This is now (8/31)This is now (8/31)
That was then (6/27)...That was then (6/27)...
Training the cantaloupe to climb up the trellisTraining the cantaloupe to climb up the trellis
All put togetherAll put together
Hey tomato, check out your new backbone!Hey tomato, check out your new backbone!
Attaching the panel to the 2x2 with a ziptieAttaching the panel to the 2x2 with a ziptie
Filling the top half with soil so we can plant in it if we want toFilling the top half with soil so we can plant in it if we want to
Filling the hole halfway with sandFilling the hole halfway with sand
We installed these on a stupidly hot day in June, and needed a breakWe installed these on a stupidly hot day in June, and needed a break
Charlie cut the 2x2s at an angle so they'd be easier to drive into some of the holes that were already filled with soilCharlie cut the 2x2s at an angle so they'd be easier to drive into some of the holes that were already filled with soil
Bringing home the cattle panels and 2x2sBringing home the cattle panels and 2x2s
  • This is now (8/31)
  • That was then (6/27)...
  • Training the cantaloupe to climb up the trellis
  • All put together
  • Hey tomato, check out your new backbone!
  • Attaching the panel to the 2x2 with a ziptie
  • Filling the top half with soil so we can plant in it if we want to
  • Filling the hole halfway with sand
  • We installed these on a stupidly hot day in June, and needed a break
  • Charlie cut the 2x2s at an angle so they'd be easier to drive into some of the holes that were already filled with soil
  • Bringing home the cattle panels and 2x2s

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.

5 Responses to “Trellises that actually work”

  1. Jessica
    31 August 2010 at 8:10 am #

    We’re definitely doing trellis next year. Even though our terrible tomatoes didn’t produce, they outgrew the cages completely by June.

  2. Alisa
    2 September 2010 at 3:20 pm #

    I used to leave the cattle panels full length and then arch them into arbors as well. It offered more trellis stability. You could easily sink the ends down inside your cement blocks on the garden beds. No need to buy plastic zip ties, and wooden stakes.

    For my tomatoes I used a roll of heavy duty fencing, 6′ tall, and made my own wire cages. Again, the stability factor was important when the tomato plants were loaded. The only problem I had with these homemade cages is they would tip over if they weren’t anchored down. Large metal tent stakes would suffice, but I used 8″ long pieces of rebar wired onto the bottom of the cages and then driven into the ground. (3-4 per cage, depending on circumference).

    You may have all you need now, but maybe someone else can use the ideas, or a combination of.

    Looks great BTW! I enjoy reading your blog.

  3. CoMo Homestead
    2 September 2010 at 6:42 pm #

    Thanks, Alisa! I saw the cattle panel arbor method for the first time this summer. It looked like it worked well for cucumbers and other vining plants.

    I also thought about the fencing option for building cages, but couldn’t find fencing with holes big enough to make this work. Where did you find yours?

  4. Alisa
    3 September 2010 at 9:49 am #

    >>>Where did you find yours?

    It was actually in the barn of the property I bought. Heavy duty, big squares at the top, small at the bottom. I needed small bolt cutters to cut through it. I think it’s just called “field fence”. I suggest checking with MFA Agri Service or Orscheln’s for that type of stuff; both are located out on Paris.

  5. CoMo Homestead
    3 September 2010 at 10:45 am #

    Good to know, thanks! I got the cattle panel from Westlakes on Business Loop. They used bolt cutters to cut the panels in half for me at no charge.