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Building a garden cold frame

So writing this post has been on my to do list for two years!  It took my guest post on the Bakerette today, to finally get me to get it done.  So today’s post is a tutorial on how to build a 4 x 8 cold frame with four 2 x 4 plexi glass lids.  The original design for this cold frame came from Eliot Coleman’s book Four Season harvests.  Over the last 5 years I have built 9 of these and each time I tweaked the design a bit.  I’m pretty happy with the design as I’m going to show it to you today.  The biggest improvement I made was adding a bolt and nut to each of the 4 corners of the box so that when you are not using the cold frames they will easily break down for storage.  So let’s get started!

Building a cold frame - Chop Saw

My suggestion is to get your hands on a couple of tools that will make your job much easier.  The first is a chop saw.  There are a lot of repetitive cuts in this project and a chop saw makes quick work of those cuts.

Building a Cold Frame - Table Saw

Second a table saw.  Using a table saw allows you to buy 2 x 4 lumber and cut it to the 2 x 2 pieces you need.  2 x 4′s are always much straighter than 2 x 2′s so your finished product is much better.

 

You will also need an electric skill saw and some type of electric drill.

Here’s a list of materials you will need:
4 – 2″ x 4″ eight foot boards
2 – 2″ x 12″ eight foot boards
1 – 2″ x 8″ eight foot board
3 – 1/2′ x 2″ eight foot trim pieces (these are basically scrap)
4 – 2′ x 4′ pieces of plexi glass
8 – 3/8″ bolts and nuts. The bolts should be 4 inches long
15 – 3″ deck screws
40 – 1 1/2″ deck screws
8- hooks and eye bolts (if your cold frames are going to be in a high wind area)

I choose to make my cold frames from Douglas fir, so far they have lasted 5 years but are reaching the end of their life.  Fir is 1/3 the cost of cedar or redwood so it just depends on how cost sensitive you are.  Cedar & Redwood would probably last twice as long.

A few shop safety notes for you.  Please be sure to wear eye and ear protection while you are working and please be sure you understand how to use your power tools, a new cold frame isn’t worth a finger or an eye!!  This project is pretty basic and I think most people with a good understanding of carpentry can pull it off.  For me the work from start to finish took between 3 to 4 hours.  When my son helps, we can get one done in maybe 2 1/2.  But if you are a beginner you may want to plan a whole Saturday.

Building a cold frame - Angled cuts

Step 1:  Cut one of the 2″ x 12″ boards exactly in half with the skill saw.  Then again using the skill saw cut each of those resulting 4 foot boards at an angle starting at 12 inches at the back and down to 8 inches in front.  For some reason when I did this project I forgot to take a picture of this step.  But you can see the end result in the picture above.  The top of each piece angles down from back to front.

Building a Cold frame - Ripping side boards

 

Step 2:  Using your table saw rip all of the 2 x 4′s into 1 1/2 wide pieces.  So you will end up with eight- 8 foot boards that are 1 1/2 inches wide.

Step 3:  Again on the table saw turn two of these boards on their sides and rip them so that they are 1 inch tall.  The resulting boards will be 1 1/2 inches wide and 1 inch tall.  This cut also leaves you with a couple of long 1/2 inch strips of scrap.  Hang on to these.

Building a Cold Frame - Cutting sides

Step 4:  Using your chop saw cut the two remaining 1 1/2 inch boards exactly in half (48 inches).  This gives you 8 four foot pieces.  These are the long sides of your lids.

Step 5:  Again on your chop saw cut the 1 inch by 1 1/2 inch boards in to 22 7/8 inch pieces.  The resulting 8 pieces are the short sides of your tops.

Building a Cold frame - Cutting the channel

Step 6:  This is the tricky part.  You need to use your table saw to cut a 1/4 inch channel into all 8 of the 4 foot side boards from Step 4.  The bottom of the channel needs to be exactly 1 inch from the bottom of the board.  This channel is for your plexi glass to set in.  You will probably need to run each piece through the saw twice moving the saw rail a little on the second cut to widen the channel.  Check that your cut is wide enough by trying to run your plexi glass through the channel.  The cut only needs to be about a half inch deep.

