When you have a row of climbing plants like peas, beans or gourds, you need a trellis. Whether you decide on a wooden or a metal one, there’s a fair amount of work and expense involved, and unless you are a pretty handy person, you’ll have to get it made by a pro. If you don’t want to let yourself in for all this, try this trick I learnt from our man Raju – a rope trellis. It’s quick, cheap and easy. Another advantage is that it’s temporary. Once that particular crop is over, you can easily remove it and grow a crop of ground-hugging landlubbers. (Remember to alternate leguminous or replenishing crops with those that drain the soil.) Just untie and put away the ropes for later use.
You’ll need two thicknesses of rope, one about 5 mm thick for the horizontals, and the other about 1 mm for the verticals (because those delicate tendrils don’t like thick rope). I use jute rope, which is soft on your hands (compared to coir), cheap, long-lasting and biodegradable. Whatever you do, don’t get the nasty plastic twine they’ll try and sell you!
Speaking of rope tricks, I must tell you about this Adivasi family we met on a train in Gujarat once. It was a third class compartment, terribly overcrowded, the height of the summer vacation and people squashed together in every square inch of the berths and the floor. Then comes this family with a kid. They climb up onto the upper berth, deftly chuck some rope around, and suddenly they’ve made a hammock for their kid, out of everyone’s way and using space that one didn’t know was available. It was like magic! Now, in retrospect, I think we were all like so many dogs, flabbergasted at the many-dimensional capabilities of a cat.
Getting back to the trellis. For an 8 ft long bed, you’ll need two or three strong poles. We usually use strong, straight tree branches (we have a few handy eucalyptus trees on our land), but I also use iron rods, rigid plastic pipes, branching twigs, etc – whatever’s lying around. When our bamboo grows bigger, I plan to use those. As you can see in the pic below, I also rope in bystanders like the papaya tree that has gatecrashed my raised bed! Whatever you use, make sure it’s strong, and at least 7-8 ft long.
So, let’s get started. The right time to do this is when your plants have just barely begun putting out tendrils. Water your ground well, then stick your poles in at each end of the row, and drive them in as deep as you can. If you have a crowbar, make holes with that first, then pack the holes after putting in the poles. They should be planted deep enough to be rigid and take the weight of the full grown climbers. Then take your thick rope and tie it horizontally from one pole to the other. One horizontal should be at ground level, so that even the smallest plants can reach it. The second horizontal should be about 3 ft from the ground, and the third at 6 ft. Pull them taut and tie them firmly. Next, using the thin rope, make zigzag verticals between the horizontals. This is for the climbers to hold onto. Keeping the poles straight is desirable but very difficult. Mine lean towards each other no matter what I do. But the more important thing is to get the ropes really taut. That’s all! Now sit back and watch your plants reach for the sky!