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Episode 51 – Vertical Gardening Arbors

The top of an arbor T post

Why is this a good idea?

Many common vegetables are vining plants. Examples are cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and melons. These plants if given a chance will attach themselves to trellis supporting the vine. By encouraging these plants to do so, the fruit will be off the ground, making it easier to locate and pick as well as the fruit skin will remain dry and not mold or rot. Also, the vertical wall of plants is pleasing to the eye. However, probably the best single reason for growing vertical is the plants consume much less garden space. That is very important if like me you have a small lot to use for gardening and even more important if you have soil like mine that is very heavy clay soil. I am gradually building the soil by adding compost every year. By being able to grow more on a smaller area there is a smaller area to have to build-up.

Assumptions used to make my decisions :

There are probably 1000’s of ways to build these arbors. I chose the method I did based upon the following criteria. I wanted cheap, easily available materials that I thought would last several years. I wanted a method I could easily assemble and disassemble for storage. This means my garden plot will not have any obstructions when it comes time to till it next year and I will be able to quickly reassemble the arbors.

If I was in an area where I could easily find tall saplings, I might consider those, but I would have to figure out a way to drive them into the ground,.as well as come up with a good method of attaching the horizontal part of the frame.

I chose PVC pipe for the legs and electrical metallic tubing (EMT – sometimes incorrectly called conduit) for the cross members. This does create some problems, but those will be described later. The idea for this came from several YouTube videos and they described the idea coming originally from a method called “square foot gardening”. In that method they use more expensive materials. They use EMT for both the legs and the horizontal members and connect those together using an “ELL” (shaped like the letter “L”) fitting for the conduit. Those fittings are relatively expensive at about $4.38 each. I think my method is much less expensive. However, I do want to point out that some environmentalists are putting PVC on the bad list. This is not because the finished material creates a problem in the garden, but the disposal and fabrication of it is claimed to be dirty and harmful to people near the plants. Since I do not intend upon disposing of the material I consider that a moot point. The criticism of the construction of the material is based upon a bunch of assumptions that I have not have been able to verify. All material has an effect on the environment, even if only the production of the energy required to make the material.


As I describe the materials I used I am stuck using the US standard measuring terms of feet (ft. or ‘.) and inches (in. or “.). If that does not make it bad enough, sizes of the materials are given in inches, but the number refers to a “nominal” naming standard. As you will soon see there is nothing 1/2 inch about 1/2 inch EMT. All these materials are sold in the US in standard lengths of 10 ft. (3.048 meters) at home building supply centers.. This description will be based upon that standard length. I am not sure what sizes are available in other countries. I believe, many times the same sizes are used but they are given an odd mm designation (odd in that it is not some multiple of 10 or even 5 mm.).

One other minor gotcha: Most laymen call EMT conduit. However, there is a much heavier pipe for carrying wires called rigid conduit. When you go to a home supply center or hardware store, make sure you get EMT if you are following these instructions exactly. The sizes were chosen, so pieces could slip fit in each other. (The O.D. of the inner one is smaller than the I.D. of the larger, outer one.– but note: the ID of fittings is the same as the O.D. of the pipe.).

The example I will use is from my own garden plot:

My garden consists of several long narrow plots. Each planting area is approximately 35 ft long X 6 ft wide (10.67 m X 1.83 m). In-between each planting area I have a path area that is 3 ft (0.91 m) wide . The idea for the 6 ft width was that I can reach that far into the planting area while kneeling in the path area. The path width was chosen because that is the width of the kitchen door and “that ought to do it”.

In the garden plot where I planted the cucumbers, melons, and squash I had several feet taken up with tomatoes and peppers so the arbors only needed to be about 26 ft I planted two rows of the vining plants.

So, I needed 6 of the horizontal pieces, 3 for each row.. Please note I did not cut the last pieces of this, but allowed the 4 ft extra to just hang out unsupported. I needed 8 vertical post assemblies, one on each on end, and 2 intermediate supports for each of the 2 rows.

Fabricating the vertical posts:

Plan for the Vertical Posts.