Building a Cold Frame - Pre Drill

Step 7:  I’m all about pre-drilling!!  There is nothing more frustrating than splitting a piece while your assembling.  So pre-drill two holes in each end of the side pieces.  I like to use a 3/8 inch counter sink bit for this so that the screw heads will be recessed.

Building a Cold Frame - Assemble tops

Step 8:  Assemble the lids by attaching the long pieces to the shorter.  Remember that the shorter pieces are assembled so that the glass will sit on top of them in the channel.

Step 9:  Cut the plexi glass to length and width.  Your plexi glass pieces will be a little too wide and tall to fit in the frames.  Take measurements of each frame and then cut the pieces using your table saw.  An alternative to this would be to build your frames before you buy the plexi glass and then have the plexi glass cut to the proper length and width by the store where you purchase the glass.  Both Lowe’s and Home Depot will do it for you.  I cut mine to 46 1/2″ x 22 3/4″ but I would really suggest you wait to cut until you have the lids assembled.  That way you don’t mess it up, that glass is expensive so you don’t want to cut a $28 piece of plexi glass too short!!

Building a cold frame - stop block

Step 10:  Add a stop Block to hold the glass in.  This can be as fancy or simple as you like.  I usually run a piece of scrap through the table saw to create a small notch for the glass.  Then I cut that piece into 8 smaller pieces and attach with a screw.  But on some of my lids I simply put a screw at each end to hold the glass in place.  The important part here is to keep the glass from sliding out either end.

Building a Cold Frame - Add the glass

Step 11:  Slide the glass into the lids.  The glass should slide easily into the channel you created in Step 6.  The glass should overlap about 3/4 of an inch at each end.  Add the second stop block and your tops are finished.

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Step 12:  Cut 4 pieces of scrap 2 x 4.  Two pieces are 8″ long and two are 12″ long.  This step is the change I made that allows the frame to come apart easily.    Set the 2 x 4 pieces flush in the corner and then drill 2 holes, one towards the top the other towards the bottom.  The hole should be wide enough for the bolts you bought and goes through both the frame piece and the scrap.

Building A Cold Frame - Install Bolts

Once the holes are drilled install the bolts.

Building a Cold Frame - Side Screws

Then put three 3″ deck screws in from the side.  The screws go into the scrap piece.  Repeat at all 4 corners.  Now when you are ready to take the frame apart at the end of the season all you need to do is undo and remove the bolts at each corner and the frame will come apart!!

Building a Cold Frame - Stretcher notch

Step 13:  Next cut a notch in the center of the front and back of the frame.

Building a Cold frame - Add Stretcher

Install your last 1 1/2″ x 4 foot piece as a stretcher and stiffener for the frame.  This piece is also handy for lifting and carrying the frame.

Building a Cold Frame - Scrap

Step 14:  This step is optional but I like to take some of the 1/2 inch scrap pieces that are left over and attach them to the bottom edges of the frame.  This is where the wood comes in contact with the ground the most.  This piece of scrap adds some separation between the frame and the ground and helps to keep the wood of the frame from rotting as fast.  You can even replace this scrap piece every few years.

Building A Cold Frame - Hooks

Step 15:  This is also an optional step.  You can add some type of hook or fastener to each of the cold frame lids.  Do this if you frames will be in a windy area and you are worried about them blowing off in the wind.  Only one of my frames has this option added and I have really never had a problem.  The frames are very low profile and usually don’t get caught in the wind.

Building a cold frame - the finished product

Well there you have it!  As easy as one, two, three . . . fifteen!  Okay so it’s not easy, but it really isn’t that difficult either.  For around $130.00 you can have your own 4 x 8 cold frame!  If you live in Utah and don’t feel like making one of these yourself I’d be happy to build one for you.  I usually charge materials plus labor so the cost would be right around $275,  contact me at rick@ourstoneyacres.com for more info!!

Monday Harvest Report – August 18, 2014

It was a beautiful week this week. It was a mix of clouds and sun, we even got a little rain but not nearly as much as last week. Temperatures are still in the high 80′s and low 90′s. According to the weather forecast the 90′s are going to stick around for a while. I have to admit I’m looking forward to September just so we have some relief from the heat!!

Green Brandywine Tomato

The garden keeps threatening to overwhelm us but it hasn’t yet. Still a pretty steady rate of production but not enough to really require us to get the canner out yet. I feel like the tomatoes are a little slow this year but I think it’s just me being inpatient. I went back and checked my records and we are about on schedule compared to the last 3 years. I just look at the plants with all those green tomatoes and think I only have 6 weeks of ripening weather left, they better hurry up!!

