Many vegetables need staking or support to grow straight and make the most efficient use of space. Some food plants, such as tomatoes, just bear too much fruit to stay upright without help. Others are natural-born climbers, such as the vining peas and pole beans.
Sun reaches all parts of a staked pole bean, and air circulation is enhanced, keeping the plant healthy. Fruit that is in contact with the ground is often ruined by mold or insects. It’s also much easier to pick when supported off the ground.
Vining tomatoes, peas, and pole beans all require support. Cucumbers, squash, and melons grow better with support, but are often grown sprawling on the ground.
Bush, or determinate, tomatoes can grow without support, but are healthier and easier to pick if held off the ground by a low support. Vining, or indeterminate, tomatoes require support. Of the peas, some of the dwarf varieties can be grown without support, but are easier to pick and healthier on a 2-foot fence. Taller varieties require support.
Most climbing vegetables can be grown on a fence. Open fences, such as woven wire fencing or lattice fences, support vegetables without further help. Solid fences and walls require a system of strings or wires for the vegetables to climb on. Jute string makes a good support; it is soft and rough to give a good purchase, and biodegradable, so the whole mass of vines and string can be tossed in the compost heap at the end of the season.
Tomatoes can be grown tied to a stake or surrounded by a cage. If tied to a stake, more tomato plants can be grown in the same space, but new side shoots must be pinched every week, a considerable task once the tomato gets large. Tomatoes trained to a cage take less care, and the foliage provides more protection for the fruit, avoiding sun scalding. For more information, see Supporting Tomatoes.
Peas cling by tendrils. They can be grown on brush—tree branches stuck in the ground in the pea row—or on a fence. Most peas climb about 5 feet, so need a support that high.
Make a simple pea fence by driving stakes into the ground at each end of the row. Fasten two strong wires between the poles at the top and bottom to serve as rails, and wind string from the bottom rail to the top one, every foot or so. Peas will easily cling to the string to climb the fence. Peas tend to lean away from the fence toward the south; train them back to the string if they lose their way.
Beans twine around a support, so are often trained to poles. Either drive a pole for each 3 plants, or form 3 to 5 poles into a teepee shape, tied together at the top for support. Beans can slide down smooth poles; use poles with a rough texture, or wrap them in twine to give the vines a purchase. Beans will climb 6 to 8 feet high. make the poles 6 feet high; the vines will twine together and hang down from the top, allowing you to reach the tops. Use 8-foot poles, driven 2 feet into the ground. To make driving easier, use a crowbar to poke a hole first, then drive the pole into the hole.
Supporting Cucumbers, Squash and Melons
The smaller cucurbits—the squash family—train easily to a fence. They take less room and are easier to pick if grown in the air. The largest squash and melons are too heavy for a fence. Support medium-sized fruits on the fence with a cloth sling (old pantyhose work well) to bear their weight. Small ones like cucumbers don’t need support.
Cucurbits have tendrils like peas, so cling best to small objects. Grow them on a fence or trellis. Two pieces of lath trellis hinged at the top make an A-frame support that can span the space between two rows of cucurbits. The leaves will grow on the outside of the A-frame and the fruit will hang down inside to make picking easy.