Saturday, April 2, 2011

Playground for Peas

It has not taken long for the pea starts to shoot up (no pun intended) and start to tip over. I was not expecting to put them into the ground so soon, but I was worried that they would not continue to grow up if I did not move at least the tallest. So...I went out today and got the requisite materials for building a pea trellis.

Vertical gardening is an excellent way to maximize space when you are growing things in a small backyard. We will be doing a number of projects that utilize this tactic. Peas are nearly always grown vertically (I only say nearly always because there MIGHT be someone out there doing it differently, but I don't know any other good way to grow them). So as soon as my peas were tall enough to start bowing downward I knew it was time to get them outside.

Building something for peas to climb on is really really really really really really really (you get the point) simple. If your garden is up against a chain link fence you don't even have to make something - just use that unless you are worried about animals (or your neighbor's children...or your neighbors for that matter) stealing your peas through the links. I took a trip to the Benton Habitat for Humanity ReStore downtown to get scrap lumber for my project ($1.25 baby). I chose 5 pieces so that I could keep the string tight over the 8 foot lengths of my raised bed.

I got my string at Michael's - an arts and crafts store in town. My friend Stephanie put a bug in my ear about using nylon string, but my gut wanted to go with cotton. I picked up some cotton yarn meant for crocheting dish towels. I made sure it was non-toxic. i picked red because I thought it would be pretty with the green peas climbing it! I rounded out my supplies with 2" screws left over from Jason's coffee table project.

I used the screws to attach the poles to the outside of the raised bed. If you do this be sure to use two screws per pole. If you use only one it will tip back and forth (and, as you will see at the end of this project, two screws does not ensure this issue either). Why did I not put them on the inside of the box? The answer it simple - it was way easier to do it this way.

While I was working on this I got a chance to check out the sheet mulch up close and personally. The straw has sprouted, so there are a number of weeds, but they are easy to pull. Under the cap of leaves there is rich, dark soil. I also found the bed teeming with insect life - ants, arachnids, lady bugs, and worms. Still not sure how this stuff is going to support plant life, but I am happy with it so far.

I wove the string in and out around the poles, wrapping it around each pole as I passed it. I did it at approximately 1" intervals, and alternated from which side of the poles the string wrapped each pass I took. The result is a ladder of tightly-wound string that goes from soil level up about 3 feet. You can see in the picture below that the posts on the North end started to tilt over with the tension of the string. I went in and added another screw to each after the string was put up to ensure that they don't tip over with the weight of the pea plants.

Other ways to set this up would be to use chicken wire, cheese cloth, mesh, or any other porous materials you like. I put any of my pea starts that were tall enough to reach the string into the bed after building the trellis. This week I will go out every day and check to make sure the peas are attaching to the string to climb. Once I had the materials lined up, the whole project from start to finish took me 3o minutes.

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