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Growing an Annual Trellis

Posts: 71
Location: Colorado~ Front Range~ Zone 4/Wheaton Labs
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Bushes and dwarfing plants are nice but I tend to enjoy vigorous vines and climbers. Plus I've read rumor that pole/vine varieties of annuals like beans and cherry tomatoes produce more (and are higher up when harvesting!) than their bushy kin. However, trellising is a MONSTROUS task that I'd prefer to do without or keep to a minimum.
As I understand it, most climbers are naturally accustomed to sprawling over nearby bushes a lot like black berries do but at an early stage in a forest garden there might not be much in the way of larger perennial trellises. I also wonder if reaching into a thick bush to harvest sprawling, random beans would be the most efficient use of ones time.

SO an annual trellis that would also produce a compact yield might be the way to go early on. The 3-Sisters seems like a reliable template to spiral off of and it is really why I started thinking about all of this.

Amaranth seems like a very promising plant for trellising on to. Last year I was pretty amazed at how thick and sturdy their stalks can get. There are also a diversity of amaranth varieties that are either specialized for leaf production or grain production (or both!). However, the one season that I grew amaranth, I noticed that in the first few weeks after coming up the plants just languished at about 4inches before rocketing up to 6ft. If this is a recurring theme with amaranth than it could be a problem for growing alongside fast growing beans or peas. The amaranth COULD be sown a few weeks before the legume to give it a leg up as well. I've also read rumor that the Amaranthaceae family is somewhat antagonistic to the bean family although this certainly needs more looking into.
Tall growing and indeterminate tomatoes might be a good match because they are also slower to start up AND amaranth is said to harbor beneficial insects, which I can certainly see being the case when their flower stalks start opening up (huge surface area for bug hideouts). From my little experience, amaranth leaf stalks tend to be sparse and fairly fragile compared with the stalk so the tomatoes might not be able to find their way up but not having to drive stakes into the ground would solve half the issue.
Quinoa is similar to amaranth and part of the same family although apparently more finicky and shorter (<4.5ft).
~ I am most interested in these two at the moment just because they seem to have double potential as salad greens AND pseudo- grains. I also wonder if good trellising traits could be bred to create specialized, highly productive vertical growing spaces for climbers. I'll certainly be experimenting when spring rolls around but for now I'd really like to know about other peoples experiences with these plants.

Other Potential Annual Trellises

- Sunflower
- Sunchoke
- Flower stalk of 2nd year cabbage grown for seed? (Biennial but same concept)

Those are the few off the top of my head but there has to be more. Good climbing-mates for each species would also have to be considered.

Posts: 787
Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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This is a great thread!

On your amaranth and quinoa I will suggest a local cousin lambsquarters.

Wild lettuce puts up a thick stem about 3-4 feet high and doesn't really need the leaves on the stalk to keep putting out seeds and latex, ideal for a trellis while putting out a seed crop. Biennial so you already got the leaves from the 1st season too.

I have some wild sunflower with multiple stems with flowers, make a great trellis, last season I grew purple hyacinth bean throughout and it was excellent.

Giant ragweed would make a good candidate. You could either trim off the top before flowering, or let it go for wild bird feed. Can reach 12 feet high, and has thick stem.

I grew some monster basil one season and let the dried plant stay standing. The next season i reinforced the standing dead basil with a bamboo pole and grew snow peas on its branches. This could work for any woody annual that maintained its wood through winter.

Kai Duby
Posts: 71
Location: Colorado~ Front Range~ Zone 4/Wheaton Labs
forest garden food preservation woodworking
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I did consider lambsquarter but the wild ones around my area are pretty lanky and probably wouldn't make a very strong support. Maybe if I found some vigorous ones though!

Wild lettuce is a great idea! I have it growing all over my yard. My only concern with using it is that it may cross pollinate with cultivated lettuce. Apparently this could lead to a reversion of wild traits. As much as I enjoy the extremely bitter wild lettuce, I'd prefer to keep the two separate.

Giant ragweed would make a good candidate

This is a good one too! I remember reading somewhere that the seeds were also eaten by certain tribes. Giant ragweed reminds me of another good one: Giant Goldenrod.
From these I also started thinking that the glorious and omnipresent mullein might make a good stake too!

The next season i reinforced the standing dead basil

I've never heard of such massive basil!

Originally I was thinking about a single season where the trellis would grow alongside the trellisee but your ideas expanded that to a possible rotational trellising scheme that would allow a ton of flexibility. Grow the trellis the first year with a better suited polyculture and then the second year grow the trellisee up the dead plant with a different mix.

Ew. You guys are ugly with a capital UG. Here, maybe this tiny ad can help:
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