What’s At Stake – Part 2


Stakes, cages, trellises and tables are some of the possible options when you’re deciding whether a plant needs support or to go vertical. You can make all of those from wood. We always have an abundance of leftover wood scraps around here, so material for stakes is not usually a problem. Trees that tend to grow in thickets, such as willows, often have relatively straight branches with minimal side branches. They make great stakes. A cage can also be made from wire fencing material. It makes a nice permanent structure, although sometimes you have to anchor it into the ground if you garden in a windy area.

Hog and cattle panels make good trellises, although they’re a little pricy for my taste. On the other hand, they last for years. And of course, if price is no object, you can always trundle down to the local gardening center or hardware store and stock up on all the cages, trellises and bean netting your little heart desires.

A tomato table is an old-fashioned invention from colonial days. Drive four stakes into the ground. Lash horizontal branches to the top so you have an open rectangular structure about two or three feet off the ground. Cover the rectangle with branches spaced about four to six inches apart; if you want to get really fancy, you can lay them in a woven pattern. Tie your tomatoes or cukes, one against each upright pole, until they get to the top of the table, where they will sprawl over the surface. Fruits may hang down between the branch openings. This method takes a little work, but it does allow you to have the advantage of fruit off the ground and less subject to insect attack or rot, but well-supported. You can also grow a quick crop under the table top, especially in the early stage before the ground gets heavily shaded by the plants.

When you stake plants such as tomatoes, you must tie them to the stake. Of course, you can always go buy something for this purpose, but let’s face it — I’m cheap and like to repurpose things whenever possible. Old panty hose are a great choice for ties. They’re soft, stretchable and easy to cut. I chop circular sections off the leg. Wind it in a loose figure eight around the tomato stem and the stake, then tie in a knot. Better to use more so the stem is well supported than have it sag and possibly break. If you trellis your smaller melons, you can also make a sling from this material to support the fruit as it ripens.

One of my long-ago birthday presents from my hubby was a set of trellises made from metal fence posts that had been broken or bent and were no longer usable for fence building. They have four uprights that slant in toward the top, welded to a narrow rectangle made from fence post sections. Once the frame was built, we wired old non-climb fencing to the frame. Set these in the raised bed or garden row, plant your beans along the bottom of the wire and stand back. They’re heavy enough that they don’t need to be fastened down, but completely portable, and they’ll probably outlast me (they’re already at least 15 years old and still going strong). Because they’re wire, it’s easy to strip off dried vines at the end of the season and unlike similar trellises that use string, you don’t have to restring them again each year.

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