Sunday, January 29

A-Frame Trellis Construction

Here in Zone 4, February is a perfect time to start the garden.

This week I'm cleaning up on some chores I've put off until winter.

A-Frame Trellis Construction

The tomatoes have grown well over the last several years, but have continuously brought down their trellis system constructed haphazardly of nylon netting, plastic stakes, and scrap lumber. August brings a marathon truss and tie-back session as the vines bring down the structure.

This year, I've planned for some much-needed stability. Three A-frame
trellises will support the tomatoes.

Tool List:

power drill, 1/8" and 5/16" drill bits

measuring tape or ruler
hex-socket driver
pliers or open-ended wrench

Parts List (one trellis):

2"x 2"x 6' non-arsenic treated qty 4
2"x 2"x 2' non-arsenic treated qty 11
3" strap hinge, galvanized qty 2
1/4" x 4" machine bolt, galvanized qty 2
1/4" locking nut, galvanized qty 1

1/4" wing nut, galvanized qty 1
1/4" flat washer, galvanized qty 6
1" wood screws (for attaching hinges)
3" or 3 1/2" wood screws (for assembly)

For those not familiar with purchasing lumber, 2"x 2" typically comes in 8-foot lengths. You'll want to buy 6 boards 2"x 2"x 8' each and cut them as follows:
Measure and cut 2 feet off four boards. The 6-foot section will be a leg, and the 2-foot section will be a cross-piece. Measure and cut the remaining boards into 2-foot sections for cross-pieces and 18" to 24" for the brace. Length of the brace depends upon your preferences.

Mark a line at every 'rung' point on the four legs, and drill a 1/8" pilot hole at the midpoint of the wood at every mark. This will help prevent the wood from splitting.

Make 'ladders' by attaching five 2' sections between two 6' sections, using the 3" wood screws. I chose to mount the sections 12" on center, starting 6" from the top end. This will allow 18" at the bottom to sink partially into the dirt, and give room around the base for weeding and plant access (most plants won't require trellising below 18" height anyhow). It might also remind me to trim off lower branches of the tomatoes, since I have a bad habit of neglecting this.

Once both ladders are created, join them using the strap hinges. Attach the hinges to collapse the ladder flat (as shown in the photo). Again, don't forget the pilot holes to prevent splitting.

Then add the brace to the side of the ladder. This should allow the ladder to fold flat or lock open. The brace will add support to prevent your frame from collapsing. First, drill two 5/16" holes in the side of the ladder, 3' from the end.

Also drill two 5/16" holes in the brace. These should be on each end, 3/4" from the edge of the brace. These will be slightly larger than the bolts, allowing free movement when you wish to collapse the trellis.

Assemble the pieces on to the ladder. Use a washer next to the wood at every point, including between the two pieces of wood.

I suggest putting the wing nut to the interior of the trellis, to prevent snags as you walk past it.
The finished brace:

Landscaping Plans

Since I'm cheap, I'll be starting perennials again this year. The plan is to grow some of the more simple items that I would normally buy for $3 to $5 each. Since I already have a seed-starting bench, lights, and heating mat for the vegetable garden, the additional cost is negligible.

I mix my own potting soil from sand, peat, and compost. The peat is relatively inexpensive if purchased in bales. I'll use about 1 cubic foot for all the seed starting, and another for transplanting, re-potting, and improving beds. If weeds are a problem, I soak the offending mix in boiling water.

What I'll be starting from seed this year:
  • Woodrush
  • Pony Tails Grass
  • Pampas Grass
  • Hare's Tail grass
  • Fountain Grass, cream and black
  • Sea Oats
  • Rock Cress
  • Daisy
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Coneflower
  • Phlox
  • Liatris
  • Dailia
  • Columbine
  • Cleome
  • Wild Strawberries
I have three areas I'd like to improve with perennials:

bed obscuring electrical box from view.

The biggest challenges here are a proliferation of weeds that sprout every year, and the property line a few inches from the box itself. I must also keep access available to the box for the electrical/phone/cable companies.

rock retaining wall
This is the ongoing project, along the left is the side of the house, at the top is the drive. The retaining wall from house to tree is about 20 feet long, and the height is about 9 feet. The rocks were placed a few years ago from those found in the pile (to the left of the tree). Each tier has a few feet of planting room. Herbs fill the left-most section of the wall, being the part with the most mid-day sunlight. The rest of the wall is a combination of creeping phlox, strawberries, creeping thyme, and spring-flowering bulbs.

