The grand trellis experiment

Trellising tomatoes has always been kind of a pain in the ass. With the number we grow, staking each one individually would mean constant monitoring and retying to the stakes every day. Cages? Far too many needed, and the expense would be astronomical. Those winding poles? Same problem with individual staking and with cages, plus I have my doubts about their strength. After thinking about it for awhile, I decided I needed something that could support a bunch of plants at once, be easy to manage, and that would provide support but also allow for the movement of the plants during storms and maintain good air circulation through and between the plants.

I decided on a catenary design, which for people who have forgotten their physics, is like a hammock: rope strung on each side of the rows of plants, hanging between two posts. The benefit of this is that you can have multiple levels of support without it becoming impossible to reach all points of the plants, and each level is also not fixed: you can raise or lower them as needed. The questions were: how to best build it, and just how long could one run be? For the first trial, I picked the smallest frame run in the back garden, which is about 32 feet long, with two rows of tomatoes running the length. Off I went to the store, to pick up six t-posts and a few other things to do the experiment.

I realized I had no post driver and my bro didn’t have one squirreled away in all his various tools, either. So, after a quick jaunt back to the depot of homes for a post driver, and after putting some earplugs in, I pounded in the posts for the rows that were to be the trial for the trellis. I had sawed down some dowels yesterday and drilled holes for the rope – the dowels act as spacers to keep the rope at a consistent distance surrounding the plants. Anyone who has tied off simple lines knows what a pain in the ass that can be, since the lines slip. With this, the holes are just wide enough to get the line through with the help of a small pick, so they stay pretty firmly in place. The ends of the lines are tied on to simple metal rings, which have been slipped over the posts. Each span is composed of a single length of rope, down and back between the posts, rated at a 70 pound load, which I hope will be sufficient the way these things are growing. I’ll add a second level the plants can simply grow up through, and this is the level that will be the mobile one if necessary, to track with their growth – the lower level is more to keep the bases off the ground, to help prevent disease and rot, and to support the fruit that will grow on that lower level.

Right now, there’s a huge storm brewing up outside, and the alert that just popped up on my weather app says 50 mph gusts are coming with it. Hopefully, all of the plants will survive without too much damage if we get caught up in the storm.


Tomato trellis May 2013

Tomato trellis May 2013

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