I have always liked the lush look of a beautiful garden trellis full of cucumbers, squash and beans. Or beautiful flowers. I looked at several ideas on the Web and found one that I liked at Weed ’em & Reap because it combined an arch and raised boxes on the sides. As usual, they provide great directions on how to build one so I convinced my husband that this was something we really needed to add to our garden.
We live in east Texas and it is hot, hot, hot all summer so I wanted something that would be shady to sit under during those hot summer months. We modified the plan for the garden trellis arch provided on Weed ’em & Reap to fit our garden area and our needs. By the end of the summer, we had a beautiful, lush arching trellis that will be useful for many years to come. Yes, there is a trellis under there although the cucumbers (as they usually do) kind of went wild and took over the arch and all the in between space too. At that, they were at least rather contained as they climbed up the trellis.
Longer, Deeper and Wider
Since we are aiming for an edible landscaping look rather than a manicured lawn full of grass, we have plenty of space to put up raised beds. So, we made our beds longer and wider and spread them out further for more space between the edges of the trellis arch than the plan provided at Weed em and Reap.
We used 2x6x12 treated lumber for the length with the boxes inner dimensions at 24″. Each box was stacked two high. The extra width would allow me to add plants on the opposite side of the trellis, hopefully giving me more growing room. The length allowed us to put two 50″ cattle panels up side by side with almost four feet left over at the end to add additional plants that do not require a trellis.
I wasn’t sure if this plan would work to give us additional growing room, but since putting up raised beds is a labor consuming process on our property, I wanted to give us as much additional growing space as possible for the initial labor done. Does that make sense?
Building the Outer Boxes to Contain the Cattle Panels
Our land is NOT level, so building raised bed requires either building up the bed on one side or digging down on one side through hard, hard, hard red clay – with lots of rocks. Did I mention that the clay is hard? So – any project requires us to measure additional cost for materials to build the bed up on one side – and then fill it with soil or additional labor to dig down in the clay on the other side or both. In this case, we opted for a little of both. To level the boxes, we had to dig down on one side and set the box into the dirt. We also had to dig out all the Bermuda grass to clear the area for planting.
Attaching the Cattle Panels
Attaching the cattle panels was an adventure. We opted to use the entire panel so we attached the bottom edge to the bottom of the boxes. Those babies are pretty sturdy, so getting them to flop over was an interesting two-man job. We attached the right side first and then flipped the other end to the inside left and attached it. We set the boxes about three feet apart, but after looking at it for a while, I did a typical female thing and decided the boxes needed to be moved apart more so there would be more room under the arch. OK – I admit, I had this romanticized idea of hiding under the arch on a hot summer day, sipping on sweet tea and reading a book while a cool breeze fluttered through the cucumber leaves – and the distance between the arch was not big enough to do that. While I didn’t give him full disclosure, I did ask my hubbie if he thought moving the arch further apart would be better.
Bless his heart, he agreed to move it apart – did I mention having to dig some more in the hard clay to get the side level and the Bermuda grass up? To be fair – I did offer to help. Anyway, the final distance between one side of the arch and the other ended up being four feet apart.
Filling the Boxes with Soil – and a Mistake
The next step was filling the boxes with the most cost effective growing medium. We ended up going out into our woods and using the composted leaves, pine needles and earthworm munchies from an area we were clearing. Please note: We did not hurt the surrounding trees and spread around where we gathered soil to not disturb the ecosystem in place in the woods.
Our big mistake that we have to rectify this year is putting a layer of hardware cloth on the bottom of the boxes to keep the gophers out. Although Mr. Gopher and family did not find the boxes in the first year, the second year, he discovered the easy to dig soil and wonderful tomato and spinach plants just waiting for him to chow down. So, all the soil needs to be taken out and hardware cloth added to dissuade his access to our garden next year.
Extra Space – Did Wider and Longer Work?
If you remember from the beginning, I decided to make the boxes wider and longer to give us more growing space. Did that work? Well, I did learn some things from the mistakes I made. First, cucumbers and beans are robust and energetic and will spread wherever they can. So, I found that I had to be highly dedicated in training the plants up the trellis so they would not spread out into the extra side growing space and crowd out what I had planted to the outside of the boxes.
Second, the dirt that we used from the woods was apparently teaming with nutrients so the plants took off and grew like crazy. I planted okra on one side and it sort of took over – well, it gets big anyway. So, it was really not a good choice for growing on the other side of the cucumber. I would stick to growing plants that stay shorter and don’t spread for the “companion” planting. Something like bush beans or even marigolds would have worked great. But, I would have to count the idea as a success.
Third, the extended ends worked out great for growing extra plants. I had a giant sunflower growing on one end and then planted some Thai Red Roselle plants beside the sunflower. On the other side, I planted yellow squash and let it trail off the end. One plant yielded all the squash we could eat that season. The distance between the boxes allowed both the squash and the Thai Red Roselle plants to spread out nicely so I am glad *we* decided to move them apart.
The idea of sitting under the arch sipping tea and reading a book didn’t quite pan out, but the area underneath was certainly shaded and cool enough to sit under at the warmer part of the day. As an added bonus, the cucumbers hung down between the spaces in the panels and were much easier to find and to pick.
Garden Trellis Arch Project Deemed a Success
I think I would overall consider this project a success that will be used in our garden for years to come. It is solid and, IMHO looks great as a nice garden feature – even when it is bare. If you are looking to expand your growing space vertically, this is a great way to grow cucumbers, melons, squash, beans, pumpkins, etc. As an added benefit, this trellis makes it easy to pick your produce as it is climbing up the trellis and often hangs through it. We will be adding another of these trellises to our garden next year.
If you try this project, let us know how it went.