I've had great success thus far with the 5 creeping phlox plants I purchased 3 years ago. They have completely filled one tier of the wall and cuttings have rooted well. The cuttings are in the second year (rooted last spring), and will be planted this year after the bulbs have faded.

bed along the wall of the house

This area is a new bed, not even planned completely yet. A flowering peach tree and flagpole are the primary anchors, with a few large boulders from the aforementioned rock pile. A hydrangea was added last year. The bench, walkway, and mulch finish out the plan. The rendering is from Broderbund Landscape Design software.


Thursday, January 19

The Herbs

I gave a good list of the upcoming vegetables, now for the herbs.

BASIL - every type I can find. Basil seems to be a great addition to most summer salads.

CHIVES - A couple varieties (Garlic, Garden). I want to get a well-established clump in my retaining wall for future harvesting & dehydrating.

DILL - I've never properly grown dill to have it ready to harvest along with the cucumbers for pickles. Then again, I've never gotten cucumbers to grow well, either. The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing you've always done, but expecting different results.

MARJORAM - a good addition to the spice cupboard.

MINT - carefully grown in a bucket to prevent spreading. The last thing I need is invasive mint taking over!

OREGANO - several varieties. I prefer fresh oregano in spaghetti sauces.

SAGE - again, several varieties. Sage-wrapped, roasted chicken breast is wonderful.

THYME - Mostly the creeping variety. I use this as a ground-cover in my herb garden. As it is stepped upon, the fragrance is released and smells wonderful. Winter and Summer Thyme for cooking.

SAVORY - another cooking herb. Usually this ends up in a pot in my kitchen.

ROSEMARY - Another potted plant.


Wednesday, January 11

2006 Vegetable and Herb plans

Why start planning a garden in January? Mostly because I'm bored, and itching to see something other than gray sky.

The planned garden -
  • Yukon Gold Potatoes - yeah, I know, they're cheap in the store, but I've never grown potatoes, so I'm going to this year. We'll see how well they store - after all, the farmer's market potatoes have lasted 4 months and counting. The store bought ones lasted two weeks before sprouting.
  • Onions - white, red, and yellow. Fleet Farm (or is it Farm & Fleet?) will have bags of onion sets, about 100 for $1. I grew the yellow variety last year and still have a couple in my pantry. They are the strongest onions I've tasted in a long time.
  • Tomatoes - Always a favorite here. I need to grow at least 2 cherry plants, 4 slicers, and probably 14 or 16 paste tomatoes (depending on germination). The stocked tomato paste from last year has been invaluable. An added bonus over the store-bought variety - these have taste.
  • Corn - blasted raccoons. I hope to at least harvest some corn this year. The choice of the year is an ornamental variety used for corn flour. The raccoons should prefer the sweet corn down the road, but who knows? They took out a whole plot of popcorn last year.
  • Beans - green beans, pole beans, dry beans. Another staple. I remember mushy bean casseroles as a child - none of that here.
  • Peas - Stir fry just begs for fresh snow peas. An added bonus is their prolific habits, so I always have spares to share with family and neighbors.
  • Lettuce - if I can manage to keep the bunnies and slugs off of it. I had good luck with a floating row cover last year, but it's sort of a pain to keep in place.
  • Cucumber - my nemesis. I have yet to grow any melon, gourd, or squash family successfully.
  • Pumpkin - see above
  • Garlic - only planted in fall, this requires some key appointment-calendar entries so I don't forget it again.
  • Bell Peppers - much better than store bought.
  • Hot Peppers - Did you know these can grow as perennials? I didn't until I saw some pepper 'trees' somebody had potted up.
  • Turnips - amazingly good for a 'yucky' vegetable. Maybe I'll try beets next!
What else am I planting? Probably an herb garden, or parts of one at least. Maybe some landscape plants (I have some heirloom seeds harvested from rose hips that might sprout if I treat them well).

Other work I need to do? Build this year's attempt at trellises, bean teepees, and other garden sundries. I'm too cheap to buy a lot of garden things.

Later this month or next I'll have to set up my potting area for starting the seeds. I've found it immensely cheaper than buying two leggy, yellow, tomato plants for $3.00 only to have one die of transplant shock. Plus I get to choose from a bigger variety.


Welcome to my garden

This is my little plot of the web to record my garden thoughts. Browse at will. If you're bored, you are welcome to do a little weeding.