Some years ago I visited Rebecca Hosking and Tim Green on the farm and saw their raised bed veggie garden. Tim had woven hazel domes over the beds to grow squashes upwards rather than have them trailing on the ground.
There are definite advantages to this idea. Firstly, the young squashes have a better chance of getting away as they climb a structure away from slugs and snails. You can also stack more plants if you use vertical as well as horizontal space. Useful in a smaller garden. When the plants crop, the squashes are suspended above the ground and less vulnerable to slugs.
Last year one of my squashes climbed up a sweetcorn in perfect Native American style. So this year I wanted to work with this idea. I thought of weaving hazel domes like Tim's but I went for a simpler, quicker design. The Sustainability Centre had fenced a pond with stock wire (to stop our young visitors from falling in) and had some of a roll left over. Not really enough to be useful for fencing. I asked 'The Management' if I might have it and was kindly given permission to take it away.
My squash and mini pumpkin patch was to be on an area I had mulched with cardboard and black plastic. First of all I removed the plastic and checked how the bindweed was doing. I also inadvertently disturbed some very valuable visitors.
With wire cutters in hand I unrolled the wire roll and cut a strip 17 squares long to fit the space.
Bluey the Dog was a great help holding down the wire.
I then rolled the wire into a circle and secured it by banging a hazel stake into the ground and secured it with plastic ties. I also used garden wire on one circle. Then I used the excess wire on one end of the fencing and wrapped it around the other end to hold it together.
Here's the 4 circles in a row. Sorry about the lack of light - it was raining.
I have planted two plants on each circle, a greater density than I would plant if I was only growing squash on the horizontal but I think it will work. The varieties are mini pumpkins (I am not sure bigger varieties of pumpkin would be supported), and butternut, spaghetti and sucrine du berry squashes.
Mirabelle the Dog became very fascinated with the whole project and spent hours gazing with admiration at my work. In fact they both did.
I think they were after a sight of the toads...
I will mulch this area with straw once the pumpkins have got away or if we get a sunny spell. I won't risk creating a slug habitat before then. If I can get some woodchip though I will mulch now. To protect the young plants Tim placed some crushed charcoal around them and added crushed egg shells on top. Slugs don't like traversing either of these.
I will post a photograph later in the year and let you know how successful this project is. If you grow squash on structures please let me know how you get on too.
Edible Cities: Urban Permaculture for Gardens, Yards, Balconies, Rooftops and Beyond for a special price of £11.21 from our Green Shopping site (also available as a pdf)
Maddy Harland is the co-founder and editor of Permaculture - practical solutions for self reliance established in 1992.