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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

SFG's Fast and Loose II

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

The following post was originally posted on my personal blog this last summer and is being reposted here as a follow up to my previous post. Some notes have been added to update the information.

So then... on with my documenting some of the ways that I've adapted my SFG'ing methods. Below is a picture of 5 of 6 raised beds. They are 4x6 and are lined up along the north end of my yard.
You may have noticed that there are no grids... I don't use them. This isn't so much because they don't make sense, they do. I do use the same general spacing guidelines, but I also like to keep things a little more fluid as far as how I plant things together and I hated working around the grid; really it's just a personal preference thing.
Above, the nearer bed is one of the ones that I had tomatoes in last year and the year before. I am rotated the crops this year to keep the plants healthy, so they were planted in the furthest bed. This also shows how I had built some 2x2 frames to tie up the tom's with. I lined the plants up one/sq ft. along the back edge of the beds and ran strings up to the top beam of the frame.
This is a close-up of the basic construction of the corners of the frame. I used salvaged OSB from a construction site and some ripped in half 2x4's (2x2's would work and are fairly cheap.) basic grabber screws and a triangle piece have held them fast for over three years now. No complaints about them. I'll be making some new ones this year only because I am changing the configuration of the plants, but I'm sure these will be re-used somewhere else in the garden.
Connecting them to the box was also just basic 2.5 inch grabber screws straight in. Now how to trellis??
Twisted, nylon mason line. This stuff is my fave in the garden. it cost barely more than the standard twine, but if your careful and creative with how you tie things, you can re-use this stuff for a couple of years. Basically, instead of cutting and tying each individual piece that I need, I take a little extra time to wrap most of my trellises as one continuous loop. This allows the string to be unwound and put up at the end of the year, and re-used next year. This is incredibly durable stuff if used right. Get some, and oh yeah, carry a little butane lighter with you if your going to need to cut it or it'll fray like mad!
Here is another idea that I tried out this year. It's not in the SFG book, but it passes the common sense test so it's worth a try. I purchased a couple of pieces of welded concrete reinforcing mesh, the stuff they sink into concrete slaps to make it stronger, for approx 5.00 apiece. I cut each in half lengthwise and bent them in half again to make a grid A-frame. They are only about 3.5 feet height, but I have four of them next to each other and have planted peas around the entire footprint of each Frame (18 per side, 36 per Frame x 4 for 144 plants.) As the peas reach the top of the frame, I intend to wire on another A-frame between Frame like stacking cards. this should give me a 6 foot+ pea frame. Again, we'll see, It's all about the learning.
To maximize space, I planted my Baby greens underneath the peas to grow. They help shade the ground keeping it cooler and more moist, and in the summer heat, the peas should shade them, letting me get a longer harvest. I find that you always have to be thinking about how plants can help each other out, and share the same space when your growing in such a small area. (note: This trellising for the peas and salad greens worked great this year! The only thing I would change would be to put it in a raised bed where I can access both sides of it instead of putting it against the fence line.)
Speaking of small area gardening. This is my big experiment for this year (to be added to the countless small ones no doubt.) I am growing 9 pots of potatoes. These large tree pots that I was able to get from a local nursery for zero dollars, FREE, yep my favorite price. You'd be surprised what people want to give away if you just ask. Anyway, I planted two seed potatoes in each one and the theory is that as the plant grows I will add straw around it covering the leaves. The stem will continue to push ever higher in it's attempt to get sun, and I will put a mesh column around the plant and keep mulching it. I have already covered the plants once with straw and they are poking out the top already. The potatoes on a potato plant actually grow not from the roots, but from the stem of the plant, thus the reason they are traditionally mounded, this method is supposed to allow for a much greater harvest from a smaller area.
OK, this goes out directly to ruralaspirations in regard to her issue with the cost of building her metal trellises per Mel's instructions. I also found that the conduit piping was fairy affordable, but would not get it myself because of the obscene price of the corners. (Do those dang corporations know how to stick it to you or what?) Until this year, when I will be trying one of them out. What changed my mind? That little piece of plastic above. It is an double threaded elbow for PVC pipe, 3/4 inch I believe, that fits very snug on the ends of the half inch conduit pipe. The key here is double threaded, because it's the threads that make it fit tight. There it is, my cheapo elbow. It may have issues in the heat of the summer, I can't say yet that's why I'm only going to try one of them (for .59 cents apiece I can afford to try it), but this is the type of stuff that I like to do in the garden, try this and that. Maybe only this works but that fails, I keep plugging away at it, little by little the garden gets better. I get better too for that matter, I learn that trying things is OK, and so is failing. Now is the time for us to take these opportunities. The future may hold tighter times when heading over the learning curve will hurt a lot worse.
(Additional note: This worked great this year. I did end up putting some holes in each of the metal pipes ends and wiring them together diagonally to reinforce. Worked great.)

Keep your mind open to the possibilities, and don't get to caught up in the minutia. I look at gardening less like a science and more like a painting. You try this or that, add something here take away a little there, it's a work in progress.
Grow on!
P~

4 comments:

Joanne said...

Thank you, as a novice vegie gardener I'll take all the tips and advice I can get!
I'm going to show my husband the pea frames out of reo, and the potato pots.

Kristin said...

Before you get too hard on the pipe manufacturers, understand that the corner pieces are cast, not extruded like the pipe itself. It is a much more expensive process to cast than to extrude so you will pay more for the corner or any other "bendy" type part, including most connectors.

Glad the PVC elbows worked for you. But keep in mind, they are plastic and will degrade in a few years. This means they will become brittle and eventually crack and be trash. Electrical conduit, the gray plastic stuff, would be a better lasting choice as it has some UV inhibitors in it. Anything made of black plastic is the best since it resists UV rays more than any other plastic. But I'm not aware of any black PVC plumbing-type connectors.

Depending on the price and how long the PVC elbows last, you may be better off buying the galvanized metal elbows since they'll last virtually forever. And you won't be throwing the plastic away.

Just some thoughts. I love your garden!

P~ said...

Joanne~ you're very welcome! Good luck with the pea frames.

Kristin~ I actually agree with everything you said. I didn't mean to be hard on the manufacturers, just kidding a bit. The initial catalyst for this post was in response to some readers of mine that were expressing their frustration with all of the stuff that they felt like they "needed" to buy for their SFG's. My greater point, I hoped, was to show that there are a lot of other ways to accomplish things.
I have actually decided that I prefer a new method of trellising that I came up with later in the season this year that uses salvaged wood as the base. I'll cover that another time if you're interested.
Thanks for the input!
P~

Kristin said...

I know you're being tongue & cheek, Paul. But I do hear a lot of folks commenting about products without understanding what goes into making them (can you tell I'm an engineer?!)

I would love to see your new trellising technique. I'm looking for low or no cost garden ideas...economy is bad as you know and hubby (also an engineer) can't find work and so is now a handyman. I'm hoping to try some Elliot Coleman trellising techniques and asked my sister for some fancy netting from Johnny's to accomplish it. But it isn't a no cost solution!

Thanks for your blog! I'll be back!