It’s often been my experience that my most successful projects have been ones where the constraints have been clear and immovable – such as a small budget or a difficult site. When it came to coming up with some way of elegantly supporting my tomato plants, I was definitely constrained by a limited budget (having already spent a goodly amount on the lumber to build the beds and the gravel to cover the paths). So I quickly discarded the idea of using copper piping (so sad – how gorgeous would the patina-ed copper have looked?) and, I soon discovered, plain old metal piping wasn’t much cheaper (it would have cost $120, at least, to have supports for only four beds). Plastic piping wasn’t the look I was going for so, in the end, I settled for bamboo – a slightly more rustic aesthetic than what I aspired to but it was well within budget and I learned a new skill.
I’ve previously used metal spiral stakes to support my tomato plants, curving the stem around the stake as the plant grew. The problem is that my stakes aren’t tall enough for the cherry tomato varieties and not sturdy enough for the heavier fruiting varieties (they tended to lean during the more prolific seasons). The concept for the new supports is the same except that string is used instead of the spiralling metal – a technique used by commercial tomato growers that’s easily adaptable for a residential kitchen garden.
All I needed was a way to support the string and that’s where the bamboo came in (and my knowledge base expanded).
The first step was connecting two bamboo poles together to form an upside-down vee.
A search on the Internet revealed that the best way to do this is with a shear lashing. I calculated how high I wanted to hang the string and marked the height on the two poles. Making sure the tops of the poles were level, I connected them using the shear lashing with some regular garden twine at the location of the height markings.
The second step was installing the vees.
Two of those vees were pounded down onto either side of a bed, making sure that the distance at the base of each vee was the same. A fifth pole was laid horizontally between the two vees and eyeballed to see if it was level – if not, the vees were adjusted up or down.
The third step (and the most time-consuming) was attaching the string.
Using the same garden twine that was used for the lashings, I tied a length of twine to the base of each vee. Then I connected those lengths with another piece of twine (paralleling the horizontal bamboo pole at the top of the vees). Lastly, I tied a length of twine (one per tomato plant) to the horizontal bamboo pole and secured it to the bottom piece of twine – not too tightly because you need this supporting string to have a little give so that you can easily twist the tomato stem around it.
It took me an entire day (including researching knot tying) to build enough supports for 8 beds. The grand total for 36 eight-foot lengths of bamboo and a ball of garden twine cost me $49.93, including tax.And the new supports appear to be more than adequate for the dizzying heights reached by my cherry tomatoes and the heavy fruiting stems.
Best of all, the supports make the kitchen garden feel more like a garden room, although they are visually light enough to not make the small space feel constricted. Birds have taken to perching on the poles and, in my more eccentric moments, I imagine hanging tea light lanterns on them and tenting them with billows of fabric (maybe not at the same time though unless I like all my vegetables to be grilled). Definitely another case where constraints made the project.