The following message was sent by NCPR listener Mike at Chicken Coop Forge, in response to Martha Foley's Monday morning conversation with Amy Ivy. Martha and Amy talk on-air every week about gardening topics: on July 19 they asked listeners to let them know if they were using trellises in their gardens.
My garden this year is all about trellising, at least my shop garden. My shop is a concrete block building about 75 feet long and 11 feet high wall that just soaks up heat in the summer as it runs north/south. For a long time I have thought about planting climbing plants along the wall to help keep the wall cool. We have in the past planted Scarlet Runner beans and/or Morning Glories on the south wall basically as decoration, and I tried once to grow some along the west wall but as my soil is pure sand they didn't take. We also grow a few vegetables in 1/2 barrels which we snack on during the summer at break time. Also, my partner came across the idea of planting in hay bales. So all of this came together in a little experiment this year as we had access to 5 rotting hay bales from a fall display by a business in front of us and a large amount of composted leaves and grass clippings from a landscaper next door.
I planted 3 kinds of tomatoes, 2 kinds of cukes, 2 kinds of melons (maybe 3 but something went wrong in my record keeping), 2 kinds of winter squash, a gourd plant that came from artist Michael Millspaugh at a show at the Lake George Arts Project, and a couple of cabbages were thrown into holes that were left for plants that never materialized. Oh, and 2 kinds of hot peppers in barrels. Some of these are planted in barrels on the south side of the building. Also, I had too many potatoes to plant at home and I couldn't give them away so I have a row of potatoes in front of the dog run on the south side of our shop. ADK Red Blue and Peter Wicox (or something) blue skin and yellow flesh, all from Tucker Taters.
I spaced the hay bales about 5 feet apart directly against the outside wall of the shop and made raised beds between the bales with mostly composted leaves and a little top soil. The haybales were soaked with blood meal and some ammonium sulphate well before planting. I have a large amount of 1/4 inch round steel and I made some simple trellises with those that stick in the ground but mostly just lean against the wall. These are to provide support for fruit. also there are some widow holes covered with plywood every so often on the wall which provide a surface to staple into. I took a roll of bird netting — the plastic kind to keep birds out of your crops– and salted it to the ends of the rafters hanging down behind the trellises.
I bought most plants at a local greenhouse and planted them inside the drip line of the roof. In the hay bales I created a small space which I filled with soils and compost to plant into.
The results so far. The plants seemed to establish themselves very well all except for one melon plant which isn't thriving; don't know why. Cukes took off early and climbed like crazy. Tomatoes did well early too. The concrete block wall holds heat at night and even though the plants don't get direct sun until after noon, they get full sun from then until sundown. It's like creating a little micro-climate. As the summer got really warm the cukes slowed down but the other melons and especially the squashes have really taken off. I make little hammocks for the larger fruits to keep weight off the vines, and tied the vines themselves early on until they could take hold.
Right now I have tomato plants about 5-6 feet high, cucumbers around 7 feet high but widely spread, squashes and gourds to almost 10 feet very dense and widely spread. The netting works fine as a climbing medium except that you have to be careful to keep the front growing edge of the vines from passing through the holes and getting bound inside the netting. Next year I will try something similar but with holes either smaller or larger. The other problem is that I have been using some fertilizer to give nutrient to the plants, something I ordinarily wouldn't do in our home vegetable garden.
Also for next year I'm thinking about getting some hay bales and stacking them in such a way as to create a small cave for our dog to use as a nice cool doghouse. On this mound I can plant a variety of things. Not sure what just yet.
Tags: Chicken Coop Forge