Thursday, April 30, 2015

Trellis Ideas for Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Beans, Peas, Melons and Peppers

My little garden seems to have been transformed into the land of many trellises.
And I haven't even started with the peppers.
Wood and metal, twine and wire come together in various combinations to lend support to my tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, beans and tomatillos. I thought I would share some ideas that I've tried. Some worked better than others.

Tomato Trellises
Our growing season in the Los Angeles area is very long and so we tend to have large plants. The typical tomato cages are completely inadequate for our indeterminate tomatoes which can reach 10-12 ft in a good year. Our tomato trellises need to be tall and sturdy. I have learned that it works best to have the twine or wire run vertically instead of horizontally. I have tried both, and you can train the vine to twist around the vertical wire from the ground to the top. With horizontal wires, the vines can topple over the wire and get damaged.

This is a wooden trellis I built last spring.
It worked great for the green beans and tomatoes last summer, and supported peas during the winter.
It is still standing strong, and this year it will support cucumbers on one side and tomatoes on the other. The horizontal twine has been removed and more vertical rows were added. The cucumbers are also planted against the wire rabbit fence which will support them nicely.
Read how to build the wooden trellis here

This year I tried a new design using metal stakes, wooden furring strips and wire strung vertically. This one is ten feet long and will support 4 tomatoes. Read how to make this trellis here.
The only issue I found with this design is that I planted the plants in the center and there are no wires within reach of the plants when they are young.
I added a wire attached to a small "U" shaped stake which I pushed into the soil next to the plant. 
Once the vines grow they will reach the other wires but not when they are small. For that reason, I changed the design again when I made this one.
The difference is that this one has only one furring strip on the bottom which runs down the middle. This brings the wire closer to the young tomatoes, so I prefer this one. I haven't finished putting up all the vertical wires yet, and I may just add them as needed rather than putting up lots of wire strands now.

**Update: I would recommend using twine instead of wire for the vertical supports. It is less likely to cut into the vines. Read about that here.

Here is last year's version which was made of metal stakes with wire strung horizontally.
When the tomatoes outgrew the trellises I extended them by attaching round stakes using wire.
I just kept adding rows of wire horizontally as the plants grew. You can read about that trellis here.

Bean and Pea Trellises
This year I decided to try growing my pole beans on tee pee trellises. 
Growing the green beans in succession will prolong my harvest. These two tee pees were planted 3 weeks apart. They look happy. Click here for the link to see how I made my tee pee trellis using a round pole, pvc adapter, twine and "U" hooks.
I've grown bush beans on small trellises made of metal posts with twine strung horizontally. I find that spacing the poles about 10-12 inches apart works well. I planted two rows and ended up adding additional twine as needed to keep the bushes controlled as they grew.
I've also used string trellises that were bought at a garden shop and tied between poles. 
This trellis did not work well because I used round poles which were not very stable. I tied guide wires and attached them to the raised beds but it was still unsteady. I would recommend using metal stakes with the stabilizing cross piece at the bottom instead.

Melon Trellises
Last year my melons went crazy and ended up climbing up and over the rabbit fencing that surrounds our garden.
The fence held up well under the weight of the cantaloupe and Crenshaw melons. 
This year I plan to let the melons climb their fence again. 
I am also considering adding a couple of rows of rabbit fencing running across the bed in the "spill zone" to the right. I'm thinking of two rows of fencing running from top to bottom in the photo. The melons will be trained to climb up and over which will effectively increase the area that the melons can grow. Metal stakes placed every four feet worked last year. The rabbit fencing slips into the little hooks on the stakes which makes it easy. 

Tomatillo and Pepper Trellises
Well, tomatillos can really go crazy, can't they? They are hard to tame but definitely need support, at least in my garden. I have used tomato cages, but again they are too small and my plants outgrow them. This year I planted them in the melon bed, close to the rabbit fence, so one side has support from the fence. 
I put metal stakes on the other side running parallel to the fence and strung wire horizontally to provide support on that side. To support the branches between the plants, I ran wire in a zigzag pattern both down low and higher.
If they grow higher than the posts, I will add the longer round poles like I did when I extended my tomato trellis above. If I had longer metal stakes I would have used them but these were the only posts I had left. I've used this method to support my peppers and it works well for them too.

Last year I used bamboo sticks to tame the tomatillos. 
I had some bamboo growing in pots and the dead stalks had branches which were strong enough to keep the plants loosely controlled. Sometimes the simplest things work best. Read about it here.

I hope these trellis ideas inspire you to experiment and come up with your own versions. The hard work is done in my spring garden. March and April have been busy out there, tending the soil, building supports and transplanting my seedlings. 

Grow garden, grow!!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Simple Garden Gate

This little garden gate came together easily. It's made of one panel of light-weight fencing I bought at Home Depot for $13. 
The panels are designed to connect together to make a fence and they have little hooks on one side that I used to make the hinges. 
I used two 4 ft garden stakes, two eye bolts with nuts and washers. 
The garden stakes already have holes, but I needed to drill the second hole because the hooks did not line up with the pre-drilled holes.
Bottom hole I drilled.
Attach the eye bolts to the stakes.

