Anyone who grows vegetables knows you have to have climbing and support structures in the garden. Beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers won’t perform well without something to grab or lean on. There are all kinds of pre-made structures out there, but why not find a nearby bamboo source (ask friends and neighbors) and create your own quick and easy garden structures?
I learned about the usefulness of bamboo from my husband, Will Hooker, who uses it extensively for building sculptures. Besides being a free and biodegradable resource, it lends itself to a myriad of uses as it can be split, sawed easily, painted, joined, and taken apart depending on needs. What really won me over to using it in the vegetable garden is that with the use of plastic zip ties, I can build a structure by myself in minutes.
First, collect bamboo based on the sizes you want; larger pieces can be split with a machete. Smaller bamboo pieces can be used intact. The Belgian apple fence Will built lasted for almost 10 years as it was not in contact with the soil. At each node there is a membrane that if left in place will keep water from the interior of the bamboo and prolong the life of the pole.
Prepping the bamboo includes cutting the branches off with a quick slice using a pruning saw; pull the saw at the base of the branch and then snap it off. You don’t want sharp points sticking out. Wash the poles with a scrubby and mild detergent if you want the beauty to shine through; they turn golden as they age. Once clean you can even paint them bright colors accenting your vegetables.
Next, select your zip ties, which come in white, black and other colors these days, and in different lengths. If you buy them too short, you can connect two of them to go around the joint. The 11-inch white ties are my favorites.
To build the structure, set your bamboo poles in place and begin connecting them with the zip ties. Start with a loose connection and go back to tighten them once the basic structure is in place. This is what makes it easy for you to build alone – you tighten as you go. You can grab the zip tie with pliers for a super strong joint. Finish by clipping the excess zip tie off as close as possible to the connection. Warning – these can have very sharp plastic edges. I have wrapped some with duct tape when children are active around the structure.
Creativity is your limit. One of our favorite tomato structures uses layered 2×4 inch wire fencing attached to bamboo support poles. The hefty plants grow up through the fencing. Last summer we grew cucumbers on a simple structure that provided shade to our frog pond.
At the end of the season, clip and recycle the plastic zip ties, and store the bamboo in the shed until next year. Or leave the structure in place for winter bird watching and be ready to go with those spring peas next year.
Photos courtesy of Jeana Myers.
Jeana Myers, PhD, is the Horticulture Agent for Wake County. For gardening questions, contact the Extension Master Gardeners of Wake County at 919-250-1084 or email [email protected]