Harvest - Cucumbers

You can see from this harvest basket that the cucumbers are starting to come on fairly strong. We had enough this week to make our first batch of refrigerator pickles! But most of them are still just being gobbled up by the kids. It’s taken years of training but the past two years the kids have really started loving fresh cucumbers. You can also see in this harvest we had another great picking of broccoli side shoots.

Broccoli Side Shoots - 2014

I’ve never had broccoli do this well with side shoots. We are actually getting enough now that we have started freezing a little for winter!!

Early Girl Tomatoes - 2014

The early girl tomatoes continue to be our only tomatoes producing, that will change this week but is has been nice to have them! We have had a steady flow since early July and now they are putting out enough that we are making homemade salsa once a week!

Freezing Strawberries - 2014

We had a big picking of strawberries on Friday. We picked about 2 pounds but this will be the last big picking for a while until the next bloom happens. We have had enough all summer to freeze. We are up to 2 1/2 gallons in the freezer so we should have plenty for our winter smoothies and yogurt!

Black Beauty Zucchini - 2014

The zucchini are in a fairly shady spot of the garden this year and that seems to be slowing their production. We are getting 2 or 3 this size every week, just enough to eat fresh and not feel overwhelmed.

Serendipity Corn - 2014

We had our first harvests from the borrowed garden this week! We picked a total of 8 ears of sweet corn. This variety is Serendipity and the awesome soil at Leo’s garden is making for some beautiful long ears! Delicious!!

1st Crimson Sweet Melon  - 2014

And our first melon of the season. This is a crimson sweet watermelon and it weighted in at 9 pounds. Despite showing all the right signs this one was picked just a few days too early. It was still very good but could have been just a bit riper.

New Broccoli starts

We also got a chance to get the rest of the fall garden planted. We put in these 20 broccoli starts along with several kale, cabbage and even a couple of Brussels sprouts.

For tracking purposes I will be dividing the borrowed garden space from the regular home space. I’m interested to see if our production is down from our old place so I’m keeping the produce from Leo’s place separate.

Home Garden
Tomatoes – 6.50 lbs
Cucumbers – 4.75 lbs
Zucchini – 2 lbs
Strawberries – 2.25 lbs
Peppers – .25 lbs
Broccoli – 1.33 lbs
Total – 17.08 lbs
Borrowed garden
Sweet Corn – 4 lbs
Watermelon – 9 lbs
Total 13 lbs
Grand Total 30.8

That makes our annual total from the home garden 203.53 pounds and over all 216.53 pounds.

We will be joining several blog hops this week including the Tuesday Garden Party at an Oregon Cottage, Garden Tuesday at Sidewalk Shoes, The Homestead Barn Hop at The Prairie Homestead and of course the Monday Harvest Report at Daphne’s Dandelions!

Monday Harvest Report August 11, 2014

We have had a wild weather week!  Early last week we had several days of rain storms, both Monday and Wednesday we had very big soaking storms.  In fact over the last two weeks we have had enough rain that I haven’t had to water the gardens at all!  That is super unusual for Utah in early August!  And to top it off we have more rain in the forecast for the next few days!!  An added blessing that goes along with the rain is cooler temps!  Most days have been in the high 80′s instead of the high 90′s so that has been a relief also!!

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All this rain really made is challenging to get our fall crops planted, but we finally had the soil dry out enough on Wednesday afternoon that we could work it a bit and get seeds planted.  We planted carrots, spinach, lettuce and Swiss Chard on Wednesday evening.  We got finished just as it was starting to rain again!!  You can see things dried out towards the end of the week and we had to hand water this bed to keep it moist for the seeds to germinate.  Once they are up we will put down the PVC watering system but for now I’m just sprinkling them about once a day.

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We also got a tray of seedlings planted for the fall on Saturday.  This tray is mostly lettuce (probably more than we will be able to eat) but it also included a few 4 packs of various Asian greens.

