Last weekend I met my family at my cousin Bill’s house because his sister, Betsy, was visiting from Rhode Island. As Bill poured wine and Betsy and my parents chatted, Bill’s partner Jessica asked if I could help her with the garden. We walked outside, accompanied by six-year-old Owen, and she pointed out the young bean plants in a garden bed next to the garage. Jessica had purchased a package of six four-foot bamboo stakes from a garden store but wasn’t sure how to arrange them.

The purpose of a trellis is to support a growing plant. Beans and other legumes are designed to climb; they develop tendrils that are deceptively strong. The tendrils reach out until they make contact with something and wrap around it, giving the plant a leg up toward that open sky and sunshine. Since people plant garden vegetables in isolation to guarantee they (and not weeds or competing vegetables) receive the nutrients, we have to provide something for them to cling to.

Owen weighed in with a teepee design for each plant, which really wasn’t very far off. The bean plants were in two short rows of three, so we stuck a stake next to each, about a foot deep. Then, we bowed each stake over to its mate on the other side and tied them together. I pointed out that the knot would be more stable if Jessica wrapped it over-and-under, rather than side to side, and that a small, tight knot was more important than wrapping it around and around a bunch of times. Twine stretches, and once it rained the knots would loosen a bit.

Owen ran off and returned with another length of bamboo, which he offered as something to run across the top to help stabilize the entirety. Jessica and I lashed it above the joints we had created.

“Look, it makes a tunnel that you could crawl through!” Jessica observed. “Wait, that’s not such a great idea—did I say that?” We laughed. Owen is not the kind of kid who needs encouragement to run roughshod over things.

Near ground-level on either side, I showed Jessica how to run lengths of twine from one end of the trellis to the other, tying on at each stake—above the bamboo joint, if possible. Bamboo grows in segments, and at each new segment there is a little “knuckle” which is a great place to support the knotted-on twine. Near the bottom, it’s also helpful to run additional twine up and down from each length of twine—because the beans plants are young and small their tendrils are short.

Once the plants latch on to the trellis they take off like wildfire, but at first they need a little extra help. Just like gardeners.

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