When I redesigned my vegetable garden this past spring, I knew I wanted two things; raised beds and plenty of vertical structures, including bean tunnels. Vertical vegetable gardening allows a very efficient use of space, helps prevent insect and disease problems, and adds beauty to the garden. Plus, easy-to-build structures, like bean tunnels, are so much fun!
There were, however, a few speed bumps along the way. The biggest issue was sourcing my chosen material. I could have gone with pre-made garden arches, but I was looking for something more rustic. My initial plan was to form the tunnels from 16 foot long by 4 foot wide cattle panels, which could be bent over the spaces between my raised beds to make an arch. They provide a strong support for climbing vegetables like beans and cucumbers, but they are also much cheaper than more elaborate trellises and arbors… or so I thought.
Vertical vegetable gardening; building the bean tunnels:
Once I was ready to erect the tunnels, I called around a dozen farm, building, and garden supply stores around my province, but only found one that offered the panels at a cost of $140.00 each. They also didn’t deliver and I would have to factor in the cost of a truck rental to pick them up. With four tunnels in mind, that would cost me $560.00, plus tax and transportation. Not so cheap after all.
With that idea scrapped, I began to look at other materials that could be upcycled for vertical vegetable gardening. In the end, it came down to the 8 foot long by 4 foot wide concrete reinforced mesh panels that I have used as trellises for years. Bonus – they cost a mere $8.00 each! I used two panels per tunnel, joined at the top with zip ties. To ensure they would be sturdy, the bottom of each panel was secured to the raised bed with a strip of wood. (see pic below).
Initially, the two pieces of mesh bowed in – not such a pretty, or sturdy structure. Knowing that this would affect their ability to support vertical crops, we installed wooden spreaders. The wood strips turned each tunnel into a gothic arch shape, which I love! They were then painted a gray-blue colour to help them blend into the foliage (the stark unpainted wood was distracting) and I quickly jotted the phrase, ‘Muster Point’ on the first piece of wood. It’s a phrase often used by the Canadian military to signify a meeting place. What better place to meet than in the garden?
The fun part – planting the beans:
Now that the tunnels were ready for beans, it was time to get planting! I picked a handful of bean varieties; Gold Marie, Emerite, Blauhilde, Fortex, French Gold, and Purple Podded Pole. I also made another tunnel for cucumbers which is now smothered with the dense vines and dangling fruits of varieties like Lemon, Suyo Long, and Sikkim.
The bean tunnels have become my favourite shady place to sit and read. Usually when I’m in the garden, I’m working, watering, or puttering. Sitting under the tunnels has given me a new perspective on the garden and gives me a chance to really observe and appreciate the many creatures that visit the space; pollinators, hummingbirds, butterflies and more.
Do you practice any vertical vegetable gardening?