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The summer produce season is arriving!  We had a very big week with over 30 pounds of produce harvested!  Starting with this beautiful picking of strawberries.  This will be the last big strawberry harvest again for a while, most of the July rush of blossoms have developed and our harvest will trial off again to just a few berries until the next big rush takes over and gives us berries until the snow flies.  Over all I’m pretty please with the new strawberry patch.  We have harvested just over 20 pounds already this year, in think we could possibly double that amount before the cold comes in mid October.

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Tuesday brought our biggest harvest of tomatoes so far this year, close to 4 pounds along with a couple of zucchini and more broccoli side shoots!  These broccoli plants just won’t give up!  We are getting close to a pound of side shoots each week.  It’s really helping to improve what I though was going to be a terrible broccoli year.

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Saturday gave us another harvest so big that we had to keep it in boxes!!  This is all of the first picking of the summer “Nevada” lettuce along with more tomatoes a few onions and the last of the early spring planted potatoes.  So the cold frame planted potatoes that went in about the 20th of March ended up giving us a total of 28 pounds this year, not bad but not our best year.  The soil here at the home garden needs so much work!  It’s really heavy clay and desperately needs more organic matter.  I think that effected our potato harvest this year.  Hopefully as we improve the soil our potato yields will increase as well!

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Not included in our weekly totals was the first half of the onions.  This variety is Candy.  This is our first year growing these and I’m pretty happy with them.  They sized up fairly well and have a really good taste!  They will sit here in the garage and cure for a couple of weeks and then I will clean them up and weigh them.  My cute little daughter weighed them for me when she brought them in the garage for me.   She knows I weigh everything so she was sure to weigh them when she brought them in.  :)  According to her there are 29 pounds, of course that’s with the tops still on.  I think we will end up in the 25 pound range when they are done.  That’s not a bad harvest, especially considering that this is only half of the total we have  planted.

So here’s this weeks totals:

Lettuce – 2.83 lbs

Onions – 2.50 lbs

Tomatoes – 6.25 lbs

Strawberries – 4.25 lbs

Beans – .15 lbs

Potatoes – 11 lbs

Zucchini – 3.50 lbs

Cucumbers – .75 lbs

Broccoli – .75 lbs

Kale – 2.25 lbs

Basil – .10 lbs

Peppers – .33 lbs

Total – 34.66 lbs

That’s our biggest week of the year so far!  Our annual total is now 186 pounds.  Things should really start rolling in the next week to 10 days.  We will for sure have sweet corn this week from the borrowed garden along with the first melons (there are some cantaloupe getting really close).  Also the tomatoes here at home should really start to kick in soon, I see a lot of the full sized tomatoes starting to turn that beautiful dark green that they turn just before they start to ripen.  Canning season is on it’s way soon!!

We will be joining several blog hops this week including the Tuesday Garden Party at an Oregon Cottage, Garden Tuesday at Sidewalk Shoes, The Homestead Barn Hop at The Prairie Homestead and of course the Monday Harvest Report at Daphne’s Dandelions!

Growing a Year Round Garden

Hi Stoney Acres readers.  This post originally appeared as a guest post on bakerette.com.  I’ve been asked to do a gardening post once a month for Jen.  My post will first show up on the 3rd Wednesday of each month.  I will post it later here on Stoney Acres.  If you get a change be sure to jump over to the bakerett and check out Jen’s fantastic blog!! 

 

Hi guys!  I’m Rick; my wife and I are big time gardeners and real food enthusiasts.  We blog about our adventures at ourstoneyacres.com drop by some time.  I’m super excited for this chance to do a monthly gardening post on the bakerette.com thanks Jen for giving me this opportunity!

For most gardeners July is a busy time.  If your garden is anything like mine the tomatoes are just getting started, you’ve probably just picked your first summer squash and your mouth is watering waiting for the first melons or ripe peaches that are only a few weeks away.

Summer time gardens are a real tradition in North America, from June to September gardens all over the country are bursting with fresh veggies.  But did you know that fresh garden veggies don’t need to be limited to just the 4 summer months?  With just a little thought and planning you can extend your garden well into November AND with some simple structures to offer protection you can be harvesting veggies year round even in  USDA Zones as cold as zones 3 to 6.

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For the next few posts I’m going to teach you how to expand your garden into a year round garden!  The best part of year round gardening is fall, winter and spring gardens are a lot less work!  There is not nearly as much weeding, watering or bugs in the off seasons!

July is the time to start thinking about your fall and winter garden so let’s jump right into it!

