In my garden, I use a sort of variant of Square Foot Gardening. It works well because of the fact that I only grow on approximately 400-500 square feet. My biggest difference is that I generally like to keep things relatively informal. Part of my logic behind this is that I like to "leave my options open" so to speak. I've found that in the garden, as with many other parts of life, if you follow too many rules (or perhaps guidelines is the better word) by doing it the way that the "experts" tell you to do it, you run the risk of missing the opportunities and flashes that are possible through experimentation.
One such "flash" came to me early last year and I went with it. The result, I think, is one of the best from any of my gardening technique trials that I've had and I thought that with a lot of people just starting to try and figure out what their gardens will look like this summer it was a perfect time to share it. What it is, is a trellising system that allows me to use my 4-foot-by-6-foot raised beds in many different configurations depending on the crop that I wish to grow there that particular year. In doing so, it also frees me from the chore of having to rebuild or move trellising apparatus every year, or worse yet every season, because it can be quickly tweaked to serve my needs. I've built one over each of my 4-by-6 beds and can either set it up as needed, or ignore it altogether and use the beds as though there were nothing there at all.
I put together a couple of renderings of the basic structure to give you an idea of how it's built. The ones I have in my garden were made largely from recycled 2-by-4s that I ripped in half to make 2-by-2s, although I did have to purchase a few. I joined them very basically with long grabber screws (course threaded.) and some corner triangles for strength.
Basically, it’s just a cube that’s been built on top of an existing 4-by-6 raised bed. The image above is of the system in a straight configuration. Across the bottom of the raised bed, I ran a piece of 1-by-2 scrap wood that I could tie twine off to and then ran that up to a third top piece that I added. You could actually run the string out to the edge pieces to support the top of the plants when they reached above the top of it as well. My beds are 6 feet deep, so I would run one string in the middle of each square foot to support, for instance, a tomato plant.
Here's another way of setting it up that I'm calling the "V-configuration." This was the original catalyst for this whole experiment. The reason I did it, was to try and solve a problem that I continually had with growing my pole beans. The issue I was having with conventional ways of doing them was that in my raised beds I either had to only grow one row per bed so that I could easily get to them, or I could grow them in a grid which inevitable turned into a nest of vine in which I couldn't find the dang beans! Also, in a four foot wide bed, I had a hard time reaching in easily to access the beans. I could get them, but always felt off balance. This "V-configuration" was developed to grow the beans on the inside of the bed allowing the edges to be used for other plants and, as they got taller and taller, to bring them out into my reach for harvesting from the side. It worked great as you can see here.
OK, not the greatest picture of me... but the beans look good right? I have a small wheeled garden cart that I can sit on and could actually just sit down and slide along the paths as I picked. It was perfect.
I also made another version of this that ended up as a sort of "Double-V Configuration."
Readers of my personal blog may have seen something that I tried this summer to make a little different use of the space around my plants another way. You can see on the top of the bed here that there are two 1-by-2s holding the strings down. In the space between them, I planted a crop of carrots just after my cucumbers had come up. They grew there with plenty of sun initially, and, since they are cooler weather crops, did just fine in the shade from the larger plants. I will say that I should have planted them earlier than the cukes to have gotten better results, but it's a method that I'll definitely try again!
Interestingly, there are a couple of additional benefits to this system that I hadn't even thought of. Wind tolerance for instance. We get some nasty micro-bursts during the summer storms here and I've had problems with single frame trellises getting blown over from the force against the large plants growing up them. I watched my beans getting blown around severely with this, and yet lost not a one of them! In fact, I noticed later that some of the strings had broken from the force, but since the vines reached the tops of the frames, they no longer needed the strings anyway. Also, the frames can be used to support either shade cloths for the hotter climates or tarping to protect from frost and hail in other climates.
So there you go, my way to build a better trellis. I've tried to come up with some cool catchy name for it, but have come up short. Any suggestions, I'd love hear them. Also, if any of you decide to give this a try, I'd be honored if you'd email me a picture or two, I'd love to see how you're able to suit it to your own needs. [We’d love to put some of the photos up on the website, too. So go ahead and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org as well. – Eds.]
Till next time everyone ... all the best!