Saturday, June 13, 2009

Heavy Duty Squash Trellis

I have grown squash for the last few years and usually just let it ramble into the pathway around my veggie garden. This year I decided that not only would I get all that squash vine out of the paths so I could get around, but that I would also block out some of the not-so-scenic alley with one project. I searched the internet for squash trellis plans. Most involved making two simple wooden ladders and leaning them together. Hmm.. not exactly what I was looking for. First, it doesn't take up as small a footprint as I was hoping for, second, it just didn't seem tall enough. I decided that I would have to come up with something on my own.

I already had a bunch of lumber I had bought for another project years ago that I never got to, so I decided that I would make use of that. They were treated 2x4 in 8'+ lengths. I figured that I could make posts out of them and use some pound-in post holders that I had seen for $15 each. For a 16' span I figured that I would need 3 posts.
For the area between the posts I picked up a 16' 4g galvanized fence panel. I almost bought one for $28, but as I was picking it up, the warehouse guys asked if it needed to be pretty. I said not too pretty, why? Well, they had a stack by the dumpster that the manager was letting go cheap. I got the whole panel for $11! And you can't even really tell what was wrong with it! I had intended to leave it the full 16' span, but we had to cut it in half with some bolt cutters so it would fit in our friend's truck.

The various tools that we used: small and large sledge hammer, long level, quick clamps, crowbar, chunk of 4x4, ratchet wrench set, screwdriver, drill driver w/bits, chop saw, tape measure, and bolt cutters.

The post holders were a little tricky to install. You have to pound them in using a chunk of 4x4 and a sledge hammer. We learned that you should hammer a little, lightly and then check for level and repeat often. Don't try to get these in too quick, or hammer too hard, or your posts will be cockeyed and the fence will look terrible! We figured how far apart to put them in by installing one post holder, putting in the post, attaching the metal panel then setting up the next post where the end of the panel landed. This worked better than trying to measure out everything. We know because that was what the crowbar was for -- pulling the post holders back out to try again! And that is why you should not hammer the post holder flush to hard ground. I left ours up about 3" and back filled with compost which made them very easy to get out when we screwed up the first placement.

Also, to get the post centered where you want it, flip the holder upside down and press the square opening into the dirt to leave an impression. Then flip it right-side up and push the spike into the center of the square.

And don't forget-- before you pound these in, call digger's hotline! They were out in just a couple of days and marked all incoming lines so I was sure I wasn't going to blow up the block spiking a post holder through the gas line.

Since we were using 2x4s and the post holders were made for 4x4s, we had to make up the difference with filler. We were very lucky to find these treated lath pieces, a huge bundle for $3! I dug through the whole pile of bundles to find the bundle with the most 5/16" pieces. (2x4 are actually 1-1/2x3-3/4, go figure)

Here are all three posts in place. We added the height of the fence panel, the depth of the post holder's post holding square, and added a couple of inches to it for good measure (to add post toppers if we wanted!) to figure out how long to cut the lumber.

We were asked by our friend who picked up the fence panels for us why we didn't just save ourselves the hassle and use 4x4s. Well, not only did we already have this lumber, but the space left between the boards gave us a way to attach the fence panel.

We put the panels between the boards and ran a 4" bolt through holes we drilled in the boards at measured intervals so that we would be between rungs in the fence and not hit them. The bolts go through the end squares in the panels. By going through the squares, the panel will not fall out as the edges of the panel will hold it in place. The middle post has two ends of the panels which we overlapped to be sure that the bolt went through both panels' squares. We attached a locking nut to the other side of each bolt to cinch the boards together.

Here is the before (OK, yeah you can see the post holders already in place, but you get the idea)

And here is the after! The squash is planted and now we just have to wait for the screening magic to begin.

The whole project cost us around $65. The lumber will cost you extra - unless you too have a big pile of treated 2x4s just laying around. And the fence panel will cost you extra too - unless you get lucky as well. You can get a non-gradated panel for $21.

This will be fairly easy to dis-assemble (we know because we already had to do that once) and store or move. Once we had all the materials it took us just a couple hours to cut and drill all the pieces and install the post holders. An easy project even for you non-carpenters.

UPDATE: October 2009 - This project worked out great! I did try to hammock the squash in nylons, but it turns out that all the squash was strong enough to hang except the pumpkin (and they apparently are a little claustrophobic so no-go on the hammock for them). The squash plants, overall, took up about 3-4sqft of ground space each - not bad for squash! It was a bad year for squash, but I still got 2 butternut, 3 buttercup, and 7 acorn squash! The pumpkins did not care for this set-up, but, luckily, I thought ahead and had planted a huge bed at my friend's house yielding me enough pumpkins for the season! One tip though, install a short fence between your squash and the rest of the bed to contain strangling vines (I used a cheap, but sort of strong, push-in fence).


KC MO Garden Guy said...

You did a great job with the trellis. Those panels work great for holding up tomato plants. It was a great ideal to put the panel between the 2X4's. That will hold them tight!

Sylvana said...

KC MO GG, I hope that this will give other web-surfing gardeners another squash trellis option.

My panel transport friend was actually eying-up the cheap damaged panels for making tomato cages but wasn't sure how to go about it. Do you have plans on your site?

Catherine@AGardenerinProgress said...

That turned out great! Great step by step directions as well! Will you be planting squash on it this year?

Sylvana said...

Catherine, the squash is already planted :) I started them in pots to await the completion of the trellis. Buttercup, acorn, butternut, and even the mighty pumpkin! Actually, I grow Triple Treat which is a small to medium pumpkin that is fabulous for pies (sweet and pumpkiny), seeds (no outershell!), and even jack-o-lanterns (even shape with great coloration). I just paint ours so that we can eat them afterward!

MacGardens said...

Nice job on describing your projects. I think it's helpful for people to see the complete description and final result...

Sylvana said...

MacGardens, people are always telling me I make a great teacher!

trellis said...

It is awesome to see such creativity on a trellis. I have never seen such a sturdy one. I am going to attempt to complete a project exactly like this during the summer.

Sylvana said...

Trellis, I leave it up year round and it is still going strong. A really great project.