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Nearly anything you grow in the spring will also grow in the fall and often it will grow even better in the fall.  So look around your garden now and start finding spots where you can get some things planted.  August 1st is the target date to start your fall planting in Zones 4 to 7 (if you live in a warmer zone that date will shift later in the year).

So what kind of plants do you want to be thinking about right now?  Starting in August you can begin planting lettuce, spinach, carrots, turnips, beets, Asian greens (things like tatsoi and pac choi), kale and even green onions.  Just plant these seeds directly into your garden in any empty spots you have.  Keep in mind that August in most parts of the country is HOT!  So you do need to give these new plantings a little extra attention and some extra water to help the new plants germinate and thrive.  If you start your own seedlings you can get them going indoors on August 1st and save space in the garden until the seedlings are ready to go out in mid September.

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Also start checking your garden centers and asking about fall seedlings.  Year round gardening is becoming more popular around the country so more nurseries are stocking seedlings for the fall.  Look for broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce and kale transplants.  Try to get these into the garden as soon as they start showing up at the nurseries in late August and early September.

Here’s a quick summary of some great fall crops and what to expect for harvest times.  Of course my planting dates are based on a zone 4,5, or 6 garden (which represents a big portion of the US and Canada).  If you are lucky to live in the warmer areas of the country you would plant later and also be able to enjoy your crops later into the winter.  A good rule of thumb is to start your fall plantings about 60 days before your first fall frost.

  • Lettuce – Plant August 1st to 21st – Should start being ready around October 1st, and last unprotected till about November 15th
  • Spinach & Swiss Chard – Plant August 1st to 31st.  Your early plantings will be ready to eat in October later plantings with protection can last all winter!
  • Cole Crops (Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Kohlrabi) – Set out seedlings as close to August 15th  as possible, should be ready to eat in mid October and last into November
  • Asian Greens (Tatsoi, Pac Choi, Mizuna) – Plant August 1st to 21st ready to eat in late September or early October.
  • Carrots – Plant August 1st to 21st – Ready to harvest November 15th and will last till February with just a little protection
  • Beets & Turnips – Plant August 1st to 15th – Harvest leaves as greens October 1st, small roots November 1st

Your early August plantings will start reaching maturity around the end of September just as your summer garden is winding down.  Those plantings along with any transplants you get in should give you fresh produce until November when the weather really starts to get cold.

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Next month we will talk about some simple structures you can build like mini hoop houses or cold frames that will protect those plants into December and January.  Also if you plant more seeds in mid September and protect them with a Cold frame they will sit quietly all winter and burst to life in February and March. This will give you some of the earliest harvest you have ever had!

For a more in-depth look at year round gardening be sure to check out my year round gardening series.  It includes 9 posts that really get into the details of how to grow veggies year round!!

Monday Harvest Report – August 4, 2014

Whew, it was a busy weekend, I was off with the scouts for most of the weekend fishing and boating!  It was a nice break but then I had to come home to the HOT weather again.  But we did have nice rain storm last Monday and it has been raining on and off for the last 24 hours.  Best of all the temperatures are forecast to be down in the 80′s and very low 90′s for the next 7 days!!

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Harvests for the week were pretty good.  We saw the first 3 cucumbers, Mrs. Stoney and the kids are happy about that, they love cucumbers!!

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The strawberries just went crazy this week.  Over 5 pounds in a week!  That doesn’t even count the ones that didn’t make it out of the garden.  This is why we grow ever bearing strawberries.  I know they yield smaller berries but it is so nice to have a constant flow of fresh fruit almost all summer long.  After this weeks big surge we will continue to have a slow trickle of juicy berries all the way up until it starts snowing in late October or early November!!  When we have harvests this big we usually put half of them in the freezer.  We already have almost 2 gallon bags full!

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Mid week the tomatoes started to kick in.  This was the first day we harvested more than one tomato at a time.

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Saturdays harvest saw more strawberries, a couple of perfect sized zucchini and the first really good picking of tomatoes.  We should start having real consistent pickings from the tomatoes. These were all still early girls but I’ve noticed some of the others are starting to size up as well.  Another few weeks and we will have enough to start canning.  Right now we are just enjoying eating all of these fresh!