Pound the stakes into the ground and the gate hooks easily slip into the eye hooks making simple hinges. To keep the gate closed, I attached a zip tie to the gate which slips over the second pole.

Because the fence panel is light-weight and small, it seems to work well. This panel is about 32 inches high and 23 inches wide.  I ended up adding a wooden dowel across the bottom because the gap was too big to keep the dogs out. You can see it going horizontally across the bottom. It is spray painted black and held on by wire. 
My fences are made of rabbit fencing, and they are designed to be easily removed to allow access to the garden beds from all sides. You can read about how I made them here. When I put up the fence, I made several small gates out of the rabbit fencing and they have worked very well, but they are a bit of a hassle to close and they are starting to lose their shape. Here is the gate today before it was replaced.
This fence is not sturdy enough to keep out a determined dog, but it is enough to keep my sweet Bessie May out of the garden. She is a well-behaved dog and this little gate will keep her out.
Bless her heart, she waits outside the gate until she is invited in. I didn't train her to do that, she is just intuitive that way. She walks on the paths, and only eats things that are offered by me. Oh, how she loves her carrots, peas and strawberries!

One little gate finished, two to go.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Preventative Medicine for Tomatoes

Last year my tomatoes really struggled. It was bad, and not just for me but for many in my neck of the woods. By mid season I was pulling one plant after another due to some malady which caused stunted growth and curled leaves. Because there are so many things that cause those problems, I am not able to pinpoint exactly what happened. I suspect it was a combination of things including mildew, lack of pruning, watering issues, cold weather spells during June, and maybe a virus. It's such a sad thing for a gardener when the whole tomato crop fails. Looking on the bright side, I did learn some valuable lessons and this year I am doing things differently.

This year is the first year that I started my tomatoes, pepper and eggplants from seed. They have been in the ground for a few weeks and they are really starting to grow. We're at the point in our season when everything is growing and the pests are at a minimum. It is that magic time of year before the mildew sets in, and before the hot sun scorches or wilts our more sensitive plants. 

Mortgage Lifter and Amish Paste, waiting for a trellis.
The tomato plants have zero blemishes. I know I shouldn't say that because it may be tempting some mildew fairy to come my way. I know the problems are coming but I am enjoying looking at those healthy little babies of mine everyday until the drama starts.
To combat the mildew that is inevitable I am determined to do a better job of pruning this year. In the past I have taken the approach of letting the tomatoes go crazy and then spending the summer trying to control them. This year I am removing all of the suckers except one or two. This will create plants with fewer stems, and less crowded leaves. I'll also be careful to remove any leaves that touch the ground which allows the fungus in the soil to get onto the lower leaves and infect the plant. By keeping up with the pruning, there will be more air circulation between the leaves which should help.

Another change I made this spring is that I'm hand watering my garden. I have tried different types of irrigation hoses, and right now I have both soaker hoses and pierced hoses. My frustration is that every type I've tried still creates areas where the water sprays up into the air or onto the plants. The moisture on the leaves contributes to the mildew. When I hand water, I take care to keep the water off of the leaves using low water pressure. The advantage of hand watering is that you can accurately control how deeply you water, and tomatoes like deep and less frequent watering. So the hoses are there in case I don't have time to hand water, but for now I am really enjoying this pleasant garden chore. I find watering to be relaxing and a great way to stay connected and involved in what is happening out there.

Another method of controlling mildew is to spray the tomatoes with baking soda in water. This changes the pH on the leaves making it harder for the mildew to survive. Mix one tablespoon of baking soda into one gallon of water and thoroughly wet both sides of the leaves once a week. I started doing this as soon as the plants were transplanted instead of waiting until signs of mildew appear.

The final change made with this year's tomatoes is that I have been spraying them every 3 weeks with aspirin dissolved in water. There are numerous articles about why aspirin is helpful and without going into much detail, it apparently stimulates the plant's immune response, helping it to fight disease. Use a non-coated aspirin dissolved into one gallon of water and thoroughly wet the leaves. 

So far, so good. The plants are thriving and setting on lots of blossoms. 
Fingers crossed!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Spring Window Boxes - Plenty of Pink!

My favorite garden chore is replanting our window boxes.  
It's instant gratification, an uplifting change, like a fresh manicure. Mine are replanted twice a year; spring and fall. Last year I planted the boxes featuring red cyclamen, making quick Christmas window boxes. Click here for some tips on planting window boxes from one of my first posts.
The cyclamen continued to bloom until they were pulled to make way for these pinks that I love. 
This year we have Neon Rose petunia, impatients (Blue Pearl, Super Elfin Lilac, and Super Elfin Pink), white alyssum, and wire vine. Meuhlenbeckia axillaris is called wire vine because the stems look like wire. This is my first experience growing it and I'm loving how delicate it is. I hope it doesn't take over.
The plants are from six packs, so they are small and really packed in there. In a few weeks they should be lush. 
One of the best things about window boxes is that they bring the garden into the home, and the flowers to eye level. 

Doing dishes is a chore. Pink flowers make it better.