Cage engineering

My plants live in beds I put together with discarded, untreated wood from my barn owner friends. They got the wood from an area company that produces wind energy and transports the fan blades by setting them in giant wooden cradle-like things on flatbeds. My friend got the cradles for free, and has about an acre of them. He has used some of the wood to build shelters for turned-out horses and said I was welcome to any of it.

So I’ve screwed together boards to create 4×4 and 4×3 boxes. They look like planting beds, but they mostly just define the space plants live in. Unlike a raised bed with weed barrier, these beds combine 6-8″ of native dirt below the surface with vermiculate, compost and other amendments.

For supporting plants with heavy fruit and giving beans something to climb, I bought cattle panels from the local ranch store. They are heavy-gauge wire panels that are 16’x4′. At the store they cut them into 8’x4′ for me. Then, using leverage and all my bodyweight, I bend them into arches. Originally I forced them into the 4×4 boxes, where they’re held firm by the wood; this requires not skimping on screws. This works, though they are more or less permanent structures.

I didn’t build the cages for all the boxes last year, so I continued the project this summer. The cost was about $60 for 5 panels (they gave me one free because it was slightly bent). This time, I decided to make them more easily moved from one place to another, because I rotate crops. Again using leverage and bodyweight, which was at least 5# heavier than before since my recent vacation, I bent the panels and temporarily secured them by tying the ends together with baling twine. Then I asked Metal Pig to buy something more substantial since he was going to the hardware store and he came back with lightweight chains. They’re perfect. I cut them to desired lengths and cut only half the links on the ends to make them hooks. Then I simply hooked them to the ends of the panels on each side and cut the twine. Again they are held together by tension, but I can pick them up and move them without releasing it. This example is an 8′ panel held together with a 3′ chain on each end:

These plants have grown up through the openings in the panel and are comfortably supported.

Author: Fire Horse

I live in Colorado with my husband Metal Pig, our son Evil Genius ("EG") and, for some reason, two Dalmatianesque dogs. One of my dreams is to show a respectable return on the investment I put into growing food in our suburban yard. We love plants but eat them too. I use grandiose terms when describing my garden, like "crops" and "nitrogen levels" but it's too small to be a farm. Maybe one day I'll hitch a miniature horse to a tiny plow and take out the turf grass in the front yard to make room for growing grains.

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