Grow UP!

Last Saturday I taught a class on building easy, DIY garden trellises and structures.  The (free) workshop was offered at the Community Orchard of West Seattle (COWS) located on the South Seattle Community College campus (find map here) and funded by a Seattle Department of Neighborhoods grant.

Still in it’s building phase, when it’s completed the Community Orchard of West Seattle will be the source of  FREE local fruit for neighbors and local food security programs:  apples, figs, strawberries and raspberries – Oh MY!  Intensively planted areas surrounding the fruit beds will provide vegetables, herbs and pollinator-friendly blossoming plants.

bamboo structure

A simple bamboo house at one of my favorite community gardens

This is hands-on, community supported gardening at it’s best and the occasional free classes, yummy potluck lunches and work parties are a venue for public agricultural education and a great chance to meet new people who value good food!

In an effort to save resources, rather than printing a handout, I promised to post my class outline and related photos here:

Why trellis?

Structure:  Any ornamental edible landscape benefits from a degree of formality.  The rough and tumble of riotous crops in high season easily dissolves into an unstructured tangle in the absence of an underlying organization.  Strong lines, raised beds, and pathways provide a constant framework to carry the design through seasonal shifts and accommodate gaps left by harvesting.


Upside down tree as arbor

Think outside the box... or upside down as my friend Kathy Fries did when recycling a dead tree into a whimsical arbor in her garden.

Vertical interest:  Most of the action in vegetable gardens takes place at ground level.  Tepees, trellis supports, arches and fences provide valuable height and scale.  At the same time these architectural elements provide vertical growing space for beans, peas, squashes, cucumber and flowering vines they also add a decorative touch as well.  Even better, most vine crops like pole beans, cucumbers, indeterminate tomatoes and summer squash will continue to crop if you keep up with picking ripe produce.  So you gain space and maximize the crop you can produce in that space.

You can’t go up without producing a little shade.  Come to find out some crops actually prefer a little protection from the hottest summer sun.  Go here for my  lists  of “right plant, right place” edible crops – some may just surprise you!


Rebar bottle tree

A remarkable rebar bottle tree/teepee in my friend David's garden

What to trellis?

Actual climbing vines:  Tomatoes, GIANT world of pole beans, climbing zuchinni, nasturtiums, peas, cucumbers, squash, melons, don’t forget other flowering vines that will ornament the space and attract pollinators.

Beyond vines, garden structure can be used to control, stake and prop up fruiting plants:  raspberries, peppers, eggplants, potatoes, fava beans.  Or use vertical structures to enclose the garden, and keep critters out.

Bean teepee

Brilliant blue paint adds even more panache to the abundant crop of beans

DIY trellis

The following projects were demoed during the second part of the class.  Sorry, no instructions, but most are pretty straightforward and easy to manage…although maybe not by yourself, indoors, waving long bamboo poles around, and on carpet.  I referred to my grappling as “the entertainment portion” of the workshop.  Folks laughed and were quick to assist me in my blunders.  NOTE: it’s much easier  building with bamboo outdoors where you can anchor a pole in some nice fresh dirt!

Cordon tomatoes

Tomato vines trained on jute

Teepee – most basic but nevertheless endlessly charming and a great way to create an almost instant garden hideaway for kids

Cordon tomatoes – tomatoes trained on jute are exposed to good air circulation and maximum sunshine.

PVC pipe and plastic cloche

Hardware store material provide protection from a cold spring

Cloche/hoops – I’m afraid this may be the most needed tool during this exceptionally frigid PNW spring.

Wire fencing cylinder – perfect for discreetly caging plants and training vines.

Sky Ladder – my 9 foot tall construction of black bamboo and zip ties and soon to be home to a tower of runner beans.

After a delicious lunch, about 20 of us moved out into the actual garden/orchard space and got down to some serious garden building.  Long rows of strawberries were planted and mulched with pine straw; baby herbs went into their own bed; and sturdy metal stakes were driven into place for supporting the intensively planted, soon to be installed orchard trees.

My group cut, staked and zipped about 50 bamboo poles into an approximately 10 foot long arbor created by linking a series of individual teepees.  Far and away we had the “easy” job and finished long before the others who were caught up with real honest digging and pounding.  And to such dramatic and immediate effect!  Everyone commented on how the nature of the once-empty space changed by erecting a vertical element.  Very satisfying.

The next class is May 21st, Soil Fertility & Planting and you can play along in the garden by signing up on the COWS website.  June 11th I’m teaching another class on Berries, Berries and more Berries.  Rumor has it there will be shortcake!!!  Hope to see you there.



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One Response to “Grow UP!”

  1. Lars Larsen May 2, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    Public agricultural education is always good 🙂 The rebar bottle teepee seems like an interesting structure.