Maybe by the end of the week we might have the first ears of corn from the borrowed garden.  I walked through the patch yesterday and just did a quick count of ears forming.  I only counted one row and came up with 40 ears already developing and that was the shortest row.   We have 3 total rows of corn so I’m thinking we could have as many as 12 dozen ears of corn!

Also we might see the first of the cantaloupe this week.  They are starting to get “netting” and are sizing up but really they will probably be another 10 days or so.

Here’s this weeks totals:

Cucumbers – .75 lbs

Tomatoes – 4.05 lbs

Zucchini – 3.50 lbs

Strawberries – 5.33 lbs

Broccoli – .33 lbs

Kale – .25 lbs

Total – 14.21 lbs

This week puts us over the 150 pound mark for the year a total of 151.79 pounds!  We are now at 20% of our annual goal.

Check back later this week for more fun garden posts!  I promised Mrs. Stoney’s whole wheat taco recipe last week but we weren’t able to get around to it.  This week for sure on Saturday!  Also Friday I will do a tutorial on our PVC drip irrigation system now that it is back up and 100% running on the new garden.

We will be joining several blog hops this week including the Tuesday Garden Party at an Oregon Cottage, Garden Tuesday at Sidewalk Shoes, The Homestead Barn Hop at The Prairie Homestead and of course the Monday Harvest Report at Daphne’s Dandelions!

 

DIY Friday – Simple Cucumber Trellis

I love to have some structures in the garden.  Not only are they handy to use but they add interest and character to the look of your garden.

Cucumbers are one of those garden plants that really begs for a trellis!  Many plants will grow on a trellis but in my opinion cucumbers need a trellis to reach their full production potential.  A big sprawl of cucumber vines with the fruit growing on the grown will never be as productive as vines growing vertically.

A trellis for cucumbers need to be sturdy and move-able.  You shouldn’t grow cucumbers in the same spot year after year, to help prevent pest and disease problems you need to put them in a different spot each year.  So a few years back I came up with this simple, cheap trellis.

Here’s all you need to build it:

18 feet of 2 x 2 lumber

4 heavy deck screws 2 1/2 inches long

12 to 20 – 1 1/8 inch eye hooks

Some garden twine (or in my case baling twine)

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The lumber is the cost variable on this project.  If you use redwood or cedar it will last longer but cost a lot more.  Pine or fir will be 1/4 the cost but may not last as many years.  Also you can by 2 x 2′s in pine but if you want to use any other type of lumber you will most likely buy 2 x 4′s and have to rip them on a table saw.

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We chose to use Douglas Fir 2 x 4′s which we quickly ripped in half on the table saw.  We then cut 3 of the resulting 2 x 2′s to 6 feet in length and cut a 45 degree angle on the bottom of 2 of the boards.  The Douglas Fir should easily last 6 years, more likely 8.

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These eye hooks are simple to use and should outlive the lumber and can be reused if you ever have to rebuild.

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Drill a small pilot hole and then screw in the hooks by hand.  We chose to put hooks on the sides of the trellis every 10 inches and along the top rail as well.

Now head out to the garden with your drill and deck screws.  Drive the two side posts into the ground about 1 foot deep.  We were lucky to have a post driver to do this, but if you don’t have a post driver you can use a heavy mallet or even a hammer.

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Once the side posts are in, place your top rail on the posts and secure  with a couple of deck screws on each side.

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Now simply string your twine between the hooks in what ever pattern you like.

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I have found that cucumbers need a little extra support at the bottom so I wrap an extra piece of twine around the posts at about 12 inches.  This gives a spot for the cucumbers to climb through when they are still small.  They don’t really start putting out runners and “grabbing” onto the twine with tendrils until they are about 12 inches tall.  If you give them this first row to go through the plants are supported on both sides at the bottom.

 

When the season is over you can just cut off the twine (that brown garden twine usually only lasts 1 season).  Then back out the screws at the top, pull the side posts out of the ground and bring the whole thing indoors to your garage or garden shed for the winter (this will help the wood last longer).

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And there you go!  A simple, sturdy trellis for your cucumbers (of course you can use this trellis for just about any climbing veggie or melon).  The trellis keeps the fruit out of the dirt, the leaves and vines have much better air circulation and it’s easier for you to find the fruit and the bee’s to find the flowers.

What other simple garden structures do you use in your garden?

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