Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Square Foot Gardening: Building a Vertical Frame

In order to accommodate vine crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, beans, etc., you can incorporate a vertical frame into your SFG. The vertical frames are made of a steel frame with nylon netting. The vines grow up the netting providing you with a third dimension to your garden and an efficient use of space. Most vine crops only use one square foot of space in the garden, and it is pretty cool to have a wall of green growing out of your garden.

People I told about my SFG last year were skeptical about the depth of the soil, but that was nothing compared to the looks and comments I received at garden stores when I went looking for nylon netting and told people what I was planning to do with it. People told me it would never work and that it wouldn't hold the weight - I don't think SFG is that off the wall and you'd think that people who make their living selling gardening supplies would have at least heard of it... I doubted myself and Mel, but in the end, I went ahead with the vertical frame and proved the naysayers wrong. I love proving negative nellies wrong so it was really satisfying to see my tomatoes and cucumbers climbing their way all the way up my nylon netting and doing spectacularly.

As you're planning your garden, you'll want to consider how many vine plants you want to grow and plan for vertical frames, which are ideally sited along the north edge of your box. Last year I only built one vertical frame so I only had 4 square feet for climbing plants, and this year I wanted more so I built an 8'x2' box. The 8'x2' box has two 4'-wide vertical frames so I have an additional 8 spots for climbing plants. I've used this space for tomatoes and eggplants, but you could even plant watermelon or pumpkin and grow them on the vertical frame.

Materials needed for a 4'-wide vertical frame:

2 - 5' conduit pipes, 1/2" diameter

1 - 4' conduit pipe, 1/2" diameter
(conduit pipe is about $2 for a 10' pipe that you can cut to length; or we found pre-cut pipes in the lengths we needed at home depot for $2 per 5' pipe)

2 - 90 degree elbows, 1/2" diameter
(about $4 each)

4 metal coupling connectors, 1/2" diameter
(about $4 for a bag of 5)

2 - 18" rebar posts, 1/2" diameter (if your soil is loose and sandy, you'll want longer rebars; and if you're planning to grow heavier crops like melons, you'll want to use a steel fence post instead of rebar - I've never tried that, but that's what Mel recommends)
(about $1.50 each)

One bag of trellis netting - this was really hard for me to find, and no one knew what I was talking about it when I asked for it at garden stores. I ended up stumbling upon it at the home depot at the end of an aisle near the garden tools like shovels and hoes. It was inside the store, not in the seasonal garden section.
($3 per bag)
Here is what the bag looks like:

You'll also need a screw driver, measuring tape and a sledgehammer to hammer in the rebar stakes.

Instructions for building a vertical frame:

1.  Assemble materials near your box. Cut pipes to length if needed.

If needed, use a pipe cutter to cut the pipe to length.

2. Assemble the frame by using the metal couplings to attach the elbows to the end of each of the 5' pipes. Use the remaining two couplings to attach the elbows to the 4' pipe.

3. Measure the width of your frame or lay the frame on the ground in front of your box so you know where to hammer in the rebar stakes. I placed the frame so that it is about 2" from the edge. This allows you to more easily train the plants up and through the netting. Hammer in rebar stakes at edge of your box until only about 6" to 8" of the rebar is above ground. Wear gloves and be careful to hammer it in straight.

This gives you some idea of how I placed the frame.

4. Slide the frame onto the rebars.

I used two frames side by side for my 8'x2' box. The frame on the right has already been slid on.

5. Attach the trellis netting to the frame. We used garden ties that we bought for about $3 for a bag of 120. You can also tie the netting onto the frame, but that is a little putsy.  However you attach it, be sure that the netting is secure. Trim away excess netting.

You can reuse this frame from year to year. At the end of the summer, just lift the frame off the rebar stakes and store it in the garage until next year.

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