Using Frames and Supports for Veggies

Oh, those little seedlings — how fast and tall some of them grow! Midway through the summer, they're big; by August, they're out of control. You compromise the health as well as the manageability of certain crops, not to mention their productivity, if you don't step in with some kind of support. And the time to do so is well before the plant becomes unwieldy. (Support is also important if your vegetable garden is out in the open and is occasionally subject to blustery winds.)

The time to get started on support is when a plant is a few inches high. The support is so much easier to position then, plus — and this idea's important — when you plunge a support into the ground near a seedling, you don't harm it or its root system. Procrastinate, and you may.

Your support options include:

  • A wooden, metal, or plastic stake: Plunge this support deep (a foot or more) into the ground near the plant so the support will be stable when it's weighted down with foliage and the rest. Site the stake near the main stem (not right on top of it! — a few inches away) and secure the plant loosely with soft ties as it grows; as the plant fills out, it'll eventually hide these ties from view.
  • A trellis: Don't use the sort of trellis you train a climbing rose or clematis on but rather something broader and less decorative, something with plentiful horizontal wires or slats for tying onto.
  • A teepee: A teepee is a good choice for climbing plants that can get rather tall, such as pole beans or miniature pumpkins and squash. You can buy a wooden, plastic, or metal teepee, or rig one out of branches and twigs pruned from your yard. (See Chapter 19 for info on using a teepee as a place for children to play.)
  • The fence: A climber or tall-growing veggie can lean on the fence if you site the plant nearby, but you may have to help guide it and anchor it with string and/or the occasional tie.
  • Cage: Wire cages are sold specifically for supporting tomatoes, but they turn out to be useful for other vegetable crops as well, such as sugar-snap peas, cucumbers, and smaller melons. Get the tallest cages you can, or put one atop another, because many tomatoes easily grow 6 feet or taller, easily toppling shorter cages. See Figures 13-9 and 13-10.

To secure the veggies to the support, don't use material that abrades or cuts into a plant, such as wire or twist ties; use something soft, like lengths of cloth (rip up old t-shirts or pillow cases) or plastic tape. Also, when you tie, loop one end around the support first, and then pull the tie over to the plant and make a loop there as well — like a figure-eight. Do this tying loosely. This way, the plant won't be harmed and can also move a bit, safely, in a breeze.

Vegetables that need or benefit from support include peas, pole beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, small squash and zucchini, mini pumpkins, and melons.

Row covers (Figure 13-11) are usually made of plastic or spun synthetic fabric. They serve as miniature greenhouses. They hold in heat, protect the plants against wind and in some cases shade the plants and reduce the plant's exposure to insects.

Garden dusters (Figure 13-12) are used to apply a very fine coat of powdered insecticide or fungicide to the surfaces of leaves. They're most effective when used early in the morning when there's no breeze and the leaves have dew on them so the dust can better adhere to the plants.

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