How to Grow Vegetables in Wire Columns

Like growing in containers, growing in columns can be a great way to save space in the garden. While they aren't as good as pots for a balcony or apartment gardens, they are a great way to grow fruits and herbs in the small backyard. Columns are easy to make, easy to care for, and simple to harvest from.

Steps

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    Do some research first. Consider where you intend to place the column, as well as the type of produce you intend to grow. Most importantly, consider how big you would like the column to be and an estimate of the circumference of the column. This is best done by drawing a simple plan of where the stakes will fit in, with an estimate of the distance between each stake and then measuring the distance around the outside edge of all the stakes, plus a few inches (centimeters) spare to secure it. This way you can estimate how much wire you will need.
    • Ideally the column should have full sun, or if you are in a hot environment, dappled shade. It should be sitting on soil, rather than on concrete or paving stones, as the soil will stain the pavement.
    • If you are in an area that freezes, you might not get a winter use out of this method if you have deep frosts as the column has a higher surface area above ground exposed to air and therefore is more likely to freeze.
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    Consider the types of vegetables you wish to grow. There are quite a few that work well with the column method:
    • Potatoes are good for this type of gardening; however, to fully harvest them you often need to pull apart the column, which could make a mess. Potatoes grow well in the tyre (tire), pot, or mounded methods.
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    • Tomatoes are excellent for this type of gardening, as are sweetcorn / maize, capsicums / bell peppers, etc.
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    • Climbers such as beans, peas and cucumbers.
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    • Brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, etc., lend themselves well to this method but only in low volumes.
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    • Annual herbs such as basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc., are great options.
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    • Melons and other such as pumpkins or squashes can be grown by this method as well.
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    • There are many more, such as: strawberries, root vegetables such as parsnip, beetroot, turnip and carrot, and other leafy greens such as silverbeet, spinach, etc.
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    Purchase some galvanised or rust-proofed fencing wire, preferably one with a 1 or 2 inch (2-5cm) gauge gap between the wires that is 1 to 1.5m high. If you can only get small height rolls, you can overlap them. Chicken wire is ideal. You don't want to have too wide a gap, as soil may fall out, or pets or other animals may take advantage of the free food (as per the above image!). At the same time, purchase:
    • Some extra wire to tie vegetables to the stakes, or to tie the overlapping layers together.
    • Some sturdy wooden stakes. You can purchase two for a small 1-2 foot (30.4cm to 60.9cm) diameter column, three for a triangle shape, four for a square, five for a larger pentagonal shape, etc. Ideally, the stakes should be at least 1 or 1.5 metres (3-6 feet) high. Higher is okay, but small two feet (60cm) stakes will not give the advantages of the bigger stakes.
    • Good soil. It is recommended to buy a mixed lot of garden soil, compost, aged blended manure and pea hay or straw. A good recommendation if you are lucky to have a local source, is fresh horse manure, however you will need to wait 2-3 weeks or more to allow it to compost in the column first, as the heat it will generate may kill the seeds. If you grow root vegetables such as carrots, select friable soil with few lumps or obstacles as your carrots may grow bent or twisted in coarse soil.
    • Your seeds or seedlings.
    • Any tools you may need to construct the column (such as a mallet, etc).
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    Insert the stakes into the ground until they are sturdy (they should not wobble when you push them). Place them in the desired shape and width by following your plan.
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    Wrap the wire around the outside of the stakes and tie them securely. You may overlap the layers if you wish to get more height, but tie them very securely to the stakes and the lower layers.
    • The ideal height is your waist height; that way it is much easier to tend and harvest your seedlings, rather than bending down all the time.
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    Once the wire is firmly tied to the columns and there are no large gaps between the layers, start to fill the column with soil. If you used fresh horse manure or other compostables, expect the height of the soil to drop as it breaks down. You should allow 2-3 weeks for the manure to break down; if fresh, this will happen quickly. Ultimately, the soil should be a few inches or centimeters below the top height of the wire.
    • The benefit of having the column contact the soil is that good earthworms are likely to make their residence in the column.
    • It is better to mix the soils, rather than layering them as too thick layers of straw or hay (if used) may dry out layer above it. Water in thoroughly.
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    When sowing the seeds, plant them directly where they will grow. Planting them with companion planting in mind is excellent advice.
    • If you wish to grow climbers such as beans or peas, you can insert bamboo stakes as a teepee to support them at the top, or simply have a lower level of soil and use the wire fence as the support - this works, however once the beans die, their stems can be difficult to remove and tend to be unsightly - the bamboo teepee method works better as it leaves less mess.
    • With ground covers such as pumpkins, you can grow them at the base of the column to spread out, while growing other produce in the top of the column to get best use. Pumpkins grow well in this method as the access to moisture and good soil is quite consistent, so they are less likely to dry out, or gain too much water and split the fruits.
    • You can also cut holes in the wire to fix plants such as strawberries to grow from the side of the column, as well as plant in the top.
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    After each season, it is best to dig in more manure into the column's soil to enrich it, or plant a green manure such as legumes that you dig in and allow the soil to improve by letting it be fallow for a year (this of course is a slower way, but okay if you have time).
    • If the columns are no longer useful (which can be several years after making them) you can use them to grow things in their sides such as ferns, creepers, bromeliads or orchids (if the climate is right) and other plants, or they are easy to pull apart to use the soil elsewhere. The soil also gradually improves underneath the columns as nutrients and moisture slowly filters down.

Tips

  • The other advantage to this method is that the wire adds protection from animals if it is a fine enough wire, but also that you can lower the soil or raise the wire levels and add a shadecloth or other type protection to shield from harsh sun and wind.
  • The trick to this method is that it does give a fairly high yield out of a low area. One downside is the fairly simple fact that if the column has poor soil in it, or it dries out, it is no better than growing in the ground. Good rich soil retains moisture and gives the best results.

Things You'll Need

  • Wire
  • Tools for cutting wire
  • Stakes
  • Planning paper and marker
  • Soil
  • Vegetables for growing

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