Last year we tried a few different methods of trellising our tomatoes. First, we tried tomato cages. The obvious choice, right? They may be the obvious choice, but they are also the terrible choice. Our indeterminate tomatoes (Super Fantastic) quickly outgrew the cages, and our big, bushy determinate tomato plants (Romas) fell completely over and took the cages with them. Tomato cage fail.
So, we were in crisis mode. The tomatoes had fallen over and we needed to do something to set them back up. Knowing that commercial growers support tomatoes by weaving twine back and forth around the plants between posts, we thought we’d try something like that. This method does work, but isn’t intended to be started most of the way into the growing season. Needless to say, we hastily came up with a hacked-together version that barely supported the tomatoes, but allowed them to grow 8 feet tall and produce 50 pounds of tomatoes. So not too bad overall.
This year we were determined to do better. Not only were we determined to use a method that actually works, but we were determined to get the trellises in place before the plants really needed it. I think that is the biggest factor in successful trellising. If you’re trying to trellis after the plants need it, it probably won’t work very well because it’s really too late.
So, what did we come up with? After I had spent hours looking around and agonizing over different trellis systems, Charlie remembered something about our garden beds that I had forgotten. The concrete block raised bed system we used is designed to be the perfect width for cattle panels. The cattle panels are intended to be used as trellises. Ta-da. You can find cattle panel at hardware stores or farm stores in 16′ sheets. We asked for them to be cut in half, leaving us with 8′ tall sections.
We purchased 8′ 2x2s and placed each in one of the holes in the blocks. We filled the hole about halfway up with sand (from a burst sandbag from the truck), and the rest of the way up with soil mixture so we can still plant something in the holes if we want to. We did this on each side of the bed where we wanted the trellis to stand, and then attached the cattle panel (in 8′ sections) to the 2x2s with zipties. That’s it, you’re done.
As the tomatoes have grown I’ve weaved them in and out of the cattle panel mesh. I also used this system for the cantaloupe and watermelons, but although this worked okay I think next year I’ll just let them grow directly on the bed instead. One of my surprises, though, was seeing the butternut squash plants really take off and start to crawl up the trellis by themselves. I hadn’t planned to trellis the squash, but if they’re doing it themselves, why not? Now I have at least one butternut squash growing happily a few feet off the ground on the side of the trellis. I will plan to trellis these guys next year. The original Urban Homesteaders also seem to be trellising pumpkins, so why not?
The cattle panel sections and the 2x2s were not always exactly straight so some of the trellises bow here and there, but it doesn’t affect the trellis’ ability to act as a trellis. Next year we may add some cross bars across the top to keep everything looking pretty and straight, but the system actually works and that’s all we’re concerned about right now.
When we put the trellises in, the plants were so small the trellises looked ridiculously tall in comparison. But now that we have a cherry tomato plant that is over the top of the 8′ trellis, I am SO thankful we used this system and don’t have to worry about coming home to flopped over tomato plants.