I cut 10′ lengths of the 1” PVC to 6 ‘ 6” long (1.981 meters)… the length was chosen because this seemed as a reasonable height to be able to reach the horizontal bar to tie the netting. This also left 3’6” remainder. I coupled two of the remainders together to get a 7’ post which I also cut down to 6’6”. A hacksaw can easily cut the PVC plastic. Keep the cut ends as square (perpendicular and straight) as possible, but it is not critical.

On one end of the post attach a 1” “TEE” fitting so the post forms a large “T”. I decided to not use glue to attach the fittings to the pipe but used the #8 X 3/4” metal screws I used elsewhere. A major hint. The pipe is marked with lettering displaying the a date code and some other information Position the TEE fitting perpendicular to the writing.

All of the screws used are #8 sheet metal screws. Drill a pilot hole for each screw. I used a 7/64” drill bit. I used 2 screws for the Tee fittings and 4 for the couplings. (2 in each pipe section.)

Once the Tee is assembled, install #8X3/4 pan head sheet metal screws up the side of the pipe.. 9” on center starting from the bottom of the post. These will be left only partly screwed into the post and will provide attachment points for the netting assembly.

Cut about 9″ to 12″ of 3/4″ PVC pipe to fit inside of the horizontal part of the TEE.  Drill 2 pilot holes in the top of the TEE and 2 in the  3/4″ PVC.   I again used #8 sheet metal screws in these but I chose hex head screws because I would be reaching over my head and it is often hard to keep the Phillips screwdriver aligned in the screw.   These screws are tightened once the total arbor is in place.   The 3/4″ PVC fits tightly around the 1/2″ EMT and provides some “slop” in  aligning things, while doing assembly.

Setting up the Arbors:

Cut a sections of the 10′ EMT into thirds (3′ 4″) these will be driven into the ground to peg the posts into the ground.   In general the intermediate posts will be set at  just a little over 10′ intervalsRemember we have some “slop” room in the couplings we have made out of the 3/4″ pipe, so it needs to be just a little greater than 10′ but not a lot.  The easiest and best way is to use a 10′  length of the EMT to help guide you on where to drive the posts.  Once these are in place simply set the fabricated posts on top of these pegs and then assemble the horizontal pieces across the top.   Place the screws to hold the netting on the side closest to your garden pathway to avoid having to walk on the garden ground as much as possible.  This is to save extra compacting of the ground.

Placing the netting on the arbor:

I chose to use a cheap sisal twine to make my net.  It can be composted at the end of the year and I assumed (correctly I think) that the plants would become so entangled that the easiest way to remove it all would be to simply cut it off at the end of the year.

All I did was tie the twin off at the bottom screw at on end of the arbor assembly and then run horizontally to the other end.  I simply just wrapped it around each screw. as I passed it.  Once at the other end, I again just wrapped it around the screw and then went up the post to the next screw and repeated the process until I got to the top screw and tied it off again.

The Horizontal strings of the netting attached.


For the vertical runs of the net I tied the twine around the 1/2″ EMT horizontal member and then cut the twine to a length a little longer than required to reach the bottom.  I simply wrapped it one time around each horizontal twine except two places… somewhere in the middle and at the bottom I actually tied a not.   Again I spaced these vertical runs about 9″ apart,  It seemed just about right for the plants I used.   I only put the vertical runs in as I needed them, usually two at a time to give a plant something to attach to.

Training the plants and supporting the fruit:

There really is not much training to have to do.  The plants will naturally grow in the direction of the most sun.  I did sometimes move them if I thought one plant was encroaching on another plants space too much.   You will have to train them some at the start so they can find the arbor.   I did this by loosely tying a piece of twin around a vine until it formed it’s own spiraling tendril and attached itself.

Large fruit like watermelon, pumpkins and even cantaloupe will require some sort of support to keep from breaking the vine.  The easiest method is to take hosiery and support the fruit.  Tie some string from the hosiery to the top horizontal piece.  The hosiery will stretch as the fruit becomes larger and heavier so start with the fruit hanging as high as the vine will allow.

Cucumbers grown vertically

Note the picture to the left was done several years ago when I was using fencing for the arbor.






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