A good number of summer vegetables are
largish plants and can easily eat up a lot more than their share of
the square footage of your garden. For gardeners without a lot of
space – or gardeners growing in containers – growing plants up is
the best solution.
Many of us are familiar with the tomato
cages for sale right now – these are an attempt to “grow things
up.” Sadly most of them are not constructed with enough oomph to
even last through one whole tomato season. There are better choices.
There are a number of plants that will
NOT grow up no matter what you do, but just looking at the plant are
there clues that show us which plants can be grown up? Yes!
Summer Plants That Can Be Trellised
Climbing beans – the seed
package will tell you they are “climbing,” or, if you got them
without a package, when the second pair of true leaves show up, the
space between the pairs of leaves will be much longer than you'd
expect. That part of the stem should be a couple of inches – if
it's closer to a foot, you have a climber! Beans that are called
“Runner Beans” are climbers.
Almost ALL melons – there are
very few that are not abler to climb and those few are most likely a
modern day hybrid and will be noted on the packet.
Most squashes – the exception
will be the summer squashes – the winter squashes have long
rambling vines that can be tied up easily. They need a sturdy
And while it may not be obvious,
almost all tomatoes. When shopping for tomatoes, you often see them
labeled “Determinate (or D)” and Indeterminate(or I). They are
just what the words describe – Determinate tomatoes grow to a
determinated height and no farther. Indeterminates don't have an
“off” button – they keep growing as long as the weather suits
them. The Indeterminate plants are really vines that we try to make
The tomato cages on the left, fold flat in the winter (or can do time as pea cages) while the “tomato ladders” below are more compact and seem to be a lot more sturdy. Cages are $55 for four, while the ladders are $50 for three (both plus shipping, so they end up being an investment). In my experience both of these are a better investment than the measly round things that are available locally. The circle cages do not actually work unless you help them with a sturdy pole helping them stay upright
Both of these structures - plus a bunch of other alternatives are available from Gardener's Supply - I have the ladders and I think they are about 20 plus years old. They are problem free and however much they cost, if they hang around for 20 plus years, that's what I would call a deal.
Concrete Reinforcing Wire is a real
champ at this trellising thing! I have several pieces that came to me via a garage sale - I forget how much they cost, but with hunk of this stuff and some garden stakes (about 6' tall) to secure them, you have a deal!
The large openings thru the mesh are
big enough to get a hand thru easily – and said hand back out while
holding a tomato. These can be used a number of ways. Just using it
as a grid pattern, and stake it with some robust stakes, tomatoes or
other climbing plants – even ones of some size like squashes and
pumpkins, cucumbers, melons and almost any other climbing plant, will
not conquer this wire! It is sturdy enough to bend it into shapes –
you can even make a covered walkway with this stuff. Done right, you
can walk under the leaves of your squash plant with the fruits
hanging down around your head! It is magical.
Using them this way, storage is a
cinch! One small space where they can be pushed out of the way
against the wall and you're in like Flynn. Or, leave them in the
garden and grow peas up them over the winter!
The First Nations of America had this
trellis thing totally figured out. They grew corn and planted beans
at the base of their corn. The beans used the corn to climb on while
the beans “fixed” nitrogen in the soil for the corn (a high
nitrogen user). Finally they planted squash at the base of the
plants and the large leaves of the squashes shielded the soil from
the rays of the sun, as living mulch, preventing water loss from
evaporation and keeping the roots of the garden cooler in these very
hot, dry southwestern climates. This type of garden is often times
called the “Three Sisters Garden” and is a masterful example of
using plants together in a symbiotic arrangement.
Looking at the plant – even a young
plant – look for spaces between the leaves. Most food plants
conform to a couple of growing patterns. Put on your “Botany Hat”
cause here we go!
Each leaf comes off the stem at a place
called a “node.” Nodes are important in many ways, but for
today, we will consider them as important growth centers for the
plant. If these nodes are close together, it indicates a plant that
is not a good climber. If they are far apart, it is a good
candidate. The space between the nodes is called the “internode”
- how hard can that be? Long internodes mean good climber. If you
understand this, then the one or two summer squashes that you can
grow on a trellis will be easy to spot while the other summer
squashes, all bunched up on the ground will be obviously a plant to
leave on the ground.
If your trellis is wimpy, be prepared
to repair it. The lima bean “Christmas” pulled down two
trellises before I built one out of pallet wood and when that
came down, I gave up on Christmas Limas! And that was a bean,
imagine a squash or a cucumber plant?
Climbers are not
only a common-sense solution to a space problem, they can make a
wonderful design statement in your garden that brings your garden to
a whole other artistic development – not only do you get more food
from the same space, but your upright pieces in the garden can be
painted to add additional color and provide more interest. Instead
of tying plants up with only twine – you can use colorful ribbon to
tie plants up adding more color to feast your eyes on!
okra and corn are not good trellising projects.
Plants that climb
often have their harvest over a longer period of time. Plants that
are smaller, officially known as "determinate (because their size is determined by their genes), don't. If you want to eat all summer long, grow pole
beans. If you want to pickle or can your beans, plant bush varieties
so you get them all ripe about the same time for processing
convenience. Keep these options in mind as you plant to control the
food coming in from your garden. Keep a log of what went where so
you can avoid planting tomatoes into a space that was planted in
nitrogen fixing plants. Tomatoes, growing the presence of nitrogen
will not set fruit until they have burnt it up. In our climate this
is not that big of deal – unless the fruit set holds until cooler
weather had set in.
a moment and assess your summer garden. If you are in a very hot
place with adequate water, consider planting your summer veggies a
little closer together for complementary shade. Try not to shade the
leaves, those need sun. But if you can keep the sun from the soil
and the roots, you might find you have a better, longer harvest.
Mind you, this would be in addition
to mulching, which you already do, right?
adage: The best fertilizer is the farmer's shadow and enjoy your
moments just looking at your plants and all you have done!
is the last really good month to get your summer garden in, after
this it gets hotter and drier and it's tougher on you and the plants.
It's lovely outside – you want to be outside anyway – get out
there and get busy! Waiting will make your job harder and the plants
less happy. The time is now! Carpe diem!
These In Containers
These In The Ground
to the Ground from Containers
winter later in the month
and winter squash
It might be a bit early to think of the
tomato harvest, and my admonition is to not 'count your tomatoes
until they are on the plate;' oh what the hell... It's so close we
can almost taste it, right?
Close to equal amounts of fresh
tomatoes and fresh cucumbers. Do not slice neatly, but quickly and
crudely chunk them into more or less bite sized pieces. I will be
using San Marzano tomatoes and Armenian cucumbers for most of these
this year. I love it! Greek salad with Italian tomatoes and
Armenian cukes! Life in America.
Olive oil – enough to generously coat
each bite, not so much as to float anything
Pepper to taste
Small slices of red onion for a some
zing (the Italian 'Torpedo,' or Tropea onions are one of my
favorites) – we're just doing some 'zing' here. The onions should
not be the main attraction.
Crushed dried oregano (I like the Greek
Homemade or a really good store bought
feta cheese also cut into chunks.
Mix them all together with laughter;
the actual order things are placed in the bowl is not all that
important, it's a forgetful, or disorderly, cook's dream!
Homemade bread, herb tea or lemonade
and good friends... outside dining if you can!
Change it up as availability of
Eat till you're full and take a nap in