Sunday, August 11, 2013

Three Months On: Garden Trellises and Beds

Earlier in the Spring I wrote a short blog series about constructing three garden beds and two trellises for our plot in a community garden. I fabricated all of these pieces of garden 'furniture' using only joinery. I realize that while many of those folks with a 'practical' bent might choose to nail and screw such things together, it makes more sense to me to build stuff to last as long as possible. I feel this is manifesting respect for materials, and I believe solid wood joined together makes for the most durable form of construction, so from that perspective, it is 'practical'. Metal fasteners always condense moisture more readily, and hence rot always propagates from those locations. Sure, it takes more time to build with joinery than with metal fasteners , but if it lasts 2-,3-, or 4-times longer, then taking the time at the beginning seems to me to be the most time-effective. I'd rather not be building a new set of bed and trellises in 10 years time. Kinda hope they last the rest of my life in fact.

Here were are several months on now, and the garden pieces have endured baking heat in the upper 90's ˚F (mid -30's ˚C), direct sun, and have been repeatedly soaked by rain. How are they standing up so far? I intend to revisit this matter annually here on the blog, assuming the blogging continues into the future like that, and show how the joinery is holding up. Obviously, 3 months is not a long time, but as you will see, the vagaries of the weather have had a potent effect so far on the wood. These pieces of garden architecture are, for me, a laboratory of sorts where I can see how traditional construction stands the test of time in a fairly harsh environment, at least compared to the indoors.

The wood for the beds, Black Locust - one of the most rot-resistant species in North America - was fairly green when I started, so I fully expected some cracking, checking and similar degradation. The Jatoba I used for the low square trellis was KD material, and in my experience a fairly stable species, so I didn't expect it to move much or degrade so much. The tall trellis was made from Spanish cedar and Honduran mahogany scraps, and my experience with those woods is that they don't move much and are very durable.

Let's see what happened then. The last photo I took was at the end of May:


From a similar vantage point, the view today:


We've had a very good growing season so far, unlike last year when there was hardly any rainfall.


The Jatoba is looking a bit sun-bleached, and there has been some cracking here and there on the ends of sticks:


Through tenons look just fine so far:



Another view of the upper frame corner connection:


The tall pyramidal trellis is slightly sun-bleached but otherwise unchanged:


On this piece I made an exception to my practice to avoid the use of metal fasteners and attached the battens to the battered frame with stainless screws. Sure, they could have gone together with tenons, but the time taken for fabrication wouldn't have made sense (would have added several days), and the assembly of a pyramidal structure with dozens of tenons needing to go together at the same time would have been a major PITA. So, stainless screws it is - the 'guts' of the structure are mortise and tenoned together.

Another view:


Now a look at some of those multiple through mortise and tenon joints on the planting beds. There has certainly been some cracking and checking, but the joints remain pretty darn tight:


Inside corner of the same joint - looks tight:


The crickets around here will take your leg right off, clean above the knee, if you give them half a chance:


Same joint:


Another corner:



A couple more shots of the square trellis joins:



As mentioned, the yield from the garden so far has been prolific and my wife and I are psyched.
We were having to force-feed ourselves huge piles of salad greens for about 2 months! That salad greens bed has since been cleared and re-seeded - we are starting amaranth (3 types) and Japanese carrots (3 types). Those plants should mature in about 60 days, and if need be I will plastic over the planting bed to ensure their survival once the frost comes.

Now the tomatoes and eggplants are threatening to take over - I've never eaten so much tomato salad, salsa, and ratatouille in my life:


We're growing both Japanese eggplants - our favorite as far as flavor - and a few globe white and purple streaked Italian eggplants, or aubergine if you're from the dark side of the pond:


We have more than a dozen of these - looks like no shortage of Mediterranean lasagna this fall:


Unusually, the cantaloupes are going big too, with 5 set on one plant - I keep them off the soil with some plant pots:


These will probably be ripe in another week or two - my wife knows how to tell when they are ripe, something to do with the pattern on the skin:


Cucumbers were only modestly productive, with about a dozen harvested. I think i will research them a bit more before next growing season to see if there is something I could do better.

We've had a bumper crop of basil - this is less than half of it:


The taller and greener variety is Nufar, a mold-resistant form of the Genovese type, and the smaller one with the lighter leaves is Perpetuo, a type I obtained from Oregon which never flowers. We are making a massive amount of pesto with all this basil- at least a year's worth of supply - and have had to buy a chest freezer to accommodate the haulage. Still to come is the Shiso, a Japanese herb of which we have some 20 plants (you can see it vaguely in the background of the above picture), which we will also use to make a bunch of pesto.

So far, I'm pleased with the garden and with the wooden furniture I have built for it. Next year, with an earlier start for the peas, I am looking forward to making fuller use of the tall trellis. I am also planning to grow the tomatoes in a different way next year - this, stemming from both observation of how the plants developed  and seeing a technique on a YouTube video from Holland - and I will be constructing a special growing bed for that purpose sometime next spring.

All for now, thanks for your visit!

7 comments:

  1. Chris;
    Are you planning on breaking down the two trellises?? Garden is looking good! Enjoy the bounty!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. JT,

      thanks for your comment. I wasn't planning on breaking the trellises down. I'll leave them out there over the winter. When the weather is cold the activity of insects and fungi is near zero, and the snow, if dry, doesn't soak the wood, at least not as often as the rain.

      We'll see though - like I said, this is a bit of a wood structure 'laboratory' for me, and if the trellises look noticeably worse for wear after the coming winter then I will look at bringing them indoors for the following winter.

      ~C

      Delete
  2. Chris, can you post the link to the tomato information? It sounds interesting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shaun,

      aha! - I see that there are other gardeners out there reading this blog - good to hear from you.

      I can summarize the method as follows:

      -grow the tomatoes vertically on spiral metal stakes or a stout mesh support
      -prune the laterals so that the plant sets fruit close to the central leader line
      -use the red plastic mulch, which is shown to increase yields

      The main problem I find with tomatoes is the overly dense growth - like a thicket, that makes for poor air circulation. It becomes a sprawl, difficult to weed, to prune, to harvest fruit. Stems without proper support bend and break.
      Lee Valley sells some great metal spiral tomato stakes, and I'm looking at using concrete reinforcing mesh as a trellis.

      You might want to take a look at this:

      http://www.mastergardeners.org/picks/tomato_staking.html

      I've also learned that dropping the watering down by 50% when they set fruit will prevent the tomatoes from splitting (which can lead to rotting and disease). Next year I want to have a way of keeping the rain off them after fruit sets and use drip irrigation.

      I still have a lot to learn about gardening!!!

      ~C

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    2. Thanks Chris, I think that will actually help.

      We did use the red plastic mulch last year and I think it did improve things. Although describing me as a gardener is definitely stretching things, I am more of a consumer when it comes to our garden.

      Delete
  3. Chris

    That looks like a nice yard....lots must be big in Mass.

    Ward

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ward,

      good to hear from you. Some of the older houses and oldest subdivisions have quite big houses and spacious lots, however I live in a condo or sorts and the garden you see is part of the common property.

      ~C

      Delete

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