark the rebar so you know when to stop. Line that up with the other pieces of rebar and mark them while you're at it. As mentioned, if you are lucky enough to have nice, soft soil, you'll want to use longer sections of rebar in order to drive more of it into the ground. Now, you'll want to make sure these are level as they go in, so drive it a bit and then either eyeball it or check it with a level before you finish driving it in.

Slide the 5' side poles over the top of the rebar, then attach the top 4' bar {the one with the elbow connectors attached already} to the sides and then tighten all the screws. Sorry, I forgot to get pics of all those individual steps but here's the end product. You have your frame up, supported by rebar, that will help to keep the frames stable.

Now it's time for the net. The net I purchased was 5' wide and 30' long, enough to cover all 4 of my supports. I just removed the net from the package and laid it on a chair to keep it from getting dirty or tangled, unrolling just enough for this first frame.

Grab one corner of the net and drape it around the top corner of the support; then do the same on the other side. See that top part of the net that is draping between the two corners? You're essentially going to be cutting that away in order to give you longer strips of netting along the top to tie around the pipe. As you see there are already some strings at the intersection of each square, but they are very short. Basically you are just cutting away the outside frame of the netting, at the top and along the sides, so that you end up with longer pieces to tie around the pipe frame. {Look at my poor grass in the background... but that's another post}

Once you cut away that top and have longer strings you'll tie the netting to the top of the pipe frame.

Until you have all of the top netting tied onto the pipe.

Then you'll do the same thing with the string down both of the sides - cut away the outside frame of the netting...

...and use the longer strings you get from that, to tie the netting on to the side of the conduit pipe frame.

Continue doing this until you have the netting tied down both of the sides.

Once you have both sides tied, you'll need to cut along the bottom row of the net to get it ready for the next frame. That way you will have a row of longer strings to use to tie onto the top of your next structure.

Now we move onto the next structure. I just grabbed the chair where the remainder of the net was draped, moved it over to the next structure, pulled some more net off and draped the net on the corners like before and start again. You already have long lengths of string at the top from where you cut it off of the bottom of the first one, so now you'll just be cutting away the sides like before.

Once you've got all your structures up, start tucking the plants in and out of the netting. About once a week or so, you'll need to check the plants and tuck them in and out.

The photo below here was actually taken today, about a week into having the structures up. As you see there has been some growth going on, so the tucking is now going more in and out between the squares.

You can also see all of the trimming I've been doing. I like to keep the bottom leaves trimmed away because I think having those bottom leaves hanging in the soil, only encourages bugs and disease - and we all know I don't need any more bugs!

I also try to get those suckers that pop up between the branches pinched off too. I usually do pretty good with this at first, and then sort of slack off, but if you keep at the trimmin' and pinchin' you'll get less tomatoes off of each bush, but they will be larger in size. If you prefer smaller tomatoes and a lot of them, then just let the plant bush out and don't bother with trimmin'!

Stay tuned to see how the vertical supports hold up!

Click HERE for all the Year One 2009 Square Foot Vegetable Garden Updates


  1. What a fantastic garden, and you are a professional!!!!!

  2. what a great teaching post!!! thanks girl! I was thinking of ways to support morning glory this year...glad I stopped by!

  3. Thanks Joyce - glad to see ya!

    Hi Tootsie - something like this would be perfect - I'm sure they'd cover it up quick too!

  4. Those are awesome and I'll bet they'll work great too. :)

  5. Krystal I was thinkin' about you today!! Well, I hope they hold up - nylon net is supposed to be tough, but we'll see when it gets stuff climbing on it!

  6. Wow, you've been busy! Looks like the garden is on its way!

  7. Hi Karen, it's not without it's trials for sure - right now it's no rain and LOTS of heat and humidity - the plants are a little bit stressed, yes already! And it's only MAY!


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